The magnetism of madness

I am on intimate terms with my madness. Together we have been seducers and lovers, escapees and bad asses, competitors, companions and mortal enemies. These days we are more like constructive collaborators.

Well, that’s a bit of a fib. It’s like that most of the time, but some days my madness and I still have a bit of a barney. The important thing is that I am the one who retains control. Mostly.

It wasn’t always like this. For most of my life my madness was an unknown. An invasive other self and alien other world. And sometimes, awful as it was, madness also had a kind of magnetism.

Madness can bring a strange comfort. For me it often came with a seductive quality that lured me to relax and fall into the familiar comfort of its waiting arms.

Despite all of the chaotic cognitive callisthenics of madness, the existential emptiness and emotional agonies, madness came with something achingly beautiful, too. A release, a letting go, a freedom of being that felt unequalled in its authenticity. Madness requires no responsibility, no accommodations, no requirements of any kind besides surrender.

I often felt that being in a state of madness was the ultimate honesty, and so it had a raw and wild beauty that made it hard to escape. Of course, most of the time it just sucked completely, but somehow I often seemed to forget that.

Even now, some days the lure of madness peeks out at me; it whispers for me to let go and submit.

Sometimes my voice speaks to me in the middle of meetings. Sometimes it screams.

Some days the urge to self-harm itches like an ankle full of flea bites, telling me that just one scratch will bring relief.

Some days my head is so busy it feels like there are no neurons left with which to think.

Some mornings I wake up after long familiar nightmares of sheer terror, sweating and shaking and feeling like torment is my new skin.

Others days I feel the possibility of letting go of reality is so close that the seams of my mind and body are held with nothing more than a sliver of floss. My theme song on those days is Radiohead’s Climbing up the walls. But as well as I know this tune, I have many others in my repertoire now. Closer to Fine by the Indigo Girls. Steer by Missy Higgins. One Voice by the Wailin’ Jennys. I sing to these tunes when I can.

I no longer suppress or ignore or fight these whispers and soul aches. I have learnt that this tempting strange darkness will probably always be a part of my life and so I need to hold it and love it. I have tried the alternatives, and they don’t work.

I have learnt that my madness holds wisdom, but it is a childlike kind of wisdom with a limited palette and a large brush.

It alerts me to emotions and problems that I need to attend to, it was shaped by a terrible past that I can understand but never change, and while the truth of my madness is important to hear, I now know that its problem-solving skills are just not that great. It still makes the same kind of awful suggestions that it always did. I have not really been able to change my madness all that much. But I have been able to change how I understand it, how I respond to it, and how I accommodate it.

So I listen to my madness, I hear the messages that sit behind the strangeness of it, I thank it and love it, I weigh it up carefully… and then I make my own decisions.

Madness may still feel like a seductive lover, calling to me to join it in a tumultuous affair. But real life is more like a marriage than an affair. It’s difficult and requires listening and work and compromise. But it’s worth the commitment.

Well, most days anyway.

This post was originally published 14 July 2015. Re-published, with minor edits, on 26 April 2019.

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