Learning to Love the Voices in My Head and Embracing “Crazy” as a Lifestyle in Revolt

“People often say that this or that person has not yet found himself. But the self is not something one finds, it is something one creates.”

-Thomas Szasz

People have been telling me that I’m crazy for about as long as I can remember. Teachers, priests, psychiatrists, all kinds of professional adults assigned to define me have defined me as damaged goods because of the perceived abnormality of my behavior. There was always something wrong with the Reid child. I cried too much at school, I didn’t perform my gender correctly, and I seemed to prefer the world inside my head to the one around me. I spent countless hours and God knows how much money on expensive sofas in fancy offices trying to explain why I consistently failed to be normal.

I had a lot of people try to define me with an endless thesaurus of scary sounding labels; Attention Deficit Disorder, Clinical Depression, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Agoraphobia, Autogynephilia (fuck you, Khytam Dawood), Social Anxiety Disorder…. All of them just seemed like long and elaborate labels for the same diagnosis; Nicky is fucking crazy. But it has only dawned on me just recently to ask the one existential question that all the professional adults in my life seemed to conveniently overlook. Just what the fuck is crazy anyway?

If the definition is as standardly prescribed, the inability to act in a normal or rational manner, then I guess I fit the bill, guilty as charged. But just how the hell is a child supposed to act when simply being different makes them profoundly unsafe? I cried too much at school because the people who ran that fine institution went out of their way to humiliate and abuse me. I didn’t perform my gender correctly because nobody fucking asked me what my gender was in the first place. And you are goddamn right that I preferred the world inside my head. It was the only place where the adults couldn’t reach me. There was something wrong with the Reid child, alright. She was a little girl shamed into performing like the gender on her birth certificate and she was sick and tired of every adult with a diploma on their wall putting their hands and their theories all over her body.

It’s taken me thirty-five years, but I’ve finally realized that mental illness is not my fucking problem. That’s just another label like ‘heretic’ or ‘woman’ that powerful men use to marginalize the small so they can feel big and important in their luscious ivory towers. Don’t get me wrong, I’m plenty fucked up alright. I can’t even walk past a church or a school without having a panic attack and I have tried to treat this trauma in nearly every way conceivable. I have talked to complete strangers, paid by the hour, until I’m blue in the face and I have popped more pills than Richard Nixon. But I have only just recently begun to repair the damage from a lifetime of being treated like an emotional leper and I have been doing this by embracing something downright crazy. I’ve been consulting the voices in my head.

The scientific term for this prescribed insanity is Parts Work Therapy, which is frequently used to treat Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder by recognizing the disowned parts of a patient’s personality and granting these parts with the agency to tell their story. But what this really all amounts to is a kind of voluntary multiple personality disorder minus the disassociation.

Instead of telling those voices in my head to shut the fuck up and keep it down, I ask them who they are and what exactly they have to say. The results of this very simple shift in perception can be a total mindfuck if you’ve spent your life being abused by the mental health establishment. The result is fully formed sentient beings with thoughts, wills, and opinions all their own. So far, I have met two of them, Agnes and Max.

Agnes is a five-year-old girl who dresses like a haunted Victorian doll from a horror movie and carries a hammer instead of a dolly. I have been seeing her face in nightmares and mirrors all my life but after simply giving her the opportunity to be heard I have discovered that she isn’t some terrifying monster, she is just a very hurt and very scared child who doesn’t understand why the adults won’t stop putting their hands on her body. She carries that hammer to break those hands but what she really wants is to be loved for being different instead of vilified and to be allowed to be the peculiar little girl that I was never allowed to be.

Max is a very pissed-off, androgynous teenager who smokes like a chimney, despises anyone over thirty, and watches over Agnes like a hawk. She spends most of what little free time she has left preparing for the day when the priests come back for Agnes. She’s a pint-sized survivalist straight out of some queered Sam Peckinpah movie; building pipe bombs, sawing off shotguns, loading revolvers, reading books on Nietzsche and Albert Camus novels, all while she keeps one eye on little Aggy and the other on the door. She also speaks to God even though she thinks he’s a dick and might be Joan of Arc in torn jeans and plaid flannel.

If all this sounds fucking insane then just imagine living it. Suddenly, I feel like a single mother of two emotionally volatile bitches that nobody else can see but me. But the most bizarre thing about this fucked up acid trip that has become my life is just how normal it all feels. How good it feels to see Agnes smile for the first time in thirty years when Max teaches her a new swear word. How rewarding it feels to tell Max that I’m proud of her for letting her guard down instead of building another bomb. However crazy it might sound; I love those two girls with all my heart and that feels so good because it is the first time that I’ve ever truly loved myself.

What is mental health? What is mentally healthy? If the answer is attending to one’s own emotional needs and wellbeing, then the healthiest thing that I’ve ever done is embracing my so-called mental illness as a lifestyle in resistance to the violence of ‘normal.’ So, what then makes me any different from your average garden variety schizophrenic and what makes them any less valid than the prophets in the Bible? Today’s lunatics are yesterday’s heretics and yesterday’s heretics were shaman before we built a society in which it is considered unhealthy to hear voices but it’s perfectly rational to grant armed drones with the sentience that we deny to the damaged children in our heads.

I have a Native American friend who once told me that before the white man came his tribe had no crazy people, just brothers who spoke to the trees and sisters who carried spears because they also carried the spirits of brothers. In small tribal societies there are no marginalized people because every voice can be heard, and every perspective needs to be respected in order to achieve harmony within the village. The same people who call me crazy called these people savages. If this world is normal, then I’m proud to be crazy and I’ll take the voices in my head over the ones behind my flickering screen any day of the week. Max and Aggy tell way better jokes anyway.

Nicky Reid is an agoraphobic anarcho-genderqueer gonzo blogger from Central Pennsylvania and assistant editor for Attack the System. You can find her online at Exile in Happy Valley.