I confess my time in Laingian psychoanalysis to the doctor from the crisis team. He feels like a sergeant, deployed from a psychiatric armoury. Unlike everyone I have so far seen — a succession of well-meaning strangers armed only with strategies and platitudes for distraction and weathering, often contradictory — he can write scripts. He spends a quarter of an hour doing so whilst I make myself busy, hanging out my washing on the line in the garden, a ritual of banal domesticity that fills in the time it takes for him to write out his orders.
For one brief moment in our conversation, he mutters: “Laing, anti-psychiatry”, a dismissive thought half-formed and interrupted. I think he hopes to avoid some sort of conflict or disagreement, and leaves his disparagement hanging unactualized in the air. But Laing did not help me. My psychoanalyst only retraumatised me. I have an intellectual interest in that world, but interest is not the same as fidelity.
“I’m a doctor. Excuse my reductivism, but I believe our brains are just bundles of cells, chemicals. We can change those chemicals, through medication but also through changing our thought patterns.” He is describing the infernal feedback loop of cognitive behavioural therapy. We can change our brain chemistry by changing our thoughts, which are in turn shaped by our brain chemistry. Medication is a foundation, upon which therapy becomes more effective. All treatment of mental illness requires a two-pronged attack.
I think about Tariq Goddard’s comments on Mark Fisher, who did indeed turn to drugs in his final years. Mushrooms. Weed. Acid. Still, the mistake often made among fans of his later unfinished work that this was some turn to the most cliched and mystical form of psychedelia. Not so. After all, what is “acid communism” if not a psychedelia that further affirms the Spinozist turn, the inclusion of Marxist materialism in our current thinking around neurochemistry. Bataille berates Marx for his “idealist materialism”, which does not go far enough, resting on a philosophical contradiction of terms, but what does an acid communism make possible if not a newly rigorous materialism of the mind? But not the mind singular; the mind in general. Mental health is a political issue. It is not an individual quandary but a collective one.