Navigating the Space Between Brilliance and Madness: A Counter-Narrative of Psychic Diversity

Sascha Altman DuBrul
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I’ll tell you a secret, Mad in America: before I ever get up and give a big talk like this I close my eyes and imagine that all my friends are there standing next to me. I take a deep breath and try to feel my connection to the larger movements for change I’m a part of. I think about all the people reading MIA looking for alternatives to the biopsychiatric paradigm and all the people who feel connected to The Icarus Project because it speaks to something deep inside of them that they’re not getting from the mainstream medical establishment. Then when I’m on stage I just tune to that frequency that’s way bigger than me, the same place I try to tune when I meditate, where I’m talking to the future from the past, smack in the middle of the present. I’m having a larger conversation with a whole bunch of people at once, unconstricted by time and space.

The hilarious thing to me about this TEDx talk is that I’m standing on the same stage where I played a Jet in West Side Story in 1986! It’s at my old elementary school! The neighborhood West Side Story took place in was torn down by Robert Moses in the late 50s to build Lincoln Center. It has actually been about the same amount of time between the days of West Side Story — when I was a 6th grader singing “When Yr a Jet” on stage with my little pip-squeak classmates — and now, in 2013, as I’m standing on the same stage as a 38 year old man talking about revisioning the mental health paradigm.

Sometimes we really have to dig beneath the surface of situations to see how we’ve ended up where we are, and where we might want to be going.

So many people who are affected by the mental health system in North America today have no idea how much the rise of the DSM and biopsychiatry has to do with the Reagan era and neoliberal economic policies that reshaped the whole language and culture of mental health. It’s like a bulldozed neighborhood with shiny new buildings, after a while people forget how they got there and they just seem “normal.” If we want to change the future we have to understand the past.

It was an awesome experience to give a TEDx Talk at my old school, because, frankly, it was an acknowledgement by an elite institution that I’ve done something in my life worth listening to. I hope you appreciate my talk and share it with others. It’s a real honor to step into the light and play the role of the dandelion with the deep tap roots, reaching for the sky . . .

 

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Of further interest:
Sascha DuBrul at the 2012 Esalen Institute gathering of mental health activists.

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