Icarus Project: Sascha DuBrul

First Aired: 10-04-2010 -- 12 comments | Add comment
Sascha Dubrul

How did the New York underground of punk rock music, squatting, and homeless protest give rise to a thriving and innovative peer-run mental health community? Are there creative gifts to be found in the depths of madness? Does the future of Mad Pride lie in the joining of activism with spirituality?

Icarus Project co-founder Sascha Altman DuBrul discusses his escape into apocalyptic visions and psychiatric hospitals, and how he was inspired to challenge the identity of bipolar disorder.


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12 comments on “Icarus Project: Sascha DuBrul

  1. Hi Will and Sascha,

    The responses you both wrote are quite touching. I feel heard/listened to, validated and deeply understood. What value in this experience…bc otherwise I begin to believe I’m somehow separate, feeling alienated and cut-off from others. Anyway, I am very grateful to you both, taking time to read all the posts and for writing in return.

    I feel there is such power and affirmation in story telling; it’s the expression of human experience in the form of narrative, which seems almost like a lost art in our culture, yet it is being revived in various pockets through madness radio, peer support groups and through the Icaraus Project. Thanks for creating space for others and myself to share themselves by telling your story. It is so very important!

    I definitely cried tears of THANK YOU/gratitude and immense relief, when I read Sascha’s comment (to me) on going through the grad program just to realize I can’t get jobs that help others. I’ve been trying to articulate this frustration and uncertainty regarding work for so long, but in one sentence you summed up my feelings for the past 1.5 yrs exactly! Finally, FINALLY someone understands! This is not just a fear of moving forward, or a fear based thought in my mind. It’s a shared concern, and I feel much less deranged and lonely knowing this!

    I forgot to mention previously that I do facilitate a support group at an agency that is heavily medical model focused. Everyone has a diagnosis or 3, is taking many strong meds and is experiencing emotional distress and going through big life transitions. I created a “sharing interests group” during my internship, almost 2 yrs ago, and it has since evolved into a support group. Facilitating this sort of group, one that is very personal, requiring a great deal of safety and trust, within an agency where I have to write notes, does not go without great ambivalence. So far, I continue to work there bc over time I have seen how empowering the group is and can be. I am currently witnessing someone’s process around personal empowerment and self-determination; choosing to say no to ECT, whereas before this person felt as if they did not have a choice. It’s fantastic! This group is also mutually beneficial for me, and I cannot express how full my heart feels every time I’m there. It is nourishing in so many ways, and I know it is beneficial, even though it is within a larger system that I feel is agenda based and harmful. It is a thread of hope that inspires conversation, increased awareness, curiosity, hope and inner strength. So for those reasons, I can tolerate the ambivalence a bit longer.

    Thanks again for reading, writing and relating. I’m checking into Icarus Project for more discussion and support. Great community! In celebration of paradox and riding the waves…


  2. Hey Sascha,
    Thanks for your kind response and checking out the Raspberry Revolution! I have been working in mental health alternatives for six or seven years. However, The Icarus Project has always been a closer path to my own ideals, reflections.
    In that spirit, and motivated by the deep community change in the town of White River Junction — I read the Friends Make The Best Medicine guide/manual, and am basing a group locally on the Icarus mission/visions.
    On the site, and in the guide, it is said that you hope groups grow autonomously and can use the word Icarus. In that spirit, I call our group White River Icarus. And am just beginning to gather interest, participants, and events.
    You can find a small website with some mad recovery stories, and such at this link:
    My hope was to be in touch with someone at The Icarus Project, so as to create/guide/support in any way available our own project/s. If you want to get in touch you can find an email on the site. Thanks Again.
    take care,

  3. Colin, Karen, Nick – It is an amazing experience for me to read your responses to the interview. I’ve been a bit out of the Icarus Project public loop for awhile and I’d forgotten how powerful it is to create spaces for story telling. All three of you are just the kind of people we initially created the project for and it’s so gratifying to know that our energy is still helping to bring such amazing folks together. I could relate to all of your stories and I learned from all of them. Colin – your intense spiritual journey through freezing cold and blistering heat and suicide attempts must bring a lot of power to your writing and local environmental activism (i checked out the Raspberry Revolution 10/10/10 – looks really cool!) Karen, the layers of hardships in your family, finding your place in a subculture, the pain of your extreme empathy, *heart aching for the state of the earth*, going all the way through a masters program in psychotherapy only to discover that the jobs you can get won’t let you do the kind of work that’s really going to help people. This is why we need the social and political movement that you can see the fertile seeds of in our conversations and all the interviews on this site. We so desperately need a paradigm shift and obviously it’s going to take a lot of people like us who know how to cross between to different worlds. I look forward to the day we end up working together, you teaching yoga, me leading radical theater exercises at a big gathering of our people. Just a daydream alone in this room in Oakland, California on a rainy Sunday night…Nick – the class issues wrapped up in psychiatric treatment have come again and again at the Icarus Project – from the discussions on our forums to discussions within the organizing collective. It’s very clear to me how my own relationship to my diagnosis and the lithium I take have to do with the particular middle-class culture I was raised in. Obviously our modern drug story is even more confusing these days. The situation with your son sounds really hard. I look forward to seeing you at Icarus events. There’s going to be a dinner party get together in November and Ethan Watters (author of Crazy Like Us) is going to speak at CIIS in December. mad love, y’all. sascha

  4. Hi Sacha,

    I read your article in Slingshot “Buying and Selling Sadness” and it resonated with me. I kept saying Yes, Yes, Yes.

    I don’t have a psychiatric diagnosis and have never taken psychotropic meds, but I went through a “transformation” at about age 19. Because my parents were Italian immigrants who had little education and didn’t understand or believe in psychiatry or psychotropic meds, I was not hospitalized although I am sure that if I had been taken to a hospital and had more middle-class parents, I would have been given a diagnosis and received treatment. After about six months of wandering the streets of my college town in an agitated and depressed state and only attending classes sporadically because I really couldn’t concentrate at all, I snapped out of it and went on to get two degrees – a BS in Engineering and a BA in social sciences from the University of Illinois at age 22 in 1969.

    After my experience, I became very interested in the writings of Laing, Esterson and Kittrie. Books like the “Politics of Experience”. “The Right to Be Different” and “Sanity, Madness and the Family” along with left-political economy like “Capital” and “The Theory of the Leisure Class” greatly influenced me. I went on to get an advanced degree in economics (I have always been good at solving equations) and became a college teacher. I got married and we have two sons.

    My wife has a bipolar diagnosis as does one of my sons. She has been in favor of medicating him and I cautiously agreed, at times acting as a brake on the number and amounts of psychotropic medications. This has lead to a horrendous number of complications and disagreements – basically a long story. But, suffice it ot say that she won because she has the experts on her side. And, my son’s condition only deteriorated once the experimentation with many different drugs in ever increasing doses began. (What I discovered is that if one drug doesn’t work, then doses are increased and more drugs are added.) In retrospect, I know that my wanting to limit the number and doses of drugs he is taking has been vindicated but I am still not listened to.

    That’s it. I live in Berkeley and will try to attend Icarus events.


  5. Thank you Will and Sascha for this much needed and hope inspiring interview. It is an honor to hear both of you speak about undoubtedly some of the most challenging life experiences you’ve ever had. Some or all of which subsequently led you to your current work and passions. Your openness and continued curiosity around your experiences is much appreciated; it certainly helped me feel more connected, supported and less alienated/alone.

    My family experience as a child wasn’t quite rosy. My grandfather lived in a South Georgia psych hospital for years, then when it closed it’s doors he went back home to try to make a life for himself, yet he had very little support. He was mostly isolated and fearful of others, and constantly worried that someone (esp. govn’t officials) was going to hurt him. He took his own life when I was 9. My father believes that emotional distress, specifically if it is given the label of schizophrenia, is a personal flaw; possibly even the result of one’s sin. My cousin, whom I grew up with and consider to be a brother has been in and out of treatment centers and hospitals. He has been labeled with many different diagnoses and has taken quite the assortment of psych meds. He is a bright, loving, creative guy, who can make you laugh within the minute you meet him. Poverty, lack of opportunity and social isolation plague him about as much as his struggles with sadness, loneliness, rage and epilepsy.

    In my late teens and early 20’s I found freedom in the underground rave culture in Atlanta. It was exciting, liberating, mind shatteringly beautiful, dark, and ecstatic…all in one! My body felt liberated, finally released from the repressed environment and community I grew up around. I also felt accepted for who I was, no matter how funky, out there or strange I may have seemed to my family. So many things came together so fast, no doubt psychedelics and fellow ravers helped this along, yet slowly I began to unravel. I felt I had tapped into the inner workings of nature, the universe, thus understanding so much about reality, the cosmos, the interconnections of everything. My heart ached for the state of the earth daily, George W. won AGAIN and I felt disempowered in a big way. Additionally, I felt psychic and immensely afraid daily. I had a very paranoid and psychotic experience that could have landed me in the hospital, but I was fortunate, maybe unfortunate (?) to have been supported and cared for during this time.

    Long story short, I slowly pulled away from substances, from the rave culture, and began practicing yoga. This practice has continued for 8 years, and in addition to healthy friendships, a supportive partner, nutrition, dancing (in my living room), laughing often, staying close to nature and counseling, I have never felt better. I moved to Colorado, attended Naropa University and earned an MA in Contemplative Psychotherapy in order to benefit others who feel as though they too are strangers in a strange land. The enchantment is over but the spell remains…

    Now I find myself disillusioned and heartbroken, again, with the systems of “care” that are in place in our country. I have been offered jobs within agencies and the mental health system, but I cannot accept them bc my values conflict so greatly with the medical model/biological view. It is very painful to be sensitive, to be extremely empathetic, but it is something I’m learning to cope with. I just feel lost in terms of knowing how to be of benefit, as a counselor and strong advocate of human rights, but it’s much more manageable now. I’m trusting my heart nowadays, and so I’m taking a yoga teacher training course, in hopes of offering this joyful practice to others someday. It’s a spiritual practice and a form of self care that has helped me tremendously.

    When I was listening to this interview I was in quite a low place. Yet, now I feel hopeful. Near the end when self-care was discussed, I was internally saying YES! YES! It is so very important, bc it is exactly what is needed in our society. Our culture does not adequately support loving or caring for oneself in a healthy, non-materialistic way. Yet, I feel, that learning to love, honor, be kind to and accept oneself is a very BIG piece of wellness, of living the human experience, that can be embraced for the benefit of everyone. It opens up so many possibilities for even greater self expression, and engagement with life!

    Sorry for the rant, the rave, the super LONG comment. To inspire is to breathe life into…. Thanks for offering the possibility of that next full inhale & exhale. You are both a blessing to this world. So much gratitude. You guys rock!!!

    1. I enjoyed reading your comment –thanks for writing Karen. I wish you the best in finding your way spiritually and learning to trust your heart, and I believe that sharing your story and perspective is a valuable way to connect and help others. Your dilemma about working in agencies that don’t have your values is a common one for many people. The main thing is to not be isolated. I hope you stay in touch and I encourage you to be part of the discussion at The Icarus Project site. – Will

  6. Put a volume dial on these things! I’m at the library with my headphones like an inch away from my ear cause they don’t allow volume modulation at the operating system level. ALSO great interview 🙂

  7. Thank you so much for this excellent interview. Very inspiring. Peace and Mad Love, Nancy

  8. Will and Sascha,

    This show was amazingly inspiring and empowering. I am moved to hear Sascha speak about his journeys and where he is going with them. I have known about Sascha’s work and the Icarus Project through friends from New York for quite a time, now. The whole movement is an example of how dignity and individuality cannot be suppressed. —

    I was diagnosed with schizophrenia in my early 20’s though suffered many traumas in my teenage years and found myself descending into unbelievable states of anguish, fear and physical hardship… From living in New England homeless in the winter and summers, and walking great distances. I traveled the country, out of my car — looking to escape the ties and community I had come from — and slept in the snow, and on church steps, and in the blistering heat. . .

    I had complete breaks from reality that had left me shaken to the core for years on end. In 2003, I had a conversion experience to the practice of meditation and Buddhism. Overnight, I quit drinking, drugs, cigarettes, and became a vegetarian, meditated twice a day, and started exercising.

    That summer I attended a silent intensive meditation retreat. I experienced aspects of myself and reality that were rapturous and beyond words. Still I had a lot of self-awareness to learn and until 2006 I spent about 2 times a year in the hospital for a week’s time or so.

    In 2006, I moved to an small town/burgeoning arts community in vermont. And discovered and began practicing Zen with a Rinzai Zen monk. A very close relationship of meditation and tough lessons have followed in these four years of growth.

    I also am a poet that branches out to the fields of literary criticism, music criticism — and so on. . . I have been published and received the support of other accomplished writers and journals.

    Having nearly died in one of two suicide attempts, I am grateful (at times) to have traveled this far in my life. And find the example of Sascha and Icarus to be really remarkable.

    All the mad work they’ve done really resonates with me as well because of my work in the Peer Support movement and centers. Which I did for seven or so years.

    I have not been hospitalized in over four years, and have become part of the Transition Town movement (environmental movement) locally — I recently supported, worked with and helped organize a Raspberry Revolution for the 10/10/10. And have built many close ties with friends and community members through this amazing effort to bring community resilience back.

    I hope to offer my story and thoughts on madness, poetry, Zen and community and anything else on Will Hall’s show at some point.

    Good Work, and Thanks To Both of You,

    – colin

  9. Hey Tony – Good to hear from you and good luck on your new path. I love seeing Icarus folks outside of the black and red forums!
    I’m glad you picked up on the critique of “Madness” and “Pride” in there at the end – I feel like there are seeds of exciting times ahead in that conversation as we construct clever new narratives that work for us even better…

  10. Great Interview Will and Sasha.

    I’ve been popping around the Icarus Project forums for a few years now and it was great hearing on audio the back-story which one only gets glimpses of once in awhile.

    What I also find interesting and fascinating is how open you are to different pathways of growth Sasha, real growth. I’ve been going back to school of late and have finally come to a place where I feel comfortable in pursuing a line of work that fits my purpose of helping people along the path of life… labels or not.

    I too struggle a bit with some of the language of the Icarus Project and knowing that you are too means I’m not far off the beaten path. I personally don’t identify with being “Mad” nor am I prideful about it. I DO think we all have gifts, “Mad” or not, and accepting who I am with all my quirks, grandiosity and serendipitous moments is a matter of “Self Pride” with no modifiers.

    I can also appreciate the in your face type of message the “Mad Pride” and “Mad Gifts” memes generate. There is value in that, no doubt.

    I guess that’s part of the conundrum with lot’s of us folks, we really do see both sides of nearly everything. 😉

    Again, appreciated the show and hope to hear more about your unfolding journey. You will no doubt be hearing about mine as I embark on my new path this coming year. Here’s to meeting you along the way.


    Tony Previte (aztone)

  11. I’m so honored to now be a part of Will Hall’s archive of the contemporary radical mental health movement! The world has exploded and we’re still here talking to each other…Madness Radio is such an important resource in our extended mad community. If you appreciated our interview and you haven’t already done so you should most definitely check out the icarus project website community forums which you can find here: http://theicarusproject.net.
    here’s a link to the project i was working on this summer at esalen with brad lewis:
    i was just revisiting the spanish translation of the icarus mission statement Agustina did a few years ago and reveling in the poetry of it. here’s the first few lines:
    NUESTRA MISIÓN: El proyecto Icarus visualiza una nueva lengua y cultura en armonía con nuestras experiencias relacionadas con enfermedades mentales en vez de tratar de insertarnos en un marco de vida convencional. Somos una red de gente que vive con experiencias comunmente etiquetadas como bipolar o locuras similares. Creemos que se nos ha dado un regalo peligroso que debe ser cuidado y cultivado, y no una enfermedad o un desorden que debe ser suprimido o eliminado. Agrupándonos como individuos y como comunidad, los hilos entrelazados de la locura y la creatividad pueden inspirar esperanza y transformación en un mundo dañado y reprimido. Nuestra participación en el Proyecto Icarus nos ayuda a superar la alienación y a liberar el verdadero potencial que yace entre la brilantez y la locura.
    The Icarus Project envisions a new culture and language that resonates with our actual experiences of ‘mental illness’ rather than trying to fit our lives into a conventional framework. We are a network of people living with and/or affected by experiences that are often diagnosed and labeled as psychiatric conditions. We believe these experiences are mad gifts needing cultivation and care, rather than diseases or disorders. By joining together as individuals and as a community, the intertwined threads of madness, creativity, and collaboration can inspire hope and transformation in an oppressive and damaged world. Participation in The Icarus Project helps us overcome alienation and tap into the true potential that lies between brilliance and madness.
    mad love, y’all

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