Madness is a big experience, and it happens while we are living in our villages, towns, cities and countries. It cannot be separated from our cultural contexts. Living with madness, the culture we are in can either include or exclude us in different ways based on our experiences. The stages of living with, through and beyond madness are severely affected by our relationships within the cultures we live.
Our dream is that there are spaces for people of all cultures and countries who experience living with, through and beyond madness to tell their unique stories. We see these spaces as being interlinked, creating the ever-growing story of people’s madness in our world. So we have created Mad in Aotearoa for all the people in our country.
As of February 27, 2017, if you navigate to the website www.madinaotearoa.nz you will find we have provided blog space for people to express the creation of wisdom from living inside their experiences of extreme states of being. This space is for us, and for all people who experience extreme states, to speak in our words, from our cultures, from our communities, and from our lives in Aotearoa/New Zealand. We are telling our stories of how we are using this wisdom in our worlds.
Living in Aotearoa/New Zealand, we have particular perspectives on life, our experiences and the world that is seen and unseen compared to people living in other countries and cultures. As with all colonised countries, the indigenous people of this whenua/land have been treated appallingly. Wrongs of the past must be acknowledged and addressed and going forward there is support to collectively forge a new path. Many people with lived experience who engage with the peer community and its values find that the colonial narrative, which is still taught and believed, swiftly loses its grip. The values and practices of the peer community align more strongly with Te Ao Māori/the Māori worldview than they do with the dominant western model.
Our home is different from other colonised lands because the coloniser, the British monarchy, entered into a Treaty with some of the Rangitira/Chiefs of the iwi/tribes of Aotearoa. Colonisation is about superiority and land grabbing, so it will not surprise you to learn that there are a number of versions of Te Tiriti: the Te Reo/Maori version, the English version, the Te Reo translation of the English version and the English translation of the Te Reo version. Suffice it to say the Te Reo version and the English version do not create the same picture. Te Tiriti o Waitangi was ignored by the Crown/Government for over one hundred years.
Since 1975 the ‘principles of the Treaty’ have been included in both legislation and judge-made law. The principles are generally considered to be living principles, so they develop as we develop. There has been continued debate and litigation among various parties, including the Government, as to what the principles are, what they mean and how they are to be applied. There is some agreement on three principles: partnership, participation and protection. In the health context, these can be read as: partnership, the requirement to work together; participation, involvement in all aspects and levels of health; and protection, a duty to recognise and respond to each culture’s beliefs, values and practices and to ensure equivalent health outcomes. The New Zealand Government has yet to meet its obligations.
As members of the Mad community, Māori, Pākehā (of European extraction), Pacific Islander and every other culture present in Aotearoa, we understand our one or more experiences of systemic oppression. We have lived under a power structure that does not listen to or recognise our experiences, and which actively devalues them. We experience prejudice and discrimination on a daily basis. Our human rights are deemed expendable. We are subjected to physical and emotional torment in endless attempts to make us fit within the dominant paradigm. We are damaged and killed while being told it is for our own good. These experiences can allow us to reach some understanding of people having their ancient knowledge and practices devalued with the intent to eliminate them. The numbers of those in our peer community who are tangata whenua/indigenous people, are increasing largely due to the ongoing impacts of historical trauma and institutional racism.
The creators of Mad in Aotearoa are Gary Platz, Darcey Jane, Sarah O’Connor and Andrea Bates. Here we will share where each of us is coming from as we come together on this project.
I start with an image—An open window, heat shimmering over red dust and ancient ground. Movement, horizontal, over vertical waves. People, an ancient people, chanting toward an unseen burial ground. How could they, being charged with so much life, be singing onward to a place so dead? People so much a part of these dust particles, these vertical waves, this ancient ground. How could they be so forgotten except for a sketchy resurrection in this Sunday afternoon sun-hazed dream?
To be more accurate, this is a feeble description of an engulfing experience I have carried with me since I was a boy on a farm in Australia. An image that is one of three major images/ experiences that started me running: from the family farm, from my family, from the country to the city and eventually from Australia to the land of the long white cloud, Aotearoa/New Zealand. A place where I finally found myself safe enough to go mad (some of you will understand that feeling of being safe enough to go mad) and now has drawn me to my part in the setting up of Mad in Aotearoa.
I was born in Australia and grew up on a family farm in Queensland, Australia. My family were pioneers of the district. My great grandfather walked from Brisbane and staked out a holding in the 1860’s. My grandfather was born on that farm carved out of the bush, and he, with one of his brothers, moved up the Mary River and carved the farm out of the bush in a Walli (Wall-i) valley. There were many indigenous people living in this rich, fertile area of timbered mountain and rain-forested valleys. Indigenous people, with their unique part of the oldest living culture still on the earth today, for 60,000 (some say 100,000) years. Of the people in those valleys, none exist today. In so short a time, a 60- to 100-thousand year history of people was stripped from the land, the land my family carved out of the bush such a very short time ago.
On the farm, just a few hundred metres from the kitchen door, was a boora ring, a mounded circular ring of ground pounded by tens of thousands of years of dancing feet. If you search for Platz Road in Kenilworth on Google Earth, it was not far from the milking shed, but I can’t tell if it is still there. The farm is not in my family anymore. This was a sacred place of ‘song line’ for the indigenous peoples of Australia. Song line was integral in their whole life and culture. As a boy, I would sit in that boora ring lost in wonder and image. This land was my place—all I knew—but it wasn’t. I felt like the only one left who ever gave them a moment’s thought.
My family were of those who ripped them out of their land. How does a little boy carry that? One thing he does is run but he can never quite run fast enough. In some of the awful times of my madness, I carry what feels like 60,000 years of wailing grief.
So for me to end up in a land that had a Treaty with the indigenous people of its land, a treaty with three principles—partnership, participation and protection—was a refuge, a place where I could go mad and look once more at this image of ancient people singing toward a burial ground. In the mysterious way that for some of us only madness can facilitate, I began to heal.
To finish my part in this post, I am leaving you an example of how the principles of the Treaty are used in the strategic planning of a local peer organisation called the Oasis Network:
Oasis Network 2013-2016
Our Vision: Involved, inspired and inspirational people.
Mission Statement: To develop an environment of recovery through community connection, peer support and peer advocacy.
Philosophy: We recognise Te Tiriti o Waitangi as the founding document of Aotearoa. We believe the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi—partnership, protection and participation—are also the fundamentals of genuine peer support.
Participation: Creating opportunities for authentic engagement and genuine growth.
Protection: Our members are the most important people in our organisation and will be respected and held with dignity at all times.
Partnership: Working together to create an environment of recovery.
There is much to be done with seeing these principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi as the intrinsic motivation throughout this land. For us who have been marginalised because of madness, this historic foundation can give us hope and I for one encourage us to stand up for these principles and carry them with us as we interact with our communities.
It will be my endeavour that Mad in Aotearoa will be a vehicle and will also be linked with many other vehicles that help us, the marginalised, find our true place in society by madness being seen for what it truly can be—a powerful agent for change, bringing forth many gifts to the world.
Much of my recovery, or discovery as I prefer to call it, came from my participation with peers of lived experience. My contact with the mental health sector came from having my experiences described as a ‘breakdown’ and being assigned psychiatric labels. None of these labels meant much or came anywhere near describing my actual experience. Joining the peer community was pivotal in my understanding of what had happened and provided a different, holistic lens to see my experience through.
The principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi (participation, partnership and protection) provide a useful framework for personal experience and working with others in systemic peer-led initiatives. As mentioned above, participation included being a member of the peer community and sitting at the table with my community and other organisations, who unfortunately maintain the attitude of knowing best and bringing people into their dominating structure, which led me in a direction with which I became increasing dissatisfied. I knew it was time to move on from that role and into more grassroots work while acknowledging the opportunities and great learning I had gained.
The principle of partnership became clearer as I tried to navigate through the ‘system’ of predominantly mental ‘illness’ focused services. Partnership with peers became more of a focus for me and enabled me to develop an alternative understanding to see the experience through, and helped me create a robust and meaningful view of both my own experience and the many worldviews held by this community.
The principle of protection is one I believe that services should be focused on, but it unfortunately has become an instrument of control that services focus on from their own medical model-based perspective, to the detriment of a meaningful exploration of recovery and discovery. What I gained from working in the mental ‘illness’ sector was a sad understanding that services are all too often preoccupied with protecting themselves rather than our peers. Participation and partnership with people of lived experience, and protection of the lived experience in a facilitative role of discovery with peers, would provide a more meaningful understanding rather than maintaining the status quo for these services.
As a land with a strong but marginalised indigenous culture, I am optimistic that the work we peers are involved in in Aotearoa, and globally—despite the controlling and coercive presence and operations of the mainstream paradigm—is providing the alternative narrative strengthened by our participation, partnership and protection of our lived experience. The stronger and louder our voices become, through protest, education and contact, the stronger our community unites. Call me naïve but I believe that change based on our community’s experiences is possible, and we are forging solidarity to give voice to the marginalisation of ourselves, our peers and the ancient wisdoms of indigenous peoples. It can’t happen soon enough.
Sarah and Andrea
As people who have experienced extreme states in Aotearoa, we see a great many things that could be done that would benefit our community and the country as a whole. Our experiences add to our knowledge of ourselves, and show us how to view our worlds in ways that highlight opportunities. That is not to say that they cannot be painful and difficult and of varying durations, but through them we have made many connections and started the organisation Wellbeing Wellington. It is a values-based organisation that doesn’t proclaim values on a wall, but shows those values in the everyday of what we do. We believe in working with others for the benefit of all, and most of all in the power of possibilities.
Te Tiriti is the basis of our nation’s many ways of living. Doing this well is an ongoing task. The three principles we have been discussing apply to all people living here, and to all our governance and governmental structures. This means that we, as tangata whai ora/people seeking wellness, are part of the conversation. It also means that our monolithic and monocultural national mental health system must change.
The principle of partnership calls our system to ask to learn from the long-developed knowledge and practices of mātauranga/Māori knowledge. This wisdom has a holistic focus that includes healthy families and communities, and a different understanding of extreme states and ways to support people experiencing them. Wholeheartedly taking up this challenge would necessitate participation and so it would provide protection to all cultures and their beliefs, values and practices.
Mad in Aotearoa is an extremely small part of this. We need to tell our stories, not in an attempt to ‘raise awareness’ or as part of a ‘stigma campaign,’ but to celebrate and reflect our intellectual traditions around our many experiences and what they add to our lives and to our communities. If we are to be proud of our Madness, not only do we need to reject endlessly projected societal shame, we must also educate people about what so many ancient cultures have long celebrated—we’ve always been here, we always will be here and the potential in our experiences is a powerful tool for societal good.
We are grateful and thrilled to receive support from Mad in America, a collective we greatly value, admire and have benefitted from.
Ehara taku toa i te toa takitahi, engari he toa takitini
My success is not mine alone, but it is the strength of many
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.