Written by: Lake Angela, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
What is it about the idea of madness in particular that inspires such disdain and hatred among the general public? At the heart of the neurotypical reaction to those called crazy is fear. More precisely, it is an overwhelming fear of a loneliness beyond logical comprehension, a loneliness many have never been forced to experience and therefore do not know if they can survive. The idea that they might begin to speak outside of the normal idiom, suddenly and without preparation, without the ability to explain themselves to others according to the common code is terrifying.
The fear of madness is actually the fear of being the only living speaker of a new language that nevertheless no one wants to preserve or learn, nor to study or record. Instead, the group wants the speaker of madness to be muted, unseen, tucked into the thick neuroleptic clouds that hover just above the unchanging, gray plastic hospital bed. The doctors dismiss mad speech as word salad (an accepted psychiatric term) without consulting the associative key who could translate the new idiom to that of logic. The entrance to social acceptance is heavily guarded. Incidentally, the surging fear of being utterly alone in madness also explains a general human fear of and disdain for the intelligence of so-called mute nonhuman animals. The human ignorance to other, nonverbal and nonhuman languages allows other speakers to be dismissed as dumb (mute) and stigmatized as inferior.
A self-identified neurotypical reader contacted me in response to my article “Is Psychosis a Kind of Creativity”? My answer to the question I posed in the title was clearly and unwaveringly “yes,” and you can see why here. However, the reader had worked as a mental health professional and objected that neurodivergent people who are experiencing psychotic thinking are “safer” if we are institutionalized rather than “exposed to the violence on the streets.” My first reaction was not to engage with common prejudices, but after reflecting on the reader’s good intentions concerning my safety as a schizoaffective person, I decided once again to advocate for myself and others on the schizophrenia spectrum.
Here is the way I handle such situations while combating prejudice and asserting my expertise. Ironically, to “prove” my authority as a creative thinker in alogical, emotional, sensory, and sometimes psychotic paradigms, I have to speak according to our society’s preferred idiom—logic. Logic also has been called “King Logos” because historically, our values in Western society are inherited from Greek philosophers’ preferences for dichotomies, later strengthened by the Catholic Church’s esteem of hierarchy. The result is that even if we do not consider our biases consciously, we are trained to think “high” is better than “low,” “light” is better than “dark,” and naturally, the “logical” mind is superior to the “emotional” body.
These prejudices are built into our language, and from the very beginning (the Greek sources for these dichotomies) “femininity” has been equated with the inferior realm of bodily function and “masculinity” with the logical or spiritual powers of the mind. This history is only one major reason psychotic, creative thinking is outcast. Psychotic thinking is not masculine, logical, unchanging and unified like the Western conception of the One, a male God. It is multiple, transformative, and “feminine” somehow in its ability to change and create. These standards may seem odd to contemporary readers because it is common knowledge that gender is also a social construct, but the old prejudices are still enforced. As someone with schizoaffective and DID, I am multiple and an alogical thinker—at least two strikes against my perceived authority, plus one more for being in a female body.
Nevertheless, I command the authority in these domains. So, when someone who is neurotypical argues with my authority on creative, psychotic thinking as a schizoaffective artist, I will first ask them to reconsider their preconceptions. In terms of the example above that psychotic thinkers should be hospitalized to protect us from the violence on the streets, I would ask, “What do you think institutionalization has to do with a schizophrenic spectrum person’s safety?” The answer is nothing unless that person expresses the need to injure himself. The safety that so-called behavioral health institutions offer is the preservation of the comfort that neurotypical U.S. Americans outside correlate with “safety.” (Mental institutions have even rebranded their field as behavioral health because the offense to be corrected is the psychotic thinker’s unusual behavior or way of perceiving the world.)
I specify U.S. Americans because this country incarcerates the most people at any given time and is well-known for the phobia of things that appear to be “unsafe” or “unclean” despite a love for guns and a mistrust of vaccines. (Statistics including those imprisoned in psychiatric institutions are unavailable, but the trend toward imprisonment would suggest a parallel.) However, the prejudice definitely extends beyond U.S. borders. In any case, mental institutions preserve the illusion of safety among a mainstream population by granting the masses the “right” not to be exposed to or have to interact with those undesirables who express schizophrenic spectrum differences. This is a comfort to many Americans in a way similar to many white Americans’ comfort in being able to avoid historically Black areas or many middle-class Americans’ comfort in being able to choose to avoid parts of a city where homeless people are known to survive.
Next, I would ask the person who has challenged my authority, “Who actually poses a threat against psychotic people? Who do you believe perpetrates the violence you allege, and does violence inside the institution differ much in degree from violence outside?” The answer, of course, is that neurotypical people who have the support of societal consensus on their “correct” ways of interpreting and behaving in the world and also disdain or fear alogical differences perpetrate the violence, both inside and out. The difference is that those committing violence inside the institution are paid to do so and are honored with higher societal standing than those who commit violence outside.
There is a long history of condoned and encouraged torture of psychotic people. Very early treatments arguably were the least brutal, even though trepanning involved sawing off a circle of the skull to let the evil spirits out. Later, psychiatric patients were forced into the rotational chair for “swinging therapy,” given “hydrotherapy,” or surprise immersion into ice baths, strapped into tubs filled with water for a period of hours to days, drugged and shocked senseless, experimented upon unwillingly, restrained and physically punished in humiliating ways. Patients were forced into hysterectomies to cure hysteria, induced insulin comas, Metrazol-induced seizures that caused bone breakage and muscle tears, irreversible lobotomies, and chemical lobotomies as well as chemical castrations. You might prefer to think that these methods are outdated, but many such “therapies” continue, endorsed by modern medicine and the state.
Even in my brief time working as a dance therapist for other patients in a psychiatric institution, I witnessed medical professionals bind inmates in leather straps so that they could move no part of their bodies, then leave them alone in a soundproof room because this is still the medically correct punishment for thinking and behaving irrationally. I’ve seen people forcefully locked into isolation and stabbed with syringes to force neuroleptics into their bloodstreams, after which the patient ceases to pose a challenge. The perpetrators here are accorded the honorific title of medical professional.
How should the inmate be expected to feel “safe” inside the institution? The answer is simple. Inside the institution, she doesn’t feel. She is “saved” from the violence of the streets effectively by being forced into a chemical form of catatonia. Why does she stop taking the neuroleptics outside, after having been made compliant inside the medical establishment? The answer is even simpler. She wants to live and be present for the experience of doing so.
As Michel Foucalt implies in Madness, only the insane can maintain presence in the world. Psychotic thinking is active thinking, as opposed to the passive nature of logical thought that must proceed from two points and lead to a determined conclusion. Those experiencing active, creative thinking cannot “reason” their way back to a remembered past and cannot logic-travel to a linear and equally hypothetical (unreal) future while in the process of thinking actively. (There is no fleeing to the future or taking refuge in the past.) Logically, this formulation shows us that the insane alone possess the gift of being real. It’s too bad nobody else believes us!
Lake Angela, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Lake Angela is a poet, translator, and dancer-choreographer who creates at the confluence of verbal language and movement. As Director of the international multimedia group Companyia Lake Angela, they offer sessions in guided healing through poetry and movement and provide a platform for schizophrenia spectrum creativity. Their full-length books of poetry, Organblooms (2020) and Words for the Dead (2021), are published by FutureCycle Press. As poetry editor for Punt Volat, they select and publish innovative new poetry in four languages with co-founder Kevin Richard Kaiser. As co-founder of Poetry Midwives Editing Services, they help aspiring writers polish their manuscripts for publication. Lake holds a PhD from The University of Texas at Dallas for their intersemiotic translations of German Expressionist poetry into dance and their MFA in poetry.