I watched the 3-minute documentary Madness Made Me the other day, and found myself nodding in solidarity and thinking “Hear, hear!” to myself as I watched the protagonist, Mary O’Hagan, reclaim her personal narrative from psychiatry. Afterwards, I sat with an intense mix of joy and despair as I smiled at the strength of the human spirit and shook my head at the fundamentally unjust and dehumanizing nature of the psychiatric record. It’s so big and so profound, though unless you’ve been subjected to a psychiatrist’s note-taking yourself, few ever recognize this.
As mental patients, our entire humanity is reduced to a list of symptoms, entirely subjective (i.e. “professional”) opinions on our worth and our character jotted down in sloppy handwriting. These arbitrary, invented words are scribbled down in a matter of minutes but have the power to strip us of our identity, our right to fresh air, our bodily integrity, the sanctity of our minds, our dignity, our humanness. And of course, though we may awaken to their absurdity and abandon them as we become ex-mental patients, these pages upon pages of invented words will forever follow us in written record, stored in hospital basements and file cabinets, ghosts of our past.
Thank you, Mary O’Hagan, for sharing your story, and thank you to Nikki Castle for directing this beautiful, thought-provoking, empowering, haunting film.