Madness – It takes a village

There is a story i often tell, about a dear friend and long time member, Kristen, who went a bit crazy here (Twin Oaks) some years back.  It was not a scary kind of crazy, like my friend who punched me in the face while i was driving with him to get some food.  This was a more of an Alice in Wonderland affair, where she wandered around the community, spoke German and French a lot (which she had studied years before) and was relieved of her commune work responsibilities while she was on this adventure (kid care, managerships, and other work areas).village

Kristen had been institutionalized against her will when she was 23 years old in Kansas, and it was awful.  Imagine a prison-like situation with forced medication and unsympathetic medical people.  Even in her Alice mindset, she knew she was not going to go back to the hospital; nothing was as clear as this fact.  So we carried her.  Collectively: care teams were formed, child care was organized, her various work areas were covered  by other communards.Computer-Hospital-picture2

Of course this is what Hillary Clinton means when she says “it takes a village”. [Permit me to quickly point out that Clinton does not have a village, she has instead a detachment of secret service officers, which is not the same thing at all.]  You want to be able to take care of the people you love in the way they want to be.  If Granny gets sick, you want her in her room, with the people who love her all around and her needs getting met.

But there is this terrible problem.  Most people dont have a village, Granny has to go to the hospital or the nursing home, because i got stuff to do.  There is school or work or what ever it was i filling my days with before Granny or my crazy friend needed any help.  Most people just don’t have the flexibility of the village.

Kristen came down from her mania, and slowly took back up her responsibilities.  And half a year after her landing, we collectively selected her as a planner and the president of the corporation – our highest executive position (planner that is).pine

The story comes to mind because a general contractor friend of mine went crazy a couple years back.  He did not have a village, and he went to the hospital for a brief stay.  But after he landed, the company which he worked for did not want him to come back.  They feared that in his manic state, he might endanger the company and they thought they could manage the sales and marketing without him.

They were wrong, and now they are going out of business.  I am convinced that my friend could have saved the company if he had been given control again; he had already managed it successfully for many years.  [He disagrees and thinks the market is unusually difficult now and they might well have gone under if he had been at the helm].

But the point is, without the village and without the trust and support that the village creates, the fear of bad things happening if you reside too close to crazy people can engender exactly those bad things.  Sometimes in tragic ways.

And if you are not lucky enough to live in community and are interested in a community of people exploring alternative ways to deal with mental health issues, check out The Icarus Project 

“a radical mental health support network, online community, and alternative media project by and for people struggling with extreme emotional distress that often gets labeled as mental illness. We envision a new culture and language that resonates with our actual experiences rather than trying to fit our lives into a conventional framework. We believe these experiences are dangerous gifts needing cultivation and care, rather than diseases or disorders. By joining together as individuals and as a community, the intertwined threads of madness, creativity, and collaboration can inspire hope and transformation in an oppressive and damaged world. Participation in The Icarus Project helps us overcome alienation and tap into the true potential that lies between brilliance and madness.”

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About paxus

a funologist, memeticist and revolutionary. Can be found in the vanity bin of Wikipedia and in locations of imminent calamity. buckle up, there is going to be some rough sledding.

4 responses to “Madness – It takes a village”

  1. cardin seabrook says :

    This concerns me because it make it seem as if automatically TO and most village communities can handle the mental illness of ALL of their members.

    Anybody who has ever lived at T.O. for longer than 6 months knows that typically the community does not handle mental illness well. I estimate that Kristen, for a lot of good reasons, was above the usual politics. Or maybe at the time there was a good leader who showed everybody how to have grace with the situation. uhhem.Keenan 🙂 LOVE that man.

    At TO -for every 1 Kristen there are 10 communards who went lacking and or became very stigmatized by their experience. And thats Ok – because TO will tell you upfront that they are NOT a healing community.

    Villages will also fail especially when the member is not in the upper parts of the hierarchy AND when the community is without a leader who can teach this type of grace.

    Many times there are leaders who see this situation as their opportunity to release the dogs.

    Maybe one of the reasons your friends company failed is because of their well established culture of non support. “If that guy gets no support then neither will the rest of us. Everybody falls in the world of construction.”

    I like that the Icarus Project exists.

  2. Rico says :

    Although I wouldn’t say that I thought that T.O. handled mental illness perfectly during my time there (1977-86), I’d have to give it better marks than Cardin does. I will add that when a member of my family had a manic episode some years later, I felt much better equipped to deal with the situation because of my Twin Oaks experience.

  3. Kip Gardner says :

    I can’t really argue with the central point of your post – that IC’s have a better chance of making room for these types of situations, even if, at times, they fall short. IC’s can also create space that makes such a situation worse – by enfolding the person in a ‘caring’ environment when what they really need is serious professional intervention. Such a situation occurred when we were involved with Deer Rock, and the ultimate outcome was tragic. I think Cardin’s comments are well worth considering.

    In a broader view, i think it is unfortunate that all types of community continue to be lacking in today’s American culture. As you may recall, we tried without success to start an IC here in OH for nearly 8 years. There was lots of casual interest, but the typical response was ‘contact us when something starts to happen’. Of course, our response was always, ‘well, nothing WILL happen unless people like you commit to be involved to get it going’. I don’t know the answer to this, just a comment, but it does seem to me that the interest in making community is waning in the US. At times I wonder how much this has to do with our dysfunctional economic system and how much it has to do with technology that allows people to ‘interact’ without actually being in physical proximity (which I consider to be an aspect of our dysfunctional economic system). Distraction definitely plays a role, which is another symptom in my opinion.

  4. paxus says :

    @Kip – I know TO has occasionally failed people in providing support and one of the most controversial suicides in the communities history was felt by some to be a failure of our own support network to properly identify the limits of our capacity to care for folks who are breaking down.

    i am intimately familiar with the “contact us when it starts to happen” problem. And what i am trying to do is leverage the generosity of Acorn and Twin Oaks to get something happening and then create a place for people to come and pioneer.

    @Cardin – my experience is different from yours, i would say we manage one well for everyone we could have done better for. That is my estimate after 15 years of watching.

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