What do you want people who love and serve the mentally ill to know?
Okay. I’m not really allowed to say what I’m about to say. In public, we people who are mentally ill are supposed to hang our heads and only speak of our challenges as things we want “fixed” for fear of folks accusing us of “glamorizing” our condition. We’re supposed to declare that our way of being is dangerous and wrong and everyone else’s way is better and we are supposed to want to join the troops and fall into line. And so those who love us are confused and angry when we are resistant to getting help, to taking our meds, to being “cured.” Every other sufferer of a disease wants to get better, why don’t you?
I’ll tell you why.
Because sometimes we understand that our inability to accept and live resignedly in the world we’ve been born into is chemical and personal and that we need help integrating. We hang our heads and say: It’s not you, world—it’s me. I’ll get help. I need to get better.
But other times—we turn on the news or watch closely how people treat each other and we silently raise our eyebrows and think: Actually, maybe it’s not me. Maybe it’s you, world. Maybe my inability to adapt to the world is not because I’m crazy but because I’m paying attention. Maybe it’s not insane to reject the world as it is. Maybe the real insanity is surrendering to the world as it is now. Maybe pretending that things around here are just fine is no badge of honor I want to wear.
We addicts—we have rejected the world as it is. We left the big world and started hiding inside the small world of addiction for a reason. So inviting us back into the world as it is — it’s not effective. We are too smart to rejoin a party we couldn’t stomach. And so when someone we love and trust wants to invite us out of addiction, she needs to consider what she’s inviting us INTO. Okay—you want me to come out of here…but into WHAT? Because when we peek out of our world and into yours; when we look out and see everybody still shooting at each other—literally and figuratively—we think: no thank you. I’ll just take my chances in here.
I know that I needed to be invited not only out of addiction, but into a movement to change the world. I needed to join folks working to turn this planet into a gentler, saner, safer, more vivid place in which folks with wide-open eyes and tender hearts might survive and thrive. This is why the moment I stepped out of the world of addiction, I stepped into family, faith, art, service, and activism. I stepped into worlds of purpose. But I did not give up my resistance to the world as it is. I did not say: FINE, I’ll come back. I said: Fine, I’ll come back, but I’m coming back with a mission. I’m not stepping back into the matrix. I’m going to join the special forces who are trying to free everybody from it. Because yes, I’ve got these conditions—anxiety, depression, addiction—and they almost killed me. But they are also my superpowers. I’m the canary in the mine and you need my sensitivity because I can smell toxins in the air that you can’t smell, see trouble you don’t see and sense danger you don’t feel. My sensitivity could save us all. And so instead of letting me fall silent and die — why don’t we work together to clear some of this poison from the air?
What we who are mentally different need is respect. We know we need help managing our mental differences, but what we ask for is a shift in your approach to helping us. Instead of coming at us with the desire to change us because we are inconvenient to the world—come at us with the desire to help us because we are important to the world. We want you to see that with a little help, we can be your prophets, healers, clergy, artists, and activists. Help us manage our fire, yes, but don’t try to extinguish us. That fire that almost killed us is the same fire we’ll use to light up the world. And so we don’t want you to take what we’ve got, we just want help learning how to use what we’ve got for good.
Let’s work together—as equals. Because we need your science and you need our poetry. Maybe we are here not just to be saved by you—but to save you back.
This year I’ve been named a member of Honorary Committee for Mental Health America’s 2015 Conference, Chaired by Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter.
I just wanted to tell you burning light givers that, while speaking at that conference and across the country this year, I’m doing my best to translate us to the world. I’m trying to be a bridge so that the people who love us can get closer to us – so that we’re not so alone in here. I’m trying to explain why we hurt the people we love and why we hurt ourselves. I’m aware that speaking for the light givers is the most important work I do. Just know that I love you and I respect you and I know how hard it is and I know how good you are in there.
Love to all the Light Givers and Love to all who’ve been burned by us.
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
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