by Sally Clay
History. Reclaiming Madness. I started to reclaim my madness in 1980 after being released from my umpteenth involuntary hospitalization at the state hospital. I was 40 years old and had at that time been going mad for over 20 years, regularly. I was married and divorced, a mother who was denied custody of my children because of my madness. And yet I had continued to shove the issue into the closet. I still aimed for the life of blissful normality, a career as a professional writer, assimilation into the world around me.
1980. Just released from the state hospital. Another job was lost. My friends were gone again. I was forty. It was too late. I would never make it as a "normal" person. I was alone in the world, just as I sat alone in my apartment. The floor was strewn with cigarette butts and paved with phonograph records, reminders of my latest episode. Into the vacuum flew the angels, the guides who had always come to rescue me in my moments of greatest desperation when the ecstasy of madness turned malevolent and struck me down again. "Fear not," was what they said.
1962. My first manic episode. A vision of ultimate beauty, of interdependence and ultimate truth. Breathtaking clarity and joy. But joy is a one-time thing. If clutched at it becomes hypnotic, a golden carrot on a string, the Midas touch, the madness grasp. What was the madness that held me in its grip? What was the mind that clutched madness and would not let it go?
1980. The angels hovered around my mind that afternoon with a sort of nod: Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes. All that I knew was that my life was over. All that I knew was that I was not the only one who had wrestled with madness. If there was something to be learned, then this was my job. My job was to understand, and to help others to understand. If there was any meaning to my life, it was only the meaning that was there for others, too. I decided to become a peer advocate.
1986. Again released from the state hospital. My life was again in shambles. Advocacy was not enough. I still had to tame my own mind. I still had to understand. I had to recover.
1988. Reclaiming the mind: KTD monastery in Woodstock, New York. Tibetan scriptures describe the ecstasy of joy as a high meditative state. They call it mahamudra, which means great symbol, great sign. It also means great gesture. This was the single gold nugget of madness that glittered before me all those years. This was my madness and the madness common to the friends I had met and then abandoned in hospital after hospital. Mahamudra. If my madness was real, if the great sign was true, then life was sacred and everything had meaning. If the shrinks were right, then nothing was sacred and only money mattered.
1970. Angels: I sat on the dirty floor of a locked ward. My husband was divorcing me, the doctors never healed me. I was all alone and did not know what to do or how to do it. I could not live on my own, I could not earn a living. "Yes, you can," the angels said.
1995. Working in a healing community. Writing about my understanding. Angels: It's funny, these decisions once made become so clear and are really so obvious.
(First published in Counterpoint Magazine.)