Tuesday, December 2, 2014

On Going Mad: An Analysis

I've spent the past year trying to process some of the insights about myself that I gleaned from my extended manic episode in January. I had a second manic episode recently that led me to seek treatment for bipolar disorder, and now that my mood is more stable, I'm having an easier time separating the wheat from the chaff. So these are some of my recollections, feelings, and insights about madness itself, from the perspective of someone who has very clear memories of a lot of the time in which he was crazy.

But first, a little explanation about me for those who might not know. As you might be able to tell from the topics listed at the top of this blog, I have a very strong interest, some amount of training, and many years of experience in live-action roleplaying, ritual theater, method acting, and psychedelic shamanism / psychonautics. In January, I made the mistake of combining all these things in rapid succession, which led to an altered state so deep that I was unable to escape from it by myself. I'm very glad that benevolent police and skilled psychotherapists were able to catch me and rescue me from the hole in my own psyche that I dug.

But here's the curious thing: I don't remember ever losing my sense of self, at least not completely. No matter how crazy I became, I still knew that I was Jason. There were points where I thought that I was also a fictional character like Superman, or one I made up in my childhood called Huesplash. There were times when I was conversing with spirits, but I practice spirit magic and shamanism even when I'm not manic, so those things only look crazy to people who don't understand them. I won't claim that I was completely lucid in January, because I know that I wasn't. What I'm saying is that it's very difficult for me to discern whether the parts I can't remember were because I eventually experienced ego death and forgot who I was, or whether I just have amnesia because they fed me three different antipsychotics at one time.

I've acquired all my psych papers from prison and from the hospital, and they have been very helpful in telling me what my behavior was like at that time, and also a little bit of what I said. I made reference to Asherah, one of the main spirits I was dealing with at the time, and I have distinct memories of talking about Anansi the spider. A LOT. I remember thinking that my prison slippers were Anansi's traveling shoes... and being confused about my glasses, because I thought they were his, but I was told that they were definitely mine.

This is why I feel that January was a shamanic initiation by spirits: if Anansi was really there (which of course is always in question, because nobody can really know for certain if spirits are actually real or not), then telling me the glasses were mine instead of his was an attempt to teach me how to distinguish between spirits and myself. In other words, the spirits were trying to keep me sane. Trippy, no? In addition to that, even while it was happening and certainly afterwards, I treated it like an extended trip. I know some people have preconceived notions about psychedelics, so let me explain what a trip means for me.

I have only ever really taken psychedelics for the purpose of experiencing the presence of the divine or learning more about myself and working on my psychological issues. As a result of that, even while I was going mad, I was constantly looking for insights and useful information about myself. As the walls and assumptions dissolved into insanity, a lot of useful information bubbled up out of my unconscious mind. From the place that Jung called the Shadow: the repository of all those things we are too frightened or not yet ready to face about ourselves. The abilities and qualities that we're afraid we might abuse and hurt people, or that we fear could lead us into addiction.

A friend placed a bear spirit in charge of me ahead of time because she was worried I might get into trouble, and that spirit did a fantastic job of making sure my body was safe. The worst I suffered in that whole two-week period was a skinned knee. Some shamanic initiations culminate in near-death experiences, or even the person's heart stopping for a while, so I really feel like I got off pretty light. It was quite harrowing, and it helped me to conquer my two greatest fears - losing control of my own mind and going to prison - but at no point did I fear I was going to die. I knew that I was in good hands, that I was with people who would protect me if I couldn't protect myself. That is huge and I'm very grateful for it. I'm also very grateful to my friend Sophia, who had the good sense to take me to the hospital when I got out of prison and was trying to talk to people who were in other parts of the country.

Kabbalistic and Buddhist sources that I don't know the names of (but my teachers have talked about them) warn of the danger of certain altered states of consciousness. Sometimes if you're in an intense bliss state, which is very much like mania, you can become addicted to it and sort of drift off into the ether. There's a very real danger of losing yourself for a while, or perhaps going mad permanently. I didn't understand that this was literally true, but now I definitely do. It's true for method actors, as well; look up the story of how Daniel Day-Lewis drove himself mad by staying in character for way too long and had to be institutionalized.

I was just looking into a local Sufi center tonight, because I've always had a strong interest in it, because it's open to anyone, and because it seems to have very evolved notions about what being a mystic means and how to do it properly. They have an upcoming workshop on how to cope with ego death, and how to make sure you return to normal consciousness afterwards. I know some methods from magic (banishing), and some ritual theater methods involving masks and costumes, but I feel like it would be very valuable to get some training in how to recognize unhealthy thought patterns around mysticism itself.

I never realized such a thing could even exist until I got lost in my own fantasy worlds and possessed by normally benevolent spirits because, in Tarot terms, I put my sword down. In plainer language, that means I abandoned my reason because I thought the spirits had my best interests in mind. Perhaps they did, and they were trying to test me through suffering. I believe that's quite likely, but I wasn't consenting at the time, and as a result of that I came out of it very confused, disoriented and damaged.

Never abandon your reason completely; that way lies madness. Take it from one who's been there. Intuition is wonderful and beautiful, but if you don't mediate it with your reason, you're either a fool, a zealot or a madman.

Finally, if you and I are close friends or family, and reading this post made you worry, consider that it might just be that I believe in spirits and you don't. That's perfectly fine and as it should be. Believing in things that you don't doesn't make me crazy, because I acknowledge that they might not be real. Just like God, or muses, or Athena. When I'm manic, my critical thinking disappears and I think that I'm a prophet or a guru. Bad news. In normal consciousness, I understand that I'm still a student and that I probably always will be. Which is exactly how I feel now, because I'm still sane.

Feel free to interview or quiz me if you want to verify that fact. I welcome it. Just know that a large contributing factor to my mania in January and more recently was the presence of Wellbutrin in my system, which I no longer take. Also, I'm now taking a mood stabilizer and an antipsychotic. As a result, the chance I'm manic is virtually nil. But I still want you to check my thinking, just in case. I could always be deluding myself and seeing what I want to see, like anybody does sometimes.

Also, I got more than just personal insights out of my January experience. A story that Anansi told me turned into a freeform storytelling game about animal spirits. My addled mind was obsessed with weaving fictional worlds together and assembling characters who rarely interact, so I also came out of it with a really interesting story involving Superman, Flash, and the Linear Men, characters from the DC universe who seem an odd trio without knowing the plot. It's almost as if there was this giant web or knot of stories that I got tangled up in, and it's taken me almost a year to start to unravel all the threads and put the plot points in chronological order. There is probably still more that I'm not thinking of right now.

Did I mention Anansi is the only spirit I know of whose mythos claims he's the lord of all stories?

Also, spiders weave webs. And a storytelling spider might be really good at weaving webs of plots and characters.

Just food for thought. I think Anansi is cool, but that's because I'm a storyteller. And I consider him a worthy opponent and a skilled teacher, after what happened in January. Your mileage may vary, though, and that's fine.

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