In My Head

The experience of breakthrough

 Do you hear or see things others do not hear or see?
  • Pick one:
  • Not at all
  • Just a little
  • Quite a lot
  • All the time

How can you rationalize yourself out of a hallucination when your brain is processing it as if it were real as feeling and seeing the sun? In psychosis, no event or thing is small enough to escape the tightly woven net of personal significance. A clock means a bomb, a sunset is a message, and so on. But how do you live in a world in which everything signifies? How do others who live in this shimmering, terrifying world treat you?

How is a person supposed to live with this knowledge?


As soon as the doctor even mentioned schizophrenia, I leaned into the frightening word. I allowed it to stand in for the uncanny sensation of experiencing complex constellations of thought disturbances and associations. No one dared questioned my claim to crazy when I invoked the magic word. Meanwhile, I know others who cared about me must have prayed against it, as if a less terrifying name would counteract the transubstantiation kind of realness of the disorder and bring back whoever I had once been.


Do you ever feel like you’re “going crazy”?
  • Pick one:
  • Not at all
  • Just a little
  • Quite a lot
  • All the time

What is crazy? In practice, madness is defined functionally rather than with reference to some absolute cognitive distinction. You can be as sad as you like if you still make your rent. You can be convinced that every streetlight is an angel as long as you walk past them and to your own door. If you have a lot of money, you can go on being crazy without consequence for longer than if you had only a little. Despite all these gradations, it is not as if there are two kinds of things, really real things and merely socially constructed things: the conditions of reality are socially determined, and crazy is one of the names for a life that falls outside value.


Do you ever think you hear people talking about you behind your back?
  • Pick one:
  • Not at all
  • Just a little
  • Quite a lot
  • All the time

The schizophrenic individual is a unique figure. The word implies something split or broken and lends itself to fantasies of people with schizophrenia as multiple with dislocated selves. Medically, however, schizophrenia is a knotted accumulation of symptoms hinging on language, comprehension, and connection: hallucinations, delusions, and cognitive dysfunction. For Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, it stands for both a reaction to present brokenness and some possible future orientation to the world that will result in new ways of living. They interpret crazy as a process, not a pathology, that allows for a possible future orientation to the world, where different forms of meaning will be allowed to disperse freely. The term schizo-culture is not meant to refer to the actual disease, which renders people unglamorously confused and incapable of basic self-care, but to the alluring possibility of remixing and transforming the ways we relate to each other.

They have worked extensively to re-think subjectivity and re-conceive schizophrenia as a process of change rather than as a medical condition and I—stubbornly, untheoretically— dislike its use as an image, even when well meaning. The idea of schizophrenia as an extreme materialization of the pain in our present social form is hard to accept because it’s also the name for a real experience. 

I am skeptical of the metaphor. When everyone identifies as metaphorically mad, the concept becomes meaningless. Furthermore, not every materialization of societal suffering is an illuminating metaphor. Too often, our conversations about mental illness focus on its most spectacular manifestations. The main diagnostic for mental illness is suffering. In some instances, madness may mitigate suffering, allowing for an ignorant withdraw into a private realm of significations, free from responsibility and insight. However, most forms of suffering are neither poetic nor dramatic. The daily experience of madness or crazy is often boring, lonely, and fraught with self-hatred.


Do you think you can predict what will happen in the future?
  • Pick one:
  • Not at all
  • Just a little
  • Quite a lot
  • All the time

What is crazy? The world is a bucket made of plastic and the water inside the bucket is all the confidence, power, joy, and possibility in the world, but there are holes in the bucket: each wounding experience, instance of stigma, and structural injustice is its own hole. We all carry around our own buckets, but for those with mental illness, the bucket has cracks—and it’s only a matter of time before it breaks and all the water of possible joy spills out everywhere and you are left with a pieces of plastic that once held everything. That is crazy!

People with schizophrenia need help and support to overcome the isolation and disability associated with the illness. We all need to become less averse to feeling uncomfortable. We need to be more resilient. Crazy people have the same capacity for love, empathy, perception, compassion, and suffering as sane people do. But as long as crazy is nothing and means nothing—I mean until we begin the abolition of intolerable conditions—then the crazy will go on bearing the burden of meaning.