I have walked both the Road of Madness and the Road of Death. I pray to be freed from this condition.
The Other Road is the road of Madness. On this road, the death is of the personality that came before, and it can come about through a period of mental illness. The mental instability during shaman sickness is especially difficult, because the individual is legitimately experiencing contact with unseen (to most others, that is) entities – and they are also seeing and hearing them through a veil of insanity. Figuring out what is real and what isn’t can seem nearly impossible, especially since any mental health professionals that they consult are likely to be less than helpful. They may concur that there are brain chemistry problems, but they will neither believe in any of the spirit-contact nor understand the need to see the illness through to some end, whatever that is. Psychiatric medication may be prescribed, and the individual may end up in the hospital. In some cases, the spirits may drive the sufferer away from medical help if they think that it will retard the process, even if this has them sleeping on park benches for a while. In other cases, the sufferer accedes to the wishes of mental health personnel, but it doesn’t necessarily fix the problem.
Psychiatric medications for people who are on the Other Road are an ambivalent subject. As discussed above in the section on whether spirit-workers should use psychiatric medications at all, it will largely depend on the individual in question, and divination should perhaps be done in order to get a clear answer. On the other hand, if you are walking the Madness Road as part of a spirit-triggered shamanic rebirth, They may well prefer to you to experience it fully, without the buffering effect of drugs – at least for a time. And if a particular psychiatric medication interferes with your ve in any way – such as making it difficult to move energy or ground and center – it is unlikely that the spirits will allow you to take it, so as above, do divination first to find something appropriate. This advice includes any herbal remedies, but for the latter, it is imperative that a spirit-worker who utilizes herbal remedies should make an alliance with the Grandparent-spirit of that plant, or it may not be all that effective. (Spirit-workers can’t just make assumptions about the use of living things for their aid; we are held to a higher standard, even by wights that we haven’t met yet or whose existence hasn’t occurred to us.) Also, be aware that herbal remedies can interact in difficult ways with allopathic medications, so be careful.
You may also need to consider how much of the issues brought up by shaman sickness are chemical and how much are trauma that no chemical can help, and that needs to be worked through by itself. If, for example, there’s a large chemical component that is preventing you from making any headway on the emotional things, you may be able to bargain a deal where you temporarily go on medication long enough to throw yourself fully into working out your emotional issues (assuming that you are not taking one of the anti-empathic meds that simply repress your emotional issues so that you don’t have to look at them). Of course, you’d then have to dedicate every day to making yourself emotionally stable enough to go off the medications and deal with the rest of the shaman sickness process without going under. Other tools of modern psychiatry that some modern spirit-workers swear by for “getting ready to survive shaman sickness” are DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) and NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming).
While one might think that the Madness Road is, if not easier, at least less life-threatening than the Death Road, that would be incorrect to assume. A spirit-worker on the Madness Road may commit suicide out of pain and despair, or do something stupid that gets them killed, or go so thoroughly mad that they burn out their own gifts and live practically catatonic for the rest of their (usually short) lives. One of the big dangers of the Madness Road is being too crazy to realize that you’re all that crazy, especially if you’ve actually got wight-contact going at the same time. It’s also common for your judgment to be entirely off about all the important things in your life, even the simplest ones.
What the spirit-worker going down this road desperately needs is a sane, reasonable person that they trust who shares the same or at least a similar world view to them to be their reality check. This “reality check” should give them feedback as to their apparent sanity based on their behavior as a human being, not based on some socially acceptable scale of belief. They should understand that talking to the unseen or doing odd ritual behaviors is, for this spirit-worker, not evidence of insanity. However, being unable to hold a sensible conversation or negotiate reasonably and rationally over some mundane matter might be, as might losing one’s empathy or ability to see the world views of others, or becoming paranoid about the motivations of your loved ones and attributing unrealistic and sinister motivations to them, regardless of all evidence to the contrary.
It is important to remember that the mark of a shaman who takes the Madness Road is that they only suffer from those extremes during shaman sickness, and then they recover. A functioning shaman may have odd social behaviors that are the result of his bargains with the spirits, but s/he is fully aware of how they look to others, and can communicate patiently and sensitively past that hurdle. They are able to have healthy relationships and negotiate sanely with others. They need to be sane, in order to do their jobs – not just because the job is so stressful, but because it requires them to understand and empathize with many different clients. They need to be able to live in this world as well as in the Otherworlds, or they are ineffective. This means that in order to function as a shaman, they need to come back from that illness. It’s important to have faith in the wights who guide this process, as they understand how to bring someone back from it, but it’s also important to have a human support system who can help you with regular infusions of reality about how you look and sound to “normal” people.
At the same time, there will still always be a faint air of insanity about people who have walked the Madness Road, even when they are acting completely sane and normal, just like there will be a faint aura of “death” around those who have walked the Death Road