BY: THE PLAID ZEBRA
At the end of a long and sterile corridor, Mary O’Hagan feels the noose of madness begin to tighten. As a young woman in the 1970s, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and spent several dark years in and out of psychiatric hospitals.
“I’m glad I didn’t know I was going to be the chair of an international network, have a book published in Japanese, advise the United Nations or become a New Zealand mental health commissioner. If I’d told a psychiatrist I was going to do these things they would have upped my anti-psychotics on the spot. They kept pouring accelerant onto my years of despair by telling me I had an ‘ongoing disability’ and needed to ‘lower my horizons,’ writes O Hagan.
She seldom felt helped or understood in the mental health system she was being shuffled within. Many people with mental anguish self-discriminate, absorbing the idea that they are incompatible with the community around them. The grand theories imposed on her by mental health professionals seemed to only push her further over the edge. What she couldn’t wrap her head around was how they often viewed psychosis as purely negative.
“Unless people see madness as a full human experience, such as a crisis of being that value and meaning can be derived from, their responses to it will continue to marginalize and do harm,” writes O’ Hagan.
Discrimination only pushes the alienated into darker places. For psychiatrists, madness is just a collection of disturbing symptoms. For the mad, however, existential struggle can be a powerful experience that the tools of creativity and intuition can be applied to, forging the deepest meaning out of the experience. Just look at Vincent Van Gogh, James Taylor, or Sylvia Plath. As Albert Einstein put it: “great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.”
In search to make sense of her madness, O’Hagan revisits the mental institution to come face to face with the condemning words written about her in her psychiatric files, and compares this to her own lived experience.
“They told me I should think twice about having children because of my genes. It was a delight to prove them wrong,” writes O’ Hagan.
Like the famous Rosenhan experiments of the 1970s, this 3 minute documentary will make you question if “insanity” is a relative term, and perhaps if it can be only considered an objective term within the realm of one’s own experience.