The Subtleties of Being

Turning an airport delay into an opportunity to feel my feet on the ground and my butt on the seat and the breath in my lungs and the beat of my heart as I write and reflect and sit and listen, over and over, to my friend Hannah Epperson‘s beautiful song ‘Story (Amelia)’ from her new and absolutely amazing album UPSWEEP… and feel.
 
Fuckin’ feel.
 
Feel: the tips of my fingers on the keys… The way the air caresses my forearms and cheeks every time fellow journeyers breeze by on their way to somewhere… The fatigue at the backs of my eyes from my early AM flight and not-enough sleep… The flutter of excitement as I think about where I’m going, not just in a few hours’ time but tomorrow and the next day and all the days to follow. Because I’m here… not simply in this encasing of skin, but in the world.
 
I savor these subtleties of being today, for they were once so lost to me I forgot they’d ever existed. That I ever existed. That I was a human being, built to feel and yearn and desire and believe and strive and hope and hold onto and thrive. What They stripped me down to, literally, were a series of slow, dying wheezes of breath and a barely-there heartbeat. They almost put me to sleep forever.
 
These subtleties of being are my most profound reminders of my aliveness today. Of where I’ve been and where I’m going. Of who and what and why I am. Of what it means to be– to simply be, deeper than anything possibly captured by the written or spoken word. Of what I never was, despite all the things They once tricked me into believing about myself.
 
I’m now closing my eyes and feeling this beautiful, haunting song and taking Hannah’s words and bringing them into my own internal expanse of selfscape. I am feeling overwhelmed by gratitude in the midst of a lot of pain. I am feeling my heart against my ribs and this fire in my gut, this sacred fire, this fire of spirit They nearly extinguished.
 
Man, this life thing. These feelings. Every day, at least once, I’ll feel the urge to pinch myself to see if this is all just a dream… To ask, “Is this real? Are these really my hands? Is this really my consciousness? Am I really here?”
 
I am. I fuckin’ am. And you are, too. We are, together.
 
“When the walls caved in and the light shone through
There were spaces in between the things you thought you knew…”
–Story (Amelia)

What might really be going on when you’re labeled “Mentally ill”?

If you (or someone you love) has been labeled “mentally ill”, odds are one or more of the following is true:

1. You aren’t getting what you need or are getting a hell of a lot of what you *don’t* need (be it emotional, physical, mental, social, environmental, sensory, spiritual, etc.).

2. Something big and painful has happened to you– or slowly, over time, a series of seemingly small “somethings” have accumulated to such a degree that you’ve crossed the tipping point.

3. ‘Boxes’, ‘labels’, ‘definition’, ‘rules’, ‘authority’, ‘convention’, ‘compliance’, and ‘normal’ are all words that make you cringe. You find yourself wanting to shout out “NO!” pretty much every day.

4. You are trapped in a life situation or circumstance that doesn’t feel authentic, meaningful, or purposeful to you, or aligned with who you really are.

5. You don’t know who you really are, and feel hopelessly lost.

6(a). You are awake to the reality of the current social, economic, and political order, but it seems like everyone else around you is fast asleep.

6(b). You see or feel unjust, corrupt, greedy power in seemingly every direction you turn, and don’t know how the hell you can possibly survive participating in it, or where else you could go.

7. You feel lonely, disconnected, or alienated from your fellows.

8. You feel– fuckin’ FEEL– the world and everything in it and it is so much, so big, so overwhelmingly, acutely raw all or much of the time that you don’t know what to do with the experience…

Far from signs of “sickness”, these are manifestations of being fully alive and in touch with oneself and with the state of the world.

It’s time we reclaim our pain and struggle and anger and alienation and fear and loss and despair, and transform the society we live in.

Who’s with me?

To My Fellow Ex-Mental Patients in the Aftermath of Psychiatrization: We Heal

I cried this morning as I thought about the depth of the violations we face as mental patients, especially those of us who were psychiatrized as children and teens. To have psychoactive chemicals coursing through our veins every minute of every day through our most formative years… The years when we’re meant to be figuring out who we are, what our bodies mean and how they work, what we believe in, who and what we’re drawn to, what drives us, what matters… There are no words to describe what this means, what this really means, for not just us in our own individual lives, but for American society. For the entire world. No words.
 
But let me now say this: though the despair swept over me this morning and I cried for a while, it wasn’t long for the deep faith that churns at the very core of my being to reemerge. For while they may have taken our bodies, our minds, our sexuality, our creativity, our passion and our sense of connection to self and world through our years of psychiatrization– our entire identities, enslaved to them– they never, no matter how hard they may have tried, came close to touching the fire of human spirit that burns in each and every one of us, and it is this– this fire of second chances, of awakening, of perseverance and determination– that fuels the process of healing and reclamation that we are all going through as ex-mental patients, together.
 
We have many grave doctor-induced physiological injuries to heal from: our guts are shot, our cognition sputtering, our muscles aching and our bodies stuck in fight or flight; the overwhelm and fatigue and terror and angst and panic and despair and numbness and paranoia; all those terrifying moments of feeling possessed or occupied by thoughts and sensations that are strangers to us… There’s no doubt about it: our central nervous systems, these intricate beautiful biologies that forge the seats of our souls, have been gravely harmed by the pharmaceutical bomb of so-called “care”. But we. Will. Heal. We are, already, healing. We will keep healing, until we feel fully settled into the potential for life that they took from us for all those years, but were far too weak to forever hold onto.
 
I have healed so much, already, nearly six years off. Every day I am blown away by this fact– by the continuous unfoldings of awakening that make themselves known to me day in, day out. I am transformed, and transforming, continuously. I feel powerful, and awake.  Sensitized so acutely to life that it sears me with pain as it fills me with joy.  And the more I wake up, the more it hurts.  I despair, every day, at the fact of what happened to me and to so many of you. What’s happening, as I write these words, to so many millions of our fellows out there.
 
There’s more healing for my body to do — plenty more, I know, though this is now an exciting instead of daunting fact to think about — and though the dark cloud of pain and despair often moves through me, I always find myself afterwards, on the other side, sitting once again in the bright beautiful awareness that I am coming alive– that we, together, are coming alive, more and more every day. Our bodies are regenerating themselves, right down to every last cell.
 
To my comrades out there– today, I think especially of those of you who lost your childhood and adolescence to the Mental Health Industry– hang on. Let those clouds of despair and fear sweep over you and move through. Know that that bright beautiful awareness of aliveness is waiting patiently within you, and will emerge in due course, whether five minutes or further down the road of time. Together, we are reclaiming our bodies, our minds, and our lives. And together, we are building a future in which growing up and being alive in this world is no longer something to modify or “treat”.  A future in which we no longer turn to professionals and pill bottles to navigate our pain, but instead, to each other. We’ve started, already.
Sun and Life, Frida Kahlo.

Sun and Life, Frida Kahlo (1947).

Beyond Labels

labels, these arrangements of letters put upon us by oppressors of all kinds– especially ourselves. “happy”. “sad”. “manic”. “balanced”. “sick”. “well”. “functioning”. “unproductive”. “mentally ill”. “mentally healthy”. “acceptable”. “normal”, or otherwise.

a word, today, i see as nothing more than a cloak: one thrown over the mind, the identity, eventually the soul. some are deceptively well-meaning– word-cloaks that imply you’ve “made it”, that you’re properly “fitting in”, “acting acceptably”, “being appropriate”. others, of course, are so thick and heavy that they smother, in the snap of a finger, the very essence of your being: “bipolar”. “depressed”. “schizophrenic”. “borderline”, to name a few.

these words i’m using to write these very sentences– it must be said they barely touch the essence of what i really, truly, feel about this matter. for all words make sentences, sometimes lifelong ones.

becoming an ex-mental patient is about far more than shedding the psychiatric labels that have come to define our lives and determine what psychoactive chemicals may be circulating in our bloodstreams, electrical currents through our brains, restraints around our ankles or wrists, plastic mattresses beneath our backs.

it’s also about shedding the labels on the flip side, the ones that arise out of the Myth of Normality, this false prophet we’ve come to worship as though it’s only before its knees and in its phantom mold that we might feel like we’ve finally “arrived”. for it’s there– beyond not just the dark prison bars of the so-called “mental health system”, but also the bright, glistening, well-manicured lawns of the put-together-high-functioning-smiling-with it-successful-accomplished-perfect-happy American Dream– that we become truly free. free to feel it all– all that comes with being alive in this world, especially the agony and despair and angst. free to simply be. not to Be Something. just to be, whether that being agonizingly hurts or feels entirely peaceful or quietly aches or sends surges of pleasure through every cell.

freedom is when you have no words that follow your being, for those lettered cloaks that once covered the indefinable essence of what it is to be alive have been shed in your wake.

i am grateful that i’m free to yearn and struggle and suffer and feel peace and joy and purpose and passion and cry and scream and ache in those fields beyond all words. if we’re to build a future beyond the Mental Health Industry, it’s there. and they run on and on and on, unendingly. there’s space for all of us there, to be indefinable.

wheatfields-under-thunderclouds-vincent-van-gogh

“Wheatfields Under Thunderclouds”, by Vincent Van Gogh.