Stalking Irish Madness

While treatment of schizophrenia in America still largely focuses on antipsychotics and other pharmaceuticals, "we're actually behind now," says Tracey.

While in Ireland, Tracey encountered the Hearing Voices Network (HVN), which holds meetings that consist of "likeminded voice-hearers helping each other out-they're just taking basically the drug and alcohol recovery model, twelve-step recovery."

The HVN is based on the concept of allowing schizophrenics to acknowledge and eventually learn to control their voices. "They are finding that a cure for schizophrenia is really not in the cards. What is in the cards is recovering, on a daily basis, from the worst of their voices. It turns out that mental health for [schizophrenics] is really no different from mental health for us. We all have our voices. My voices might be telling me, 'Oh, I'm going to be nervous in this interview and I'm going to say something and slip up and I won't sound good and smart'-and that's my first-person voice. My sisters have third-person voices; they come from outside their heads. But they can control their voices in the way that we need to control the better ranges of our nature and just try to be positive. They can tap into their positive voices. When doctors tell them that their voices are bollocks, that their voices don't exist, it completely invalidates their experience. They've got nowhere to go. This is why the Hearing Voices Network will be the biggest thing there is in schizophrenia. And it already is in Europe... It's undeniable. The proof is not measured in gene variants that have been replicated in twin studies in other countries and stuff. Science likes that, they like hard empirical evidence. But the proof is in the pudding. You talk to these people and they're dealing with life, they're recovered. But they have to tend to themselves like a garden every day."

Along with the HVN, the Mad Pride movement has also emerged from within the schizophrenia community. "They call themselves the last barricade of the civil rights movement," explains Tracey. "And they demand to be heard and they don't want to be forced to take medicine. They're willing to take medicine, many of them want to take medicine, but they don't want to be forced...these are very progressive people and they're the people that are leading this movement. It is a movement."

As anyone who has gone to Ireland to search for their genealogical roots can tell you, the journey can be filled with dead ends and frustration. The process becomes even more difficult when the focus of the search is schizophrenia. "Well, I mean, in Ireland [genealogy] is an industry and they'll welcome you with open arms," says Tracey.

"But the word schizophrenia-it's a country no one wants to visit... So I knew I had to step very lightly, I had to tread lightly. Because this is the most severe form of mental illness, and it scares the s*** out of people. So you just don't go poking around in the back lanes of Roscommon asking about this."

Along the way, Tracey does encounter refusals to discuss what is often seen as a private family matter. When I ask how he approached the subject with the Irish with whom he spoke, he replies, "I did tiptoe, I didn't knock hard, I didn't kick down doors, because it's just the beginning of the conversation. I hope [the book] opens up a conversation with the Irish, between Ireland and America, in families afflicted, and that we begin to talk more about it."

Transforming generations of shame and suffering into an open dialogue between schizophrenics, those who love them, and the medical community in both Ireland and America is an ongoing process, and Tracey's book is indeed a great contribution.

"Stalking Irish Madness" has already garnered critical attention, and has been chosen by the American Booksellers Association for their Indie Next List and featured on indiebound.org.

"I'm really happy about that, it's very positive," says Tracey. "Oh, and they sent me a t-shirt, and then I went and had my man Arturo snap a photo of me in the t-shirt and I sent that to the guys in sales, whoever they are. But just the fact that there are people in my life who are called the guys in sales! It means things are on the rise."

Patrick Tracey, a former contributing writer for the Washington City Paper and Regardie's in Washington, D.C., has also written for Ms. magazine and the Washington Post. Tracey now lives with his sisters in Boston, Massachusetts.

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