Being mad is liberating. Well, at least with practice and determination, because, let’s face it, being mental (with a confirmed diagnosis) is not a high status on the scale of popularity in our society, defined as it is by the standards of normality.
My own sense of liberation came around two years ago when I was sitting on a bench in the park. A man literally materialised himself on the same bench a minute later, smoking a cigar in a leisured manner. I didn’t see him approaching and his whole appearance was slightly bizarre: mismatched glasses, dirty trousers and an expensive red tie.
It didn’t take me long to start thinking that it might be the Devil, a character I met in all of my psychoses. After an initial deliberation about whether I was experiencing a hallucination (unlikely since the man kept on sitting where he was even after I blinked several times in a row) or a delusion (an explanation more probable than the first), I dismissed these probabilities firmly from my head. I knew that I wasn’t psychotic, helped by the fact that I was on a low dose of quetiapine, and that while I had no proof that the man might be the Devil, he also could be, even if according to the psychiatrists, seeing the character and all other bizarre occurrences belong to the domain of insanity.
I walked away from the bench as fast as I could, because to be honest, I try to avoid the Devil in all his manifestations, but this experience got me thinking. What if the things that mad people see and hear are real? What if there is this tiny possibility that the truth indeed lies in madness and not in what is projected to us by the society as being normal?
I have to admit that simultaneously writing a Ph.D. thesis on how Facebook collects its data helped me in the matter of thinking about my own madness and the madness of others. You see, Facebook and all other Internet companies as well as grocery shops (via their loyalty cards) store everything that comes on their radar. They know all about your daily habits, your friends, what you like having for your breakfast and whether you are single or not. This is in line with what the majority of mad people believe – that we are constantly being watched. Tell this to a psychiatrist? He will answer that you are mental, despite the evidence to the contrary. We are being watched, every single moment of our day and night.
The presence of the Devil is obviously harder to prove and it is not something that I am planning to discuss with psychiatrists in any point of my remaining life. But in an unlikely event that it might happen, I already know their answer. The Devil will be put into the basket of hallucinations or delusions, despite the fact that almost all religions of the world admit his existence.
Here’s a question that has been bothering me for a while: Why is it that while there are considerably more people who are mental than there are psychiatrists, it is the mad who are called being stupid (but in a politically correct way)?
Don’t get me wrong, I am not against psychiatrists as such. Most of them do try to help, and I met a couple among them who turned out to be brilliant and fun people. I do take their medication even if I learned from experience that unless I am ready to live like a zombie, I should administer my own dose and not the one they prescribe.
No, it is a lack of a dialogue with psychiatrists that annoys me the most. We know, of course, that psychiatry is an establishment, discussed in length and depth by those willing to sacrifice themselves to the cause. Michel Foucault was perhaps the most prominent scholar in the field and he pointed quite correctly to the fact that psychiatry simply fits into the trend of growing medicalization, where everything that falls outside normality should be treated immediately with some miraculous pills. And usually this is done with such an attitude of arrogance that even those who had no problem in the first place start believing that they are terminally ill.
I did have a problem when I was admitted to the hospital with an acute psychosis for the first time. I didn’t sleep for ten days brought about by the stress of life. I was working for two years as a financial analyst of banks, and as financial crises demonstrate quite clearly, working in finances can drive anyone mad.
The thought pattern after a prolonged insomnia does perhaps belong to the realm of insanity, but among the chaos I was demonstrating to the medical staff who admitted me to the hospital near the city of Amsterdam, there were glimpses of what was really happening with me (besides boring explanations which can be found in their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.)
“I am Buddha,” I told to my doctor and this is exactly how I was feeling at that time. I was feeling light, happy, full of life. Banks under my analysis could go and fuck themselves and I, Ekaterina from Russia, was ready to enter into a higher vintage point.
The doctor didn’t share my wishes towards happiness. He didn’t even smile (or laugh, which would be even more appropriate) and instead of congratulating me on the fact that I finally started to see the truth, that I was on some road of enlightenment and should abandon my job in finances once and for all, he declared with a solemnly serious face,
“I think you are mad.”
In retrospect, the only mad thing I did was share my thoughts with the doctors. Was I Buddha really? No, I wasn’t, even if it is entirely possible that I was one in my past life. No, my state of Buddhahood was pointing towards the general dilemma experienced by our society. I wanted to be out of the system based on accumulation, statuses and endless consumption. I wanted to be free.
But this is the problem with most psychiatrists, in my opinion. They don’t have a broad vision of life. Their focus is on details, on something that treats manifestations and not the underlying cause. They simply don’t understand the madness, because in order to understand it, one has to be mad himself. How can you treat something when you don’t see or hear the same thing?
As Nietzsche once said, “Why does man not see things? He is himself standing in the way. He conceals things.” Funnily enough, he described in this way the state of psychiatry today. Psychiatry conceals things.
But because of the weight that the whole establishment carries on its shoulders, we are obliged to obey and if we don’t, we are forced to. My path towards enlightenment was cut short after that doctor put me on a killing dose of risperidone and suggested that I might suffer from schizophrenia. The only thing I could think of after the treatment was how nice it would be to die.
More diagnoses followed later, more hospitalisations (it is normal that one stops a medication that can potentially kill) and more tears. It was only enormous determination on my part, as well as simple curiosity, that finally helped me to get away from those psychiatrists. I haven’t seen them now for five years, I said goodbye to their claws even if the diagnosis of bipolar hangs firmly above my head.
But I don’t mind, because this diagnosis gives me the opportunity to speak. It shows that I’ve been there, I’ve seen it. I’ve seen the sad faces of patients who are told day after day that they are mad.
But what is madness exactly? Psychiatry describes it as a loss of touch with reality, as foolish behaviour, as insanity. It is amazing that we take their definitions seriously, considering that those who do see things, outnumber the ones who don’t.
Michel Foucault describes it as a discourse. Somewhere by someone it was decided that those who are more powerful should mistreat those who are weak, and while we see the rise of fight on behalf of other groups who have been discriminated against in the past, this rise towards freedom and equality from the mad is a slow process. This, I believe, is because of stigma, because they are afraid to speak, and because society is scared of anything that points to the fact that there might be another reality.
After that walk in the park, I admitted to myself for the first time that what I see is real. I see angels and fairies, I believe in the afterlife, I talk with animals and I know all about my past lives. And yes, I did meet the Devil. His numerous appearances helped me to realise that madness can also be a battle for one’s soul. I am a firm Christian as a result.
Am I being mad? Probably. But this is what I like in my life. If, on that day I was admitted to the hospital for the first time, someone asked me whether I would like to become normal again and forget about everything that happened to me, I would say a definite no. Because I remember how I was, sitting in a boring job day after day and believing that life was about my next salary, a useless trip to the gym and which diet to follow.
No, life is not about that, I’ve realized. Life is about discovery and madness, and seeing it this way is a sure way to get it right. I am finally free.
(This article was first published on Mad in America in 2015, but I asked to remove it, due to stigma.)
Here is the link to the original article.
Let’s make a break in psychiatry and return to Russia for a bit, my country, my native land.
I was born into a truly picturesque environment, I was born in Moscow. If you ever plan a trip to Russia, I really advise you NOT to miss that place. Moscow has the true Russian architecture, with its magnificent Kremlin, decorating the central space. There is also a mausoleum of Lenin there, something I never visited and never will, but let’s ignore a small negativity of the legacy of some Egyptian traditions to mummify a dead body, and move on towards the Cathedral of Vasily the Blessed, known as St. Basil Cathedral, and also as Pokrovsky Cathedral, built from 1551 to 1561 on the decree from Ivan the Terrible, to commemorate the capture of Kazan and Astrakhan.
The Cathedral is more than magnificent, it is truly, I feel, a symbol of Russia and of Russian Orthodox Christianity. It stands tall and proud across the Moscow river, and when you drive past it at night, you land up in a magical domain, once you see it illuminated, like a star in a beautiful night. It shines by its beauty, and it shines its Christianity. It is a partial museum now, and when on a visit there, I always felt that it should be restored as a proper church. I know that from 1991 Church services restarted there, which is a blessing, of course.
The grave of the Russian Saint, Saint Vasily is there, the Russian Holy Fool (read about holy foolishness on my post here), and it has a shape of a bonfire, a design that is totally unique and as Dimitry Shidkovsky, described in his book ‘Russian Architecture and the West’, “It is like no other Russian building. Nothing similar can be found in the entire millennium of Byzantine tradition from the fifth to the fifteenth century…a strangeness that astonishes by its unexpectedness, complexity and dazzling interleaving of the manifold details of its design.” (2007, p. 126).
Moscow is full of magical, unexpected places. It is a unique combination of old and new, where almost each corner presents something wonderful and unique, and is truly Russian. If I return to Russia as a tourist, I will start with Moscow, and then proceed to the golden ring, and definitely not miss Suzdal, a city full of churches, but let’s take a walk in Moscow first.
My favourite place to hang out was always the Old Arbat and then walking towards the Kremlin across the bridge, right down to the Oktiabriaskaya underground station. Or turn right after leaving the Arbat and walk through the boulevard park towards Ostozhenka, where the Linguistic University can be found (former Institute of Foreign Languages, where I studied for a year, before moving to Brussels to continue my other degree in languages there). The Old Arbat is a pedestrian street, favourite of the artists, and vagabonds. It always attracted weird crowds of people, and that’s maybe I loved it so much. I felt like a part of the crowd of interesting, unusual people, of artists, painters and performers. My other best friend, Sergei, would often take me there, and we would chat and drink with his friends of the University of Film and Cinema (BGIK) where he studied to become an actor.
The Old Arbat has many interesting cafes, where one can get a good impression of how Russian people eat. It is always a nice warm meal, very delicious, as how pancakes, pastries, delicious porridges, fresh bread from the oven, and the incredible influence we got as legacy from Georgia and Armenia, can not taste good? Tea is more popular than coffee, and drinking tea is a proper ritual. If you are invited for a tea to the Russian family, except a feast. People in Russia, and my native town, are extremely hospitable. You will need to go on a diet, I guarantee you that. Russian host will bring everything he or she has on the table. Last time I was back in Moscow, my best friend, Masha, prepared a table that an army could eat. She made me my favorite meatballs, numerous salads, pastries, and a cake. My other best friend, Anya, made for me a special chicken and a salad of shrimps under the mayonnaise, that is now my signature dish if I am hosting.
I used to love walking in Moscow. I would spend days on it. After finishing my classes at the University, I would walk towards the Park of Culture, and admire the tress, and the lake, and then walk towards the Crimea Bridge and admire my native city. From the Crimea bridge that connects the underground station of Park of Culture and Oktyabriaskaya, one can get a glimpse of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour and see the House of Artist, where I used to attend lessons in drawing, and that always has interesting, unique expositions.
Moscow is huge, and as a whole, does reflect well the Russian culture. It has churches with bells, numerous parks, incredible underground station, and people that read. One of the most amazing book shops, called Dom Knigi stands proud on the New Arbat, and if you are lucky one day to travel on the Moscow’s underground station, you will get the impression that you travel in a moving library. Everyone reads. Rides are long to connect people who go to work or to study, and they use this time with wisdom: they read.
At night the center is illuminated and if you do believe in magic, you will notice, that you are indeed in a magical land. I left my native, my beloved city at the age of nineteen to study in French in Brussels, another city I fell in love with. But I will tell you more about Brussels in another post.
P. Tchaikovsky – Pas de Deux (‘The Nutcracker’
It was while being on holidays in the Canaries that I saw the power of the cross on the devil. The cross happened by accident, while the devil wasn’t just an occurrence, but a well-calculated presence in a good (five star hotel) in Playa Blanca, in Lanzarote.
We got a last minute deal with my former partner and our child. We didn’t have that much money, but saw an offer while looking at holidays deals, and there it was, a nice hotel with several swimming pools, with an all-inclusive option, in our favorite town in the Canaries, the beautiful Playa Blanca, right next to the ocean, where the wind is always breezing, and where the sun embraces everyone with its warmth in the morning. It is indeed a unique place – quiet and cozy, and where British tourists still travel in their minority, leaving enough space for local Spanish tapas and gentle artisanal music. There are no loud bars, and no casinos, and while there is one McDonalds, it is hidden away in an alley, not placed at a central place, as happened in other nice towns, countries, and spaces.
I was sitting at the café by the swimming pool of the hotel, having a break for myself, while my partner was looking after our son at the swimming pool. I had a notebook where I was frantically writing my thoughts. I was working on a book idea, where the subject line was based on the concept of psychic vampires, ruling a beautiful country, called the Republic of Light, and proclaiming everyone as ‘mad’ who dared to exhibit strange thoughts or ideas. Needless to say, the idea for a book was based on what I was also observing in my daily reality, and the dystopian motive was embedded in how I perceived our daily world.
I saw HIM from a distance, he was walking towards my table, and I failed to notice in the beginning that I was dealing with the devil. I was just flabbergasted that a strange man, with extremely weird energetic field around him, chose to sit at my table, staring at me all the way, while there were lots of empty tables around, and it was indeed very surprising as to why the man installed himself on the chair in front of me, and would just look at me piercingly, without saying a single thing for at least good twenty minutes. I glanced at him, and gave a brief smile out of habit (to be polite), while feeling goosebumps on my skin. It was a total feeling of fear that I sensed, but I still failed to understand the significance of the appearance of the man. My sanity was just telling me that I was simply dealing with a slightly deranged person. He was sitting at the table, looking at me, almost without blinking, and I couldn’t help but sense that he was trying to read my thoughts. My thoughts, however, were around psychic vampires and a heroine for my book, called Olivia Jenson, who could lucid-dream, noticing that people around her, the so-called ruling class, were sucking energy out of good people, and organized mass surveillance in order that everyone complies with a certain behavior. The concept of psychic vampires I borrowed from a good book by Ellen Dugan, called ‘Practical Protection Magick’, and while I tried to keep the idea of my own book in the domain of fiction, I couldn’t help but start having a definite sensation that in front of me, was indeed a psychic vampire, feeding on my energy and trying to read my thoughts, which (at that moment) were strolling around psychic energy and how my heroine would eventually liberate the Republic of Light and the world.
The man, if I describe him in more details, had that distinctive appearance when you can’t point exactly as to whether it is a man or a woman. I assumed it was a man, but it could also be a woman. He was blond, of stocky appearance, quite tall, and it was a voice, with high pitch, that made me jump but also start doubting that I was dealing with a man. But the gender of the person in front of me wasn’t my biggest preoccupation at that moment, it was the feeling of imminent danger and the realization that perhaps I was indeed dealing with something totally strange.
“How are you?” The man asked me, and the goosebumps returned on my skin and I started to feel that I would faint any moment, and the feeling of danger took massive proportions as I saw that my partner and my son were approaching the table, and I couldn’t have this man anywhere near my son, but at the same time there was nothing I could really do. He was firmly sitting on the chair and looked like someone who would never move, and I realized that I was under some sort of hypnosis and was almost fighting for my life. I sensed that I wouldn’t be able to chase him away or take my partner and my son somewhere else, as our society of normality is based on the assumption that everyone acts in a certain way, and I would be accused of being totally impolite and rude if I just said to my partner and my son not to approach the blond man. A huge scandal was in the air, but it was more than that, it was like an atom was above our heads, ready to explode any second.
Was it indeed a survival instinct that suddenly kicked in, judging from what I did next? Some higher force? I am not sure but I said to my partner and my son to wait for me, and run towards our room in the building to change into a tee-shirt. My decision had no logical grounding, as I was already dressed for the day, in a nice pink dress, acquired in Oxfam charity shop two years previously.
But here I was, suddenly feeling a need to change my attire. I quickly put on a tee-shirt of also nice pink color and matching shorts, and quickly run back towards the café, noticing from a distance that the man was still sitting there, and watching my son. It was a strange view, and I could sense that my partner was as puzzled as me, thinking: ‘but who is this man, and what does he want precisely?’
I also failed to realize the significance of my attire and it was only the frantic movement of the man who suddenly jumped when he saw me approaching that made me glance at my own tee-shirt. The man was standing now, laughing with a definite note of fright, looking at my tee-shirt in fear. He then turned around and left, leaving me and my partner totally stupefied by the whole experience.
I had a large printed cross on my tee-shirt when I checked it properly and I knew at once that I had dealt yet again with the devil, and he is the most powerful psychic vampire on earth, able to take many forms and appearances.
Dugan, E. (1963). Practical Protection Magick: Guarding and reclaiming your power. Llewellyn Publications. Woodbury, Minnesota.
ORBC Family organization. (2019). ‘What Does the Cross Represent in the Christian Faith?’, online at https://www.orbcfamily.org/faith/what-does-cross-represent-christian-faith/