Janet's story: Reclaiming madness - a search for one's true self, following sexual abuse

Giving background information about myself or writing a few lines about who I am is where I start feeling resistance. Resistance to an attempt at producing the understandable story.

Trigger warning: Janet's story describes her experiences of sexual abuse and rape.

I've tried that too many times in my life - to explain things to others and to explain things to myself. Madness meant asserting the right to be tired of that, madness was daring not to be explainable and understandable, and I try to keep the memory of being that right and that daring.

Every time I tried to satisfy someone else's or my own need to understand things I was losing an important part of what happened, because what happened always remained more complex than what I was able to explain, and it still is.

I find it hard to describe myself in terms of one psychiatric history, to bring myself within frames of one certain experience and describe it chronologically, no matter how central this experience might have been for me. Surviving psychiatry has defined me in too many ways.

I come from Yugoslavia, that is where I was committed to a psychiatric institution for the first time at the age of 20, just before that I was raped, and long before that I had been sexually abused by my father, therefore I became mad. Madness was revealing the abuse, therefore he committed me one more time and then I left for ever and now I live somewhere else.

Although these are the facts of my life, they cannot represent it because so much of who I am exists beyond them. I feel like I am disappearing behind these words. Every attempt to describe myself in terms of what happened to me reduces me to a story with which I never agreed, which was never mine. My true biography is resistance to my biography. I try to live that resistance every day and it is not only about staying out of psychiatry. There are many other things in my life that I need to struggle with. Through that struggle I'm always becoming more of the person that I am, on the contrary to the one that was meant to be. And who was I meant to be? I was meant to be a manufactory of pleasure - you touch me and I enjoy. And you enjoy, and nobody knows about it, because it doesn't exist.

I was meant to feel loved and cared for. I was meant to belong to one man and feel secure with him, because he was my father. And when I couldn't any more, I was meant to accept that I was crazy and wrong and allow myself to be mended. After that I was supposed to hide it, because being crazy and wrong is something to be ashamed of. For years I was very much who I was meant to be, and when I wasn't, I tried. I was ashamed of going crazy. I did my best to feel loved and cared for, but I didn't feel so. Starting to hate finally enabled me to start to love. Forcing myself to love the unlovable kept me the same distance from everyone.

Who knows what a sad and boring person I would have become if I didn't fall apart, if I didn't go into pieces one day. Madness was about all the suppressed feelings and fears and disgust coming out at the same time. It was about the world turning into the big, unbearable structure where there was no place for me. Madness was about seeing my father everywhere and anticipating harm, about not differentiating between what was once and what was now. In madness there was no now which wasn't affected by what was done to me. Suddenly I couldn't deal with what I successfully dealt with for years and, more than that, I couldn't deal with anything at all anymore. Madness was about being completely lost and feeling no borders, about being totally exposed and being alone with everything at the same time.

However terrible and frightening this experience was, I'm glad I didn't remain the one who was able to stand it all, the one behind the walls of an impermeable world, all on my own, all unhappy. It took me time to stop mourning that functioning, steely me, equally far from everything and find respect for the weak one, the one who went crazy and made a fool of herself, the one who disintegrated. I needed time to realise how much closer that one is to me and how I can learn from her. First of all - learn to react, to hate, to be aggressive.

What I consider the best in me was immediately meant to be diagnosed, treated and eliminated with medication. As soon as I allowed myself to feel what I was living with things and stop constructing them into something better, as soon as I started coming out as my real vulnerable self, all that was cancelled and medication made me stop feeling again. Immediately after everything came together and I was on the way to stop pretending that I could live the abuse, that I could carry it further and keep translating it into love, I'd lost it again. I was supposed to forget this moment of an overwhelming, unbearable truth, I was supposed to be cured from it and to start fearing it. The disharmony disappeared quickly and soon I found myself regularly visited by my parents on a closed ward. I was their daughter again.

Undergoing psychiatric treatment delayed the moment when I had to face everything again and I think psychiatry is one of the best preventions of truth that you can find or that can find you. The chemical fog confused me to the extent that I doubted everything. How I felt and what I realised about my life seemed like a bad trip that came from nowhere and I would do anything to forget it and to stop it coming again. And I did everything, but it came again.

Me becoming a mental patient was a good solution for everyone, except for me. Therefore it wasn't a hard decision to refuse that kind of future, to refuse one more identity that was offered to me. I don't want to say that this was easy, because life after psychiatry wasn't easy in general and I asked myself many times if there was one at all. I spent days in bed hiding from life, hiding from everyone who saw me mad, feeling terribly ashamed for everything that happened. When I look backwards I think medication also made me feel powerless and empty. What the psychiatrist was telling me about myself and what she was suggesting, were really pissing me off. The decision not to go there for another depot injection was also about not wanting to see her anymore, not wanting to hear her, not wanting to see myself in that position.

I cannot say that my life changed that day but I think change was made possible through me taking the risk of getting off medication. Refusing psychiatry happened quickly and I never regretted it or came back to it as an option, but it took me years to unlearn fear of madness, to dare to see the meaning in it, to stand behind it and to want it back. It seems paradoxical but I think that falling apart and losing contact with reality helped me retain myself. I think that despite psychiatry, the very experience of madness conserved me. I found preciousness in getting lost, noticed that my personal chaos contained logics and finally found courage to say - I was right and all my extreme reactions were right. I started reclaiming madness that was taken away from me, I started listening to it, figuring out its principles and wanting to make them part of my life. I stopped desperately exchanging them for some alienated normality, I stopped neutralising myself with sleeping pills.

I was with my lover at the time. I think I still consist of her love and support. For the first time I experienced that a response to me going mad can be trusting me and wanting to know what is it about, what I am about. She was never on a helper trip, never multiplied fear. She remained herself with me and altogether didn't show much respect for the "state of mental illness". I realised that I would not die after someone saw me. I learned that sexual abuse could become something visible.

Being crazy was also about wanting everything at the same time and having to have it immediately. I can't say I miss that intensity, but it gave me the feeling that change is possible. I discovered that my life could change into something that I wanted. That it can become a life that I don't need to radically escape sometimes, that it can be the place that I want to come back to. And this process of my life actually becoming the one similar and suitable to me, is my biggest security against ending up in a mental hospital again. Another security are these thousands of kilometres between me and my parents, the only people in the world, so motivated to silence what I have to say about my life with them and cure me from those memories.

I don't think I have any other securities than these and I don't want more of them. The vision of me turning into a chronically normal, functioning person frightens me deeper than any diagnosis or prognosis of my "mental illness" ever did. I don't want to become a subject that works, earns, has holidays, procreates, counts on stability of its little world and is always able to delay pleasure. I trust my "schizophrenic" talent to take a break from normal people's paradise, have an honest look at my existence sometimes and dare to question my day to day functioning. The constant desire for intensity complicates my life a lot but it is a part of who I am and I don't want to soften it.

There are also loads of experiences that I live, that are not at all something that I want to live. Experiences that have to do with what I learned, that became my automatic picture of the world which very much prevents me from seeing other pictures and opening other worlds. After psychiatry is over and my father is over there is no one more to blame. What is not over, is what they left behind them and I don't think that can pass. Specially not what he left, because he lasted longer and came deeper into how I feel myself and how I feel the world. I need time and strength and fantasy to start seeing who I am at all when I'm not relating to a constant, demanding sexual presence.

The language of sexual abuse and seduction was the first emotional language I learned, the one I don't even need to remember because I speak it "naturally". Me being sexualised all of the time became my identity, became a condition for my existence. It was hard to realise that beyond hatred and being terribly hurt, there was my faithfulness to the abuse. I needed good reasons to start giving up my intimate link to it. When fear becomes the dominant force in your life, you go for what you already know.

I don't know when did I start being emotionally brave. I only know it was because of someone else. At the point where I was desperate to be with them, I had to fight for the space where being with them could happen, for the territory in me not already occupied. I needed to cross borders of the world I was stuck in.

I was collecting courage for relationships under different laws, the relationships that were not the repeating of the ones I knew, the world in which I started existing instead of fantasising that I exist. Every time I come close with someone, I need to find this courage from the beginning. And every time I find it, I step out of the past. I think I need thousands of friends and lovers to take me away from there. The worse and at the same time the best thing to realise was that I am mainly the only one left to blame for the degree of joy I find in life. I can keep addressing the responsibility on those in charge of my biography and I do it but that is not what really moves me on. The list of phenomena that can move me on is a very long one but however hard is to remind myself of that - I remain the one who hides from them or take them as my right.