The Icarus Project: One Very Good Reason I Sleep Better at Night!

Michael Cornwall, PhD
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“You are not alone.” If you are mad, that is the Icarus Project’s bold promise to you. Every time I read it, it moves me because when I was mad, being alone was the worst aspect of it. Being all alone in the inner world of hallucinatory terror that had swallowed me up was indescribably painful. That, and feeling alone- like a freak or alien being, secretly walking through the world of the normal folks that I used to share the same common reality with.

It’s often unbearable when we are mad, to feel so isolated and alien, not trusting that another human soul could understand why and what is happening with us. I wish I had known that another person had already survived being trapped in the hell zone where I was spending endless days. I wish the Icarus Project had existed 46 years ago. But it does now, and it is celebrating its tenth birthday! How I wish it and its members countless more.

We see here on Mad in America how so many of us have felt that awful estrangement both during and after our madness. But Sascha DuBrul dared to write about his experiences on the far shores of madness ten years ago, and the world of the mad has been a much better place ever since. Sascha courageously shared his personal odyssey/manifesto of madness in a San Francisco Bay area weekly paper. Within days, dozens of grateful people responded. It was like they had been waiting for a truth teller like Sascha to open the floodgates, so their own cathartic stories of madness could come pouring forth.

One of them was the amazing artist and poet Jacks Ashley McNamara. When Jacks and Sascha met it was like quicksilver igniting, and the Icarus Project was born.

They realized that an enormous pent up need had been revealed by them truthfully and without shame, telling the personal accounts of their madness experiences. The then existing consumer/survivor activist organizations had somehow not spoken to this younger, anarchist fueled, huge population of college age radicals and adventurers.

Jacks and Sascha took it on the road and hit scores of states and college campuses, telling their stories and listening to the outpourings that came flooding out from those who had listened to them. They were actively reframing the language and culture around mainstream conceptions of “mental health” and “mental illness” and spreading the simple good news gospel: if you’ve been told that you are crazy in a world that is obviously insane — “You Are Not Alone.”

My generation of consumer/survivor activists had not connected with the young people that the Icarus Project was able to reach so quickly. An Icarus Project website was born- http://theicarusproject.net.- and it quickly became rich with art and flowing with madness infused poetry. But most powerfully, from around the world, came the outpourings of rapturous and terror laden accounts of flights and crashes of madness, that were and are worthy of the Icarus myth itself. Stories of recovery and healing and hope filled out the circle of how madness can itself be a transformative life experience. The numinous experience of madness was freed of it’s pathologized cage through the vision of Sascha and the rest who would not be told that mad is bad.

Navigating the Space Between Brilliance and Madness, a collection of writings from Icarus members, was the first publication to be born out of the community dialogs. Friends Make the Best Medicine, an online and published guide on how to start and maintain an Icarus group, brilliant in it’s simplicity and beautiful in spirit, prompted organic Icarus groups to spring up all over the world. The Harm Reduction Guide to Coming Off Psychiatric Drugs, a world-class harm reduction guide for dealing with relationships to medications was created by founding Icarus Project member Will Hall.

Now there are over 13,000 members of the Icarus Project that live in every country. Active groups of them exist all over the world and in cities throughout the U.S.. Sascha was met with fellow Icaristas in Scandinavia, Turkey, Germany and all over Europe when he traveled abroad recently. The- “You Are Not Alone” Icarus logo of a circle, and those simple life saving words, can be seen stuck to walls and phone booths and lampposts in many corners of the world.

Sascha, Jacks and many Icarus folks have been front and center in the Occupy Mental Health wing of the Occupy movement.

Because the Icarus Project sprang almost fully formed out of the unmet need of a much younger generation than mine, it has been only in the past couple of years that Sascha and some others have been looking back and seeing that some of us old hippie radicals and Esalen Institute folks like Christine Price, who worked with or supported alternative approaches to madness for decades, may be their distant ancestors in spirit.

From that reaching back, Sascha and I have become fast friends, and I’m very grateful for that. He is a wonderfully vibrant and soul filled being that can be counted on for fearless truth telling and loving compassion. I see the handwriting on the wall, and know that the future is in the hands of Sascha, the Icarus folks and young activists like MIA bloggers Corinna West, Laura Delano, Malika Burman, Will Hall, Daniel Mackler, Aubrey Ellen Shomo, Jennifer Maurer and countless other young kindred spirits.

The Icarus folks and their generation of activists are going to be around long after my generation of activists have passed into our DSM free Valhallas! Come on, we need to lend them a hand whenever we can fellow baby boomers!

I knew the generation gap bridge was starting to happen last year when in response to one of my good natured, but provocative missives to him, Sascha texted me- “I am gonna kick your ass old man!” I texted back-” Why you young whelp! Don’t you know I know Karate, Aikido, Ju-jitsu and fourteen other Japanese words?” He wasn’t impressed with my lame joke or martial arts prowess.

I’m laughing as I remember that exchange. I hope Sascha continues to kick ass and take names as the Icarus Project goes forward. I know I will always be grateful for the countless souls the Icarus project has and will help- and from personally knowing that if I or someone I know becomes mad, Sascha will be one of the first guys I contact.

Because like Sascha and my Icarus Project friends have promised us- “You Are Not Alone.”

15 COMMENTS

  1. Michael,

    Re: “Madness”

    IMO, these words should be visible to every patient inside every psychiatric facility:

    Declaration of Self-Esteem

    “I am Me. In all the world, there is no one else exactly like me. Everything that comes out of me is authentically mine, because I alone chose it — I own everything about me: my body, my feelings, my mouth, my voice, all my actions, whether they be to others or myself. I own my fantasies, my dreams, my hopes, my fears. I own my triumphs and successes, all my failures and mistakes. Because I own all of me, I can become intimately acquainted with me. By so doing, I can love me and be friendly with all my parts. I know there are aspects about myself that puzzle me, and other aspects that I do not know — but as long as I am friendly and loving to myself, I can courageously and hopefully look for solutions to the puzzles and ways to find out more about me. However I look and sound, whatever I say and do, and whatever I think and feel at a given moment in time is authentically me. If later some parts of how I looked, sounded, thought, and felt turn out to be unfitting, I can discard that which is unfitting, keep the rest, and invent something new for that which I discarded. I can see, hear, feel, think, say, and do. I have the tools to survive, to be close to others, to be productive, and to make sense and order out of the world of people and things outside of me. I own me, and therefore, I can engineer me. I am me, and I am Okay.” – Virginia Satir

    Be well,

    Duane

    Duane

  2. I certainly came out of psychosis a stronger person and kinder too and more understanding of others.
    And yes, it was a terrible experience of loneliness and of being misunderstood and rejected by society as well as the feeling that I had to protect my ego at all costs because the grownups threatened to destroy it. I was desperate for love and recognition and the only place I could find it was nature and music. It all happened in the late 1950s.

  3. I hope all people relatively new to the journey and anyone confused by the mismatch of medical model prognosis and their own private experience, can dip into the wealth of supportive information and find the sense of belonging and hope, that theicarusproject.net provides.

    Mind you, “I am gonna kick your ass old man!”

    Don’t write us of yet Michael:)) Life begins at 60, when wisdom supplants the folly of invincible youth and all that striving for territory.

    I hope youth has not been to disaffected by my manic urgings in the last week or so. As you know the “process” of psychosis can be rather compelling, in its unfolding.

    I apologize to anyone I may have irritated or offended.

    In our common goal, of an end to this mechanically minded in-sanity of pathologizing “nature,” I can only try to point towards non-pathologizing literature, which others might care to check out.

    Again, I ask the question of those convinced of disease processes, “if you only read the literature of pathology, what do you expect to see?”

    “The term “process” has taken on a particular meaning based on the process philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead, which extended concepts from quantum physics into philosophy. Dr. Arnold Mindell’s work has, similarly, extended the application of concepts from quantum physics into psychology. Dr. Mindell began publishing his finding in 1982 with “Dreambody: The Body’s Role in Revealing the Self.”

    “By using observational accuracy to discover the nature of processes. . . .[She or] he listens to the verbs people use, watches their body motions, notices his own reactions, discovers those he tends to neglect and determines experiences and follows processes according to their distance from individual or collective awareness, the channels which they manifest and their time patterns. Thus he not only lets the river flow but appreciates its exact nature. (Arnold Mindell, 1983, p. 5)”

    This path of learning involves developing an attitude of openness towards various feelings, experiences, opinions, states of consciousness, and body symptoms; as well as towards various roles and dream figures. The path is what Carlos Castaneda called the path of the warrior (Castaneda, 1972) because it involves developing an openness to a certain kind of psychological death wherein one’s own momentary experience, though important, is no longer important in the way that it used to be.

    “The dreambody concept is not meant to imply a dualistic separation of mind and body, rather, a deeper level of integration or equivalency than is normally understood—an integration of mind and body that includes a process of communication through channels of experience that are not normally acknowledged as being meaningful in Western culture. This concept has parallels in ancient religions and body practices. In a sense, “illness asks for integration […] it requires consciousness by creating pain” (Arnold Mindell, 1989, p. 69). http://www.stanfordsiver.net/wp-content/themes/twentyten/pdf/PWTheory.pdf

    “Few are those who see with their own eyes and feel with their own hearts.” _Albert Einstein.

    Be well, Bro.

  4. Thank you, Michael, for your joyful celebration of a marvelous, mysterious and madly successful movement that has inspired so many of us to push the boundaries of how we view ourselves, our challenges/gifts, social norms (and stigmas), and the process of spiritual growth and human transformation!

    The spark Sascha and Jacks ignited, the flame they fanned and sustained with Will Hall and other visionary healers, is burning brightly. But there are so many more lives that need to be ignited with hope.

    It is so encouraging to see so many on this Mad (in America) community who are lighting the way for others and who have been tending the sacred fire for heroes and journeys yet unborn (using their knowledge of 14 Japanese words and many other wisdom practices).

    Blessings to everyone past and present who is working toward the day when we ALL can feel and hear in truth “You Are Not Alone.”

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