Taking off in an airplane, seeing buildings shrink into tiny match boxes, and cars floating together like speckles resembling a parade of ants until the world starts to look like a patchwork of fields interjected by nodes of light clusters. Moments like these, it’s easy to check out, feel both tiny in comparison with the grotesque majesty of this superstructure, and as if your consciousness goes well beyond the sanity of it all. “How did we get here? And what the fuck is the point?”
It’s not much different than the feeling of reaching rock bottom. Or those daily interactions with people who treat you like a demon, knowing that no words in the world could make them understand you. Or watching newscasters talking about terrorists, school shooters, and bank robbers as if they were aliens, while a little voice in your head whispers, “… that could be you.” Taking the bus home after a long day’s work, quietly sharing space with a bunch of strangers when all you want to do is scream and throw shit, wondering if everybody else also feels like they’re about to explode. Thinking so deeply about society that boundaries dissolve and all categories overflow, rendering everything a meaningless chaos.
Whenever we feel like we’re going insane, hopefully we have the presumption to think that it’s not we who are broken, but the conditions that make up this world. If there’s one good thing decades of interrogation with madness has produced, it is this. (But how easy it is to say, and how hard to admit to oneself when things feel dark and painful and pointless.) This assertion transformed the fields of architecture, education, social services, and more. Affect theorists explored how mental health issues like depression and anxiety might be understood as cultural phenomena, not necessarily medical ones.
But when society becomes aware of the shameful ways it deals with its fear of madness, it sometimes makes things worse. When One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest came out, people were shocked, and promptly demanded the closing of “insane asylums” and other psychiatric institutions. Instead of starting a debate about how socio-economic formations produced this kind of “madness” in the first place, and took care of its victims as a form of reparation, the closing of these institutions paved the way for an epidemic of homelessness and new forms of carcerality: the rise of forced hospitalization, psych wards, and the increasing expansion of the prison system.
Feeling crazy is normalized now – compared to, say, the Victorian era, when women had no way of expressing their dysphoria except through bodily symptoms. But with this normalization comes an individualization of care. Self help, is what we call it. Life hacks. Jumping through obsessions with yoga, meditation and green juice cleanses – these ways of coping are forms of self-care and self-harm not so different from drinking until we pass out, or getting through the day with pills and weed and productivity apps. Is it a stretch to say that the only difference between us and those who don’t cope at all is the chance and addictiveness of our forms of self-care?
And yet, these questions are real-life problems for us. How do you find an affordable and decent therapist? Why have so many of our friends been diagnosed? Are all these drugs just poison?
The month of May marks “The Madness Issue” where we will be looking for stories that poke holes in conceptions of both madness and rationality, get real about the emotional labor of care-taking and modern day institutionalization, and delve into the political construction of mental illness.
Email inquiries, pitches, and submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org with “The Madness Issue” in the subject line and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can. Please read our guidelines for writers beforehand.