About Sunday’s NY Times piece on MAD PRIDE

Does anyone think that was a decent shot of journalism? Then damn your eyes. Oh I can imagine an earlier me who would come away from that complete piece of shit grateful for the exposure and yay for recognition! But that column pissed off a lot of people in a number of ways I can relate to, beginning with its placement. I ask you, does this social stigma make my butt look too big? Because Gabrielle Glaser’s ‘Mad Pride’ Fights a Stigma is in the Fashion & Style Section, it must be tres chic, don’tchaknow, the fight against prejudice and discrimination, just one more set of kooks aboard the pop cult bandwagon with their self-important, trendy and disposable cause. Sigh.

First she pokes a stick at some prominent crazies in the blogosphere – Liz Spikol, Scatter at The Icarus Project, Mindfreedom’s David Oaks- then puts it all in perspective by quoting reigning tower of babel Fuller Torrey, as if he was just some random psychiatrist chiming in with all we need to know about Mad Pride (nudge nudge, wink wink). Bloody Christ on a catshit cupcake, if this quack has any place in a story about MAD PRIDE he should be correctly rendered as its ideological opponent, his views presented as subordinate to those of the subjects, rather than, you know, the authority on their movement.

Sara, commenting at furious seasons puts it well:

I think the article has all sorts of insidious undercurrents myself. Like I don’t think the author is really glorifying Liz or even Saks — in fact I think she’s almost denigrating them, especially Liz. I mean she sure is harping on the way Liz likes to revel in some of the more off putting aspects of her treatment — incontinence from ECT and drooling from meds — please — is this being respectful to Liz — are these the things that we remember about Liz when we read her blog? Ach — no. I wonder if Liz is angry about this. I think I would be. And David Oaks — well to me she’s kind of making fun of how he is controlling his purported madness as if it’s naive. She quotes Torrey because he’s of the school that thinks “mad pride” is bloody dangerous and maybe Gabrielle Glaser does too.

The psychologist John Grohol at Psych Central:

She also apparently believes that mental disorders can only be treated by drugs (which is mentioned a few times in the article; psychotherapy is mentioned zero times) …Really now? Having regular exercise, a good diet, and engaging in self-help support groups is “outside the mainstream thinking of psychiatrists” when it comes to maintaining good mental health and wellness? How does she know that? Did she survey them?

Of course not — this is the writer’s opinion creeping into the writing, and getting it 100% wrong. Most mental health professionals recognize the importance of maintaining a good diet, exercising, and self-help support groups in helping a person in their recovery efforts. None of these ideas are outside of the mainstream thinking

But I can think of no greater crime in a cultural study than ignoring its historical context. Mad Pride was founded by the tragic-comic powerhouse campaigner Pete Shaughnessy, who was linked to the English punk rock/DIY scene, the roots of which can be seen in the confessional poetry made famous by Sexton, Bukowski and Lowell. Mad Pride was about passion, policy and performance. There is history here. The writer should know it.

Let us pause to make an argument for history, for knowing where we are, how we got here, and how to move forward. I swear we could reduce the infighting by half if we’d do this kind of homework. It’s that lack of context driving the comments I’ve seen by some stakeholders who say they don’t “get” Mad Pride, that it’s bizarre to glorify what can be truly destructive and debilitating severe and persistent blahblahblah, which leads to the counter retort that hey man, mad pride makes me feel good about myself, yes, I know, but Mad Pride isn’t as much about how we’re feeling as what we’re doing, out there.

I realize the glib and stylish do invoke the term as a way to be groovy and I have nothing to offer them but a pox on their houses. How does “Glad To Be Mad” even begin to make sense? If I admonish a toothless schizophrenic living in a dumpster to take pride in her mad self what would that make me if not clueless and cruel? And yet, that is what some people are taking away from this discussion; that Mad Pride is a misguided attempt in building self-esteem. That it encourages navel-gazing in people who think too much. I believe Mad Pride was originally more ambitious than simple therapeutics, broader than the internal and solitary landscape. I think the focus was taken pointedly off the internal and made external, from the self to the group, uniting the twin and rival disciplines of psychology and sociology, which is revolutionary in itself, by pioneers who recognized that doing mental illness takes both disciplines.

So, Mad Pride as a frame. Who needs a frame? Wiki says “A frame defines the packaging of an element of rhetoric in such a way as to encourage certain interpretations and to discourage others. When done by political or social organizations, it is likely to advance their causes or views.” The point of framing is preparation for action, the groundwork in getting an agenda on the table. Vaughan shows how in his Mindhacks review:

Mad Pride is often rather clumsily related to ‘antipsychiatry’ but they are are often at the forefront of campaigns when essential services are threatened.

In London, the campaign against the shutting of the Maudsley Hospital psychiatric emergency clinic was spearheaded by several ‘mad pride’ organisations – who had a mischievous and witty banner at one demo saying “We must be mad! We want the emergency clinic kept open!”.

For the sake of pragmatism I endorse the actions taken in the name of Mad Pride, but that’s where I draw my own line. I juggle too many social identities (feminist, existentialist, liberal, punk) to over-identify with any of them, but I can think of nothing I want to define me less than the state of mental illness. And frankly, that’s where the message falls apart, when it’s patterned on the discourse of the civil rights movement. It’s one thing to make common cause with similar social justice groups (and the case can be made that we win the Oppression Olympics™ handsdown), but the identity politics in mental illness veers toward nonsense. In civil rights terms, Identity is not just about what I am, but what you’re not and can never be. You don’t understand what it is to be black/female/queer/outside the dominant white male patriarchy. I am the authority on what it means to be so situated, and it’s your boot on my neck that makes me your moral superior.

Except madness is not fixed and immutable, not even in the same person, much less categorically, as in some people have it and some others don’t. All humans have what it takes, anyone who denies their spark of madness this second remains eligible, if you have a mind you can lose your mind, there’s nothing to it really. We’re not exceptional. The language of diversity doesn’t fit. Crazies are not cast out of society because we are different from the rest, but because we are so similar.

Setting ourselves apart from a belief that we are the chosen few who are “mentally interesting” feeds a false dichotomy and endorses the fiction that we’re Other when crazy is more likely roiling under the surface of everyone you meet.

Setting ourselves apart as the world’s ruling victim class entails a preening sanctimony impossible to stomach.

But setting ourselves apart from an intent to get shit done makes practical sense, and for me that’s where it stops.

Inclusion by most out-groups is a demand for society to include them. I think our paradigm calls for the mad to include society. Mad Pride has this sensibility. Good god this post is over 1600 words and I am still muddling through what was said much better by the aching Anne Sexton:

For John, Who Begs Me Not to Enquire Further

Not that it was beautiful,
but that, in the end, there was
a certain sense of order there;
something worth learning
in that narrow diary of my mind,
in the commonplaces of the asylum
where the cracked mirror
or my own selfish death
outstared me.
And if I tried
to give you something else,
something outside of myself,
you would not know
that the worst of anyone
can be, finally,
an accident of hope.
I tapped my own head;
it was a glass, an inverted bowl.
It is a small thing
to rage in your own bowl.
At first it was private.
Then it was more than myself;
it was you, or your house
or your kitchen.
And if you turn away
because there is no lesson here
I will hold my awkward bowl,
with all its cracked stars shining
like a complicated lie,
and fasten a new skin around it
as if I were dressing an orange
or a strange sun.
Not that it was beautiful,
but that I found some order there.
There ought to be something special
for someone
in this kind of hope.
This is something I would never find
in a lovelier place, my dear,
although your fear is anyone's fear,
like an invisible veil between us all...
and sometimes in private,
my kitchen, your kitchen,
my face, your face.
Tagged with: ,
Posted in Art heals, Healthy speech is poetry, Humanistic psychology, Mad in America, Media, Mental illness, Narrative competence, Psychophobia, Semiological guerrilla warfare, Theory
18 comments on “About Sunday’s NY Times piece on MAD PRIDE
  1. […] pm Filed under: madness It seems like everyone is blogging about this. I found the article via Writhe Safely, which was the first blog I discovered about the problem we call […]

  2. giannakali says:

    that’s a beautifully written piece Robin.

  3. Stephany says:

    robin, well done!

  4. radblkgrl says:

    i take issue with the parallel you draw between other marginalized identities and an identity that entails being
    mentally ill. i feel as if you trivialize being “black/female/queer” by seeming to say that those things are claimed in an effort to secure moral superiority. you wrote that this “discourse of the civil rights movement”
    is a weak point in the assertion of pride for mental illness. i think you need to understand that the demand for
    basic rights to be extended to all citizens (THAT’S WHAT THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT WAS ABOUT) was about more
    than moral superiority. actually, the movement is ongoing, & i love critique, as long as it makes sense. yes,
    folks who hold a lot of power in this society feel threatened when marginalized people assert themselves, but
    that doesn’t mean that it’s done ONLY in an effort to make people w/ power feel bad about themselves. to say
    that is to belittle marginalized people who are empowering themselves. i think you are forgetting where
    privilege comes into all of this – 1) the privilege inherent in being able to make personal mental illness
    public which is tied in with class issues among other things 2) the privilege inherent in erroneously thinking
    that the claiming of an identity is for fun, rather than out of necessity.
    for all the social identities you claim, how many of those are projected ONTO you? how many of those are hyper-visible? how many can you hide? how many are heavily policed?
    think about these things before you make erroneous comparisons; thanks.

  5. flawedplan says:

    the privilege inherent in being able to make personal mental illness public

    Yes, we really should try to watch our privilege. Been stripped of your constitutional rights much, due to a psych label?

    think about these things before you make erroneous comparisons; thanks.

    Erroneous? Not only are you clueless about the historical comparison, you’ve inserted your asshatery into an internal critique, as if this movement concerns you. Why don’t you read a book? Start here.

  6. radblkgrl says:


    1. yes. for some of us, it is hard enough to find reputable employment, and this is only made harder if our stories of mental illness are all over the internet. (some employers do online searches of your name during the review process.)
    2. the movement does concern me as a mentally ill person, but you overlooked that in your assumptions.
    3. when you replicate oppressive attitudes and behavior in a “movement,” it becomes exclusive and less able to affect real change. for clarification, this is what i see at play in your response, and in your piece above. if your vision of this “movement” is centered around hetero, middle-class white folks & overlooks everyone else, i want no part in such a “movement.”

    that’s it.

  7. flawedplan says:

    I understand you better but must say I find it amazing to be accused of an exclusionary mindset, when the post itself is about inclusion (the tag “I and thou” is a good clue). This consumer – user- survivor – expatient – mad pride – critical psychiatry movement is a real thing, it is the ground we walk on, and I am a reluctant but very active member of this movement, and my entire blog is an exploration of this terrain, if that makes sense. If not, oh well.

    It should be clear that you’re visiting a blog that has pronounced philosophical and psychological underpinnings. The I and thou dialogic is my foundation and ideal, and to understand I and thou is to recognize the remedy for the everyday, ordinary “I and it” relational orientation.

    An I-thou perspective (as opposed to I-it) is incompatible with exceptionalism, exlusion, separatism, tribalism, objectification, bigotry, marginalization, exile and distancing of any person or group from any member of the human community, regardless of who they are or what they do. The temptation is strong among those of us who do identity politics to set ourselves apart, I understand that, and do it, though I am also driven to unpack that psychology, and take seriously the unintended consequences of activism rooted in over-investment with a particular social identity. PETA comes to mind. Seriously, who wants to be like them? It could happen, the way these things do.

  8. hymes says:

    Could you speak English flawed plan?

  9. flawedplan says:

    If you can’t understand something, it has no validity!

    Only an egomaniac would tell someone they can’t follow to speak english rather than doing their own legwork. Are you trolling today, or do you have a specific and intelligent question? If so, google is your friend.

  10. hymes says:

    1. I never said if I don’t understand something it has no validity, you are making things up.

    2. I don’t understand what you are saying in your comments–google will not help me with that. Speak English is a colloquialism for could you say that again in a clearer way that someone else can understand.

    3. I don’t know why you project egomania on me but I wish you would stop it.

    4. I never troll and you darn well know that Robin.

    5. If you are unable or unwilling to explain what the heck you mean than I guess you don’t really care if anyone is reading or understanding what you write. Nothing to do with homework nor google, to do with ordinary interaction where someone tries to be understood instead of telling people to go read 100 pages and come back before you will engage with them. Now that’s egomaniacal to me, but whatver Robin, I give up. You can be the queen of exclusion and put downs and general refusal to engage.

  11. flawedplan says:

    Hmph. Still no specific question and still *not* trolling. Care to explain that?

  12. flawedplan says:

    This is just ignorant.

    There’s a media brouhaha brewing over the latest issue of The New Yorker magazine and its cartoon cover that plunges over the edge of satire into rank offensiveness.

    She doesn’t understand satire, which makes me ill-disposed toward what’s to come, but I’ll just type and read along with it.

    Obviously satirical, it’s possible that even the prestigious New Yorker is capable of a lapse of sanity.

    The name of the cartoon is The Politics of Fear. That’s hardly irrational, it explains exactly what the cover is about.

    To top it off she’s about to exploit mental illness as a (poorly executed) literary hook to introduce an essay.

    This cover, on newsstands today, is perilously over-the-top and the sensational publicity it’s igniting has the Obama campaign fuming.

    Wrong. The cover is an attack on the Right. Obama handled it on Larry King just like the smooth politician he is, like any politician handles a snarky boost that deviates from the Official Script.

    Ah, next comes the lesson in framing, and its relation to Mad Pride. I need a drink.

    And it turns out I agree with every word of it. She’s absolutely right, bad frames reinforce the attitude you’re trying to change. So every time an activist scolds us about “shame, stigma discrimination” s/he reinforces that attitude. But I am not sure activists should be speaking for people with psych problems, I disagree totally with contrived speech, and especially with denying shame and stigma if they are part of a person’s difficulties. Why pundits, advocates and would-be reformers feel entitled to control the discourse is still an interesting subject.

    As for MAD PRIDE itself and this rage for coming out crazy, I’ve been doing that all my life without ever putting myself in a box like that.

  13. susan says:

    I found this site this morning, from Stephany’s blog. Couldn’t sleep, and spent part of the morning reading.

    What an amazing blog. As I commented on her blog, I’ve added your blog to my RSS feeds

    I was in the Rehabilitation hospital while all this went down, so I apologize in advance for not being up to date on this topic.

    Keep blogging. I’m a new fan and new to blogging, but I will keep reading.



  14. Sandy Naiman says:

    Hi flawedplan,
    Thank you for your excellent criticism of my own post, sent to Robin by Stephany this morning. I’m serious. I love intelligent, reasoned, honest, literary analysis and you provided that.
    FYI – I have do not define myself by my mental illness, but mental wellness is the focus of my blog, “Coming Out Crazy,” which I was invited to write in March 2008 by a big Toronto daily newspaper that was launching a new health website.
    As for my advocacy, I tell stories. I share what I’ve learned. And keep learning. I only speak when invited. I have no agent. I volunteer for The Canadian Mental Health Association.
    I guess you could say I’m a victim (another word I hate) of Pharma. In 1991, it wasn’t that Big. After 16 years on huge doses of Lithium carbonate, I ended up in the ICU with iatrogenic endstage kidney failure caused by Lithium toxicity – and a negligent psychiatrist. After two years on dialysis, I received a kidney transplant – no cure, but I’m still here!
    Mad Pride is new to me. I’m learning about it and I’ve met some very bright, dedicated people who are active and involved.
    In 1999, I was asked to write my story for a large Canadian magazine called “Chatelaine” and we came up with the headline, “Coming Out Crazy.”
    It works. That’s it.
    In between, I just worked as a journalist, general assignment newspaper reporting and feature writing. And in other media. I have always worked, though now I’m full-time freelance writer, blogger and a few other things. One has to pay the piper.
    I have always been open and honest about my life and health. I live by a simple rule: “No Secrets, No Lies.”
    Thanks again for your thoughtful critique. I wish more people took the time to do them. You were right about the “poorly executed” literary hook. I wish “The New Yorker” (my copy arrived today) would have framed the Barry Blitt cartoon in a TV screen with a Fox Logo. Just my opinion.
    Sandy Naiman, author of “Coming Out Crazy.”

  15. Sandy Naiman says:

    Sorry Robin. I didn’t realize until now, that you are flawedplan.
    I’m subscribing to your RSS Feed.
    Sandy Naiman

  16. flawedplan says:

    Right, pleased to meet you and I appreciate the conversation. It seems Stephany attracts some of the most congenial folks in the blogosphere, I need to spend more time over there.

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