'Mad Pride' Activists Say They're Unique, Not Sick

Photo: Mad Pride Activists Say Theyre Unique, Not Sick: For Some, Psychiatric Conditions Are Mad Gifts to Be Cherished, Not Medicated

Imagine if Vincent Van Gogh -- an artist who was famously afflicted with mental health issues -- had been forcibly injected with an antipsychotic drug like Thorazine. Or if Leonardo Da Vinci's genius had been affected by antidepressants such as Wellbutrin.

That's what San Francisco-based music artist Madigan Shive wondered.

"I think often that if DaVinci were alive during our time, would we just dope him up? What would we do?" she asked.

It's a question being asked by a growing grass roots movement about 8,000 members strong -- many of whom are rejecting pharmaceutical solutions for psychiatric conditions and fighting the stigmatization and shame of mental illness.

You've heard of Black Pride and Gay Pride. Now make room for Mad Pride.

Mad pride supporters -- many dealing with serious mental disorders -- are now boldly coming out of the closet. Actor Joe Pantoliano of "The Sopranos" fame views his depression as a gift.

"The best thing that ever happened to me was being diagnosed with a mental disease," Pantoliano told ABC News.

It wasn't until being diagnosed with clinical depression that Pantoliano realized he had spent years self-medicating his anguish.

"All I've ever been looking to do was fill up a hole that was inside of me," he revealed. "It didn't matter what I was filling it up with ... success, women, a beautiful runway model wife ... because that made it go away temporarily."

He credits his mental illness diagnosis as the reason for being a happier and more creative person.

"I embrace who I am. I took my sadness and I turned it into a career," Pantoliano said .

Pantoliano has set out to help others cast off the stigma and shame he said is attached to mental health issues. He created a nonprofit organization, No Kidding, Me Too!, "based on accepting, encouraging people to admit to their disease -- to seek treatment and become even greater members of society."

Enlisting a crew of celebrities -- including Robin Williams, Samuel L. Jackson, and Robert Downey, Jr. -- Pantoliano's organization assembles industry professionals who support its mission to get out the word about mental illness and treatment.

"We want to make the discussion of mental illness cool and sexy and trendy," he said.

Some See Mental Illness as a Blessing: 'I Need My Madness'

Pantoliano treats his mental illness with medication, but others who are embracing their madness choose not to, just like spunky musician and activist, Madigan Shive. Shive is an active member of The Icarus Project, one of the many Mad Pride organizations that encourage viewing madness as brilliance.

Shive hears voices, she has delusions, but it's her madness that she cherishes. Though she was once diagnosed as bi-polar, Shive is now reluctant to give herself a psychiatric label.

"I knew right away, taking the traditional bio-medical route wasn't what was going to be healthy for me," she said. "I don't take any of the medications that someone, like myself, in a typical scenario would be prescribed. But I know some people who do and use it smashingly well and I support all that."

Shive insisted her madness is part of what makes her distinctively unique, and she believes that psychiatric drugs would only taint her "mad gift."

"I take it very personally," she said. "Please don't change this thing in me that creates this music and keeps me alive. ... I need my madness."

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