Imagine you are standing with your head poking out of a little tent, alone in an enormous open clearing, in the middle of a raging hurricane. There’s almost no space to hear yourself think over the wind. At the edge of the clearing, far away, the wind knocks down trees and power lines. The storm is so vast and loud you can’t hear your own voice over the pummeling noise, because the wind whips the words out of your mouth before you utter them.
Being “crazy” makes parenthood a uniquely dangerous thing, add on being queer, or a person of color, or poor, or too young, or in any way marginalized and being a “crazy” parent ups the danger significantly. This pressure, judgment, and extreme scrutiny only piles on more stress which in turn creates greater emotional trauma, which in turn affects our ability to not only function in this world and parent effectively, but it also makes it difficult to safely seek help when we need it. And sometimes we really need it.
This interview with Mia Mingus, one of the leading articulators of what Disability Justice is about, was done recently in Ottawa, where she gave two talks on 'Beyond Access: An Introduction to Disability Justice.'
There are not many people talking about what it means to be a mad parent, what those defining identities mean for them or how those roles play out in their lives. Struggling with staying well and a life wrought with experiences that can sometimes, for example, make it difficult to leave the house have the capacity to make modern parenting a huge challenge. For people who are sensitive to the amount of sleep they get or who have a hard time with loud noises and shifts in body chemistry, mad motherhood in particular can be a massive undertaking, requiring unprecedented strength and determination.
Sins Invalid is a performance project on disability and sexuality that incubates and celebrates artists with disabilities, centralizing artists of color and queer and gender-variant artists as communities who have been historically marginalized from social discourse. Jacks McNamara interviewed Patty Berne, Leroy Moore, Lateef McLeod, and Kiyaan from the Sins Invalid crew at Patti’s home in Berkeley on June 26, 2013.
For many years I, and so many others I know, have resisted identifying as disabled for very good reasons. If you believe your distress is largely a result of family trauma and/or capitalism, racism, and other forms of structural violence, why would you identify as disabled? If you frame your distress as a form of spiritual or existential crisis, why would you use the word disabled? If you believe we all have the capacity for full recovery, or nothing was ever wrong in the first place, why would you identify as disabled?
For me, the reason is to be part of an amazing and supportive community with revolutionary politics that include an emphasis on creating communities of care. To be part of a group with a long history of organizing for liberation and human rights. Identifying as disabled also allows me to acknowledge the recurrent and sometimes severe nature of my struggles, and to seek structural changes that wouldn’t make it so hard to be in this world. Instead of trying to assimilate and “pass” as normal, it is so much more helpful for me to think about how to get support and get access needs met.
Folks who have been involved with the radical mental health movement for a while are likely familiar with filmmaker Ken Paul Rosenthal’s work. His film Crooked Beauty has helped to tell the story of The Icarus Project by weaving Jacks McNamara’s personal narrative with poetically visualized images of a stunning and broken world that is ever-striving to heal itself. Inspired by Bonfire Madigan Shive, one of the original catalysts of The Icarus Project, whose voice, music, and being helped to galvanize the vision of an international network of wild-hearted explorers of the space between brilliance and madness, Rosenthal is setting the roaring intricacies of Madigan’s voice and cello compositions to the larger landscape of a boldly soaring, crashing and trembling world.
In 1973 the academic journal Science published an article called On Being Sane in Insane Places. It documented the findings of an experiment by psychologist David Rosenhan designed to test the validity of psychiatric diagnosis. The first part of Rosenhan’s study involved eight ‘sane’ people feigning auditory hallucinations to see if they could get committed into psychiatric institutions. What is interesting about the experiment is not the ease with which the participants successfully feigned mental illness, but the difficulty they had, once inside the system, of proving themselves sane. Although none of the participants showed any further symptoms it took up to 52 days for them to be released, and even then only then when they accepted diagnosis of irreversible lifelong conditions such as schizophrenia. So what? That’s pretty much what I thought until I got diagnosed with bipolar.