My angst-ridden teens found articulation in Laing’s humane yet deeply disturbing rewriting of schizophrenia, which he saw as originating in intolerable family dynamics. The disassociated self that he described was experienced as fake, a sham, depersonalized, devalued, a tortured, isolated being unable to make contact with a world that was no longer real. I don’t know how adolescence felt to my contemporaries, but I sure as hell had my own “double binds” that undid me and threatened my sanity.
Like anti-psychiatry’s David Cooper, Laing’s compassionate approach posited schizoid disorder as the sensitive soul’s desperate attempt to preserve itself against undermining persecution by cruel or dishonest others, or even the reaction of a healthy mind to a mad world. They both rejected the use of chemical medication and electroshock treatment on sufferers and rather than seeing the psychopathological condition as a problem, suggested that it was valid.
The romanticized vision of the madman was irresistible to the traumatized teenage me. Laing quoted passages from Dostoyevsky and Jean Genet to illustrate his thesis, artistic authorities that for me trumped the narrowly scientific, and I saw myself, if not quite in the company of broken anti-heroes, at least no longer alone.
Cooper took things a step further, presenting the language of madness as that of poetic truth which breaks in through the cracks.
The disturbed individual, however, wants relief of their torment, not congratulation. I can’t help feeling that that many of the patients of this school would have benefited immensely from a dose or two of the right drug.
I do know that my will to understand the human condition inclined me away from psychology, which I saw as unequal to the task, being strictly limited in its analytical discipline, and towards the study of literature, where I hoped to gain insight from poetic minds (and, hey, have some fun), and so the books kept coming.