Mouse from Reed Icarus At Portland Event

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Reed College organizer Mouse joined Will Hall, along with Jason Renaud of the Mental Health Association, at an Icarus event with 60+ participants in Portland Oregon March 9... Check out Mouse's speech below, and listen to the audio recording of Mouse and Will on the Process Work website or listen/download here in mp3 format.

Hi everyone; thank you all for coming—my name is Mouse, also known as Marty Tillson, and for the moment, I’m a student at Reed College.  This seems to change as often as the weather here in Portland, but I’m human, and I think that every day I’m somebody a little different.

I first discovered the Icarus Project in a friend’s laundry room this past August while hitchhiking through New Paltz, New York.  The publication, Navigating the Space Between Brilliance and Madness, was sitting on the washing machine, and in reading it I realized I had never considered mental health in these terms before.  I didn’t leave that room for a good two hours; it felt like having a conversation with a good friend, but a conversation I had never actually had before since, as I’m sure many of you understand, “mental illness” is a touchy subject for most people. 

Many of you are probably familiar with the mission of the project, but for the benefit of those who are not, it aims to form communities of mad individuals and their allies who want to change the way we think, talk, and act about mental issues.  This dialogue is crucial, but largely absent.  To be told that you’re “sick” because of the way you experience the world around you, because you feel and communicate differently than the majority of people, is incredibly isolating; most people would rather defer to psychiatric authority and keep their problems behind closed doors instead of talking about it with friends and fellow mad cats.  I believe that this is where the conversation should be happening: with others who can say, “This is how my mind works, what about yours?” or “This helped me, what helps you?”  We’re changing every day, so the things that keep each of us stable right now might not help in a week or a year.  Fortunately, there are a lot of different options out there, as you’ll know if you do some research or ask around.

Back in October, when I first thought of forming an Icarus group at Reed College, the director of the counseling center told me that it had been twenty years since the campus had seen a peer-run discussion and support group for mental health.  This shocked the hell out of me.  Here we are, a small, liberal community with a stressful environment and a fairly high prevalence of mental eccentricities, but for twenty years no one thought it might be beneficial for us to talk to one another about it.  College can be rough, but we’re all in it together, at roughly the same point in our lives, of the same generation, and experiencing many of the same difficulties with academic life and a changing culture.  Still, it’s easy to feel alone, isolated and different, afraid of being judged.

So what do we do?  We meet every Sunday in a safe space on campus discuss our experiences.  We try to come up with accurate ways of describing how we are different, instead of relying on blanket definitions like “bipolar,” “clinically depressed,” “psychotic,” and so on.  We look critically at how madness is portrayed by the media and medical establishments, and how it is perceived by others.  We make friends and form a community of people who understand and care honestly about each other’s well-being. 

To me, madness is not an illness—it’s a dangerous space to navigate, but the gift of thinking differently in today’s culture is invaluable.  What I’m trying to say is that I wouldn’t trade my superpowers for anything in the world.  Still, it takes a lot to get to a point of having pride in your differences, particularly when you have to be constantly mindful of the pitfalls and problems and stigmas that come along with them.  It’s an ongoing struggle for all of us, whether we identify personally or are just working to overcome our own prejudices on the matter, but we need to keep this dialogue alive.