Hello to you – just sharing a couple of my chalk drawings for today and adding my personal input to the Daily Good feature article/topic of mental illness.
I now see how owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do. Brene Brown
Apr 25, 2017— Phil Borges is a dentist-turned-photographer, author, filmmaker and social change storyteller. For more than 25 years, he has been documenting indigenous and tribal cultures in some of the world’s most remote, inaccessible areas. His recent film Crazywise reveals a paradigm shift that’s challenging the way Western culture defines and treats “mental illness” and highlights a survivor-led movement demanding more choices from a mental health care system in crisis. The film explores cultural differences with respect to consciousness, mental health and the relevance of Shamanic traditional practices and beliefs to those of us living in the modern world. More on Phil’s journey in this in-depth interview. (3966 reads)
This Daily Good feature article resonated with me, especially this part.
Pavi: Kind of sets the tone for diving in deeper. Maybe you could talk a little bit about how Crazywise started and what you see as the core messages of the film. What would you like to see people take away? Phil: It started with my work with the indigenous world when I began to meet individuals who entered trance-like states to serve as healers or clairvoyants–they call them seers or predictors–of their community. I started interviewing these people and found that most were selected in their youth by having a crisis of some sort. Once in a while it was a physical crisis or sickness, but typically it was a mental, emotional crisis. Many talked of seeing visions, having intense dreams, hearing voices, feeling very frightened. Some felt like they were dying. Typically the ones I talked to who became healers and seers were taken aside by an elder, usually a shaman, and told that their condition was a sign they had special sensitivities that could be very valuable to their community. They could not ignore what was happening to them. They could look at it as a calling, and they had to answer this calling. And if they didn’t answer it, they would continue to be sick and could eventually die from it. So they would enter an initiation period where they would be guided and mentored by this elder who, at one time, had gone through the same thing. This was handed down. That way of framing mental illness was really interesting because it our culture we believe that such an experience is a disease of the brain. And the biomedical narrative we now hold is that we don’t have a cure for it. We have these medications that can stabilize the person mainly by tranquilizing them. But there’s no cure and it’s sort of a lifelong sentence. So during the process of doing Crazywise, I’ve met a lot of people who label themselves as people with lived experiences, people who have lived through one of these crises and are now leading very functional lives. When asked what helped them and what didn’t, they’ll say number one is the way my condition was framed or when I finally realized that this was an experience I could learn from. When I had somebody that was supporting me while I was going through this dark night of the soul, which made all the difference. When the experience is framed properly, you don’t get this self-fulfilling narrative that condemns the person to a lifetime of illness. They were helped to find the meaning of what they were going through. They were able to find out what their symptoms were telling them rather than just suppressing the symptoms. Then, they were given them a purpose for their life. You can be a very valuable person for this community. And if you start talking to the people who go through these experiences, they are very, very creative, exceptionally bright individuals. They think outside the box. Many of them, including the main character in our film, have what looks like a spiritual experience. The definition I used earlier where Adam said the first time I felt at one with the universe, where I was it, it was me; Many sages refer to this as an “aha” moment. Many of these people going through these breaks have that experience and then, if they’re not supported correctly, told it’s an illness. You can imagine you’re 20 years old, you’re vulnerable, maybe you’re away at school, maybe you’ve had a love relationship go bad, things aren’t going well, you’re away from home for the first time and your brain goes off into another reality to protect your psyche. Then you’re told by an expert wearing a white coat that your brain is broken and diseased and your whole identity changes. Just like the teacher who came up to me in the hallway, he changed my identity around my belief in myself as being a good student. Deven: If the person having the break is not open to guidance, then guidance from community is impossible. Could trained guides help? I would be open to learning other approaches and views from indigenous cultures. Phil: From indigenous communities I have learned the importance of connection and community, not only the community of people but of the environment and the world of our ancestors. Being connected to that whole flow of life is a healthy state for the human psyche. Our current biomedical treatment narrative or paradigm unfortunately labels the individual in a very stigmatizing way as the “other.” There are the mentally ill over there and there’s us normals over here. One in five people will have a mental illness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. It’s a very normal reaction to circumstance. It’s the “othering” that we have to learn to avoid. I think the most important thing is to listen with an ear to understand, not to judge. The person in this state – their psyche has chosen to protect itself by going into another reality. So the person, if they’ve been put into a deep fear–could be claiming to be Jesus, or to be from Mars, or that the CIA is after them. One of the most important things is to listen to them and try to understand what these voices, or what these beliefs, are indicating. And, of course, if the person has been frightened enough, typically what happens, especially with young people away at school, they are taken in a cop car or an ambulance to an emergency room, strapped down in the back room until the psychiatrist can get there to inject them with a mind-altering drug. If you can get to the person before they’re put into another state of fear, that’s ideal. But if you can’t and they are just really acting out, maybe they haven’t slept in a week, then, of course, some of these medications can get them to a place where they can start to be supported in other ways, which is very valuable. So medications do have a place. What’s troubling is the belief that they have to be on these medications for the rest of their life, as well as the over prescription of these medications. We are now pathologizing the normal human experience. If you look at the list of disorders in the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders written by the American Psychiatric Association, the list of disorders has grown by 300 percent since it was first published in 1952. So you’re getting a medication for something like sibling rivalry disorder, or for disruptive mood disorder. All these young kids are being put on medications to handle what used to be “boys will be boys” or normal grieving. If you lose your spouse after 40 years of marriage and go into grief that lasts longer than a couple weeks, you can be diagnosed with severe depression disorder.
When I’ve had my “breaks” they have often been spiritual (to me) in nature and afterwards so much is gradually revealed to me. I wonder after reading/watching this, had I been turned over to a shaman vs people in white coats at a hospital, would my experiences been more useful and or meaningful? Would what I was experiencing and going through have made more sense to such a person versus traditional medicine? Could they have helped me navigate my way out without drugs? I wonder.
When I’ve had my breaks I have been in an altered state, felt like a time traveler, someone between dimensions , seeing through the layers of people…. feeling like “smoke”, seeing the world and how it operates in a way most people do not. Each time it has been slightly different but a lot remains the same about what happens to me. What’s hard is that I remember most of what goes on after it’s over, some things I do not. Some things in reflection will make a lot of sense to me, and some things are embarrassing to recall and make no sense at all as to why I was thinking or acting a certain way while in the altered state.
A regular person, a psychiatrist or psychologist of traditional Western medicine on the periphery of my experience would understandably be confused, anxious/alarmed for me and want to help in the most expedient ways they know how. The answer each time for me, has been admittance to a hospital with medication and therapy aftercare. There isn’t a way for people who aren’t privy to the spiritual nature of these experiences to do much else!
In the traditional system that exists, there isn’t really time to do much more than tranquillize a person in such a condition, keep them under observation for a short period of time and then turn them loose hoping the break doesn’t recur. I can say at Mesa Springs they at least attempted a more Holistic approach – yoga, aromatherapy, art and music therapy, group therapy sessions, exercise and dancing exercises and spiritual groups. The problem is it’s expensive to be in such a facility and there is limited bed space. They don’t get to keep patients as long as it takes to make the kind of break-throughs they might be able to if they had more time.
Having a strong support system is so important to someone like me! I am grateful to have my husband, my family and friends who have been there for me these many years but I know my breaks have taken a toll on all my close relationships. Loving and caring for someone prone to mania can create an understandable distance after such breaks occur. My first husband and I didn’t stay together beyond the first time it happened. Kyle (and his family) have been through this with me three times since we moved here to Texas!
The states people like me can get into are very confusing, awkward and frightening. The witnesses are essentially powerless to do much to help or as in my case, they may try to play along (which they now know wasn’t helpful!) During the first one I had here, my mother-in-law and I did an almost 30 minute poem between the two of us! Yeah, she’s pretty amazing to have been able to go through that! There is the unpredictability factor that most people just can’t get around. What will this person do or say next? What can I say or do around this person and not set them off on another break?! It’s tough on both sides of this equation!
What I am saying here is the “elephant in the room” when it comes to being in relationship with and or related to someone with a mental health condition…”labels.” I have asked people to be honest with me about their feelings towards me on this issue but most times it’s a threshold they are not comfortable to cross or they are vague at best. The quickest course is complete avoidance and that has been hurtful to me, but I understand it. Rather than lie to me or tell me the truth and risk hurting my feelings, they just avoid me and or the subject all together.
This perspective Phil Borges provides, provokes many questions in me but also is validating in a way. Those who live with someone who has labels and or have had to deal with their loved one during a manic episode or an altered state of consciousness might find some insight on the subject here.
(The reason I share about what I’ve been through is to try and help those I love and care about may be understand me a little better and also to help anyone else who might be in similar circumstances as caretaker or patient. We don’t get solutions or progress for subjects like this unless we talk about them openly and honestly. Avoidance and denial helps no one! I hope something here will help and or resonate! )