video_ocean_sea_of_madness_speedpaint_by_nitelyhallow-d4lrqneAs a mental health advocate, I feel that it is important to debunk some myths about notions of recovery, and about what someone who is “recovered” should look like. It is essential that I not only speak from the point of view of role model, or of one who has crossed the imaginary finish line into recovery and won the trophy of normalcy and a return to anonymity, but as one who is vulnerable, is messy, is human – someone who is on a nonlinear and meaningful path, regardless of the dubious and oscillating territory where my mind might find itself.

I am someone who has fought harder than I think I realize to reclaim what I deem to be the privilege of normalcy. My past struggles are often invisible. My scars are hidden. My psychiatric status and my medical chart are known to relatively few people I encounter. However, I do sometimes choose to reveal my psychiatric survivor war wounds – for myriad reasons and situations I might encounter in my life. Sometimes it is because I know someone will judge me, and I just want to get rejection over with and use it as method of curating my friend and acquaintance circles. Sometimes, it is to foster intimacy and understanding. Sometimes it is educational. Sometimes it is therapeutic. Sometimes it is political. Sometimes it is because I am tired of pretending that I am someone that I am not; and it is for the sake of fostering a personal sense of authenticity.

Regardless of the reason (and there are often more than one reason on the list overlapping at once) I often feel like I tend to disclose my psychiatric survivor status when I am feeling particularly strong. This is of course quite natural. When I feel like I can handle rejection or confusion or whatever ramifications are likely to emerge – that is when I will smile from a place of poise, and speak my truth.

However, it has become increasingly clear that it is perhaps more important, and definitely more radical – to speak my vulnerability in the moment of feeling it, because that is the only way I can surpass concepts and buzz words and actually trust the world to receive my heart, and to hold it – raw and honest, and bloody and real. Practicing sharing vulnerability when I am strong is a useful thing to do, but I have now begun to see it a practice for my greatest lesson: how to share where I am when I am most frightened, most disoriented, when I feel least “together.”

Today, I have not yet left my bed. It is past noon. Due to burning the candle at both ends, due to ignoring my own sensitive constitution and stubbornly pretending that I have the privileges of the average person, I am now at a place where I am confronting an unraveling of my own mind. I have known these places before: the interrupted sleep, the fleeting auditory sounds that emerge and unsettle me, the mild paranoia – often very related to my early history of judgment and social exclusion, the inability to concentrate, the dissociation, the out of body feelings, and most of all, the fragmenting of the person at the core of me – the person who is steering the ship.

I find in this state, I often feel unsettled and uncharacteristically impulsive and frightened. I usually feel a little panicked, because I have worked hard to build up the idea of who “Laura” is, and because I know that in an instant – one moment of acting “weird” or unusual, and I can put strain on friendships, work relationships, and impair trust in the people I care about. This worry itself comes from the notion that the world I live in is a conditional place – contingent on me passing for “sane.” And I just realized, that most of the time I have such good responses to my disclosures of my psychiatric history and identity, because I don’t appear to represent them – I appear to be, what some people would call “recovered.”

And it is moments like these where I am glad I am still vulnerable. I am grateful that I can put my world to the test – to see if my friends and family and colleagues, most of whom I would deem very progressive individuals – are ready to practice overcoming stigma, discrimination, oppression, and all of the tiny micro-aggressions that people like me have encountered for centuries. Yes, I am vulnerable. Yes, I am in flux. I may appear different in character because of the way my stress response manifests itself. But I am a flexible, malleable and sensitive human being who is strong not in spite of these blips in my ability to “pass” as sane, but because of them – because I can unravel and still trust that the world I have built around me can hold me.

In this moment, I am filled with so much gratitude for my community, for the people who trust in mine and others’ inherent worth and potential. Amidst psychological chaos, there are always those who can see through to the eye of the storm.  So thank you. Accepting the fluidity of the human experience is a radical act – one that will carry us into a new age of compassion, collaboration, and broad-minded, clear vision. It is not in celebrating the “success” or “recovery” stories that are a measure of how far we have come. It is in being able to see those of us who flounder, to look deep inside and know that we are still there. We mad folk are in the midst of a process of psychic excavation, and it is dark and dangerous work. But we could not do it without someone at the top, holding a flashlight and a rope ladder – someone who knows that where we are going is important for all of us – someone who can see us and trust that we will return, even when we are invisible, even when we are echoes in the darkness.