A Divine Dance of Madness


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By Mairi Colme


ISBN: 978-1-905610-54-9
Published: 2006
Pages: 302
Key Themes: spirituality, mental health system, sectioning and secure units, manic depression, bi-polar disorder


This is a strong and emotional book which captures the feelings and experiences of someone who is condemned as ‘insane’ and held in a secure unit. Mairi Colme’s writing is full of mysticism and depth as she uses her given talent for writing to make sense of her lost years and her treatment at the hands of those who should have been protecting her. This book will find resonance in anybody who has experienced what Mairi has and can act as a guide to those who would like to understand more about the debate over sectioning and secure units.

About the Author

Mairi Colme has an MA Honours degree in English language and literature, has trained in theology, and is now a Benedictine Oblate. She has written a great deal, including poetry and mystical texts. She is now working to set up a charitable foundation, promoting mental well-being and spiritual knowledge. This book is chiefly about a period in her life, the seven years from 1988 to 1995, when she was permanently sectioned and ‘certified insane’. It is about all the adventures, the pain and the love that she experienced as she struggled to escape from a dire fate.

Book Extract

This story is about “madness”; about the suffering which may drive us into madness, what that madness is like, and how we may return from such madness. It is I hope an insight for others into the condition labelled as “manic depression.” It is also about love; the universal love of God which was revealed to me in madness, and the love of one particular man, which was light to me in the darkness.

When I began this book two years ago it seemed to me it was primarily about the anguished scream of my motherhood, for I needed to express that scream. After explaining that for 7 years, from ’88 to ’95, I was permanently sectioned under the Mental Health act, robbed of my freedom, my integrity, my rights, I wrote at the time;-

“What they did to me was to take my young son, my only child, away from me; and I hardly ever saw him from the age of 4 till the age of 11! Why this was done I’ll never comprehend; for I was a single parent who gave her child a good upbringing from being a baby, and I never harmed him and was never a danger to him. Yet I suffered so acutely as a mother from the loss of my son, during those 7 years when I was sectioned, that I kept going “insane with pain.” The father, who abused me whilst I lived with him, and threw me out into the snow when I was pregnant, demanded to see “his son” after he was born; then he applied to the courts and continued to harass me until I fell ill; then when I was ill in the hospital he took custody off me, claiming that I was an “unfit mother” because “mentally ill.” Why did this happen? If I were a mother in hospital with a broken leg, would I not have had Access rights to my son? Would I have been denied seeing my young son for 6 months at a time? But because it was a “mental illness,” a broken mind, and a “mental hospital,” I wasn’t allowed to see him, no-one arranged that I could see him! I fought like hell for him, and I suffered abominably, and hardly anyone can comprehend what it is like to suffer as a mother in such a way! But this is my story; the story of what it is like to be driven mad by suffering!”

Having now finished the book, having expressed the pain and suffering of my own life and told my story, having “let it go,” letting it fall into the endlessness which is God, I can see it is about more than that. It is because it is about more than my own suffering that I have been inspired on Iona to commit myself to being there for others who are suffering similarly, and to work as far as I can to help others.

What is the book really about?

It is about the stigma against mental illness, which made me suffer so much as a mother deprived of her young son. It is about the fact that the only way I could get well and transcend my illness was by escaping from the System, breaking the power that the mental health law held over me. It is a protest of my own, on behalf of everyone who is accounted “mentally ill,” an outcry of “Don’t do this to us!” We are not to be treated this way, in the way I myself was treated.

More than this, it is about the fact that in that madness I experienced, I “touched” God. It is a strange fact that throughout the centuries people have been considered “touched” by God when mad; only recently are people locked away and discarded as suffering a form of “sickness” or “abnormality.” We need to rethink this, so that we respect, we honour those who are mad rather than rubbishing them. My story is about an understanding of God, about the energy I touched, – the energy at the core of the universe which is Love.

This book is indeed “my story,” of my own solitary suffering; but all the universal dimensions are what the book is really about.

I have entitled it as I have because the notion of “dancing” with God comes from the Book of the Beloved, Page 20; for in that mystical story, when God invites “Come and embrace me,” I hang back because fearful that to embrace God would entail cold and death-like suffering. I didn’t have the courage or strength to embrace him, until he touched the pulse-point of the love within me; then when I did, I found Him “warm and living,” and He whispered “Come dance with me.”

This story, which shows my willingness to suffer, forms the connection between the mystical perfect ideal of “saying Yes to God,” and my own physical, miserable, abused condition in the conceiving of my son. For in giving birth, the dance of suffering God led me into, was really the dance of life!

I recently told someone whose opinion I trust, “no-one will want to read this story because it is so tragic, and so, so sad,” and she replied “but what comes across is your courage.” And so I hope at the end of the day that my story comes over as life-affirming.



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