The necessity of madness and unproductivity

Reposting the below article from Jan 2011. This repost is from 2012.

This subject came up between myself and a friend again today and so I thought I’d share the below post again. Today in my conversation I said: “There are times when good things only happen in the absence of busy-ness…when you try to make suffering people work at generally menial and often humiliating work, people do not get better…and yet the so-called mentally ill are prompted to do ANYTHING rather than go inward and heal…my clients did crap like bus tables at starbucks etc…some of them were highly educated and intelligent…it’s ridiculous to make people do that when one might instead, like I said, take some time, go inward, and truly and deeply heal.”

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I got permission to publish a post written by Rossa Forbes from her blog Holistic Recovery from Schizophrenia. It’s about the need for people to be able to not work when dealing with some forms of severe mental distress. I think this concept is not talked about enough just as Rossa does. There are times when working can be very detrimental to someone and this seems to be a concept that is difficult for many to conceive of in a culture that holds its work ethic above almost all else. People think that if one does not have “meaningful and gainful” (meaning financially compensated) employment one cannot possibly have a sense of self or be of value in any way. This is misguided at best and truly destructive at its worst.

While people are experiencing some forms of acute mental distress it’s like being in the womb again — helpless and raw. One needs a safe place to transform the pain. In essence, to be born again. Too often adults who have these vulnerabilities are forced to “function” in ways that harm them further.

I’ve always loved the title of a book written by John Breeding, The Necessity of Madness and Unproductivity

This is an excerpt describing that book:

John Breeding shows how psychiatry suppresses and punishes experiences which are completely natural and, in fact, necessary to achieve spiritual maturity. He argues that experiences of temporary “madness” and unproductivity, while violating society’s demand for continuous productivity, are essential if individuals are to grow and mature.

Society has these expectations too and psychiatry is firmly entrenched in our society now.

The truth is that when one is allowed a safe place with support when in crisis the internal process can be highly productive and ultimately healing. This process simply does not conform to what the external world thinks of as productive or vital.

It should be remembered that I speak here in generalities. There are always exceptions and some people who have the appropriate kind of paid work may find working a very helpful part of their process through a crisis.

The fact is that right now when people do need to be “unproductive” there are virtually no safe places for them in crisis let alone a place to further integrate a crisis over what is sometimes a several year process. It’s a deep and troubling fact about our modern society that many people are unable to get what amounts to basic needs met.

Rossa’s thoughts on the subject, the post I’m reprinting:

These are The news media has revealed many details about Jared Loughrin’s mental state that resulted in the tragic scene in Arizona.

In addition to be dismissed from his community college, Loughrin also was trying in vain to find work. He applied for, and never heard back from, sixty-five low level positions. You can only imagine what this did to his already deteriorating state of mind.

People who are psychotic or in the fledgling stages of recovery, by and large, are in no shape for the competitive job market. This simple observation doesn’t seem to be widely appreciated. Mark Vonnegut wrote in The Eden Express that the person is too wrecked to do much of anything for at least one year, and Vonnegut appeared to be someone who recovered relatively quickly from his first bout with psychosis. One year is optimistic for a return to an educational facility or the job market. Medication or no medication, five or ten years or more is often more realistic for the time it takes to regain your bearings.

The family often fails to understand this need for time and begins to champ at the bit when they feel that enough time has elapsed. Parents, often in fear, anger and frustration, push their children to go out and bring in income. They think that it will help the child rediscover self-esteem and, more selfishly, it will make-up for the expense of keeping the child at home. Home life becomes more Darwinian the longer the adult child stays at home with nothing to do. Families’ patience is taxed in the absence of understanding. One of the criticisms of NAMI is that it is said to lower people’s expectations for their own recovery because it sees the person as chronic and in need of a lifetime of support. That’s the low side of expectations. The high side of expectations may not be much better, because it pushes people to do things before they are ready.

There is a fine line between being realistic and crushing all hope. Conventional psychiatric care does a poor job of managing these expectations, no matter where you live. When someone has a breakdown, there is a huge negative impact on the dreams and aspirations of the parents for their child. As a parent, I wanted to see Chris return to “normal” as soon as possible, and to succeed at the benchmarks that his peers were setting. I wanted him to resume university and I was devastated when the doctors questioned all of this in a way that said to me his condition was chronic. The more negative they were, the more I fought against it, and pushed Chris to do things that he just wasn’t ready for.

A better way to address expectations during the crisis of psychosis is to be of the mindset that recovery is expected, but just not now. This would go a longer way in curbing the panic of most parents and it would be truthful. Notice I said, expected, I didn’t say “hoped for.” “Hoped for” recovery introduces doubt. Faith healing doesn’t work with hope or belief. It works with firm expectations that healing will happen because of faith that God’s grace is taking place. People will automatically translate “hope” in their minds as a long shot, something that happens to other people. Family members should be given a different story than the bleak story they are currently fed. The story should be uplifting.

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About Monica Cassani

Author/Editor Beyond Meds: Everything Matters