Origins and Purpose Statement
The Icarus Project began with the creation of this website in the Fall of 2002. Over the next few years the project expanded rapidly to include the publications, workshops, and support groups we offer today. When we got the idea to create The Icarus Project, however, we were just planning to carve out a little space on the web where people could find community around both the gifts and dangers of their extreme trajectories. We sought to offer an inspiring manifesto about the experience of "mental illness" which draws its strength from myth and metaphor as opposed to the paradigms of disease and dysfunction. Below is the original mission statement drafted by Sascha and I in an old tree in Northern California on Halloween, 2002. -Ashley, 5/05
Flying Too Close to the Sun, November 2002
As the ancient Greek myth is told, the young boy Icarus and his inventor father Daedalus were imprisoned in a maze on an island and trying to escape. Daedalus was crafty and made them both pairs of wings built carefully out of wax and feathers, but warned Icarus not to fly too close to the blazing sun or his beautiful wings would fall to pieces. Icarus, being young and foolish, was so intoxicated with his new ability to fly that he soared too high, the delicate wings melted and burned, and he fell into the deep blue ocean and drowned. For countless generations, the story of Icarus' wings has served to remind us that we are humans rather than gods, and that sometimes the most incredible of gifts can also be the most dangerous.
The Icarus Project was created in the beginning of the 21st century by a group of people diagnosed in the contemporary language as Bipolar or Manic-Depressive. Defining ourselves outside convention, we see our condition as a dangerous gift to be cultivated and taken care of rather than as a disease or disorder needing to be "cured" or "eliminated." With this double-edged blessing we have the ability to fly to places of great vision and creativity, but like the mythical boy Icarus, we also have the potential to fly dangerously close to the sun"”into realms of delusion and psychosis"”and crash in a blaze of fire and confusion. At our heights we may find ourselves capable of creating music, art, words, and inventions which touch people's souls and shape the course of history. At our depths we may end up alienated and alone, incarcerated in psychiatric institutions, or dead by our own hands. Despite these risks, we recognize the intertwined threads of madness and creativity as tools of inspiration and hope in this repressed and damaged society. We understand that we are members of a group that has been misunderstood and persecuted throughout history, but has also been responsible for some its most brilliant creations. And we are proud.
Learning to Use Our Wings
While many of us use mood-stabilizing drugs like Lithium to regulate and dampen the extremes of our manias and the hopeless depths of our depressions, others among us have learned how to control the mercurial nature of our moods through diet, exercise, and spiritual focus. Many of us make use of non-Western practices such as Chinese medicine, Yoga, and meditation. Often we find that we can handle ourselves better when we channel our tremendous energy into creation: some of us paint murals and write books, some of us convert diesel cars to run on vegetable oil and make gardens that are nourished with the waste water from our showers. In our own ways we're all struggling to create full and independent lives for ourselves where the ultimate goal is not just to survive, but to thrive. Despite the effort necessary just to stay balanced and grounded, we intend to make the world we live on better, more beautiful, and way more interesting.
The Icarus Project Website is a place for people struggling with Manic-Depression outside the mainstream to connect and build an alternative support network. We hope to learn from each others' mistakes and victories, stories and art, and create a new culture and language that resonates with our actual experiences of this "disorder" rather than trying to fit our lives into the reductionist framework offered by the current mental health establishment. We would like this site to become a place that helps people like us feel less alienated, and allows us "”both as individuals and as a community "” to tap into the true potential that lies between brilliance and madness.
The need for this site became exceedingly clear after two events organized in the fall of 2002 by Sascha DuBrul, my cohort on this crazy project. The first was Walking the Edge of Insanity: Navigating the World of Mental Health as a Radical in the 21st Century, a Do-it-Yourself mental health workshop in Berkeley, Ca. Sascha also published an article in the SF Bay Guardian called Bipolar World that more specifically addresses his personal experience dealing with madness and investigating manic depression through the available literature. Dozens of people all over the country, as well as those who came to the workshop, started flooding Sascha with e-mails of thanks, desperation, and incredible accounts of their histories with bipolar. We decided that there must be somewhere for these people to connect with each other and share their stories; the Icarus Project was born. To the best of our knowledge, there is nothing quite like this out there. -Ashley, 11/02