When I see programs working to support people to live their best lives, I recognize it because I know the work that I am doing. I am not claiming to have all the answers to living in loving awareness consistently, but I don’t give up, and I share my journey on my website MitzySky.com and other social media platforms. I know that I learned from others and our stories are valuable, and someone could learn from me as well.
At first, when I reached out for help, I was labeled and given psychotropic drugs. The labels went from bad to worse because of how people judged my behaviors from the stories I told them about myself. Inner Fire is different because it looks at what happened to people rather than labeling them. It’s about the possibility for people to transform their own lives and the support that might be necessary for them to achieve that.
I visited Inner Fire in Brookline, Vermont, for one of their open houses. While I was there, I was in tune with the mountains, the trees, the open space outdoors, the grass, the bare Earth, the chicken living freely on the farm, and the brook flowing and swooshing. I felt like I was back on the island of Jamaica, where I grew up my first eight years of life. It was closer to fall or summer, so the cold hadn’t set in.
The program at Inner Fire nurtures spirit mind-body connections designed from experiences that have existed throughout the world for centuries. It is not an alternative; it is a way of life and embracing all that could happen during our human life experience. To connect the mind and body whether you are too far out or too trapped inwards. Guides, the people who work at Inner Fire, get to know the seekers, the people who go there to get support for their overall wellbeing. Beatrice guides the seekers with art therapy, using watercolor and clay. There’s a sauna to help nurture the physical body. People cook together, share a meal, take walks, hikes, clean, and garden; basically, people learn how to live again after being disconnected from others, nature, and our authentic selves.
I left everything about psychiatric “mental illness” services behind me in 2014, and I have never looked back. I shared a bit of that journey in the first piece I wrote for Mad in America, called Just Me: A Series of Reflections on Trauma, Motherhood, and Psychiatry. I have experienced many life adversities in the last eight years with awareness; it is all been grist for the mill. Changing routines for the pandemic had me going outdoors more and connecting with nature, which has been remembering a natural part of my life experience. Self-care has been to speak up where I see injustices and have boundaries so that I have very few to no regrets.
I know Inner Fire is the only place I would go if I were experiencing emotional distress. When I say that, I’m talking about what people call “mental health issues,” “mental illness,” or “addiction.” I just personally don’t use that language because what I think about myself determines how I treat myself and how I teach people to treat me. I acknowledge that I’ve experienced suffering. Periods when I wanted better, but circumstances only got worse. I lacked awareness of the structure of society and how it was created, and instead blamed myself for internalizing the oppression. Inner Fire is the only place I would go because of my personal experience, the people I work with, and family members’ experiences. I know what it is like to be having a difficult time and need time away from home. I know what it is like to get admitted into a psychiatric facility.
My experience in a psychiatric facility was to be drugged the first day to stop me from crying and allow me to get some sleep. Sleep is essential, so that part is not such a bad thing if that’s the only alternative. But the rest—I was left alone on the first and second days, drugged, cried, ate, and slept in the assigned room. No one talked to me about what was happening in my life situation. I received a warning on the third day that I needed to join the groups and spend time in the lounge area with other people. If I didn’t, I would not get “moved up” so that I could get discharged in a timely fashion.
Another time, I spent a long weekend at the community mental and behavioral health clinic. It was the same routine. I was given drugs that caused me to feel woozy, stop crying, and go to sleep. I remember wanting to lie down. Instead, I had to join a group of people in psychiatrist, psychologist, and therapist roles that I did not know in a large room around a conference table. Papers were placed before me with a pen, and they asked me to sign my name. Thank goodness God had set the universe to conspire to give me what I needed long before this incident. It was a painful lesson to learn never to sign anything without reading it first. I lost a lot of money. So, I knew not to sign the papers they had before me.
I didn’t care how much pressure they were putting on me or how stubborn I looked at that moment. I was too drugged and incapacitated to read; therefore, I wouldn’t sign. The people in the service provider roles at the table couldn’t convince me otherwise. I learned sometime after that that the paperwork was to commit myself.
On Monday morning, the person in the therapist role I was assigned came and visited me on the ward. I told them I was good to go. She agreed, and the doctor discharged me to go home on Tuesday morning. If I had signed those papers, I would have given up my right to leave. Once the drugs wore off, I would have expressed anger to discover I was deceived. After all, I was battling that same sense of powerlessness I had experienced in my childhood.
I wanted to go home to my kids. If they had kept me in the psychiatric facility, I would have expressed my anger. My fear and worry would have brought me backward to the feelings I had as a helpless child. My behavior would have been judged “mental illness” by the people with authority in their roles. I would have had no voice to say any different than what they were saying about me. I would have pleaded, gone to court, and the judge would’ve decided in the mental institution’s favor.
I’ve witnessed this scenario happen. I’ve sat in rooms in an advocate role with people fighting for their rights just to go home and observed the judge decide to favor the people in the provider roles. There are a lot of stories like this. The power imbalance is excruciatingly painful and causes moral injury—the violation of people’s human rights (though, ostensibly, the intention is to do the best for them).
The WHO and the UN Support Massive Change in Mental Health
The World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations (UN) have asked for a change in how mental health services operate. In 2017, Dainius Pūras, former UN Special Rapporteur (2014 – 2020), wrote (Click here to read the full article, World Health Day: Power Imbalances and Inequalities Big Part of Poor Mental Health, in the Health and Human Rights Journal):
“The biased and selective use of research outcomes has negatively influenced mental health policies and services. Important stakeholders, including the general public, rights holders using mental health services, policymakers, medical students, and medical doctors have been misinformed. The use of psychotropic medications as the first line treatment for depression and other conditions is, quite simply, unsupported by the evidence. The excessive use of medications and other biomedical interventions, based on a reductive neurobiological paradigm causes more harm than good, undermines the right to health, and must be abandoned.”
Supporting Loved Ones
My loved one struggling to stop using substances brought more awareness to me about how I’m taking care of myself. I saw the oneness, and it also works to treat yourself how you treat people and not just treat people how you want them to treat you. I say that because we seem to treat others better than how we treat ourselves. I wrote a blog called Take Care of Yourself When You Support Others to Help Themselves” as that awareness came to me.
My loved one was working to help themself by going into rehab, and they shared with me what happened. In February, they went down to Florida to a treatment center and experienced sexual harassment by at least two staff after they came out of the shower. They filed a complaint, and the female staff also tried to victim blame and shamed them into preventing them from filing the report.
All their personal belongings, books, and phones had been taken away at admittance. They were offered a pack of cigarettes on arrival and flavored vapes, as many as they wanted. They experienced people laying around and some shacking up together. They said one person followed them around because the younger person needed someone that would listen to them, and my loved one made themself accessible. They spent a lot of time listening and supporting other people as the staff wasn’t accessible.
They experienced the staff not following through with the paperwork they said they would complete to help them with the short-term disability to keep their job. The psychotropic drugs contributed to vivid nightmares. They were prescribed seizure medication, but they don’t have seizures. It was causing so much pain in their body. When they read the side effects, it summed up what they were going through. They were given more drugs for the side effects. Finally, they were just kicked out of the facility with no plane ticket to go back home because they followed through with filing the complaint to ask for disciplinary actions for the staff’s behavior.
One staff had a hard time with them and called me to learn about them. I told the person I couldn’t speak about them without them. I later learned they had argued, so he was calling to learn about them to use it to manipulate them to have power over them. I’m sure it is normal for people to do, and scared family members open up and share stories about their loved ones because they fear for the lives of their loved ones.
I describe the low-income mental health and addiction treatments paid for by insurance companies. Psychiatry has made just about all human emotions a disorder. I know that the diagnoses are not scientific, as I learned from Dr. Paula Joan Caplan (July 7, 1947 – July 21, 2021). Dr. Caplan sat on the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) committee. She shared her disappointment when she learned there was no science behind the diagnoses, but only people who have power get to decide who is normal.
Even worse, Dr. Caplan saw the injustices toward women and others discriminated against in our society. Therefore, she found it necessary to continue speaking up as part of her life’s work. You could see her sharing the modern myths of “mental illness” at the 2018 National Association for Rights Protection and Advocacy (NARPA) Conference in Baltimore, Maryland.
Dr. Caplan is not the only person in her field to have spoken up to ask for a different approach to supporting people experiencing emotional distress. You could check out the A Disorder for Everyone website and AD4E YouTube page. The list of people from Dr. Lucy Johnstone, Jo Watson, Sera Davidow at Wildflower Alliance, Dr. Akima Thomas (founder of HER, the Holistic Empowerment Recovery model), Robert Whitaker, Dr. Jacqui Dillon, Peter Bullimore, Dr. James Davies, Dr. Sami Timimi, Dr. Gabor Maté, Johann Hari, Prof. Mary Boyle, Ruth Dixon, Dr. Sanah Ahsan, Dr. Joanna Moncrieff, Laura Delano at Inner Compass Initiative and The Withdrawal Project, Noel Hunter, PsyD, Magnus Hald, Carina Häkansson, the body of work at PCCS Books, and many others speaking up advocating for change.
Why Inner Fire? Spiritual and Holistic Health Are Needed!
I know that Beatrice does her best at Inner Fire to offer some discounted rates, but for the most part, if I ever needed to spend six months to a year at Inner Fire, I wouldn’t be able to afford it. The three-day offer to get a glimpse and make some inner connection is a gift, and I decided to fundraise for the Support Seeker Fund so that one person could have that experience. I learned from Beatrice that she didn’t take pay for doing her work as the founder and Executive Director when I watched her interview with Dr. Kelly Brogan.
There are statistics to show the cost of psychiatric hospitals. People revolve in and out of those places with a bleak outlook on their human experience. Ram Dass (April 6, 1931 – December 22, 2019) said that if you are looking to fix the psychological before the spiritual, it will be a cold day in hell, a very long time. Gary Zukav says in The Seat of the Soul that psychology is about the study of the spirit, but it has never been that. It is about the five sensory personalities, and because of that, it could never heal at the level of the soul. (Paraphrasing both.)
The spiritual and holistic health practices are hard work, but with guidance, they are accessible. Insurance companies need to think about the people and the money. It makes sense to invest money so people get support to face what happened to them, have a wholehearted human experience, and not repeatedly return to rehabilitation centers, prisons, and psychiatric institutions.
My loved one cannot afford to go to Inner Fire at this time in their journey. I know someone else could afford it, which motivates me to know that change is happening. I look at the oneness of how this life experience is unfolding. It is all working out for our good. I pray that “God’s will be done.”
I am optimistic at the same time because I understand what is happening in this world between poverty and mental health. I hope that someone reading this could donate to Inner Fire to support people with less economic wealth. Psychiatry has the drug companies backing them and spreading the disease/illness model of emotional distress, and the pain is roaming the Earth, and there seems to be no end to the power imbalance. The awareness of the work happening at Inner Fire needs to be known and multiplied at every corner of this Earth; that is my prayer and the primary reason I started the fundraiser to share awareness!
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.