“Madness need not be all breakdown. It may also be breakthrough.” —Psychologist R. D. Laing.

crazy (adj.)Look up crazy at Dictionary.com1570s, “diseased, sickly,” from craze + -y (2). Meaning “full of cracks or flaws” is from 1580s; that of “unsound mind,” or behaving so, is from 1610s.

If by defining someone as crazy, we mean they’re cracked, the cracks might well be openings to an awareness of things most of us can’t see or hear. But does our Western culture’s inability to value the mysteriously ineffable prove the experiences are a form of madness? Whatever “crazy” is, it’s relative to the culture’s expectation of normal, primarily based on a measure of one’s functionality within the marketplace.

Most paranoid schizophrenia is diagnosed in late teens or 20’s, as breakdowns result in noticeable dysfunction. They are so defined against a set of cultural expectations of functionality required to get along.

Why though do breakdowns appear at the time of blossoming into an adult? Perhaps we’re less likely to notice a child’s delusional behavior because we expect and appreciate both imagination and dependence in children.

“Jung, in one of his more extensive explorations of psychosis, described the compensatory role of delusions in attempting to rescue the personality from a pathological one-sidedness; also he saw in delusions the attempt of the pathological complex to destroy itself.” —John Weir Perry, The Far Side of Madness 2

Franklin Russell is the son of author and environmental journalist, Dick Russell. Dick was a friend of James Hillman and authored The Life and Ideas of James Hillman: Volume I: The Making of a Psychologist. Hillman and Russell became friends around four years after Franklin had experienced his first breakdown. Dick’s recently published book, My Mysterious Son: A Life-Changing Passage Between Schizophrenia and Shamanism, is the story of his son Franklin, his illness and the long journey of rebuilding their relationship. After James gets to know more of Dick’s struggles with his son, he offers some advice:

“Well, again, you probably have to re-constellate the relationship. Not in terms of where you’re trying to help him. 

You let go of his being a ‘sick man.’ Then you may find he tells you things that he doesn’t talk about otherwise. You don’t know what is going to come out, but it’s almost as if you’ve abandoned being the responsible father.”

It’s important then, to focus less on looking for normality, and more on meeting Franklin wherever he happens to be at the moment. Go with it. Join him in his world. Sage advice, I think, for all of us. Quantifying the illness with a check list of acceptable or unacceptable behaviors misses the qualitative aspects, and creates an antagonistic tug of war placing the normal person in a position of power. Perhaps the more one measures another’s behavior for its craziness, the more necessary it becomes for the other to retreat into unseen realms.

The book recalls in detail the long journey between father and son where both are transformed through deepening trust and acceptance of each other. They travel to Africa, experiencing animal migration in the Serengeti, consult with African shaman Malidoma Some, and travel to New Mexico to work with ex-football star and author, Pat Toomay. The book recounts in detail how each step changes Dick and Franklin through encounters with the ancestors, beings in other dimensions, revealing the depths of Franklin’s ability to move between worlds and beings whose existence he takes for granted and some might call “unreal.”

“How could you simply explain a life. Laughing and carrying on. That is too simple. Working and sleeping. Far too surface. Satisfying and full. That would be a dream. Dreary and worrisome . That is more like it. Then you need to add in the quality of time. That is what it really amounts to. Time and energy. It is all up to an individual how to spend their time. How to use their mind. How to mix and mingle. How to stand alone.” —Franklin’s Journal

Dick quotes often from Franklin’s vast supply of writing, which I find remarkably coherent. Frank is bi-racial, something that he frequently struggles with.

“What is it like to be black? What is it like to be half black and half white? No matter how much we don’t want it to matter it does matter. It is like one half of you is dancing to the drums of mother Africa, and the other singing in the choirs of classical European music. That’s a lot of rhythm in one person. What is it like to live in a tribe? All of the people share common ancestry, and common skin color. Wouldn’t there be less competition.”

During the trip to Africa, much healing takes place. Franklin feels great kinship to the animals. Perhaps they are easier in a way to understand than humans, for they are not guarded, but readily display their nature, for better or worse. 🙂

Dick readily admits that the journey of his son’s healing necessarily includes his own breakthrough.

“But the breakthrough occurred when my code cracked. It was not about being protected, but allowing myself to be cracked. My son needed entry into me . . . needed to know, too, that I felt him. The snake was the archetype, winding, finding our way to the root of one another.”

Scholar and shaman, Malidoma Some figures greatly in the story.

Medicine Man, Performing His Mysteries over a Dying Man (Blackfoot/Siksika)

“If your psyche is disordered or deficient or overcharged, blocks are created in you that prevent comprehension and remembering. To open up the channels in you so that whatever energy you need can flow freely is not the task of the teacher; it is the task of the shaman.” —Malidoma Patrice Somé, The Healing Wisdom of Africa.

The book is so rich, sensitive, disturbing and satisfying to me. Reading about Franklin has me reconsidering my own definition of crazy, suggesting to me that the way we treat each other often reveals a serious lack of sensitivity for the wide spectrum of human experience. We leave a trail of tragic lives behind us the more we lose touch with ancient wisdom, and the more harm we do to some of our most beautiful and sensitive souls.

“My love is like an eagle’s bones set to dry in the sun. Once flying high trying to reach the sky something happened and the eagle died. The flesh disappeared revealing the magnificent skeleton. Large and standing still, the vultures assumed positions staking claims on the flesh. The spirit left the bones. Now it flies high and free amongst the transient clouds that mark the emotions.” —Franklin’s Journal

If this is crazy, I say, bring it on.

“When you were a young child, you dreamed of climbing. Experiences of euphoria you couldn’t explain. Events unfolded in your life. Things hurt you and things held you back. Moments brought you to the epitome of emotions. What was it that made you evacuate from your soul, anyway there is a direction home. Do not be shocked when I say it isn’t necessarily death. It is work. I once heard that if you can’t find something to live for, find something to die for. And some days you’ll feel like a pin cushion filled with sorrow. Or a voodoo victim. Pick it up. Maybe try a dinner invitation. —Franklin’s Journal,

All quotes from: Russell, Dick (2014-11-18). My Mysterious Son: A Life-Changing Passage Between Schizophrenia and Shamanism. Skyhorse Publishing. Kindle Edition.

30 thoughts on “Crazy

  1. theburningheart

    Its a complex issue, and have some experience with it, members of my family suffer it, without going in too much detail a main problem in my view its the person(s) who takes care of the person affected by it, some people have no clue, and they are terrified by what’s going on, and they just follow whatever Doctors will prescribe, without questioning their judgment.

    The more clueless the family in charge, the worst it gets, alternative methods like Shamans, are more for people who are open, and seek a way were Western science, doesn’t go, and you cannot expect for conventional people to do so, their own beliefs, and ideas prevail, believing it is for the well being of the person affected.

    Regardless if with the many treatments, and drugs the condition of the person gets worst.

    Doctors just tell you its normal for them to get worst, and there is nothing you can do about it, and they may even suggest the newest drug in the market, mainly pacifiers, at least for a while, but drugs who affect their health in many other ways.

    Its unfortunate, but too many “normal people” cannot see that, when I suggested Shamanism many years ago, they almost throw me out of the house, and treat me like a nut case, and still resent me because of it.
    Its painful for me to see how much deteriorated the person has become, the other pass away years ago, but as I mention, help cannot come but from the people in charge, and what they decide to do about it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sorry to hear about your family members’ struggles. I don’t have a lot of personal experience with psychosis except for my step-mother’s 1st husband, who committed suicide, most likely due to his illness.

      Perhaps my interest in illnesses like this has to do with a fascination with states of consciousness along with a need to understand more about them to alleviate a fear that I might susceptible. I suppose at 60, almost 61, it’s not likely that I will become mentally ill. Sometimes I suspect that my sensitivities, which are mostly a blessing, can also leave me vulnerable to what, I don’t know. It’s more like having a lingering fear.

      If the walls are thin enough to experience glimpses of the divine, and to hear and feel a strong bond with my deceased relatives, what else am potentially leaving myself open to?

      The joy of this book, and Franklin’s journey, is that his dad did go to extremes to help him without the use of drugs. In this case the shaman’s that worked with him, facilitated enough of a healing that Franklin can live independently. But as you point out, most westerners are simply not going to trust or believe in the veracity of such remedies.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you Debra for a wonderful post. I must read that book….I think shamanic healing has a very important place in the healing arts and that we have much to learn about schizophrenia. I like your note that mental illness may be someday renamed mental states. How can a dolphin or a giraffe understand a lark? Perhaps what we need to learn is a respect for states that we cannot know.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Margaret!

      I have missed reading your posts! Thank you for the kind words. You state it perfectly: dolphins and giraffes, neither are wrong or deficient, but different!

      The book is so good, and very well written. I highly recommend it.


  3. Hmmm. I think there is a thin line between mental illness and the mystical. It is easy to go either way when you are on that edge. A friend of mine who recently passed away had struggled with schizophrenia, which got progressively worse as he sought after the shamanic experience through the use of power plants. Bottom line, everyone is different and paths that work for some are damaging for others. I have to keep that in mind on my own journey.



    1. Hi Jeff,

      Agreed! Just to clarify and not misrepresent Russell’s book, Malidoma Some does not use drugs in his shamanic practice. Franklin did not use any drugs other than prescription drugs from Psychiatrists to my knowledge, or, if he did, it was not mentioned in Russell’s book.

      While I am not opposed to using psychedelic drugs in a shamanic or therapeutic setting, I think there definitely needs to be a very conservative approach and much screening before they are used.

      Thank you so much for the note as I had not realized that I left that topic wide open for speculation!


      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for sharing this, Debra. This is an important topic we could all benefit from spending more time exploring. Most people are not in Franklin’s situation, however, in that they have a father who is friends with James Hillman and can take them traveling all over the place for experiences like described here. The really important thing to me is how the father talked about having the code cracked, and that sort of opening between them. It is also interesting how the father being a journalist then published his sons writing from this perspective. This sort of perspective often holds some lucid insights though the source is seen as being crazy, and normally these thoughts are not ever published.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Very good points Gray. The book may portray a rare situation between this particular father and son, but I hope it gets a lot of airplay. Anyone can benefit by the lessons Dick learned attempting to help his son. The book makes Dick’s approach clear and accessible to anyone wrestling with this issue.

      As well, Dick makes clear that without the help of his brother, he would never have had the resources to take Franklin to Africa and Jamaica, but after reading about the possibility that the drugs Franklin was taking for his illness may be destroying his brain cells, he made it priority 1 to do what he could for him.

      I suppose much of the problem is cultural, and we’ve yet to integrate so-called alternative ideas into the practice of medicine. So sad.

      Thanks you for your thoughts Gray!



  5. CosmicDrBii

    Great post Debra.

    I had a short correspondence with Dick Russell – I wanted to congratulate him on the first volume which I thought not only gave a fascinating account of JH’s life but also did it in a way that was congruent with JH’s ideas. I also wanted to know when the next volume of James Hillman’s biography was coming out and he told me that first he wanted to finish the book you have blogged about. Dick was charming, intelligent and considerate.

    There is a very good article by Malidoma Somé called ‘What a shaman sees in a mental hospital’:

    I think this helped create the Facebook Page ‘The shamanic view of mental illness’:


  6. And who amongst us is not “full of cracks or flaws”? Perhaps the most frightening thing would be to meet someone who truly is ‘normal’; in fact, I can hardly imagine what that would be like. The average number of legs per person is 1.9838.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. CosmicDrBii

      Great point about number of legs. I think the whole western psychiatric diagnostic system is based in what is ‘normal’. Stray too far outside this and you are in trouble.

      And on cracks, as Leonard Cohen writes and sings:

      “Ring the bells that still can ring
      Forget your perfect offering
      There is a crack in everything
      That’s how the light gets in.”

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks Doc, for that nearly perfect offering from Len the Zen; I love “Anthem”. And I had the pleasure of laying on my own bed once whilst listening to Len play in the field beyond my home here in Glastonbury, England.

        As you probably know, for Empedocles, perfection rested upon incompleteness [“perfectio propter imperfectionem”] since the latter carries the potential for development and for augmenting new characteristics. [“perfectio complementii”]


  7. nicciattfield

    This is such a lovely post! I too think that we loose too much by being ‘experts’ on sanity. Much of what we consider normal – the destruction of the earth through capitalism, isolation of the old, children learning from institutions, the belief that those who are rich deserve to be, and those who are poor are lazy – is probably crazy when we think about it.

    I wonder, sometimes, why, when people see the world differently, we are so quick to label or judge? The gaze of the DSM is powerful.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dear Nicci,

      Thank you for your note! Yes, sometimes I think we live in a world turned upside down. Perhaps sometime in the future we’ll integrate east and west, pagan and modern, taking the best elements of both world views.

      The DSM is the epitome of evil. 🙂

      Much love,

      Liked by 1 person

      1. nicciattfield

        Debra, have you seen the work of Nikolas Rose, Governing the Soul? Here, he speaks of how normal is constructed by deciding all that is not, and then creating exclusions or barriers. The gaze of the psychologist gets his attention, and he looks at how it can be imposed. Very interesting.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Wonderful post Debra! Perry is one of my heroes. I did a research paper on psychosis across all different cultures and philosophies and that is how I found Perry, among others. Consciousness as we know is tricky. One component that stands out to me is functionality and level of fear. When one’s ability to function is compromised, you got a problem.

    I could ramble on, but I won’t. Gotta get this book, right up my alley.



  9. Great post, Debra, with hints of a much greater territory to explore. I’m with you on the notion of crazy needing an overhaul. Too much potential genius is lost by dismissing what lies outside the norm, since the norm is to my mind a verb anyway, i.e. the product of an always active normalization of consciousness. We are all probably too little able to comprehend the extent to which our views and mores are shaped by our tendency to normalize, to bring to the center, to be comfortable.

    And of course, I loved this: “If this is crazy, I say, bring it on.” 🙂


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Michael! The book is fabulous and very gripping. I believe that mental illness will someday be renamed mental states, and we’ll learn to have more of an appreciation for a wider spectrum of experience. It’s part of the unity thing, yes?

      Thankfully, for Franklin, he’s got a great dad willing to extend himself into scary territory.


      Liked by 1 person

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