There is a good chance some sort of shrink will end up reading this. And to that person, I have one piece of advice: don’t joke around when you name things. You might think it’s the most hilarious pun in the world, but someone is going to have to live with this disease, and to them, it is no laughing matter.
Someone out there disagreed with me on that point. The guy who coined the term M.A.D.N.E.S.S. Mental Acuity and Destructive Need for Engineering and Science Syndrome.
My name is Allegra Complex. I am twenty two years old. I am committed at the J. S. Greenberg Hospital for the Mentally Unstable. And I deserve to be here.
They told me to write in this journal. I asked them if they would read it, they said they wouldn’t unless my condition deteriorated further. I said I would write it if they thought it would help.
They seem to think that I should describe my condition. They think it will help me sort through my feelings. That it will give me a better idea where I stand, which will help me move forward. That sounded like bullshit to me, but at this point, I would try anything.
I have M.A.D.N.E.S.S. That means that my brain is constantly fixating on new ideas. Since I started writing this, I had an idea for a solar-powered car, an algorithm to convert between good and bad handwriting, and a genetic modification that would let me constantly replenish my pluripotent stem cells, so I could regrow lost limbs.
I shouldn’t have done that. I shouldn’t have written them down. Now, I can’t stop thinking. I can’t stop working on them. I’m thinking about three things at once, and it hurts, but I can’t stop. And I don’t want to stop. But I wish I wanted to stop.
When MADs first showed up, everyone thought they were wonderful. They got cool codenames like Spawn and Oberon and Aegis. They were snapped up by government and business. The MADs were put to work solving the energy crisis, curing cancer, and hunting down terrorists.
Now, they’re afraid of us. And they should be. We don’t get codenames anymore. We get numbers. I am AC-1044-91330.
They told me to write about why I’m here. No. No, I can’t do that. But… I can’t stop thinking about it. Damndamndamndamndamn. Don’t they know that? Don’t they know I’m going to hurt someone? I didn’t mean to. I just needed a way to change the DNA of the prokaryotes in my lab. I didn’t know the virus would make it into the wild. And I was almost right. It was almost harmless. But… it wasn’t harmless enough. And now I’m a murderer. And I can’t stop thinking about it...
And… we’re back. Vendman came over to talk today. I like him. Most of the staff here… you can tell they’re afraid of us. Whereas with Vendman… if he is afraid of us, he at least has the courtesy to hide it.
He walked up to me. In my cell. No, my room. It isn’t a cell. It’s a very nice room. He walked up to me, with his notebook. He spoke to me in his psychoanalysis voice. “And how is Allegra Complex today?” I hate my name. It makes me sound like a mental illness. I suppose you could call that prophetic.
“I’m doing well. Focusing on my reading.” Tolkien. No science in Lord of the Rings. Nothing to fixate on.
“That’s wonderful news.” He jotted something down. “Looking forward to the big move?” He did his best to smile.
“No. I have family here in Boston. I don’t know anybody in Poughkeepsie.”
“Oh, that reminds me. They’re coming to visit you tomorrow.”
“All three?” My father hadn’t been able to make it last time.
“Well, I suppose it’s the last time I’ll see them for quite some time.”
“I’m sure they’ll still come to visit you in Poughkeepsie.” Right. The isolated small town where I couldn’t do any harm even if I did escape. They said they are bringing me there because that’s where the best doctors are. But I have a hard time believing the best doctors in the world show up in Poughkeepsie without someone telling them to.
“If you let me have a phone… or a computer…”
“You know we can’t do that. Maybe one day, if you continue to improve.” Vendman gave me his best ‘I’m-pretending-to-believe-in-you’ smile.
“Other MADs are allowed lab time.”
Vendman sighed. “Allegra. We’ve gone through this. One of the conditions of your internment is that an impartial board determines whether you are fit to do research. They have said no, and you have exhausted your appeals. You have the right to appeal again in-”
“Two years, one-hundred-and-nineteen days, four hours, and twenty-one minutes.”
“Exactly. So why don’t you focus your big brain on something else, like getting better.”
And there it was. The perfect sentence that encapsulated exactly how little he understood us. Looking back, he only appears more foolish, and more ignorant.
MADs can’t focus our big brains on anything. We flit about from one idea to another. Usually, we abandon our ideas before we can finish them, the unfinished projects piling up, not hurting anyone. But sometimes, as we dash to move from one idea to another, we unleash something dangerous, something untested.
But that wasn’t the worst part of what Dr. Vendman said. He thought that even if I could focus, I would focus on something other than getting better. He thought that some part of me likes being MAD. That I wanted this. That, somehow, being MAD was a choice.
I tried to get back to the conversation. I didn’t think about how much I wished I could be normal. How I wished there was some way I could remove whatever it was that separated me from the rest of mankind.
Oh, no. Here it comes. The biggest problem, the most important idea, that every MAD thinks about every day. How can I get better? Is there a combination of drugs? Electricity? No, I’m going about it wrong. We first need to pinpoint where in the brain the M.A.D.N.E.S.S. originates. Assuming it has a point source. But even if it is distributed… I’ll get back to writing later. Right now, I need to think.
I shouldn’t have done that. I think that’s pretty obvious. I should have taken a deep breath, counted to a thousand, and held it in. Because that always works.
I was pacing around the room, practically foaming at the mouth, when two orderlies came into the room to stop me. I didn’t want to stop. The reminded me that there were things more important than obsessing about a science problem. They asked me to think about my family. That didn’t work, so they sedated me.
When I first woke up, my mind was clear, it was wonderful. I savored those few moments before the science returned. I rushed to read Tolkien. I focused on the text as long as I could. I really like Boromir. I mean, I’ve seen the movies, and I know what happens, I just think he’s a cool character.
I played tetris for an hour today. I know, it’s silly. But there aren’t that many things I can do that are safe. They find that games are one of the best ways of taking our minds off science for as long as possible. Give us a computer full of addicting games, bolt it down so we can’t try to take it apart, and make sure that it doesn’t have access to the internet. Of course, it’s only a matter of time before I start designing an artificial intelligence to play tetris. I suppose then they’ll bring in another game.
I keep saying ‘they’. I’m sure that says something really profound about my condition, and I’m sure Vendman could tell me what it is. Part of me knows exactly who ‘they’ are. ‘They’ are the staff of the J. S. Greenberg Hospital for the Mentally Unstable. Doctors Vendman, Curtis, and Josephson. Director Loomis. This orderly, that maid. But, no. ‘They’ reaches higher up the scale than that. ‘They’ includes the Bureau of Superscientific Affairs. ‘They’ includes the President, and Congress, and probably every single voter.
Politics. I didn’t get to read much news. Mostly silly human interest stories. But every now and then someone would fill me in on the political landscape. I supported Walsh, of course. He agreed with me on the only issue I cared about: MAD rights.
Unfortunately, the public didn’t. Nobody could give me any numbers (of course) but they said Walsh was losing in the polls. Bad news. We still don’t know who the Republicans will nominate, of course, but three of the candidates would have killer MADs like me executed. Can I blame them? I don’t know. I am dangerous. People claim I’m not, people who mean well. But they’re wrong. I have killed people. I am very dangerous. Can I get better? I hope so. But in the twelve years since MADs started showing up, there have been almost no convincing rehabilitations.
I have to say, it makes politics different. Before I was diagnosed, elections felt very different. I might have prefered one candidate over the other, but at the end of the day, I knew I would get to live my life basically the same way no matter who won.
But now, the person who sits in the Oval Office can and will change my life. They might even end it. They could decide that to put me to work curing malaria (I have soooo many ideas), or decide to keep me in J. S. Greenberg for the rest of my my days, or decide to put me in the electric chair for six counts of murder.