First, a note to reader: sorry for missing last weeks installment, I had coronavirus - I am so happy to be back at this now, and thank you for returning for more!
On the edgelands of the mind lays a state called psychosis, something that each person will experience often, fleetingly, or not at all, in their lifetime. It is a place where time is not linear, moving either strangely fast, or slow like dripping treacle. For some people, it only happens in dreams; that kind of haunting, edgy feeling that stays with us long after waking; whispers of the strangely wonderful or wildly frightening half-remembered makings of the subconscious mind. For most though, it is a waking experience - one that is still far from understood by Western medicine, and which can present in many different ways.
A fascination with hospital maps began to blossom in my mind around 2016, after several years of psychiatric treatment in two different NHS locations that seemed to have the same psychogeographical feel to them. Not the same layout that you could necessarily point to on a map and compare in the same kind of way you can with many panopticon prisons, but another kind of undiscernable yet familiar logic that informed which rooms, wards and corridors went where. (Incidentally, prisons are, at first glance, buildings with an entirely different purpose - yet they are also ones within which insanity is common, and they're also designed consciously and purposefully in pursuit of the reformation of the mind and soul; see here too. Foucault noted in an essay on panopticism that prisons resemble hospitals - not just architecturally, but in their inequal power dynamics and designs for control over minds and bodies).
So the predictability and mind-numbing soullessness of predetermined hospital directions called me to map-hack, to navigate towards my treatment rooms via blocked off corridors or through beautiful gardens to which all patient access was banned (despite study after study repeatedly and demonstrably evidencing the undeniable benefits of green space for healing and recuperation). These hacked navigation routes, these forbidden areas, were often accessible only through alarmed doors - which I discovered, when I pushed them anyway, were mostly not alarmed at all.
This was in part a response to the monotony of walking identical labyrinthine corridors on repeat like groundhog day (and to the ways in which that can make you feel even more mental than whatever landed you there in the first place), and in part a need to reclaim my body from the assumptions that diagnosis labels carry. In hospitals my personhood diminished, the essence of what makes me me replaced with blanket definitions from the DSM-5. So I responded by redefining how my body interacted with these edgeland buildings, using doors, gardens and corridors that I was not allowed to use. It was an act of resistance, to build a route out of the psychological states of depersonalisation and derealisation that I often inhabited in those days, and a route into a sense of control and spacial awareness that situated me firmly in my context. I felt buffeted by the winds of dogmatic and underfunded mental health provision led by groups of white men, in white coats, in white rooms, off white corridors - and was not at that point empowered enough to remove myself from the care I received, feeling institutionalised as I did. So I adapted by transforming how I interacted with it instead, leading to a fuller inhabitation and ownership over these buildings, and creating for my mind (and for my heart) a discernible framework for my 'self' to both exist within, and resist, simultaneously. Only at that point could I then articulate my care needs with my own voice.
Hospitals are a dominion of streets and mapped lines. Their psychogeography filled up with each body that has passed through them ... Anyone who presents themself for care, cure or examination must accept the role of patient, which requires them to give up something: freedom/free will/free movement.
Extract from Constellations, by Sinéad Gleeson
So hospital corridors were the beginning of an obsession with patterns (which led to the one with edgelands, because everything with a border exhibits a pattern of some sort, and borders are everywhere as we love to divide ourselves from each other). Then, grew new pattern obsessions: the ones found in mathematics, in music, in geometric art, in time, in lines of vegetable seeds in quietly worked soil... then in the fractals in perfectly spaced birdprints in snow; in snowflakes; in the way that an upside down tree looks like a pair of lungs and the lines on the palm of a hand look like the veins in a leaf. "Geometrically, [fractals] exist in between our familiar dimensions" - in other words, in the edgelands of our minds; our periphery visions and thinking.
Patterns offer a soothing reliability - an assurance, perhaps, that as unpredictable and rocky as reality can feel, there are immutable and repetitive patterns underlying all of life that seem, at first glance, to be chaos. They are everywhere: in the earth, the seasons, the ecosystems, flocks of birds, the groups we claim membership of, the systems we both create and reinforce, the way animals graze and call out to one another, in lightning and earthquakes and mountains and streams... they are patterns that tell us, firmly yet gently, that everything will keep turning and ticking once we're gone. And depending on multiple factors, we can either find this immensely comforting and calming, or desolately lonely. Perhaps, sometimes, both.
Beauty and grief are next-door neighbors, or maybe grief is beauty in a dark mirror… To see beauty is to glimpse something deeper; to grieve is to glimpse a loss whose consequences we will not unpack for years, and maybe never. The beauty of geometry likewise involves great emotional weight, irreversibly alters our perceptions, and is transcendent. For we don’t see all of geometry, only a hint, a shadow of something much deeper.
Michael Frame, quoted in The Marginalian
Some of what we currently think of as psychosis could be seen another way - as simply a recognition of patterns and chaos. I have met far more interesting people than ‘crazy’ people in mental health services and crisis houses. People with the most fascinating, incisive, questioning and captivating minds. People who will remove themselves from an exchange at the merest whisper of power play or control; who weaponise the self by removing the self when all external weapons have been removed “for their own good”.
'Dérive' is French for drift, is a spontaneous unplanned wandering through a landscape. It is getting lost on purpose, rejecting mapped routes, a way of exploring and finding new things and making new mental maps of the areas we navigate. It has its origins in the Letterist International and Situationist International, avant-garde collectives of radical artists and cultural theorists during the 50s to 70s in Paris. Applied in this context of textbook-led, non-holistic Western mental health care, to dérive is to reclaim personhood, to resist imperfect systems of treatment, and to recapture identity. It is also, often, to laugh out loud while skipping mischieviously through off-limits maps.
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through corridors repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
move through forbidden gardens, under the rain.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile, the world goes on...
Rewritten extract of Wild Geese, by Mary Oliver. Find the (absolutely breathtaking and far more beautiful) original here.
I want to know if there is a discernible pattern within the folds of love. I keep searching for it, curious, and find it daily in my friends as I watch their sweetnesses and fragilities, their desires to be kind and feel loved back. Certain friends have certain ways of asking if you want a cup of tea, of kissing your forehead, or holding out their arms to draw you into them. These are their own perfectly imperfect fractals and patterns. So, the search is sweet; I am peeked at often by the patterns of love. As Maria Popova says, "most things in life are better and more beautiful not linear but fractal. Love especially." This is why I try to forgive, and sometimes fail. We are meant to be chaotic, unpinnable patterns; like the elements of a storm, perpetually in flux. What joy there is in that though, what relief, what release from the myth of perfection.
There are no perfect structures or perfect people. There is only the struggle to get there ... Patience comes from our attempts to hold together an always-mixed reality, not from expecting or demanding a perfect reality.
Richard Rohr, 15th June 2021
“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.” Albert Einstein.
Lastly, enjoy a polyphonic music pattern, Dido's Lament: a love letter and grief-call to nature, love and loss, by Annie Lennox and the London City Voices Choir.