In, Through, Beyond; Madness – Gary Platz

I remember running a workshop in a mental health conference in the late 90’s and saying I won’t use the word ‘recovery’ because I don’t believe the word recovery describes the process. You don’t recover from extreme experiences of what is diagnosed mental illness but you can transcend them (transcend: Latin, transcendere, ‘climb over or beyond, surmount, overstep’). I use quotes by way of explanation.

‘Man’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.’ (Oliver Wendell Holmes).

If an idea stops a mind going back to its original dimension, how about extreme experiences of ‘diagnosed mental illness’? What does that do to dimension?

So, I made a point at this workshop of saying I am not going to use the word recovery.

I ran a workshop at the next year’s conference. There were several people who had been at the workshop the year before. I was standing with a lot of handouts with the word recovery all through them. So, I had to explain that last year I said I wouldn’t be using the word recovery, this year I am. The reason being, the word was taking hold and it was just easier to use it. At the time, the word was in line with what I was expressing the year before. Recovery was expressing a transcendent and intrinsic experience. Even more than that, it was evoking a transcendent experience (evoke: Latin, evocare, ‘call out, rouse, summon’. Often, more or less with a sense of ‘calling spirits’, or being called by them; of feelings, memories, etc.). In this way, the word recovery became profound.

Now, it is 2017. For years, there has been a lot of talk about recovery being ‘colonised’ by the mental health system; it has been thrown around too loosely. To me, the term recovery had a period where it had had that profound evoking sense. The word was big. The word recovery created big images.

Now the meaning of it has shrunk. It has been put in boxes of workshops, articles, programmes and services with ‘recovery’ in front of them. The shrink wrap of tools, plans, programmes, and the ownership of these, is wrapping ever tighter, trapping the breath and life they hold.

I find I am back at where I was all those years ago, cautious about using the word recovery. Hence the title—In, Through, Beyond Madness

Why do I use the word madness? (Mad, late 13th century, Old English, gemædde (plural) ‘out of one’s mind’ (usually implying also violent excitement). For me, I relate to madness as it evokes images for me that I drew from my culture, which best suited my experiences of being out of my mind, and yes, I certainly experienced violent excitement at times, violating others with my madness’s literalistic dogma (literally: ‘what one thinks is true’). In my madness, the marrow in my bones was oozing with it is true. In my madness, my mind definitely goes out of its usual place to another place.

In my culture, madness is a word that has history (not getting into the history of madness though, I am sure you all have your thoughts and images). I feel a connection to that history. History gives madness its reality, (a place between now and once upon a time, Hillman) a chronology. I am connected to the mad people of now and history not through blood or genetics, but the shared experience of extremes. The shared experience of extremes of the mad people of whatever culture, ethnicity or century, connects me to them, the mad ancestors.

The word ‘psychosis’ doesn’t have that history (‘mental derangement’, modern Latin, from Greek psyche, ‘mind’ (see psyche) and osis,) ‘abnormal condition)’. The Greek word psykhosis means ‘a giving of life; animation; principle of life.’

I do like the word psykhosis—the giving of a life, animation, and principle of life.

In madness

Being in madness is being out of one’s mind. It is being in a place of psykhosis, a place that gives life, animation, a source of life. In madness, it is though living in another place in life, a place of extremes, destiny and despair, a place of extreme beauty and ugliness, a place of awe and awful, a place of agony and ecstasy, a place of profound meaning and meaninglessness. It is a place that has forces that feel beyond control, beyond human, when we are in it and respond to it. Others don’t see this this place of psykhosis that we are living in or it is living in us. They do see us living and responding, and it’s as if they think that we are in their ordinary place. We are not, but to them it looks, feels and sounds like we are mad. For most of us, this place of psykhosis has been diagnosed and along with the diagnosis of a set of ‘symptoms’, ‘pathological’ behaviours.

Through madness

Often the helpful response to this diagnosed state is to try to make it disappear through medication and so on. For me, that was quite ineffectual. Over time, living in madness, this place of psykhosis, I learnt the skill or ability to watch myself living in this place. I began to see these ‘symptoms, behaviours, pathologies’ as metaphorical windows to look through the surface tensions of my madness as if in a glass-bottomed boat, I could start looking at what was beneath. I began to see that living these ‘symptoms’ and ‘pathological behaviours’ was in fact acting out mad dramas. These mad dramas were to do with things affecting me when I was in an ordinary place in my life. I began seeing that while mad, in the place of psykhosis, this place of drama, acting out of my ‘symptoms, pathologies’ was my last desperate attempt to take notice of what was wounding me; it desperately mattered. I had best take notice of what was tearing me out of this ordinary place into this extra-ordinary place of extreme experience. I needed to chew, swallow and digest while in this place. I need to consume. I needed to be a consumer of what I was acting out in my ‘pathology’ or ‘symptom’ dramas, not a consumer of mental health services. I needed to look at these mad dramas. Chew them over, swallow them, and digest them.

Beyond Madness

Living these mad dramas, looking at them and the consuming—chewing, swallowing, digesting—is, at times, living extreme violent excitement that put me in places I regret. I put others in difficult, desperate and despairing places because of my violating excitement. At times, my mad dramas violated me to the core or so it felt. At times my mad dramas caused me to be violated by others. All this, I had to chew over, swallow and digest.

Living these mad dramas and consuming them provided the fuel for understanding, for wisdoms, and for new ways of seeing. This helped me come back to my ordinary place. This helped me interact in my ordinary place, but by living and consuming all these mad dramas, experiencing their agonies and the ecstasies and glimpses of meanings and destinies, I came back to my ordinary place not as I was before the mad dramas but with what was being digested and fuelled by the consumption of them. Referring to the Oliver Holmes quote, I was coming with new dimensions. These new dimensions are the transcendence. They are the beyond madness. They are the gifts that I didn’t have before. They are the gifts I have now, to exchange when interacting within the world.

Swallowing Change

I’m waking up, I think
I’m in a bookshop now
One that sells manuals
Household hints on removing stains
Smeared on heart etched in bone
I’m clutching a book of promises
I’m swallowing change.

I’m waking up, I think
I’m in a valley now
The transformation rapids
The whirlpool weeks
I’m saturated, wash the blood
Fresh, glorious wash the sins away
I’m swallowing change.

I am waking up, I think
I am in the mire now
The walk is solemn
I stumble on memory bones cracked and twisted
Any soft beauty long picked clean
Their starkness pearl bright
I hear your whisper; I bend down, touch one
The moonlight caresses the crevices
I see white; I see darkness in twists, in cracks
I’m swallowing change.

I am waking up, I think
I am in memory lane now
You’re standing on the corner
Head bowed watching through tears
Soft, silent
I polish a bone on my shirt
I caress it, put it back
They are all hear, you sing
I look, you may be right
I’m swallowing change.

I am waking up, I think
I’m held by your song now
A sacred song, a working song
A song of ritual, a song of reconstruction
The thigh bone etched in story
Gives meaning to the pelvis
Its metaphor, its unfinished line
I’m swallowing change.

I’m waking up, I think
I’m in a clay pit now
Your song says this is yours to give
Mould it as you may
I look at my hands
Empty, raw from clutching
Yet, I can’t ignore your song
I’m swallowing change.

I’m waking up, I think
I’m in morning glow now
Your song is an echo in me
My bones speak my words now, the clay
My hands are full, I’ll mould it as I may
I’m swallowing change.

We are all waking up now, I think
We are approaching the light of day
Her song, it is echoing in us all
Our bones speak our words now, the clay
Our hands are full, mould it as we may
While we keep swallowing change.

Gary Platz









5 thoughts on “In, Through, Beyond; Madness – Gary Platz

  1. Wow Gary! Wow!
    I love your reflections on madness and ‘recovery’.
    I have seen, experienced and understood ‘recovery’ as transcendent, but fear it has become colonised… branded and blanded-out, so services can congratulate themselves on how ‘consumer-centred’ they are… can it be reclaimed, reframed, re-energised? Or is there a new word or term that has the transcendent power and subtlety to authentically capture diverse journeys to meaning and strength and wisdom?

  2. It’s a hard one. I tend to use phrases like ‘continued healing’ or ‘I’m okay.’ I’ve found that the phrase ‘there is goodness’ sits fairly comfortably alongside pain or unresolved issues. It didn’t always, so I think that indicates some healing. ‘Recovery’ seems too concrete and complete for me. Thanks for starting the conversation, Gary and Andrew.

  3. Hello Gary
    Stumbled upon you while looking at warmline today a life changing experience for me.You and Renee are never far from my thoughts be well un madness be at peaceful with yourself

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