“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.

Go Ask Alice

Since the recent shootings in Aurora, CO and Newtown, CT, I have been trying to understand why in the last 25 years or so we are seeing an increase in the numbers of mass shootings in schools, malls, churches, workplaces and other public spaces. In the popular media there are several issues gaining traction in response to these tragedies; notably gun control and security. But focusing on the issue of more gun control legislation or an increase in building security of public places, suggests that we don’t necessarily want to look at the possibility of other causes for the increase in these types of tragedies. Do advances in gun technology or – as has also been suggested, a craving for instant notoriety serve as sufficient motivating factors to explain an increase in the frequency of these tragedies?

Perhaps typifying the corruption found in our current economic system of crony capitalism,  connecting and publicizing  the perpetrators to their known use of psychotropic drugs (aka, anti-depressants, anti-psychotics and anti-mania drugs) are under-reported in the media. Yet the use of prescription drugs with their documented list of harmful and sometimes deadly side-effects on users – along with attempts by the pharmaceutical companies and the FDA to underestimate their harm or cover them up entirely, should be considered when examining the motives of the perpetrators in any of the mass shootings.

Pharmaceutical companies enjoy an elevated status from our healthcare providers and protection from the media as both parties continue to make billions off of suggestive and easily marketable common human conditions such as anxiety, depression and mood disorders. How many television commercials do we endure telling us to “ask our doctor about…” any of the many chemical concoctions now available to fix everything from an ailing sex-drive to sleeplessness to metabolic problems, many of which are caused by our lifestyles, or are inevitable consequences of aging?

We have been repeatedly warned that marijuana use may be addictive, lead to a desire for stronger drugs and is a public safety hazard. As studies show, those very same dangers are proven to exist with all psychotropics. Not every individual is at risk, but the same holds true for marijuana users. So, how is it that we should trust the experts who warn us against the harm in marijuana use yet still believe in the safety of prescription drugs that carry similar risks? To be sure, many prescription drug deaths are from pain killers. These deaths are just as tragic, and understandably can occur when someone with chronic pain accidentally overdoses.

Studies have found that many of the psychotropics tested against a placebo are no more effective in treating the so-called illnesses they claim to treat. And if the drugs caused little harm, who would care? But most of these drugs can and do cause harm and there’s no way to predict who will be adversely affected, although children seem to be at greater risk.

You may know someone who has been helped by these drugs, or perhaps you yourself have benefited by their use. My aim here is not to challenge the veracity of your experience but to challenge the idea that continued use always equals a positive outcome, and that therefore the use of psychotropics is safe. It is not reasonable to conclude that drugs are safe just because the healthcare industry promotes their use. Your doctor may be well meaning, but s/he may be trusting the pharmaceutical companies because s/he thinks they are the experts. Many doctors do not have degrees in pharmacology.

I am no doctor or professional and there is plenty of information available on the use of psychotropics on the internet. My hope is that as the number of Americans using psychotropics continues to rise, the pharmaceutical companies will be challenged by every incident of psychotropic use that harms someone and that the Experts, calling the shots in our culture, including those who are infiltrating public schools with screening programs will come under greater scrutiny for their ties with the pharmaceutical industry, the FDA and the industry’s desire to expand their profits and legitimacy in spite of the harm they sometimes cause.

For further study:

Thank you Grace Slick and Jefferson Airplane for the post theme song:

“When logic and proportion
Have fallen SLOPPY dead
And the white knight is talking backwards
And the Red Queen’s LOST her head
Remember what the dormouse said

Feed your head” Grace Slick