Mad Farmer Sascha #73

NOTHING LIKE PAIN

“When you’re looking at pain-- you’re looking at truth
Nothing like pain to make us all the same…”
The Gits

Excerpt from an email I wrote to this 18 year old just out of the psych ward, diagnosed bipolar like me, who wrote after reading a piece I had in the San Francisco Bay Guardian last week (You can check out the piece if you have web access at: http://www.sfbg.com/lit/sept02/bipolar.html):
:
“So the drugs aren’t evil. No really, I swear. It all has to do with harnessing energy, holding onto it, and letting it out when you want -- not letting the brilliance you have block out the sun and send you over to the other side. Psychosis is like catching on fire and just letting yourself burn. It leaves scars. And at some point it becomes harder and harder to put the pieces back together. Having control over your powers is going to become more and more important as you get older, and less and less easy to do. Trust me on that one. There are lots of different places in your brain that don't always need to talk to each other. It's okay to forget things sometimes, even for decades. Just let them rest. Don't try to hold on to all those amazing images and thoughts and plans if you feel them slipping, they'll come back when you need them, when you're ready to handle them. It doesn’t all have to make sense right now. I guarantee you'll understand it all more later on. And this is the most important thing I'll tell you: you need to get enough sleep, okay? Even though that edge space of night and day is where most of the good stuff happens, you can't be there all the time. Not everyone can do what you do, but you gotta save all that ability for when you really need it. That's where the Zyprexa they’re giving you comes in. If you want to get scientific about it, Zypreza or olanzapine dulls the dopamine receptors in your brain, keeps them from firing out of control, because people like us have too much too fast going on. We overheat and catch on fire. We see too much and take in too much until we're blind and burnt out. Zyprexa itself isn’t evil. The company that makes it definitely is, but the drugs are just tools. If you catch it early enough they say you can do the same thing with meditation and yoga and tai chi and herbs. But I know for myself that I can take all the valerian and skullcap and california poppy and kava kava and blue vervane I can stomach and I’m still clawing at the walls and wandering the late night streets. I take 2.5mgs of Zyprexa when I can't sleep sometimes and it knocks me on my ass. Which is just what I need periodically to get me back on track. Sweet sleep, brings me back down to earth speed. Which is really important to be able to do if you want to make your way around this world.”

I’ve been answering a lot of mail these days. Call me crazy but I get this eerie yet very cool feeling sometimes that I’m time jumping and writing to myself in some parallel universe, counciling and warning my other self so that I don’t make the same dumb mistakes over and over again. Amidst all the chaos during the times I’ve slipped into extreme delusional mania, I’ve always had this incredibly peaceful feeling of being the same person as everyone else in the whole world -- that we were all just reflections of each other living in some kind of dreamtime that our collective self had created.
I still catch glimpses of that unity in my daily life now that I’m just a regular civilian and get enough sleep at night. There are these certain things that bond us all together, one of them being tragedy and pain. It amazes me when I stop and think about how much of huge effect our friend Sera’s suicide back in January has had on our greater community. Amazes me how much the dialog really is beginning to shift as people in our anarcho/activist/punk scene start openly talking about their depression and madness in a constructive way.    
Meanwhile, there are a lot of big gaping questions on a lot of our minds, some of the big ones being: what can we do for our friends in times of extreme crisis to keep them from either getting locked up or hurting themselves? How can we set up some kind of alternative support network for all of us who feel so alienated and distrustful of the mainstream? How do we figure out what’s society’s crap and what’s our own, and when the lines are too hard to draw? And if the language that we use to talk about mental illness in our culture doesn’t capture what so many of us go through and leaves us feeling disempowered, how do we go about writing a new language that works for us?
    We finally had our first DIY Mental Health Workshop at the Skillshare in Berkeley last week and there were close to forty people who showed up and participated. I gotta say it left me feeling so inspired. Here was the flyer text me and Elizabeth and Nishanga wrote and got around:

WALKING THE EDGE OF INSANITY: NAVIGATING THE WORLD OF MENTAL HEALTH AS A RADICAL IN THE 21ST CENTURY

As radical political activists and folks living on the fringes the conventional social system, what does it mean within our extended anti-authoritarian community for someone to be "mentally ill" or struggling with traditional labels such as "clinical depression," , "bipolar disorder," or "schizophrenia"? How helpful is the modern psychiatric paradigm that revolves around medicine and psychotherapy and how much of it is really just a function of powerful pharmaceutical corporations, public funding cuts, and a generally deranged society?
Chances are pretty high that if you're reading this, you or someone you care about his been grappling with these questions for years. Come hear from a number of experienced and knowledgeable people who have a healthy distrust of the current system but are working on both conventional and alternative fronts of mental health treatment to empower people who are dealing with the world of insanity to take back control of their lives.
Participate in the beginnings of a long overdue dialogue that addresses
the complicated taboos around mental health issues within the anarchist community and beyond.
This workshop will begin as a presentation detailing practical health tips and information but we hope to inspire a discussion that will last well into the future.

So yeah, it was pretty cool. Almost everyone in the room had a lot to say and it felt very much like the beginning of something great. Afterwards a lot of folks said it was the first time they had talked publicly about the stuff going on inside their heads. Which really I think is so important if we’re going to get anywhere as a community as the years tick by.

Two quick and exciting things:
The website I’ve been talking to you all about for months should actually be up really soon. It’s going to be called the Icarus Project (named after the mythical boy who is given wings and flies too close to the sun) and it’s going to be a forum for folks who are struggling with manic-depression outside the mainstream culture. It’s going to be full of art and stories and resources and a way for people to hook up and coordinate with each other. It’s being set up by my friend Ashley and I and you can write us for more info and to contribute to it at: the_icarusproject@yahoo.com
I’ve actually moved out of the Battcave and I’m living out of the back of my pick-up truck up in the Northwest for the next couple months. At the request of a bunch of folks (and as an excuse to make sure I get to see all the people I care about so much) I’m going to use coming through town as an excuse to have a series of West Coast DIY mental health workshop/discussion groups. We don’t have dates yet but we’re talking like November and in Eugene, Portland, Olympia, and maybe Seattle, and Vancouver. So get in touch with me and I’ll get you hooked up with other folks in your area who’ve been writing and we’ll have a big party. Sound good? I wish all you people who keep writing to me and saying you feel so alone in your experiences could see how damn many of you out there who feel the same way. We need to figure out how to get everyone talking to each other.
scatter@theicarusproject.net (email valid 2011 -ed)
Onwards and Upwards --Mad love to all, Sascha