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Egan Bidois – Madness on Your Own Terms

Egan Bidois works in specialist Maori mental health services as part of a group called Whakapai – He Whakarito, for Capital and Coast District Health Board (in and aroundWellington). Whakapai are involved with delivering Cultural Training within the DHB, and with ensuring that Quality Improvement, Policy and Procedures are also inclusive of Maori perspectives and adequately reflect how we as Maori view health and healing.

Egan is also involved within a number of Tangata Whaiora circles on both a local and national level. Tangata Whaiora translates to ‘people seeking wellness’, and is a term that some Maori (and, increasingly, non-Maori) use instead of such phrases as ‘people with experience of mental illness’.

Egan was also featured in the Like Minds Like Mine campaign’s most recent advertisements on Iwi Radio. Here he discusses his own approach to what others might call ‘mental illness’, his vision for mental health services in Aotearoa, and some of his views on the subject of madness more broadly.

Egan Bidois – Madness On Your Own Terms

So, who are you?

Ko Takitimu, me Mataatua, me Te Arawa nga Waka

Ko Ngati Ranginui, me Ngai Te Rangi, me Te Arawa nga Iwi

Ko Pirirakau, me Ngati Pikiao, me Ngati Whakaue nga Hapu

Ko Poututerangi, me Rakeao nga Marae

Ko Egan Bidois ahau.

E noho ana ahau I Poneke, kei Upper Hutt toumauakoHelena(toku Hoa Rangatira) kainga.

What drives your involvement in mental health work and rethinking madness?

Same thing that drives us all I’d like to think – we believe in it!

It’s our passion, our calling. It’s the reason perhaps we have experienced what we have experienced in our lives, wellness and unwellness. To have walked it is to also have a good idea how to walk alongside others within it.

What drives me personally?

Tikanga – ensuring that things are done correctly. Done respectfully and done honestly. The moment we stray from the fundamental governances of Tikanga is the moment we are doomed to failure.

I approach the concept and context of Mental Health from a Maori perspective (well, as I see a Maori perspective to be anyway). My perceptions, experience and opinions in regards to Mental Health are somewhat different to the standardised Clinicalised/Hospitalised Europeanised understandings and perspectives of Mental Health/Illness.

At times they are vehemently opposed to them.

I want Tangata Whaiora to be heard. Once heard, listened to. Once listened to, acted upon. Once acted upon, move aside so we can act for ourselves thanks very much.

How do you describe the distressing or mad experiences you’ve had?

Firstly let me get this right out there at the beginning:

I do not see myself as experiencing a Mental Illness.

That in some form may be interpreted as ‘a lack of awareness’.

That interpretation however would be flawed.

I do have awareness. A very good level of awareness. I know myself and what I experience. And that knowledge and experience is merely inconsistent with the generally accepted Clinical/Pathological interpretations of ‘Mental Illnesses’.

What I will however concede is that IF I do not manage what I experience it has the potential to create some ‘unwellness’ within me.

What do I experience? Something that I’ve experienced as a child, something that has matured as I have matured, something that was seeded within me from the beginning – even before me. In some ways I am experiencing inevitability. I am experiencing Whakapapa. I am experiencing what others before me have.

In a nutshell I see things. I hear things. I feel/sense things.

On a daily basis.

Those things could be interpreted as Auditory/Visual/Tactile Hallucinations. They could be interpreted as Delusion. As Psychosis.

The fly in that ointment comes when what I experience ‘checks out’ with other people. Which it does regularly.

What language do you use and why?

Language in regards to Mental Health that I tend to use is Maori/Maori-flavoured. It also tends to be everyday ordinary language.

Why? Well I’m Maori so it’s who I am (even though my grasp of Te Reo is by no means expert, I’m learning). It’s everyday language as Mental Health – in my opinion – is no mystical complicated thing. It happens every day in every way to everyone.

Language can also be power. If the language and discourse surrounding Mental Health is complicated, is MADE complicated then it removes the *power* within it and places it within only those who understand that language.

Many times the language/discourse that particularly Mental Health Clinicians use is so jargon laden. The medical/pathological terms used can be very off-putting for those who do not hold an understanding of what is being spoken about.

To me that can be a barrier to empowerment. To awareness. To finding your own understanding and knowing place. IF you have to first decipher what is being said to you then you can at times already be on the back foot so to speak.

In what ways does your madness – or madness in general – make sense?

It makes sense to me.

I guess in many ways the issues that arise around what I experience are more about issues OTHER people have making sense of it.

Madness in general? Well… each person is of course a unique collection of experiences, of understandings, of whakapapa. As such there are as many understandings and definitions of ‘Madness’ as there are people supposedly experiencing it.

What greater sense of ‘Tino Rangatiratanga’ can someone have than to be able to define what it is they experience. In their own words, in their own way.

I have my own understandings/theories yes – but I’m not about to say “madness is…” As the mana of the sense-making resides within the person making sense of it. No one else.

Does society tend to understand madness or distress on different terms to your own? If so, why do you think this is?

Some don’t seem to understand. Some do. Again understandings are individual – for both the ‘experiencer’ and those they engage with.

For many I speak with they do have some understanding. Why? Maybe because it’s not something that is at all uncommon. It is something that people have been experiencing from year dot.

Many people have family members who have different perceptions of the world around them, who see/hear/sense things deemed ’spiritual’. It’s no new thing at all.

What I do find interesting however is that while many people may experience such things or know people who do – there still seems to be some sort of reluctance to speak openly and freely about it. Either through fear of ridicule or fear of – well – being diagnosed!

For me it is a subject that NEEDS to be out there in the open. If only so experiencers don’t feel abnormal, don’t feel like freaks or anything. So that they can feel ‘normal’ again.

How do you think New Zealanders learn to think about madness?

Interesting question.

The ways are many. Media certainly plays its part. The images we see in Papers, on the TV, in movies, songs and stories. Those all convey a message of what ‘madness’ is and what ‘mad people’ are like.

Face to face contact also conveys a message. It’s certainly personal contact that I’d prefer. That way people can see, hear, feel the person rather than see, hear, feel the image and filtered understanding second/third/fourth-hand.

What I do find interesting is when I encounter quite negative stereotypes and discrimination around ‘madness’… and yet the statistics indicate that no person alive would not know someone who is experiencing it. We/they are your mother, your father, brother, sister, cousin, workmate, neighbour, boss, employee, shopkeeper, taxi driver, doctor, dentist, lawyer or themselves.

So to hold such negative opinion is to demonise ones loved ones or oneself.

What do you want to you add to the mix?

No one disempowers you but yourself.

No one empowers you but yourself.

Ultimately the call for either rests solely within your hands.

(that’s sure to start a heated debate…)

What do you see as the value of your mad or distressing experiences?

What I experience may benefit others.

Sure, we can go down the whole route of ‘it’s made me who I am today, it’s afforded me a level of understanding of others, it’s taught me lessons I take forward in my life blahblahblah’ kind of stuff. I’m not in any way discounting or diminishing the personal growth it’s provided. No way. But I think that one of the wonderfully positive things of what I experience is that through that experience and understanding I may be able to assist other people.

It’s through those painful times that fruit for others can also come.

It’s through those good times that joy for others can also come.

To me the real blessing in these things is the blessing it can offer to others.

Have those experiences made your work better? Or been of value in other areas?

Absolutely. In many ways.

What are some examples?

Well – the old saying of ‘It takes one to know one’ often comes into play.

Often I’ll assist one of our Clinicians who may be having some difficulty making a connection with a Tangata Whaiora.

Most of the locals know me – most will respond more positively towards someone they know is Tangata Whaiora also.

That kinship in a common journey has its benefits.

The other way what I experience has shown some value is the help it can bring other people.

It’s not at all uncommon for friends to call me at weird hours asking for assistance with various *things*. Things that go bump in the night – seeking some understanding or for their whare to be ‘busted’, things to be dealt with or whatever may be required. It’s common to be asked to come and ’sniff out a place’ prior to friends moving into it.

There are also some elements of that within my daily mahi.

There are a lot of myths about how ‘mental illness’ affects people. How do you think experiencing madness has changed you, if at all?

I don’t know if it’s changed me at all.

To me change is merely a temporary status in the ongoing progression of growth.

Every one of us changes, every one of us grows. This continues right up until our last breath on this earth.

So – ask me just before I die if I’ve felt it’s changed me at all. I might be able to answer you then… or not.

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