“…I’ve written and published such and such, blah blah blah…. It would be very valuable to me personally to be a part of the Mad Studies course as it would provide me with important opportunities to bring together my collected thoughts on mental health and continue to be a part of a vibrant critical mental health movement.
I feel that I could bring to the programme my lived experiences as someone who has contended the psychiatric system as it is and as someone who is angry about the injustices which are recreated in culture and through pernicious myths. I would also bring to the programme scholarly skills, research experience and my passion for analysing complex problems relating to how people’s behaviours are perceived and to institutionalised structural violence.”
This is the tail end of the personal statement I made to get on the Mad Studies MSc course which Queen Margaret University are running; the first in the world I am led to believe.
As someone without formal academic qualifications getting this personal statement right has been very important. Language matters, the words matter; sticks and stones may break my bones, but names encourage people to hurt me. The uses of the word ‘Mad’ I contend with. It is a word that is loaded and used as a weapon, a word that condemns people to pre-conception even in the face of alternative evidence.
To me, Mad Studies means anger, an emotional reaction in response to injustices. My approach is based on the standpoint that equity should be the highest principle of the legal system which society creates to settle disputes. I am Mad-angry because of the lack of equity-equality in the structures of our society and in how people are met when something ails them.
Rubric bound systems have negated the voices, knowledge and experience of people who are perceived to be the targets of the dominant medical system. People have been traumatised by the way they have been treated by the apparatus established by other human beings. It boils down to inequality of treatment – how one person is treated unequally to another, which contravenes the human rights of certain individuals.
I take no fixed position on matters of well-being for mind and emotion and think it is problematic to do so. If we are not open to new information, or to exploring perspectives which don’t accord with our own view, we are set adrift from the tools which help us navigate complexity. There are no categoricals that hold true on close scrutiny.
There is something important to be found in the accumulated information of the medical model of mental ailments. For example, there is little doubt that mercury poisoning affects psychological well-being; and there is something equally important to be found in the social model of mental ailments (there is no doubt that bullying affects mental well-being). Exposure to mercury disrupts the normal functioning of the nervous system; social predation causes psychological maladies. Surely we need to respond in complex ways to complex situations?
People are locked into policies and peer group responses that fail to take on new information. Camps form and people feel compelled to agree with pre-packaged positions that do not represent their experience and knowledge. We lack the skills and practices to help us act appropriately where there are disagreements.
It seems that emotional reactions to financial impoverishment are met with powerful, debilitating and life-shortening drugs but only those which come via the prescription pad. Alternatives, like cannabis, are met with criminalisation. Mention some natural molecule which cannot be patented, and we are met with the shunning silence of specious orthodoxy.
In psychiatry, we seem to be no further forward than tautological accounts of well-being – ‘they’ are psychologically incompetent because ‘they’ have a biochemical imbalance in the brain; however, we are offered no account of what a biochemical balance looks like or how to achieve it. Counterbalancing this is the perspective that ‘it’ is all psychologically-based, but this fixed position takes no account of an aberrant food chain or toxic environments that disrupt neurotransmitter systems, endocrine function and physiological well-being.
Take, for example, organophosphates. They are used as nerve gases during war and post-war put on crops to kill insect life and boost yield. When raised as a valid issue I am denoted as ‘conspiratorial’ and ‘out of touch with reality’, despite citing peer reviewed science. When opioids and petrochemicals, which are known to affect normative neurological functioning, are added to foodstuffs, triggering cravings and affective disorders, nobody wants to know. We hear about positive psychology, but not about the crippling poverties of a toxic society.
I’m angry about the fact that the planet’s apex predator – homo sapiens – has turned on itself and all other forms of life. I’m angry about the natural world being turned to foodstuffs or yoked as a pleasure toy. I’m angry that this goes unacknowledged, but I am called mad and problematic for raising it. I am silenced because I raise such issues when asked what pains me. I am deemed mad not to be party to this.
But I don’t want to fight. I don’t want any more violence. I want peace. I want to be left alone in my difference, to be….
Asylum, grant me asylum. I call to the weather, the rain, the re-configured homelessness, for I am effectively stateless…
“I don’t have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It’s a depression. Everybody’s out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel’s worth. Banks are going bust. Shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter. Punks are running wild in the street and there’s nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there’s no end to it. We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat, and we sit watching our TVs while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that’s the way it’s supposed to be. We know things are bad – worse than bad. They’re crazy. It’s like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don’t go out anymore. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is: ‘Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won’t say anything. Just leave us alone.’ Well, I’m not gonna leave you alone. I want you to get MAD! I don’t want you to protest. I don’t want you to riot – I don’t want you to write to your congressman, because I wouldn’t know what to tell you to write. I don’t know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first you’ve got to get mad. (shouting) You’ve got to say: ‘I’m a human being, god-dammit! My life has value!’ So, I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell: ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take this anymore!’”
This speaks to me, but it is on the TV. It is fiction, drawn from people’s lives, and leased back to us. It is from the 1976 film Network with Peter Finch and Faye Dunaway. It is a parable of our iatrogenic times – I want to stick my head above the parapet and say how mad I am about the mind sickening culture that has been created. I am angry and scared because I know how critical speech is reacted to if you don’t take the shilling to be silent.
I wrote this piece to record how I go into this Master of Science on Mad Studies. There was no space in the digitised application process to record what it really means to me. I’m going into the institution with hope because I’ve not sold my silence for a shilling. We are a people divided from our selves – estranged from our authentic possibilities – betrayed by the response to our suffering.
We are made crazy through being starved of the things we need – food and social relations; we are maligned for taking drugs which blot out the modern and technocratic forms of cruelty and impoverishment; and we are disturbed that evil is banal and in every day actions. I am left with the final dignity of speaking the truth to this dread filled culture of deference. This is part of my final dignity that I share.
Alex Dunedin is an independent researcher who works with the community education project, Ragged University and Asylum magazine.
This is a sample article from the Winter 2021 issue of Asylum [28.4]. Subscribe to Asylum Magazine.