What’s it to me?
Since there is so much confusion between the word psychopathy and psychosis, I have always been a stickler for maintaining that distinction and reminding anyone who would listen that psychopaths are sane. Some people have called psychopathy “super sanity”* because of the rational clarity our detachment from emotion allows us.
I have seen quite a few schizophrenics. I was a patient in a mental institution for two years, between the ages of 13 and 15. There I had the opportunity to witness people who were raving lunatics. Years later, to fulfill a requirement for a college course, I volunteered at a half-way house for ex-mental patients. Most of them were schizophrenics. They were “sane,” probably due to medication, but I found them very flat, uninteresting. Is their treatment to blame?
I have read The Divided Self by R.D. Laing and Mary Barnes, Two Accounts of a Journey Through Madness. I have also seen Asylum, a documentary film about an alternative treatment center for crazy people run by R.D. Laing. The point of view of Laing and his followers is that schizophrenia is a form of alienation from the self. When the person goes mad and has a psychotic break with reality, he or she is really expressing the madness that has been inside all along and is finally integrating or healing hirself. The treatment normally given for psychosis is medication which forces the person back into hir shell, preventing healing from every happening. The “sane” schizophrenics I met seemed to confirm Laing’s critique. The people I saw in Asylum seemed kind of like holy people (or people on an acid trip) rather than the sort of inadequate folks mainstream medicine considers cured.
Another opinion on schizophrenia can be found in Michael Schofield’s book, January First. The book is about his daughter, Jani, who had symptoms of madness from the moment of her birth. She was always staring at a blank wall where she saw a full litany of hallucinations. She was also a genius who began speaking when she was still an infant. She has been treated with meds and the family dislikes the anti-psychiatry movement around the ideas of Laing. Jani comes across as a winsome child full of grace and charm. Strangely, Jani’s life has been closely documented up until she hit puberty which she must have by now. She should be around 15. Perhaps the teen-aged Jani wants her privacy.
As mentioned above, I was in a full-on nut house between the ages of 13 and 15. I was there because of a suicide attempt although the story is a lot more complicated than that. I was very involved in my fantasy life. An avid reader, I would pretend to be different characters at different times. At no time, however, did I ever lose track of the difference between fantasy and reality. I sometimes made people act parts in my fantasy without knowing it. For example, being admitted to the institution was something I caused to happen. I saw myself as a director of the movie that was my life. I had no desire to let people know how their parts in that movie were being directed. Let them think they were acting on their own. I was discharged when I got tired of the fantasy of a suicidal girl and moved on.
Years later, I found out I could get a copy of my file so I did. I discovered then that I had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. A stunning diagnosis considering I had never experienced psychosis and had never even been given an anti-psychotic drug during the entire two years I was there. I’m glad I didn’t know at the time what those doctors had said about me. More recently, I went to a clinic where I showed them my file. They told me that diagnosis was just a product of the times. I find it rich in irony, however. The Urban Dictionary seems to have an explanation other than the benighted thinking of the bad old days. (Doesn’t psychiatry seem to change radically every 20 years of so?) “Super Sanity is when you have reached a point that you are so sane that you may appear crazy to the world.”
Years later, I still was firmly ensconced in my bookworm ways. A book called Cry For War by Richard D. Reynolds made me think of schizophrenics with new respect. This book is amazing for a number of reasons. The couple described therein is as outlaw as people can get. For one thing, they called themselves Muslims in a time when Muslims are the most hated and oppressed group in the world. But no actual Muslim group would have them. Their form of Islam was a completely individual product of their own minds. Suzan Thornell was clearly schizophrenic. Her consort, Michael, was a follower who entered with her into a cult for two. They believed they had a mission to kill “witches” whom they considered evil. There didn’t seem to be much in the way of objective standards for whom to call a witch. It was mostly people who upset them in some way.
Suzan and Michael made their living selling marijuana up and down the West Coast. They were quite competent at their job. They had sources from whom they bought good quality product and plenty of customers. They traveled by way of the thumb most of the time and crashed with people along the way or lived in primitive abandoned cabins in the wilderness. They were both able to endure austerities of great severity. They could live on next to nothing. Suzan was able to go into trances that would have made an advanced yogi proud.
After their first murder in San Francisco (they would have thought “execution”), they hitched up the coast to Oregon. They lugged some food and supplies up to an abandoned mountain cabin in the Cascade wilderness. They made the hut livable (by their standards) and stayed until their food ran out. Since they didn’t have any money either, Michael went off to get more supplies and work for jihad while Suzan fasted (which she had to do since she had no more food). She climbed up on a rickety attic and sat on the floor.
She could feel the cold wind whistling through the moss-covered shake roof and through her escape window in the back of the cabin. You could freeze to death in the Oregon Mountains, but now she had other things on her mind.
Suzan slowly and quietly drew her body into a yoga position, closed her eyes and began to meditate, “spinning the wheel” as she liked to call it, focusing on one thought — her husband — and obliterating all other concerns from her mind. That was the way of Islam. She sat meditating and meditating and meditating upon her husband. Like a good Muslim wife, she did nothing but think about her husband, praying to Allah that he would return safely.
Since Suzan and Michael were delusional, their ability to survive in the real world was severely compromised. But I think their story shows, as suggested by Laing and others, how schizophrenics have abilities to do things most people can’t do. I envy Suzan’s ability to go into a meditative trance (not that I would change places with her). I guess society needs to isolate those who are different from the norm weather it’s by locking them up or just telling people how to “spot the psychopath” who walks among them.
Term first used in connection with the Joker in Batman. It looks like a term for psychopathy. “Super sanity is worse than been insane because you can do anything you want and you wouldn’t feel guilt.. Normally crazy people do things and then they are regretting it all their lives even if they did it willingly. If you are super saner you wont feel guilt and will laugh at death..” I doubt that being able to do anything I want without guilt is a bad thing. “Super Sanity is when you have reached a point that you are so sane that you may appear crazy to the world.” — Urban Dictionary
Both mental disorder and hyper-sanity place us outside society, making us seem ‘mad’ to the mainstream. Both attract scorn and derision, but whereas mental disorder is distressing and disabling, hyper-sanity is liberating and empowering.
- Super Sanity? – Joker – Comic Vine
- On Hyper-Sanity. Psychology Today
- Definition. Urban Dictionary
- What is the Joker’s Super Sanity? Quora
- RD Laing: Was the counterculture’s favourite psychiatrist a dangerous renegade or true visionary? Independent
- Kingsley Hall: RD Laing’s experiment in anti-psychiatry. The Guardian
- The Jani Foundation. Facebook
- My Autobiography. Part One
- Michael Bear Carson and Suzan Carson. Wikipedia
- Suzan Carson Barnes, Cultic California Serial Killer 1983.