Old-School Mad

‘I like him,’ said D ‘He’s a proper 1970s schizophrenic. Old-school mad.’

D is a psychiatric nurse, and his words seem to confirm the idea that ‘madness’ (or the way ‘madness’ is expressed) is culturally determined. The patient he is talking about lives in a world of his own,

but unlike many of the other patients his world is not populated with devils and demons, he is not persecuted and pursued by shadowy Government agents or tormented by hateful voices. In his world he is famous, with responsibilities towards his fans and marketing, and this can be stressful in its own way.

If the expression of ‘madness’ is culturally determined, the number of devils stalking this in-patient unit is surprising. These things have followed men since the Dark Ages. Here in the unit, they are dispelled with drugs; Chlorpromazine, Haloperidol for the old-school, Quetiapine, Risperidone for the newer patients; Clozapine for the die-hards. The side-effects are well-documented, (‘his eyes are fucked,’ says D of a 60-year-old, long-time patient ‘He can’t see now, because of all the Clozapine’) but here in the unit the law is clear. Most of these men have committed crimes while unwell, and thus their rights over their own body are secondary to the rights of Society. Society/people have the right to be protected from the devils which take over their minds and bodies. We vanquish the demons with chemicals, and their bodies are the battleground.

Poverty and drugs feature heavily in the histories of most of these men. As I process their records, their home addresses are familiar to me, from my days of shared houses and damp flats. Madness can strike women and men of all ages and backgrounds, but the type of madness which is considered dangerous most often seems to strike young men, who live in council flats and self-medicate.

This wasn’t always the case. The old asylums used to be full of women, women who threatened the very morals and fabric of society by having babies, or refusing to have babies; most of all by not getting married and becoming economically dependent upon others. Nowadays, a man brandishing a meat cleaver is generally considered more dangerous. Rape is seen as a crime. With the result that many more men are locked up than women.

Yet the violence, if not the sexual crime, is decreasing.

‘You don’t have to fight like you used to,’ says D nostalgically ‘they’re all so much calmer now. And they get tellies in the communal area and a choice about whether to have sugar in their tea. It’s not like it was in the old days. It’s all about personality disorder now.’

Personality disorder, or psychopathy as it used to be called, is the new madness, and so much harder to put your finger on. It’s the consequence of a loveless childhood, leaving the child prone to violence and cruelty, lacking in feeling and unable to form relationships. Unable to get along with anyone in any situation. Unable to get a job, and thus economically dependent upon the State.

Money and madness, it seems, are linked. There are drugs to make you ill and drugs to make you well, and drugs that do both. Love can be the prevention and the cure, but only if it’s administered in time.


4 thoughts on “Old-School Mad

  1. Hmm, with my sister being a schizophrenic and it unfolding during my teens and my abusive and neglecting father not caring, and me taking her to the hospital spit-spit-spitting and seeing Angels in the sky, this post was interesting to me. “Old-school mad”. That was really an interesting comment by the nurse.

    The reason I never wanted to get counselling myself is because I saw over the years my sister prescribed stuff then more stuff then counteractive stuff and so on. I didn’t want that to happen to me – to have them tie and tie and tie me up with their meds. I like your last para.

    Re the word “mad”, my doctor offhandedly commented, “I mean, your mother was obviously mad” and I was DEEPLY offended (but didn’t mention it). Sure she suicided when I was six and was badly affected a refugee from Poland, but HE NEVER KNEW HER/SAW HER. That was so deeply offending.

    Cheers – good post!

    • I hope my comments didn’t sound presumptuous…I studied social work and was taught to be conscious of how words like ‘mad” can betray underlying attitudes which should be questioned. The phrasing the nurse used really made me wonder, what on earth does that mean? My post was about me trying to guess, in a way.

      I hope that your sister can find a measure of peace, by whatever means, and that you also find peace. Your blog is like nothing I have ever read before, the way you describe things is so real.

  2. That’s a terrible thing for a doctor to say about your mother! That word is deeply offensive and reading my post again I’m sorry that I didn’t keep it in inverted commas the whole way through. Sometimes the way people behave is a reasonable response to a situation that other people haven’t experienced and can’t understand, and so they label it ‘mad’.

    I thought that the comment by the nurse was really interesting (and unguarded). Interesting the way ‘madness’ changes, and maybe that’s to do with how people are treated? I can’t imagine what that must have been like with your sister, growing up. I like that phrase ‘tie and tie and tie me up with their meds’. For some people they seem to be a welcome relief, but once on the merry-go-round of side effects it seems hard to get off?

    Thanks for reading and commenting on my posts. I really admire your blog.

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