Where There is No Word for “Alone”


I dream of community where people feel loved, where they know they have a place and they belong, and if they need support they have people and resources to assist them.  I dream of a world where no one is left behind, ignored, hurt and isolated. I learned a lot about the meaning of community in Senegal, West Africa where I lived for a few years. One day while I was still learning to speak Mandinka, the language of my village, I asked “How do I say, I am going running (alone, by myself)?” It was explained to me that there was no word for “alone” in Mandinka. It struck me as quite profound. In this village and in this widespread language they had no concept of “aloneness”.  The idea that people would do things alone didn’t exist. It might not be too surprising to understand that in Senegal I found the happiest people I have even known. Their days were filled with hard work but a lot of joy and celebration and gratitude. Imagine a community where the concept of ‘alone’ didn’t exist, where our lives were woven together in a beautiful tapestry and everyone saw, respected and understood the tapestry.

That’s a far cry from the Washington, D.C. metropolitan are where I have lived almost my entire life. An internationally known and well-traveled colleague  had been in DC working with me for a couple of days when he turned to me and said “DC is a hard and cold city”. My response was “Yes it is.” I forget how hard and cold it is sometimes but it comes back to me especially when I leave town and see how warmly and sincerely people greet one another in other places. They take the time to make a genuine connection, even if only for a minute.  It scares me that that seems to be a dying art in some major U.S. cities.

How do we build healthy, resilient and inclusive communities? I don’t know a better way than to have open dialogues, conversations focused on opening our hearts and minds. It seems like a simple way of discovering newness – new information, new connections, new insights, new paradigms, new breath, new hope.

Working together with Iden Campbell McCollum and Donna Barnes, we are taking a simple step towards building community while at the same time answering the call from the White House to have “community conversations.”National Coalition for Mental Recovery, The Campbell Center, and Howard University Hospital are joining together to co-host a community dialogue on December, 12, 2013 titled


Diverse Stakeholder Voices Finding Synergies and Solutions:
Mental Health and Substance Addiction in the Nation’s Capitol 

The event is from 1pm-5pm at the Howard University Hospital, 2041 Georgia Ave, NW Washington, DC, 20060.  In addition to Iden and myself we have a diverse group of presenters including Joan Gillece, National Center for Trauma Informed Care; Dr. William Lawson, Howard University Hospital; Rev Dr. Sherry Molock, Beloved Community Church;  Christy Respress, Pathways to Housing;  Pat Taylor, Faces and Voices of Recovery; Wilma Townsend, Federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration and others. Our objectives are to:

Learn how people in mental health and/or addiction recovery are blazing new trails to becoming fully engaged and included in life in the community

Share innovative strategies and resources for building healthy communities in the  21st century

Build collaborative, inclusive communities by having dialogue participants share their thinking and next steps.

We are still planning the details but we thought that providing some questions might help focus the panel presentations. Some of our ideas are:

–  What does a healthy community that supports people in recovery look like? What does it mean for you personally? For law enforcement? For your profession? For people in recovery?

–  How can we support people in recovery to be fully included and valued in the community?

–  What steps are you taking to build a healthy, inclusive community?

–  How do we support people whose psychiatric medication is not working for them?

We have two panels. The first panel is titled “Pioneers with Lived Experience:  Changing the Conversation about Recovery and Community Inclusion”. Panel 2 is titled “Building Healthy Communities in the 21st Century”. We plan to show the 6.5 minute Open Paradigm Project video: Moving Beyond Psychiatric Labels (link video here) to encourage people to think out of the box.

I have a dream. You may have one too. Together we can strategize about how we make that dream a reality. This dialogue ends with time to share or formulate concrete next steps.

May the power be  ours to create new relationships – to shine a light on the beauty of our shared humanity.

Part Two:  Awakening From the Dream

One thing I know is that human beings on this planet have perpetuated war for thousands of years. In a previous blog I addressed the cause of war (see eCPR:  A Tool and a Process for Peacemaking). Unspeakable and unimagineable atrocities continue to be carried out and the political and societal majority on this planet continue to not embrace a movement towards peace. And although this breaks my heart, I am optimistic. Why? Because there are a growing number of people, visionaries, who are awakening from the dream. This awakening includes an opening to an inclusive paradigm by which I mean we are taking our shared humanity and our understanding of expanding human rights issues to the next level.

One example of this is the recent U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of the rights of people in same-sex mariage. This expansion of human rights can be described in a number of ways but it boils down to being able to completely and fully accept that we are surrounded by a wealth of individual and collective diveristy. This wealth of diversity includes and is not limited to our human experience, our emotion, knowledge, perspectives, ethnicity, different approaches to life, living, thinking and ways of being, as well as different levels of consciousness and states of mind.

I will expand a bit on the mental health diversity domain. This new frontier, though unacknowledged by some, is a growing subcurrent spreading across our planet. It is our developing capacity to be with those whose levels of emotional distress or altered state of reality may be quite different from our own. Peole may be experiencing anything from needing attention – which  often gets labeled as attention deficit disorder – to states that are labeled psychotic.  Too often our knee jerk reaction is to “profile” them or label them as different from us so we can conveniently dismiss them as not being pertinent to us, and labeled as “different”, “other” or sick in some manner. And we find many creative ways to maintain our delusion of separateness.

We confuse the person with the patterned way s/he may be thinking, feeling or behaving. The person is not the pattern. If we look with a deeper lens we can engage the person (who appears to be in an altered state of awareness or consciousness) and support him/her in moving from monologue to dialogue. Humans have creative ways to protect ourselves against perceived threats to our safety. Our awakening as a culture is also reflected in another phenomenon that is spreading in the U.S. and overseas which is peer-run respites – an exquisite example of how people with lived experience of mental health recovery support people to become included in the life of the community without labeling and often without the use of psychopharmaceticals.  A final example of our awakening is the neurodiversity movement which promotes that there are diverse ways of learning and that neurological differences should be recognized and respected as a social category on a par with gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or disability.

In closing I think of the famous words of Martin Luther King, Jr. “the salvation of the world lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted!”

How creative is your mind and how open is your heart? Are you willing to work on alliance building and ending the war in your own mind so that we may end all wars?

Of further interest:


Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.


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Lauren Spiro
Lauren’s vision of social justice and mental health liberation focuses on developing our capacity for feeling deeply connected, appreciating the vast creative intelligence of the human heart and mind, and inspiring compassionate action. Her life’s mission is to embody inner peace to co-create global peace, thus she curates transformative learning experiences. She co-founded two non-profit corporations and Emotional CPR (www.emotional-cpr.org) a public health education program that teaches people how to support others through an emotional crisis. She is a multi-media artist, a 20+ year practitioner of yoga and meditation, the first Director of the National Coalition for Mental Health Recovery, has been featured on national media, and consulted on numerous federal projects. Her memoir paints a poetic picture of her journey into madness and her pathway home. She has an M.A. in clinical/community psychology. For more information see www.Laurenspiro.com


  1. Thank you for this compelling post. I often can’t find the right words to express my reactions. The only thing I could say at the moment is that you said it all. You reflected my own craving for the sense of shared humanity. Great piece. Thanks again.

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