The Names of Crazy

From an image by Goya.

From an image by Goya.

I have been crazy for three weeks. One week of panic attacks. One week of tearful longing. One week of indulgence. My attention won’t obey me. It darts about like a panicked animal. I’ve had to let it loose in a field to run off its energy. I’m stood in the long grass calling its name with a handful of horse feed. I have so many things I am meant to be doing.

But I know crazy now. I’ve learnt that trying to be less crazy makes me more crazy. You can’t shout the seasons past. I’m waiting, like St. Kevin holding his arms out, waiting for the blackbird to fledge.

I will be 30 next week, I feel pretty good about it. My regularly scheduled crises mean that I have a lot of practice for the social sanctioned ones. I sorted out being 30 when I was 22. But in my three decades, my crazy has accumulated names. Doctors have offered me ADHD, depression, bipolar, and a selection of personality disorders like paint swatches. I don’t mind them. I think about true names and false names, about masks and roles.

I am only crazy, it turns out, when I expect something. Crazy is what I am when I’m not sane, and sane is always, one way or another, about employment. Or ‘functionality’. Crazy is my inability to do something.

If I didn’t have to work, if I could be hyper when I was hyper and sad when I was sad, creative when I was creative and indulgent when I indulgent, how would we locate my madness? We measure time by movement, we measure crazy by failure.

 Look at the language. I am ‘Attention Deficit’ — compared to what? Isn’t it as true to say that for me, and around 5% of the population, the world we live in is just too fucking boring? Do I have depression, or is living during the upswing of neoliberalism and fascism actually quite sad?

When I was in London, and I almost died of crazy, it took 2 years for the NHS to contact me.

‘I realised that I was just sad and lonely and frightened.’ I said. ‘I was having panic attacks because I knew something was wrong and I couldn’t see a way out. A small pay rise fixed the worst of it.’ I said.

‘Sounds like depression.’ said the Doctor. 

The problem, it seems, is always the individual.

‘Try mindfulness.’ they say. As if paying more attention to the world would make it less scary. As if breathing exercises cure hopelessness.

In British English, the polite form is ‘a disabled person’ rather than ‘a person with disabilities’.  A person in a wheelchair can’t get into a building because it doesn’t have a ramp. The lack of ramp isn’t something the wheelchair user carries with them, it isn’t generated in their body. The lack of ramp is something that is done to them. The lack of ramp disables. A verb, not a noun. An action.

I’m disabled enough that the government bought me a printer and gave me £250 a year to spend on ink. Thanks Theresa. I’ll make some really nice zines. And, as a disabled person, I like the thinking in the last paragraph. It fits my politics and experience. It’s also fairly standard now. But we haven’t followed it to its logical conclusion.

I don’t have depression in a vacuum. Depressed, yes, but let’s say ‘made depressed’ to really stress the verb rather than the adjective. I don’t just have a personality disorder, I have a society that cannot accommodate my personality. I’m not attention deficit, my world is boring.

Why does treatment for ADHD focus on making the person more attentive, rather than making their world more worthy of attention?

I’m not saying to bin your meds. I’m not saying fuck the psychological establishment or any of the other bullshit that ends up written in courier over photographs of trees on Facebook. There are ways of being that will be difficult in pretty much any arrangement of a society. I’m not saying madness isn’t sometimes mad.

But the way we speak around mental health positions it as something inherent to the individual. Sometimes, often, crazy is not something I am, but something I am doing, and something that is done to me.  The famous line muttered under your breath after you hang up from work; ‘Yeah I’m sick…sick of your shit.’

Maybe less people would be hiding in bed if there wasn’t so much to hide from. Maybe the attention-horse is sometimes right to stay in the field, is what I’m saying.