The establishment sees the idea of 'recovery' for those undergoing extreme states of mind as one being a lifelong consumer of anti-psychotic drugs to suppress symptoms. In one study in Kings County, NY, of 900 people undergoing extreme states and receiving anti-psychotic drugs, only 4 had viable employment. These drugs shorten lifespan dramatically and there is the ever increasing risk each year of the development of tardive dyskinesia.
Though the establishment remains entrenched in the ideas of broken brains and misguided concepts of recovery, I remain convinced that recovery lies in our relationship, our ability and willingness to journey with the other. A few years ago, I embarked on a therapeutic community project, where I brought a number to either reside in the area or who visited frequently who were undergoing extreme states of mind. They were offered support in a way where barriers were broken down, their experiences validated, and rather than suppressing their 'madness', we worked with it and through it. With each person I encountered, I saw many radical transformations simply through this human connection. I encountered clients with various delusions, but I found that what they spoke had metaphorical mean and spoke of their experience. I came to realize these persons did not have broken brains, but often broken hearts. Wanting to be faithful to their experience, I wrote the following below, after sharing it with a number I had encountered who had been able to overcome and work through their extreme states. I think it is what the establishment needs to hear and understand so that we can create a more humane way of supporting others.
What is termed ‘madness’ or ‘mental illness’ is for some the only means for expression of their being lost and confused in a world which has caused them deep hurt and pain. Such is not disease but behavior with metaphorical meaning. There has been received through life mixed messages and placement into situations where regardless of the option they choose they felt damned. They seek to break out from the reality which has only caused them distress. The development of hallucinations and delusions are all metaphors for the very real demons they have encountered in disordered society.
The inner mind, the voice within us, becomes amplified, and becomes ‘possessed’ with the demons coming forward from the trauma and distress which has been encountered. Rebellion against the system of things becomes self-destructive as the person seeks to send a message to the world of their distress, but it remains unheard. Each coping mechanism that has been employed has often led to failure and not brought them out of the unlivable situation that is their life. However, the catharsis of this pain and grief can go in two directions- it can be misery and existential death, or it can be transformative.
Through the pain and struggle, through the breaking out of the ‘typical reality’ one can journey through various modes of altered consciousness. Many deemed ‘mad’ speak of the supernatural. They have sought every attempt to reach out and create meaning. If they can be helped by a loving, supportive network to navigate through this state of confusion and the various realms of altered consciousness towards rebuilding and reconstructing a life of meaning, then they can come forward to a recovery that gives them valuable insight about human nature and who they really are and the reality of the impermanence of this life and the world around us. They will find that suffering is an inevitable, and it that suffering is the state of the world which is mired in greed and attachment. The one deemed ‘mad’ for once has accomplished a rare task- they have completely detached. But this detachment is only from the typical standards of the world. They remain haunted by the visions of their previous life.
They cannot escape it, and thus they become anxious and paranoid that something or someone will pull them back to that painful existence. At times, rage comes forward as the reaction to challenges, but who would not be outraged if their voice was suppressed and they became the scapegoat for the problems of their families or those around them? Those deemed ‘mad’, feeling always alone, depart to a world where they remain alone from people, yet may create for themselves beings who give them comfort and solace. This is really the end of their search, to simply be accepted and loved. But here too lies a problem, for when their lives have been devoid of love and they receive unconditional love, it becomes like an overwhelming fire that consumes them. They have never been loved, so how can they respond to an outpouring of love?
When all they knew was that oppression and coercion was said to be because ‘we love you’, when ‘love’ really was only about control, how can the person then understand genuine love? Once again, the confusion sets in. To reach the person who has been deemed ‘mad’, we cannot overwhelm. Our sincerity will not be enough, for there trust has been shattered time and time again. It is only through entering their world for what it is, by joining in, and learning to speak the language, can we ourselves begin to understand the experience of these individuals. It is only by this joining in that the person may have the chance for their journey known as ‘madness’ to reach a transformative ending towards recovery.