On Madness


Perhaps a lunatic was just a minority of one.” George Orwell

It is probably mad to write about madness if you’ve ever been mad, but I’m just crazy enough to have a go at it. Being a poet, I prefer madness to mental illness. It just feels crazier, less clinical.

Madness is a touchy thing to those who have been mad. Madness sees things differently, in some ways better, in others not. It is about intensity and clarity at the level of a nuclear explosion. Bright. Shining. Unsustainable. Alluring. Addictive.

Madness is like waking up into a dream. You are awake; you are in the world; but nothing is quite as it was. You would like to go back to sleep and try waking again into the normal, but the normal is gone — for good. The passage of time alone does not help; it only makes things weirder.

You can get better. With luck and help, you can learn to fit into what, for others, is normal in an unobtrusive manner, but it will never again be your normal. If fortunate, you can pass for quirky or eccentric or edgy. You can get better, but you can’t get well. The broken temple cannot be restored.

This new unreality of the normal makes it difficult to be sure of anything or anyone. It makes it difficult to trust anything or anyone. For normal people, the world consists of sharply delineated boundaries, distinct lines outside of which they know not to color. For the mad, those boundaries and lines get fuzzy, indistinct or disappear altogether. They can never be sure where to color or what others will think of their coloring. So, in order to avoid doctors, medications, hospitals and involuntary commitments or jail, often, to one degree or another, they must withdraw from the world.

This engenders one of the most horrific side effects of madness: loneliness. We are made to communicate, to connect. Madness limits that ability. It takes a huge investment of energy and concentration for a person once mad to develop a close relationship with anyone or anything. Often, even when that investment is made, failure still occurs. Each failure makes future success more difficult and less likely. You find yourself living in a world where it seems there is plate glass between you and everyone else, where you can never completely touch them.

I envy those lucky enough to live in the normal, sane world. They don’t know how fortunate they are never to have slipped those cozy boundaries, how little effort their sane lives require.

The sense of being in a waking dream never completely leaves. There is no path back up and out of the rabbit hole. You try to figure it out a few minutes at a time. You hold on to the best of your new vision and intensity, but you hide it and try to pass. You look for ways to express your different reality that are acceptable. You are always afraid of being found out.

You continue, but you look over your shoulder. It’s what remains to do. It’s all that remains to do. It’s the mission you got for your sins, that you can’t refuse, from which there is no return.

If you value my work, and can afford it, please consider sending me a few bucks at Paypal. Even poets have to eat. :)