Ramblings: on mania, and the search for meaning

The sight of words on a page are the only silence my brain may have. Rather than being some kind of ‘outlet’, it is the purest form of existence, to be in the act of creation. The way my brain reacts to conditions, to rules, to control and to the regions that ignite paranoia is evidence, not of insanity, but of what to me seems to be the greatest sanity: the search for meaning.

The idea that there is nothing, no hope, no meaning, in any task provokes in me such total distress that my body and mind revolt. Rather than running away, I am searching for something that I believe exists. This is how the manic brain can function. This is why insanity is a solace to society. Without the desperate merging of our darkest fears with our deepest hopes, our art would be devoid of depth and our attempts to elucidate life deemed irrational. Without insanity, there can be no love.

And so to write, to create, is to become something new. Something outside of ourselves. Rather than being some kind of symptom of higher intelligence, insanity feels like a rushing body of water that sweeps the things underneath its path that are destructive to the end goal: sense. In a world that is commonly nonsensical, there is no use in attempting to justify the frivolity of mental aberrations, and their behaviors. The reckless, chaotic search for meaning is the only search that a person can truly undertake; and to remove the chaos denies the end goal. For there can be no true discovery without turning things over, smashing, re-building, without resurrection and ruin. The life of the un-insane is one marked by solace – satiating behaviours, sense, collation. The manic mind searches for lucidity in exploration and expression, rather than reduction.

So in the night, when my failing mind is absolved in black strokes against a page, don’t deny me the privilege of fragmented clarity that comes with the exoneration of my insanity.

It is the reason that to the insane mind, much of modern philosophy is panic. The decision that life has no meaning is the greatest trigger we can come up against. Charles The Mad of Fourteenth Century France believed that if people touched him he would shatter into a million shards – a reasonable fear, if you are seeking for life in its greatest depth. While the manifestations of these fears seem unreasonable to many of us (spitting, eating strange foods, switching light bulbs on and off or going into periods of extended jubilee or depression), I would ask how a ‘normal’ person would feel given the same forcible insight into their own mortality that those dealing with mental aberrations do.

The level of introspection a mentally ‘ill’ person is capable of is often far beyond the norm, and hugely irrelevant to day to day life. Which is exactly the point – the insane are not concerned with day to day life. Being precisely why they bother people, and why, some of them, can create things of magnitude and importance – the kind of things with ongoing significance that is discovered years after they finally succumb to their greatest fear – death. Is it any wonder why we kill ourselves? Is not the human spirit destined to find and confront its greatest fears?

Princess Alexandra of Bavaria convinced herself that she swallowed a glass piano as a child, and would wear nothing but white. A reasonable assertion for somebody who has never seen their own insides torn asunder. A reasonable colour, for somebody who wants to be clean and whole, who is so wary of the darkness that exists within her that she cannot bear to have it manifest on her body. And the sexual fascination – the masturbatory stories from centres for the mentally insane (or the mentally obstinate). The sexualisation of insanity in pop culture, films, books – a depiction of society’s obsession with the way it exhibits. But the sexuality of the insane is another arena in the great play, another avenue to pine and long and search for meaning. Sex is the greatest motivator, the greatest proof that we are alive and kicking. Sexual frustration and exploration is the greatest evidence of life in force, the orgasm the greatest evidence that there is everything magic, and nothing at all insane and wonderful about the way we are.

The glass horse exists within us all, but seems more evident to the insane. The desire to examine ourselves from the inside out, and the understanding that beneath our skin is something hollow and easily broken. The glass horse is a metaphor for the easily persecuted self – and a depiction of the self as a mirror, both transient and reflective. The glass horse can also represent the precarious position of the mind, safe when stagnant, reigned, but when it is unleashed it can break into irretrievable pieces.

Consider the glass house life of Zelda Fitzgerald, muse of the infamous “F” Scott Fitzgerald, whose passionate reckless love inspired his glamorous prose. Zelda fell into a life of alcoholism spurred by schizophrenia; the voices in her head were fabulous in their dictatoriums against conventionalism, distressing in their insistency on a path leading to a glorious future. The cruel joke, of course, is that death is imminent and all of our worst suspicions are founded. The meaning we are searching for is here, in the now, and that is why we are so insistent.

Then there is the devil we know. The fear of the unknown that is greater than any known fear. Al Capone died knowingly from Syphilis, rejecting medical care due to his deathly fear of needles, instead choosing to survive to die another day with the disease he knew he had rather than deal with the thing that could kill him.

A book I read on mentality used the metaphor of fear as an imminent tsunami that nobody knows about except for you. All around you people tell you that you are crying wolf, but you can see it tower, you can feel the change in the air. You know that death is looming. And to distract yourself you abandon structure, drink yourself silly, touch people, run razor blades down your arms to feel the veins of life pulse beneath your skin. You are the sane one in this scenario. The only one who can see the tsunami of impediment denaturing human existence, the banalities drawing our attention away from the waves crashing around us. You can see the light behind it, just. And with every scrap of mental energy you have you are drawing yourself towards it.

On a hill far away... on exorcism, and all her subsidiaries.


On a hill far away

Stood an old rugged cross

The emblem of suffering and shame

The words of that old song are burned against my brain. A hill far away (somewhere I can never be) an old rugged cross (the epoch of dead and unreachable safety) the emblem of suffering and shame (oh yeah… and now we start to get relevant).

It's been years, and I still can't get the cross out of my system. That ever distant epoch of unreachable safety. That emblem of suffering, shame that's been burned into my brain (my shame though - not gods). Millenia away from the cross and it still haunts me, taunts me, makes me feel like somewhere there's a place where I can be holy and true. But the cross I bear instead is the one I've found myself: the cross of bearing my own sin. Let me tell you, owning your evil is far harder than throwing it at the foot of a cross. It can make a sepulchre out of you. Or it can make you strive to be the only kind of holy a person can be: true.

Until now, I haven't written about the cross, or the spirit, or my own abandonment of hope that has given way to a different kind of peace. One that doesn't sway so rapidly between lost and forgiven. God, I remember days as a teenager where I could go from lost to forgiven between breakfast and lunch, and back again before dinner. Now my hasty thoughts and human fallibility are my own. And the greatest thing is that I am no more or less redeemed than anybody else.

Not that the sense of relief I feel as been constant, or in any way sustainable. There have been whole days where I’ve cried out to the silent God of my youth. And getting a divorce at 22 certainly didn’t help my sense of shame and downright self-ridicule. I felt that I had left a man who was in many ways identifiable with my picture of God: wholesome, emotionally simple and at times unintentionally manipulative, unendingly good. A man who I worked incredibly hard to impress, and found that suddenly, I was so incredibly unimpressed with myself. An awful thing to admit: that my need to be myself trumped commitment.

And I raged and burned and wondered where the God from the cross was, the one who died and yet didn’t dirty his linen, who was wrapped in white and didn’t filthy it with excrement or blood, and at the end of death’s siege folded it gently and laid it at the foot of his pyre.

I couldn’t reconcile myself to the fact that this god had it easy. A painful death, burning with the sins of the world, with the promise of eternity to follow. Wouldn’t we all die once if we had full assurance of life? Yet somehow his sacrifice never stuck, never seemed real enough. Surely if I could have an immoral thought that would stick him up there again on the cross, burning in shame, he couldn’t be real. Who could sustain that kind of moral fortitude? Not I.

It could also be the survivor complex of the eldest child, or the misinterpretation of this sacrificial deity by one of the strictest religions in Western Christendom, or the fact that I was sexualised by Western culture too young and witnessed too much abuse, pain and grief around me for spirituality to be simple. It could be any of these things. Despite this, the cross is deeply rooted in my psyche. I have tried to exorcise her. I have begun calling gods by feminine pronouns. I have tried to find the deity within myself. I have tried to find the deity within the natural world: the closest thing I have ever found to true contentment and ‘redeeming’ love is an uncrowded stream.

Why is this so hard to write? And yet right now, I feel that to write anything else would be falsity. This has to come to the light.

Sometimes I feel like I need to be re-baptised out of the old strains of Christendom. My abandonment of church communities (much by my own doing) feels not dissimilar to the feeling of being divorced. You marry in public. You are baptised in public. At both events you are pure, washed, wearing either physically or metaphorically, white. You sign the documents. There are cheers and tears.

At your divorce, much like over the months of separation from the church, there is nobody. You don’t even need to go to court - just sign the documentation, send it away. As long as it is uncontested, all you receive is an email. It doesn’t quite feel real. Somewhere, deep down, you still feel like a married person cheating on your spouse.

It took many tear-ridden months and visits to the psychologist for me to even admit that a relationship not working doesn’t simply mean that it had to be all my fault. But it’s taking longer to believe that about my abandoned relationship with the cross.

However, I can tell you one thing. Perfect love does cast out all fear. Not the unknowable, strange love of the formidable Lord. The intimate, deep, accepting love of friends and family. That of a wet cheek against yours, of strong - REAL - arms around you that refuse to let go. As cliche as it is, that love saves.

There are people out there that have survived far more than I have. There are living victims of chemical warfare, there are refugees still fighting against seas (and worse: governments). But this is my story. And as I finish, I’m reminded of the Led Zeppelin song ‘Over the Hills and Far Away’.

Many times I’ve loved, and many times been bitten.

A fitting eulogy for the cross that splinters, breaks, falls apart inside of my chest again, and again, and again. Exorcism is not the potent force it used to be, where men held vials of water over the heads of epileptic children.

My cross, now, is shapeless. It’s taken the form of laughter and wind, of hot Summer air. It is the formless spiritual beast I suffer with and against and for in all that I do. It is everything, and the most vaporous tragedy. It is light and dark.