Are There Gifts In and From Our Madness That Our Culture Needs to Not Waste?

Michael Cornwall, PhD
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Do we bring gifts to our family and community that are born of suffering but infused with spirit? Has our madness been in vain, or has it brought us through fiery trials that have meaning we otherwise would have missed for ourselves and our most treasured relationships? Can we be bold now even though our hearts and spirits seemed to have been broken beyond repair? My answer is yes to these questions. I have met dozens of people whose answer is also yes.

The chorus of voices echoing from around the world by the readers and commenters and writers on Mad In America affirm this too.

In other places and times madness was seen this way.  It always is the right time to claim this perspective as our daily bread. Many of you have for decades.

When we are in madness we most likely loose sight of it’s potential value. If we are loved and protected during our madness some deep healing can happen. Personal healing, but more. Our family gets healed somehow too by us freeing trapped emotions that now we can claim, share with them- perhaps for the first time.

There certainly is something humbling about going through madness, and it can be especially traumatic when we get caught in a system and seen as weird and sick in a hopeless way.

Almost all the mad people I have known have been gentle souls. Behind the anger that is so often justified lies a softly beating heart. If only we will give sanctuary and mercy as our gifts of caring, the wounded hearts will repair themselves from the inside out.

I don’t want to romanticize or despise my madness. Let me find my own voice if I become mad again, to be able to ask for what we all really want and need when we are suffering – love, mercy, protection, sanctuary, understanding, respect, a gentle touch, hope.

30 COMMENTS

  1. The first time I learned that madness could be seen in this positive perspective was when I read that some cultures in Africa consider the mad person as the messenger of “good news from above.” The good news heals the family and community, too. Thanks for reminding us.

  2. Although I understand that the word “mad” has been embraced for political purposes, and to reverse meaning and establish pride, I question whether it is actually useful. To me it the term itself is discrediting of the perspective of those who are called “mad.” To associate madness with creativity seems to me to discredit the truth value of creativity as well. I would love to hear some political analysis on the use of this terminology.

  3. The use of mad in the name of the book and as the website name seems to me to have different connotations (for instance, it refers to the labeling process itself, to culture at large) than for those who have been diagnosed as mentally ill (like myself)to label their own thought processes as mad.

    I appreciate the article.

  4. I don’t have an alternative term, but I feel that states that are called mental illness are on a continuous spectrum with states called normal, not qualitatively different, and have truth value (often metaphorical or symbolic), and are responses to experiences and situations.

    For negative states I’ve been in I’ve used words like terror, anguish, suffering, disintegration. It’s tough to think about terminology for describing subjective states! Mysticism might have offerings for visionary states, ordeals or crises.

    I do think we are talking about spirituality, a Materialist taboo! It’s so essential, and so socially repressed.

    I will have to reread your first post and think more about it. Thanks again for the article!

    • I have long-thought that people who are very sensitive are prone to having both breakdowns and accompanying breakthroughs.

      There are many people it seems who think this sensitivity is always due to trauma, but I’m not so sure… I think it may just be the way someone is wired up to perceive their own human experience, and/or oftentimes, the trauma is subtle, unknown before the “break”… but the more I study, and do my best to understand all of this, the more I realize that it is in many ways a mystery.

      I have heard the term “spiritual crisis”, but I like to think of it as a “spiritual opportunity”… nothing short of a gift. A very real and true gift.

      Also, it seems to me that people who are highly sensitive are more apt to have these opportunities – to go deeply inside, to have greater insight than before the “break” and come out stronger, more empathetic and grateful than before the “opportunity” arose.

      I’m not a big fan of labels…. never have been.
      And I’m not sure that in this case “more research is needed”…. It seems to me that more empathy is needed… more basic human decency, and faith in each individual who goes “through” such a situation… keyword “through”.

      Duane

      • I also know that some people have been severely traumatized, leading to the “break”… I was only trying to make the point that I don’t think it is always due to severe trauma. I’ve come to believe that the trauma can be subtle and hard to fully understand until the break, which may be the reason for the break.

        Also, some people may find the word “break” or “breakdown” to be offensive. I believe that it is much like the breaking of steel or cast iron, when a weld is needed… the weld winds up being stronger than the original metal.

        And, IMO, this is precisely what takes place on the emotional/spiritual level, when a “crisis” is seen and dealt with as an opporunity!

        Duane

  5. I certainly went “mad” at the age of nineteen and my breakdown was physical as much as mental but I was never “mentally ill” as psychiatrists would have it in this day and age. It wasn’t an “illness” at all or at least that is how I see things from my personal perspective. It was all due to my need to understand what the world is all about and the shock of discovering that there is a lot wrong with the society we live in. I am glad I went “mad”, although it was horrible at the time, it made me a better, kinder and more understanding person. It also helped me to understand my son when he went through a similar crisis.

  6. I have mad a video comment at
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WbRz5PUn8xA&feature=plcp

    Summary:
    Is it possible to think positively about our psychological problems?
    Cognitive therapy: your reactions are a result of how you think of your problems.
    If you can think positively about e.g. psychotic experiences, it is a good for your psychological health.
    Normalizing: works very well for all psychological problems
    See that the process is a part of normality, just maybe a bit extreme.
    E.g. Paranoia: If not too extreme, protects us and our children.
    The nocebo effect: as powerful as placebo
    Believe that you have a degenerative brain disorder, and it will make you sicker.
    Conclusion: you have all reason to think positively about you psychological problems

  7. I think it depends on what happened to the victim, what the victim’s Achilles’ Tendon Factor was/is and the gender as well as age of the individual victim…. I do not think all of us can rise from the ashes of the abuse. There are distinct differences between a male victim and a female victim and distinct differences in the details of the abuse and what the victim has left/has to come home to afterward. Etc.