We all have the potential for madness, but the degree of its manifestation is what really matters, in order to be considered as mental, or just slightly eccentric. The amount of crazy people though is very likely to be on the increase, considering the society in which we are living, not helped by the Corona crisis.
Some time ago, on a visit to a local pub back in Sheffield, to get a cup of coffee I noticed a teacher working at a local school talking with herself. Well, at least it appeared so, because despite my predisposition for what is medically known as hallucinations, I couldn’t spot anyone sitting next to her, and neither could the pub’s staff judging from their whispers.
“Look, look, she is talking with herself!” The waiters were obviously having a blast, and in all honesty, it looked very funny. The teacher was vividly gesticulating into the void and taking part in an animated dialogue with someone who was either invisible or a total illusion on her part. The hilarious part of it was that she was turning slightly to her right, as if indeed there was someone sitting next to her, and the scene looked surreal, as if we were on the set of a new episode of Harry Potter.
I have to admit that I also produced a couple of chuckles, because, first, well, it was quite comical, and secondly, I locked the eyes with the waiters who knew me quite well, and it would be impolite and rude not to join into the camaraderie building, even if admittedly it isn’t nice to laugh at the expense of another human being. But we all do it, despite the teachings of our parents and teachers (ironically so) to the contrary, and we all occasionally watch the funny bits on Facebook or YouTube where eager individuals upload the videos of people in funny distress. Did someone break their leg? Ha-ha-ha. Did he fall down the stairs? Ha-ha-ha. Was she just dumped? Ha-ha-ha.
Well, you know what I am talking about.
But once back at home I was quite sad that I had joined the laughing crowd, because the situation wasn’t that straightforward. You see, I had heard about that teacher. She was diagnosed as ”schizophrenic” when it appeared that the profession of a teacher wasn’t as glamorous as the government had promised, when she found herself dealing with challenging teenagers and often, ungrateful parents, a mortgage which she had to pay even if she lost her job, and two own daughters to raise in the hope that they would become responsible individuals and do well in life. Which in our society has been reduced to getting a job, a house, a husband and some sort of retirement. We have all the reasons to get mad, with the demands that we face in terms of how to be more or less successful in life. We are all victims of what is presented to us as ‘normality’, where watching something like a Big Brother is sold to us as a nice show to watch, where we are driven to build our lives around constant consumption, and where we are reduced to find a partner via an app.
But it wasn’t the knowledge of her personal circumstances which made me uncomfortable. It was the realisation that maybe it was us, the laughing public which had missed the obvious. What if, there was someone sitting next to her? I mean, how do we know? How come that we believe only what our eyes show us, and yet, buy in masses the most recent scam in the field of self-help? Why are we ready to spend a fortune on gurus telling us how to live our lives, and then laugh when we are confronted with a proof that there might be something else out there?
We should never laugh at the expense of others, because one day we can find ourselves on the other side, and then, it won’t be funny.
The psychiatric hospital of today might appear as a foreign, scary object to the mind who has never visited the institution. It represents the unknown, the territory that one is terrified of, but at the same time attracted to with natural human curiosity. Let’s be frank here: we want to know what is inside and who is “hiding” there.
In the eighteenth century, in Europe, many mental institutions called “asylums” were open to the public. In exchange for some entrance money, interested visitors could have a peek: they could stroll in the corridors and observe the patients inside. It was a popular destination by all accounts. People found “madness”—or rather, what is assigned to the term—interesting and irresistible.
Michel Foucault wrote about it extensively, presenting a picture of a typical Sunday morning in Paris for a middle-age couple. They wake up, have breakfast, and then go for a visit to a local asylum for entertainment. Doors were open to the eager public, and the asylums never lacked in visitors. It is indeed interesting, and probably more attractive than going to a theatre or the modern cinema. People aren’t acting there, and they are real.
Today, that same curiosity about manifestations of “madness” is satisfied via books or, more often, via movies. It isn’t by accident that such movies as Girl, Interrupted and A Beautiful Mind were such a big success: “madness” has always been fascinating, and will always attract and terrify the human mind at the same time.
But let’s look at the psychiatric institution of today. It isn’t by accident that doors to it are closed to the curious mind, and only those who are unlucky end up being inside, on the wrong side of the equation—being a patient. The psychiatrists are the ones who walk really free there, looking, observing, analyzing, and then administering the cocktail of modern drugs. We read some stories, we get some news, but it is all presented to us as “mental illness,” part of the bigger discourse on “mental health.”
These stories hide the truth of the modern psychiatric narrative: that real, nice people end up there, and the psychiatric experience is likely to ruin one’s life for good. The drugs they prescribe don’t help with anything, and the stigma which gets attached after one receives a label or diagnosis is forever a scarlet letter on one’s life CV.
I have been unfortunate enough to deal with the psychiatry from “inside” and thus, am an unfortunate witness to the horrors behind the machine. I am also an academic and thus, am interested in the narrative—how my own personal story becomes part of a bigger picture. My story is unique, as are many others, but we all become just statistics in the psychiatric tale. We are all “patients” and we are all “insane.”
The mental health narrative of today is the continuation of the history of the psychiatry, beginning with the age they call “enlightenment,” when the doors were closed to the curious, and only the patients and treating “doctors” were allowed inside. I am not sure it was done out of good will, because it banned the witnesses of the injustices happening there. It is really taking the truth out of the terrifying tale hidden in the modern mental health narrative. People are often held against their will inside these institutions, though their only “crime” is that they dared to have weird thoughts or hear voices.
The modern mental health narrative is the recycling of the psychiatric song to present it to us as something innocent, mundane and even good. Yes, we should think about the sanity of our minds, take care of our bodies, sleep, eat well, and exercise our bodies and minds. However, this tale that appears innocent hides the fact that it simply scares people into a pattern of normality. A pattern where everyone should be the same, behave the same way, and do the same things as everyone else: think about which car to purchase, where to spend the next holiday, and whether to swipe left or right on Tinder. Once you start questioning the so-called normality of student loans, paying mortgages, marriage, kids, gym membership and the like, you will exhibit “abnormal” behavior, I can guarantee you that. You will start questioning things and stop and wonder: Why are there so many homeless people on the streets? Why is Africa so poor? How can I think of the next holiday when there is so much poverty in my otherwise rich land?
Your weird thoughts will scare you, and you might become what they call “depressed.” Depression is definitely not an illness, but it is a fact. It is nothing else but a natural reaction of a mind that wants more from life than the boring tale of “normality.” If you dig deeper, you might even get onto the scale of what they call “bipolar,” and if you embrace your weird thoughts with zeal, and voices finally reach you (the real spirit world hiding behind our “normality” narrative disguised as “the age of reason and enlightenment”), then you might get the label of “schizophrenic.”
All these labels are just words invented by the twisted tale of psychiatry to deceive our minds and prevent us from thinking and behaving differently. There is no mental illness, and there never was. People simply get unwell, and bad things happen in life.
But the psychiatric institution of modern times, with its closed doors, lingers on top of our minds as the forbidden bad fruit that no one should touch, terrifying us and scaring us, because let’s be frank and honest here: no one wants to end up there. And not because one is afraid to become “ill” (we are all prone to “madness,” let me assure you), but because of the narrative of mental health.
Trump demonstrated the scariness of the narrative to perfection when he condemned all “mentally-ill” people. He showed how strong the stigma is and that the slogan “mental illness is like physical illness” is just words into the air. Trump demonstrated the real attitude toward people with “mental illness.” He simply doesn’t know who they are, and what is really taking place—behavior and thought control by the psychiatric institution.
And only a few of us know and see the truth.
The psychiatric institution is mostly an abstract body hanging over our head, sort of a bad headmaster telling us what to do and how to act—a behavioral control manager. It terrifies us with its promise of inflicting a label on the innocent mind, but at the same time, lures us for a peek inside.
Today we don’t have the possibility for a peek inside, but we remain, nevertheless, very curious. We do wonder what is taking place inside, who is held inside, and what it looks like. Mental health patients are your biggest celebrity story, hidden behind the bars of the psychiatric system, which doesn’t want to reveal its badly written script.
I was once inside and thus, am inviting you to have a look. I will take your hand, and encourage you to join me, on an exploration of the inside of the psychiatric institution.
Let’s open the door.
Once we manage it (and it isn’t easy as the doors are really locked), we proceed along a corridor. Psychiatric hospitals operate according to the principle of the panopticon, as Michel Foucault describes in his brilliant book, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. He tells us about the emergence of the modern prison system, operating according to the principle of surveillance. “He is seen, but he does not see; he is an object of information, never a subject in communication,” Foucault tells us, referring to the fact that in our current behavior surveillance system, we act like everyone else due to fear of being observed and punished if we do something wrong. The panopticon has a structure: you have a central vintage point through which you can see everything, scaring the subjects into compliance. The subject is always observed.
Modern psychiatry operates according to the same principle, and so do its facilities, such as mental health institutions. In each long corridor of its facilities you have a central point, where psychiatric nurses hold their watch. It is indeed a watch, and if you think that they provide care and show love, then you are wrong. Most of the time they write notes and if we glance inside the notes we will see the following: “Today M dressed more appropriately and was nice to the staff,” or “This morning G stopped his uncontrollable laughing and showed some insight into his behavior.”
Trust me, school is a piece of cake to pass in comparison to what is happening in the notes and observation techniques of the staff in psychiatric hospital, and none of them ever shows any insight or comprehension into their own idiocratic stance. They simply don’t know what they are doing and why, because of the system of the psychiatric establishment. Those who show any weird thought pattern or exhibit strange behavior should be put inside the mental health institution and be re-trained as to how to behave normally.
The nurses sit at their central point, visibly bored and annoyed. They don’t like the patients who come with constant demands, which are always the same and don’t change. “Can I go out, please?” “Can I have a bath?” “Can someone, please, take me on a walk?” “Can I call my friend R?” “When can I see the doctor?” “When will I be discharged?” These are the irritating demands of the patients, taking the attention of nurses away from their notes—and notes take most of their time and attention, because of someone out of their mind who invented psychiatry: it isn’t the patient that matters, but what is written about him/her in the notes. The notes are shown to the treating psychiatrist and stored on shelves, although no one will ever glance a second time into the books and volumes describing us, describing the behavior of those unfortunate enough to step outside the scales of normality.
But let’s move away from the central post and look at the room next to it. It is a room with a phone, where patients queue (when they are allowed) to make a call, and where the treating psychiatric consultant deals with the patients, if other rooms are occupied. It is a small, stinky room, with a closed window, where both the consultant and his patients feel suffocated and mal-at-ease. The doctor doesn’t want to be there, it is the patient who asks to see him again and again, with the same annoying demand as always: “When can I go home?” she asks.
You might think it is funny, but it isn’t funny at all for the patient on the wrong side of the equation. The power machine is firmly in the hands of the consultant psychiatrist and only he can decide on your fate. And it is indeed a fate: one day longer and the patient can be driven to such a despair that he will try to take his life. And if this happens, the cycle becomes much longer, because in that case, the patient is proclaimed as a risk to himself, and is kept behind the doors for much longer. Then it is just survival instinct that might save the patient and give her the strength to endure it all longer.
Let’s walk away from the room and have some fresh air—in the garden that is usually present (thank god) in the facilities. The garden is used for the patients to have a cigarette and to pray. It is here that most interesting conversations take place, away from the observational post of the nurses. It is here that they dare to quickly exchange their own thoughts, such as sharing the voices they hear and the visions they see. It is here that they also get advice from someone who is more advanced in their knowledge of the panopticon, such as, “Don’t say all this to the doctor.” One needs to comply, behave as normal as possible, and not reveal one’s mind to the psychiatrist. Following the rules also means being extra-nice to the nurses who are not nice back to you, wearing presentable clothes, and acting like you are at an office meeting, definitely not as if in the hospital, oh no. I feel much more relaxed in my working place than I ever was inside a psychiatric hospital.
The psychiatric hospital of today, to conclude my narrative, is a panopticon, a modern prison for the daring mind and for weird behavior. We had a small peek, but in reality, it is much more distressing for the one who is being observed. In some hospitals they have cameras in the rooms to supervise the “patient,” and in some establishments, there are people who stay there for years, injected with drugs against their will, losing all hope and desire for living.
It isn’t funny, it isn’t entertaining, and it is bad.
But all who are lucky enough not to end up there march past this monstrosity, oblivious to the torture of the mind happening behind those walls.
(This article was first published by me on Mad in America website and can be found here.)
Different ways of lives, different languages and cultures appeal to me from an early age.
I remember while being still small in Russia I was walking together with my mother towards the bus station. I can’t recall what was the reason of taking the bus but I clearly remember my state of mind during the march to the bus station
I was out of this world, engrossed totally in my own inner imaginative sphere and I was asking questions in my own head: why is the sky blue? Why should we assume that only the physical manifestations is what the world is about? The road, the bus station visible at a distance, people walking towards it from our Soviet style building where with my family we lived on the 16th floor.
Why are we rushing always towards perfection, my seven years old mind was asking God knows whom. Why do people get angry sometimes and why is the moon moving in cycles?
This sort of questions invaded my head from an early age and I applied a mode of ‘check out of reality’ to deal with all that. Life, according to me as a child, was supposed to be a constant stream of big celebrations: friends around to play and to talk, presents not reserved to just an event such as a birthday or New Year Eve. Cakes everyday, even if in small quantities, people singing on the streets. Children laughing, everywhere and always.
But instead I was confronted with a gruesome picture. Unhappy people queuing for the bus, sleep deprived children going to school, and everyone around playing some kind of normality. You behave, you follow the rules, you obey the existing structure.
My ‘check out’ technique helped me to process the grim reality by presenting me with a more colourful vision. In it lived a magician high in the sky, angels sung, and people danced. I had names for them, burrowed from numerous books I was always busy reading. Christian was a king of the birds, Olanda was a fire queen, while Patrick was a light keeper.
It was while living in the Netherlands that I found a better, much stronger version of a language to address my dilemma as to ‘why’. The Russian version ‘почему’ was too soft, more like a whisper rather than a question asking for an immediate answer. The French ‘pourquoi’ left the possibility of a reply with another question rather than an answer one seeks. To the French ‘Pourquoi’ there is always an option to answer ‘pourquoi pas’. It’s like talking in riddles while your questions still hang in your head.
But the Dutch language gifted me with a perfect word for what I am trying to describe in this post. It is Waarom- strict, precise and powerful sound pronunciation that in English can be spelled as ‘vaaroum’. A single word but holding in itself massive power. I even noticed that when someone asks me ‘Waarom’, I try to still provide some sort of answer even when I have absolutely no clue.
And so now, while I march in my daily reality I start my questions in my head with this powerful Dutch world:
Waarom have we so much poverty still?
Waarom did we have September 11?
Waarom there is still so much misery in our beautiful world?
Waarom there is so much sadness where I can hear so much crying?
And most importantly, waarom asking too many questions about humanity and the world we are living in, is considered as being too weird.
Waarom do we accept the ‘normality’ of this world where people mostly march with neglect and indifference to what’s happening in our beautiful planet, such as hunger in some countries, poverty in almost all countries, so much anger, so much disappointment, tears and sadness?
Before we launch fully into the phenomenon of what the psychiatrists define as ‘psychosis’, we need to set up a scene.
‘Psychosis’ as such as defined as ‘a loss of touch with reality’, but my aim (a humble one) is to demonstrate, eventually, that those who go into this state (naturally) often reach another reality, which is true, real, and magical.
To set the scene, we need to go back in time, and more specifically to Moscow in 1989. It was the time of ‘mass psychosis’, and my own ‘madness’ or rather questioning on my part but ‘what is really going on here?’ started exactly then.
In 1989 Kashpirovsky made his first appearance on a national Russian state TV. As I remember he would appear once a week, for a televised mass hypnosis. Yes, you read it correctly. The national TV (one of the two channels which existed at that time) would air a hypnotist for an hour or so, to hypnotize an entire nation. I am not making it up. Google ‘Kashpirovsky’ or check this article about him in The Guardian.
Kashpirovsky was a trained psychotherapist, a lecturer, and a self-proclaimed ‘psychic healer’. Provided you had a bottle of water in front of the TV (that was his requirement in his address to the nation), you would be healed of all your troubles, both physical and spiritual.
My engagement with Kashpirovsky happened at a very personal level, as I could see, with my proper eyes, that something was terribly wrong. Absolutely out of order.
I was reaching my years as a teenager at that time, and alternated between my dad’s family and my grandma, who lived on the same street, in the same house, but in a different apartment. I would often stay with her. She was an old, fragile lady, who had lost her beloved husband, and was struggling to adjust to the radical changes that my country was undergoing then. The regime and ideology were changing, and the majority of the population was at a loss about what was really going on.
Being still very young, I also didn’t know what was really happening, but one thing was clear: it was all wrong, and especially the appearance of mass hypnosis on the state TV. The word ‘psychic’ made me feel uneasy, and somehow suspicious. The whole nation was lost then on a spiritual level, and it seemed that all sorts of charlatans and fakes tried to feel the niche. This was taking place in parallel with the resurgence of the Russian Orthodox Church, and therefore, it was all terribly confusing. But wasn’t the ‘hypnosis’ on such a mass scale in total contradiction to the Christian teachings, I was asking myself?
My uneasiness was also based in seeing what Kashpirovsky was doing to my late grandma. As most people she would wait for Kashpirovsky on TV the whole day (streets would empty during his ‘séance’), put a bottle in front, and stay glued during the whole hypnosis.
I couldn’t watch it and tried to argue in vain with her that maybe it was all too far-fetched, and even dangerous. I was an avid reader by then, I was extremely curious, and from the scarce knowledge I had by that time, I had a nasty gut feeling that by ‘saying’ things on the state TV, and by channelling some kind of ‘energy’, one could indeed hypnotize an entire nation to death. I also didn’t like the look of Kashpirovsky, and he didn’t strike me as someone one could trust.
Kashpirovsky didn’t heal the nation, and subsequent reports demonstrated the harm he had inflicted on numerous people. I could see what happened to my grandma after following his sessions. She developed diabetes, and on a spiritual level got lost even more. The promises of Kashpirovsky were all lies, as nothing was ‘calm’ anymore or would ‘get better’.
It all got worse, for the nation, for Russian people, and also for my own family for a long while.
But why do I give you the example of Kashpirfovsky, you might ask, to set the scene?
Well, mainly for two reasons.
First of all, it is to demonstrate that once someone puts a ‘psychotherapist’ or ‘psychiatrist’ in front of you, on a national level, it is often in order to exercise the power, and authority which can be misplaced, wrong and even not ethical. The UK government (and many other governments) are doing it now on a scale similar to mass hypnosis, by waiving their term of ‘mental illness’ and putting it on the same level as ‘any other physical illness’. As discussed by many survivors (check the open letter to the UK government by National Survivor User Network), it is nothing but an attempt to get rid of dealing with people experiencing distress on an individual level, and is in cooperation with Big Pharma. It all comes from the psychiatry, which is no longer a domain reserved to medicine, but a fifth estate, with the enormous power to regulate the entire population.
Secondly, it is to show that the general population often doesn’t see the obvious, even if the obvious is in front of you. Kashpirovsky and his hypnosis was a very obvious, and quite dangerous scam, happening so openly in front of the eyes of the entire population, that very few questioned its legitimacy. Indeed, why should we, if it is promoted by the government itself?
The point I am trying to make, is that ‘psychosis’ is not a matter of an individual only. The ‘loss of touch’ with reality is happening to all of us in the Western society, and those who see it are often proclaimed as ‘mad’, because they threaten the status quo of our society based in greediness, profit accumulation, and loss of moral values, where everything goes into making money, more money, and even more. In the UK we have the ‘psychosis’ of Brexit, in Russia we had Kashpirovsky and oligarchs, in the US they had September Eleven, which was a turning point for the direction in which we are all going now. Right after it happened, the stock markets all fell, and hedge funds made billions in money. I was working as a financial analyst of banks in Amsterdam then, and watched in stupor that such a massive human disaster was nothing but a matter of buying stocks on the stock market.
It also led to increase in distress among the general population, because of incomprehension as to how to process something totally incomprehensible, but as in Moscow in 1989, it led to the rise of psychiatric admissions and of treating human malaise with the psychiatric drugs, making profit for Pharma.
And the cycle goes on.
Being ‘mad’ is a cry of sanity in the world gone mad.