When Madness is the Only Appropriate Response

Updated: Nov 20, 2019

Yet again another assault on human rights, moral sensibilities, the rule of law, the Earth and yet again another friend advises me that I need to engage more deeply in self-care when I rail against it all in whispered outrage. My heart shudders. I already care for my “self” in ways that most people only wish they had time to do: yoga, morning walk, meditation, gardening, inspirational reading, journaling. I’m not sure there’s enough care for self that one can engage in that will erase the pain that comes from being a witness to the atrocities leveled against others and the Earth today. I stop, take a breath and think maybe my friend is correct, maybe I am taking things a little too personally. Maybe I am more or less out of control, crazy, mad in the insane sense rather than merely angry. It doesn’t feel like that. It feels as if the very fabric of what’s right in the world is being torn into. It feels like the threads of that fabric are being painstakingly pulled out one by one in anguished glory. It feels like love being ripped from my heart.

I don’t know how to self-care that. So, I pray. I pray that God will guide me to the answer. I search my mind for anyone who might have advice I could use and realize that what I’m searching for is someone who will agree with me. I want confirmation. I want to know that it is time to be outraged, terrified, crazy with pain. Instead, the people around me are actually very calm. They go to work. They drive their cars. They plan vacations. They go to the swimming pool and splash around in a heat threatening to kill the power grid. Other than remembering to re-apply sunscreen and wear a hat, nothing is different.

Recently, I saw a speech by a climate change activist who explained that we are sitting in a burning room with smoke blurring our vision and because no one is standing up and running for the exits, we believe everything is o.k. We sit calmly while the flames lick our feet and scorch our hair and singe our eyelashes. Who will be the first to stand up? I wonder if that’s what I’m feeling, except in addition to the Earth’s climate disintegrating, the Earth’s children are being captured, caged, and abused. Am I over-reacting? I pray from my very soul for an answer.

In the case of most prayers, I don’t sit and wait because I know whatever words come into my mind I will discount. I go about my day. The last book I read is waiting to be placed back upstairs on the shelf. I search the box I think it might belong in for titles that will provide a clue as to whether it is in that particular box. My hand rests on If Women Rose Rooted. I consider whether it will be next to read or whether I need to focus my attention on my serious research. This one is for sheer entertainment. I flip it open to The Madness of Mis. Never one to turn away from a good story, especially if it’s Irish, I read. Standing hunched over the pages as the room darkens, I read. The story ends. I smile at all the ways this could add to my life: be entangled in my own writings, add another layer to my main character, spread over my evening meditations. I lower my head for just one more line and crumple into the book in tears.

“Sometimes, madness seems like the only possible response to the insanity of the civilised world: sometimes, holding ourselves together is not an option, and the only way forward is to allow ourselves to fall apart,” (p. 125). Thank you, God. Thank you, Sharon Blackie.

I read on in case there’s more. There is. Blackie tells about Sophie (the name of the main character in the book I’m writing now), who had an epiphany and made some transformational changes in her life, one of which was to start writing poetry. All of the changes are interesting and led her to work with children in schools writing poetry, playing transformation games, engaging with language and the land. She’s connecting the language and the children and the land, “planting a seed so that sometime, when they need it, they’ll remember these things. Because it’s time for us to rise up and take back our role as caretakers and stewards not just of the land but of the children, too,” (p. 131). My heart stutters at her words. This is Truth. Thank you, God. Thank you, Sharon Blackie. Thank you, Sophie McKeand.

I was swept into the river. We’re between stories. Yes. We’re losing the old story, the old dreams, challenged to let go, and working through it. Yes. We’re dying to ourselves and to the world so we can be reborn. Yes. Her words mirrored my own. Embrace the dark. Meditate, move, be quiet, listen to your body, sit in the woods alone in the shadows with the trees and the night sounds, thrust your hands into your past and present feelings-- or not. Be still and trust. This isn’t a problem to be solved, but a hurt signaling rebirth. Yes. I know this pain. It can be long and protracted and frightening. The delivery of my daughter almost ended in the death of us both.

Blackie cautions against staying in this place as that is a sign of our “culture of narcissists, excessively focused on the perfection of our own pain,” (p.134). I’m beginning to sense that when someone advises “self-care” they may actually be suggesting without intent or malice that we keep returning to our wounds, tending them, caring for them. That may heal, but it can also keep them raw. For me, I need to carry the pain. It is a rock in my shoe telling me that things are not o.k. It may eventually be the story of how it bore deeply into my foot, made me limp, almost destroyed my pilgrimage on the Earth, but did not disfigure me. I realized what it was and stopped, removed the rock, and let myself heal, before going forward. But this isn’t just about me. We are all on this journey together and we are all sharing this pain, even if some of us don’t fully realize it yet. This may seem like it is only about each of us individually, and for what it’s worth, I’ve been to the mirror, seen myself clearly, and didn’t like what I saw. With all excuses gone, “only grief is left—the great grief which comes from knowing that you have failed yourself,” p. 135. That is the Truth on which I walk. That is the Truth on which we all walk. But I can change that. At my age and in this era, I will not stay in this pain nor will I fall apart. I will not run toward the nearest exit nor will I abandon the Earth or others to a less than loving state. I can change. We can change.

Blackie leads us to discover a path. I am ready to plunge into the rest of the book, spend what’s left of my evening immersed in the story, navigate my way to what I fantasize will be a happy ending even though I know it won’t be. First, I’ll go back to the beginning as I will do with my life and read to this point. For now, these few pages are enough to answer my prayer. It is enough to know another has been in this place psychically, spiritually, has pulled the stories from years ago into the present as evidence that this is where women go when the pain of life is too great. It is enough to know that crazy is the right and sometimes only response when the hurt is cavernous. It is enough to know that others have been on this path. It is enough to know they shared the journey. It is enough to know that the pain will return, but like the women before me and those in the present, we will face it and find our way. It is enough to know that others have heard the voices: start with the land, listen, find a sense of place. You are a steward of the Earth and her children. You are not crazy, although you are definitely mad. It is enough to know that others have stood before and are standing now. It is enough to know that we rise rooted on the Earth and with each other. We will repair the fabric of this world and thread by thread we will reweave our hearts in love.

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