Healing is in Our Stories


“It’s important that we share our experiences with other people. Your story will heal you and your story will heal somebody else. When you tell your story, you free yourself and give other people permission to acknowledge their own story.”

– Iyanla Vanzant

I have spent a lot of time talking to politicians, media members and those working in the mental health system about the failings of the current method of viewing and treating emotional distress. I have come to the conversations armed with stats and outcomes about the bio-medical paradigm. I have found that the people I speak with do not doubt the facts conveyed. They seem to agree that the current state of affairs is not good. The difference is that I think the tragic outcomes demonstrate the failure of the current system. The folks I talk to tend to think things are so bad because “mental illness is just that serious.”

Recently, I sought to meet with an influential state senator who, rumor had it, was being pressured to support a bill on forced treatment. I asked a colleague of mine to join me because she lived in his district and was involved in politics. We arrived at the senate chamber and were ushered into a conference room. Fifteen minutes later the senate aid came into the conference room and informed us that the senator was running late. Finally, the senator joined us. He asked what he could do for us and I launched into a barrage of facts about how bad forced treatment is and about the outcomes of pathologizing human emotions.

He asked a couple of simple questions while appearing anxious to get to his next appointment. Then my co-worker began telling her narrative in a beautiful and compelling manner. She told the senator how she had been homeless, how she viewed herself as disabled and broken and how things continually went wrong for her. Then she told him how things started to go right. She talked about mutual support and the opportunity to believe in herself through work and education. She said she now has a graduate degree, directs a great program and has a happy family life.

As she spoke, I saw him sit back in his chair. The questions he started asking were much more profound. He was clearly inspired by her story of hope, transformation and healing. When she finished, he looked at me and said, “Do you have a story like hers?” I said I did. He asked me why I did not tell it.

I did not use my story because I had stopped leading with my heart and had started to lead with my mind. My mind wants me to make an argument against force and the current paradigm based on data, measurable outcomes and research studies. People entering the mental health system are dying 25 years younger than everyone else. There are 850 people a day added to the social security disability rolls due to mental health reasons. On and on I go citing my proof positive that the system needs to be gutted and rebuilt. I attack the current paradigm without conveying the message that we need to do better because better is possible. Our stories are what show that better is possible.

Sharing healing stories is important for many reasons, including helping those who are suffering. I know without a doubt that my journey out of the depths of despair would not have been possible without the people that shared with me their personal narratives. It was through these inspiring stories of resilience, strength and courage that I came to cling to the age old belief that if one person can, so can another.  The wonderful people who shared their truths with me gave me hope, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that I could get through the darkness.

Through the stories I learned ways to find meaning in suffering and ways to move through it. Many of the methods people used to move forward in their lives did not work for me. But that is not the point of telling our stories. The point is to show that healing, transcendence, transformation or whatever one seeks, is possible. Healing is a creative act— there are many paths. It is the possibility of bettering one’s human experience that is the important message.

I think it is imperative that we speak our truth about the current paradigm. Studies, books, blogs that unmask the truth about how our society treats emotional distress are important. Protests are important. It is also imperative, in order to bring about a paradigm shift, to tell our stories.

People need to know that struggling today does not mean struggling forever. Sometimes we need to speak from the heart about the things that help us without the rhetoric and attacks on the things that do not. A message filled with love, compassion and understanding is one that is readily received.

I believe our collective anecdotal history is essential for a paradigm shift from medicalizing human emotions to a paradigm that contextualizes the experiences. I believe above all that people can heal from, recover from, experiences that are called by our society “mental illness.” I do not believe this fact because I read it in a book. I believe it because my life is filled with people who have spent significant time in psych hospitals, prisons, and/or have experienced homelessness, and have found ways to reshape their lives. The beautiful people that I am so grateful to know have found meaning in despair and have found the strength and courage to seek out their current life path. There is no question that they are stronger and more compassionate people because of their experiences. There is also no question that they are the lucky ones who found something to believe in or someone who believed in them.

Our stories can shift the belief that people cannot heal and recover from emotional distress. If society truly believed people heal and recover then there would be considerably more outrage over the current outcomes in the mental health system. If people believed that struggling with your human experience today does not necessitate struggling tomorrow, there would be more money and willingness to explore the paths through which humans navigate strife and struggle.

Life can be incredibly hard. Life can be incredibly beautiful. Without the former we would not truly appreciate the latter. The hard times are transient for those with the right support and hope. Our collective stories make a compelling argument for better for all those who are struggling now. Not just better, in fact, but much, much better.

* * * * *

Mad in America.



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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  1. “Healing is in our stories.” So true, Daron, thanks for sharing your story, and all your work towards changing a terribly broken system. I must confess, I believe one of the worst aspects of the current psychiatric system is that they claim people will be sick their entire life. Taking away hope is evil, IMO.

    I’ve just started writing my story, and it is a story of the sad state of affairs within the current system, but also a story of love, hope, and healing.

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  2. Stories can have a much bigger impact on people’s minds than facts. And the mainstream story told today about the lacking-insight and dangerous mental patient: a cross between a 3yr old and Osama bin Laden has to be refuted.

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  3. While it is hard to argue against the utility of recovery stories I often feel stories by those who have yet to achieve recovery are given short shrift. There is something to learn from all consumers. Of the 850 people added daily to the Social Security Disability rolls due to mental health reasons when and in what forum will they be afforded the opportunity to tell their stories? Shouldn’t there be a place for first person narratives consistent with the need for the system to be “gutted and rebuilt”?

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  4. Is a government job in the mental health system accounted “recovery” from “mental illness”? I wonder about all the scalawags and scoundrels who have the “mental health system” to thank for their “successes” at thievery. When despite the numbers of people available to tell their stories, and work for the mental health system, you get more and more people entering that system, we’ve got a problem that no amount of story telling is going to resolve. This “mental health” system is a “mental illness” system, and it needs to be completely dismantled. What’s more, you’ve got so many injuries that need “healing”, how do you get there? The imaginary injury that comes with an imaginary “disease”, and the real healing required when treatment for that imaginary “disease” involves physically injuring the designated patient. The treatment is worse than the disease, particularly when there was no “disease” in the first place. We need more people to expose the system for what it is by telling their stories, and less people to provide a further justification for that system by reinforcing it, and strengthening it, and working for it. If your story is supports “mental illness” manufacture, maybe you should think twice about telling it, in other words, we’ve got more than enough officially designated “crazies” as is. In fact, we’ve got way too many. As Joe, above, begins to point out, the unsound economic consequences of this treatment business fiasco are staggering. Do we incorporate this aspect of the story into the telling, too, or do we suppress it entirely?

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    • Frank,

      I really appreciate you taking the time to write this comment. I have learned a lot from you and your comment further adds to that. The stories I believe need to be heard are the ones that refute a paradigm that is failing. This applies to many walks of life. I am also interested in seeing serious reform in the way our government views gambling. The stories of destruction related to gambling are not being heard – it has become just a way for state governments to raise money. The stories of truth are being squashed. I believe honest stories can help change some of the ways we have gone off path. But yeah – stories that reinforce a bad status quo are damaging. I do know that it was the people that shared their truths with me that saved my life.


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  5. hello deron,i am stefano from italy and i have read all your posts.i really appreciate your way of thinking.i never used meds even if it s 10months i am in bad depression with ‘bad’ toughts most days.i am trying to resist from takin meds because i am afraid of them.do you know of some form of psycotherapy that really work.i have been in some psycotherapy but didn t work.talking is not enough because even if you know your problems and the connection with the past,that often is not enough for real change and heal of anxiety and depression,there must be something else to free the body from the bad emotions.i have read books of laexander lowen about bodypsycotherapy .what do you think? glad to speak to you.greetings from italy

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    • What do you mean by “work”? If you feel the way you describe there is a reason for it – it can be medical or it can be psychological. Some medical conditions and dietary insufficiency can cause depressed mood (anyone who’s ever been severely sick or suffered chronic pain knows that). Doing a blood panel (checking for signs of inflammation and including hormones and iron levels) may be a good first step. If you’re not getting enough exercise, especially outside it may be a good idea to start. If the reasons are not medical they are usually in your relationship to the world you live in. Some things you can solve yourself, some are not withing your reach. This is human condition. But first and foremost you have to answer yourself: why do I feel this way?

      God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
      The courage to change the things I can,
      And the wisdom to know the difference.

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