Just warning you, my mom is crazy.
My girlfriend is actually crazy—seriously. I mean it.
I can’t talk to him, he’s fucking crazy!
How many times a day do we speak or hear this word? In the repetition, how does this word gather meanings and lose them? What marginalizing structures of class, race and gender do we call on when we speak it?
In Guillermo Rosales’ The Halfway House, we meet a whole cast of “crazy” characters, the inhabitants of a residential psychiatric facility who have nowhere else to go. The protagonist, William Figueras, an exiled Cuban writer living in Miami, is dropped off by his aunt who declares, “nothing more can be done,” leaving him to the abjection and abuses of the halfway house. With her declaration, we can already begin to see the cracks in the system that declares some people definitely definably diagnosably mentally ill and others perfectly sane. Is William living in this halfway house because he needs to be there, deserves it, or it is medically the only or best option? “Nothing more can be done,” those within the system are meant to believe, to say to themselves, say over and over, but those who fall outside of it know that this is not the case.
Another inhabitant of the halfway house, Frances, finds common ground with William as a former participant in the Cuban revolution. She tells him, “Nobody understands that…I tell my psychiatrist and he just gives me strong Etrafon pills.” You can imagine the psychiatrist saying, “nothing more can be done” to himself as he hands her the prescription. In The Halfway House, the medication of the crazy characters is yet another denial of their agency.
Reading Frances’ account of being medicated instead of somehow being understood by her psychiatrist connected in my thoughts to an article that I read two years ago that I have been unable to forget about since.
New federally financed drug research reveals a stark disparity: children covered by Medicaid are given powerful antipsychotic medicines at a rate four times higher than children whose parents have private insurance. And the Medicaid children are more likely to receive the drugs for less severe conditions than their middle-class counterparts, the data shows.
From “Poor Children Likelier to Get Antipsychotics” by Duff Wilson, <http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/12/health/12medicaid.html>
This research finishes the aunt’s declaration—nothing can be done, for some. The idea of mental illness as a purely biological condition that simply can’t be helped does not stand up to these statistics. If four times as many poor children are being treated with antipsychotic medicines as economically privileged children, then the process of identifying and treating mental illness is culturally constructed. For young, economically marginalized, often brown bodies, nothing can be done about socially unacceptable behavior besides the administration of extreme medication. Poor children’s bodies and minds are unacceptable to normative cultural standards; they must be quieted, subdued, and controlled. Nothing more can be done for them, without upending the social order.
The mad pride movement locates itself within this standing contradiction. I first learned about mad pride on the website of the Icarus Project, a community of and resource for people who are reclaiming the word “mad” as a a social critique and a source of pride.
We are a network of people living with and/or affected by experiences that are commonly diagnosed and labeled as psychiatric conditions. We believe these experiences are mad gifts needing cultivation and care, rather than diseases or disorders. By joining together as individuals and as a community, the intertwined threads of madness, creativity, and collaboration can inspire hope and transformation in an oppressive and damaged world. Participation in The Icarus Project helps us overcome alienation and tap into the true potential that lies between brilliance and madness.
From the Icarus Project website, <http://theicarusproject.net/>
The Icarus Project insists that something more can be done. The web site offers a digital community with space for marginalized identities to be affirmed and explored and mainstream culture to be carefully critiqued as well as connecting people with physical communities, support groups, free or reduced price alternative therapies such as meditation and acupuncture, and guides and literature produced in collaboration with health professionals about subjects such as coming off of meds, reconceptualizing mental illness as mental diversity, and creating mad communities.
Mad pride calls for a re-examination of the social system and the conception of madness while expanding the possibilities for treatment, self-definition, healing, and community of those who identify as mad, those who are identified as mad, those who are unable to function within the system, and those who will not.