Hi Jenna, I’m just back from Australia and getting a chance to read your blog. Your writing is quite eloquent and, as I think I’ve mentioned in person, I so appreciate your willingness to share your story. I feel really special to have walked parts of your journey with you. I am always amazed by the fortitude and strength each of us, as voice hearers, embody on our journeys of healing and discovery. Of course, your story is no exception! Thanks for all that you do for the Connecticut Hearing Voices Network. I hope your state realizes what a beacon and example it is for other states to likewise place their financial backing behind the hearing voices movement; the non-medical, mutual support environments that are hearing voices groups. Keep up the good work and never stop telling your story. I look forward to the next chapter! Much Warmth, ~Lisa Forestell
I’m just back from Australia and getting a chance to read your blog. Your writing is quite eloquent and, as I think I’ve mentioned in person, I so appreciate your willingness to share your story. I feel really special to have walked parts of your journey with you. I am always amazed by the fortitude and strength each of us, as voice hearers, embody on our journeys of healing and discovery. Of course, your story is no exception!
Thanks for all that you do for the Connecticut Hearing Voices Network. I hope your state realizes what a beacon and example it is for other states to likewise place their financial backing behind the hearing voices movement; the non-medical, mutual support environments that are hearing voices groups.
Keep up the good work and never stop telling your story. I look forward to the next chapter!
Much Warmth, ~Lisa Forestell
I’m pleased that you find racism an appropriate topic. If so, perhaps you could speak to it and the many other points I made rather than call out the blackness of two of this blog’s authors because you’re still not actually discussing racism. You’re only offering yet another diversion, yet another ‘us’ v. ‘them’. I mean really! “TWO” really is a huge dose of black voice given the virtual dearth of such voice around here. I’d be keen to listen and engage, not crank about delivery or even opinion. If you don’t know them, be curious. Find out who they are, how they’ve come to the opinions they’ve shared, how they think more black voices might join in this dialogue, etc. This could be so much more than you’re currently allowing it to be.
I can’t say that I’m surprised by the negative feedback this blog has garnered. Honestly, I don’t have the energy to take each of the comments that need some sort of response on, but I do have some pieces I want to add to this back and forth. I want to offer them from a place of love that I have in my heart for all of us. That’s hard just now because I’m seeing a lot of venom coming from our contingent and it has brought both great sadness and frustration, but here goes:
I’ve been seeing variations on a couple of themes being played out here: 1. We don’t see a problem with our amorphous movement. 2. We don’t take kindly to being told what to do 3. Why are we discussing racism when our enemy, the psychiatric system, is oppressing us? We’re losing focus.
As someone who has spent considerable time thinking on the issue of race*, I want to kindly offer that these are arguments of distraction. I’ve used them, in the past, when I felt to tender to look at the part I play in this racist society, one that has been systematically built to favor white folks, one that I have benefitted from greatly. With all that is going on in our world, this is a particularly hard time to expose our vulnerability. It is a scary time but we don’t have the leisure of time anymore. In my estimation, we need to come together, be inclusive, know where our power lies and unite to fight “a great evil that is upon us.”
“Nothing About Us Without Us!” is our primary rallying cry. I offer it here to challenge the idea that we’re okay being a movement represented primarily by white folks. If we are to be true to this phrase, shouldn’t we be concerned that the voices of our black brothers and sisters are not being heard even within our own efforts? That our cry is almost exclusively white and not inclusive or intersectional? That the nominal leaders of our movement are white? How can we speak truth to power when we haven’t figured out how to include all of our voices? How can we know our truth is valid when we are comfortable with the silence of our fellows? Our rallying cry rings false. We are NOT truly representational of those who have suffered at the hands of psychiatry.
Another piece of this dynamic that I’ve been observing with absolute fascination has been the protests of Black Lives Matter, Colin Kaepernick and other POC across our nation. The response of the white power structure has NOT been “What are your concerns?” “Can we learn more of what this is for you?” No. Instead it has been more distraction…smoke and mirrors. We don’t have to consider your issues if: 1. You are angry or violent in our eyes. 2. You are using your platform in our society (which you should be really grateful for) to give voice to something we don’t want to think about right now. 3. You refuse to use the very systems that oppress you to systematically address your issues, you know…the ones that have ignored you for 400+ years…but you absolutely have the right to freedom of speech.
Unfortunately, I’m seeing these same tactics being used against the authors of this blog. Instead of looking for commonality in their words, the pieces we can identify with, being curious about their particular point of view and from where it has been derived, we are denying validity to what they have offered. Some of us have found them to be dictatorial but I’ve known each of their voices (over many years) to be consistently speaking to these issues only to receive the polite white pat on the head. Perhaps that is feeling ineffective? Perhaps they feel the need to get louder, be more directive and assertive because we aren’t listening? Can’t we accept the challenge and look to ourselves to see how we can meet them around this entirely valid issue they’ve brought to us?
Finally, the one that brings me the most pain, and concerns me the most for the future of our movement, is the assertion that talking about racism in this forum is somehow inappropriate, that it isn’t what we’re here for, or that it weakens us by dividing us. I feel divided on a daily basis. It happens when white folks speak to me of the inadequacies of entire races or types of people. They’re often clinicians talking about “low-functioning” or “revolving door patients.” It happens when white folks use the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. to back their own agendas or appropriate the experience of the American black slave when there are more accurate word choices, including the powerful term “psychiatric oppression.” It happens in these forums on a regular basis. It is the ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality that keeps us estranged and ignorant of one another. Now…certainly, this happens among all races and types of people but for white folks, it is an acknowledgement of a certain comfort level we have with the status quo, – at least that is understanding that I have come to. When we say things like that, we’re saying its okay that others don’t have the same opportunities in life that we do and we qualify that with whatever deficit an entire group of people suffer from. If, as advocates for change, we are able to recognize that the clinical language, above, is powerful and used as a weapon, how is it that we are unable to entertain the harmful language that fuels racism? How is it that we cannot acknowledge the intersectionality of all oppressive practices in our society?
My hope for us is to move through the topics of distraction I’ve discussed here. We are people of large hearts and minds. We have overcome so much to come together in this fight. Let’s do ourselves proud, wrestle with our inadequacies and come out stronger on the other side.
With warmth, humility and sadness, ~Lisa
*An arbitrary construct and false narrative used to maintain separation and division for the purposes of building and maintaining dominance/power.
Reading your words, the exhaustion fills me as it often does after a long day fighting this fight that we share. I clench my fists. I scream in my head. I demand that these righteous changes that our common causes require happen immediately. Human kindness, social justice, civil rights seem only philosophy and rarely seen in practical application.
Then I remember a day walking with a friend by the Mystic River. She’s taken me in like a stray and offered to meet my basic needs with her sincerity and connection. As I’ve been in the past, I’m overwhelmed by how thankful I am to have her in my life. She humbly asked me to read the words/story/heart that she has now shared with the world. Seeing it here, on MIA, fills me as it did on the banks of the Mystic.
It is peaceful for me to know you exist – you and so many others that I admire and love. You remind me that I am not alone, that my voice is not singular, that my strength is not measly. I’m so humbled to identify as an instrument of change and to be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with you.
We fight on.
Much love and appreciation, ~Lisa
Exquisite. Well formulated. Well constructed. Love the bunnies (cause some if us need it broken down for us.)
When I read these Globe articles both bile and fear gurgles up in me. Their misrepresentation plays to the fears of the uninformed but they play to me, too. They’re informing me that I can and will be subject to this farce…this growing diagnosis of human emotion.
I guard my emotions and my full self carefully (as those that know me can attest.) When I’ve failed, I’ve been locked up, against my will, shackled, prone in my own home, “for my own good.” The police were answering to their protocol and said so. They were not there to hear me or protect or serve me. They were there to do a job, one that gave no thought to me, my pain, my liberty or the fact that I had broken no law. A decade has passed, I still cringe at every siren and avoid those regaled in blue.
The Globe creates more distance between me and those that have not had a similar experience, more fear, more denial, more separation. They do so with no regard to journalistic integrity or truth, having sought none of our voices. All this…when, as a white woman, I watch my brown and black brothers and sisters struck down in cold blood by similar blue uniforms. My fear must only pale compared to what they carry. My heart breaks for what or our society is willing to tolerate.
Thank you, Sera. If only I could write as fearlessly as you seem to.
Thanks once again for another beautifully written and poignant read. Thanks for baring witness to your own mirrored pain to yet another rape case. In speaking your own pain, you have, in turn, spoken to the pain that so many of us carry, myself included. Like you, sexual abuse is woven throughout my own story, a tapestry of pain and betrayal; a teaching to mistrust, to defend one’s vulnerability, to have no belief in equality or justice. It isn’t in any text book and we often only get sly allusions from our teachers which suggest that it is on us not to attract attention and not on men to not rape. That does not satisfy. The inequity is intolerable. It brings me to respond to your blog when it is more my habit to quietly hold this pain. The system was not created to support the victim of this crime. With a 6 month sentence, rape is a mere misdemeanor. Outraged.
And to those who have repeatedly tried to highjack this thread: This conversation is about the rape culture in this country – period. I, personally, find it amazingly rude and disrespectful to invade the space that was created for that purpose. It is plainly apparent that you have energy around this other topic. Take it to another space as you clearly have little room for anything but like mindedness to a preposterous metaphor. Please, don’t respond to me. I’ve already been obliged to read too much and your opinion has already been voiced. This is mine.
In solidarity, dear Sera. ~Lisa
When I saw this blog go live, I couldn’t wait to read it! As a woman who has been silenced by a culture and its systems created to support the story and power of white men, I was looking forward to recognizing my experience in your words, feeling proud that a space for this conversation can exist on sites like MadinAmerica and deriving a little more hope or positivity around a dynamic that often threatens to swallow me whole.
That, Sera, is certainly what your blog offered. For a moment I took a breath having been validated. For a moment I was able to touch upon the hurts I’ve suffered through systematized and acculturated misogyny without feeling like I’d come apart at the seams. I could reflect on how I am a part of it all at times and grow in my understanding. I looked forward to the conversation that would follow. There have been some really interesting perspectives offered as a result of your blog post and I have felt connected to those authors. However, in the last few days, what could have been a healing journey for me has become just one more example of the white man’s world in which I live. While I have empathy for the folks posting here, it seems they have vastly missed the point of your blog and have taken the space for our conversation and replaced it with their own. Speaking about systematized cultural constructs (in this case, the dominance of those created for/by white men) in no way denies any one person’s experience. That conversation is for another comment thread.
Thanks again, Sera
It is beyond cool to read your words here on MadinAmerica (and see Evan’s awesome video!) As a member of the WMassRL community, I am so proud to count Afiya and all of its many healing relationships among our ranks. I appreciate both the clear lines that have been made to clarify what is and isn’t ‘peer support’ and the grey that is maintained so that each person can identify exactly what does and does not work for them individually. The space y’all have created is invaluable!
With Fondness and Solidarity! ~Lisa
I have a substantial history with the world of mental health. I was first diagnosed in my teens and given my first psychiatric medication. Both my diagnoses and meds were tweaked and multiplied in the 20+ years that followed. I was hospitalized, sometimes against my will. I was removed from my home by police…for “my own good.” I was told I had an SMI, that it was serious and persistent, that I should come to accept the added weight I was carrying, find a hobby, try ECT (like it was a dessert choice) and mix and match my meds until none of it made any sense and I just couldn’t care anymore.
When I became aware of the RLC, I was just starting to move away from my previous identity, that of professional psych patient. I was reducing the prescriptions I was taking, getting more physically fit and was starting to feel like I could contribute again. I had relocated and was living on disability. I had come to a turning point where my only options felt like suicide or changing everything. I was looking for work, part time, not too taxing. I was fragile and didn’t feel like I should represent myself as someone particularly dependable. “Part time should work out okay.” I had been taught to under-value myself by a system I felt entirely unvalued by.
When I came across an RLC job posting for a part time community development position, I felt a spark of who I had been before the years I had lost to my diagnoses. As I read on, I was intrigued that the employer actually wanted someone who identified with the mental health path that I had been on. The ad was respectful and sincere.
Now, I have a substantial history with the world of peer support. I couldn’t have imagined the adventure that I was embarking on when I began working for the Western Mass Recovery Learning Community back in 2007. That timid person who identified so completely with her diagnoses and her limitations wouldn’t recognize who she has become. She works full-time, now. She’s no longer on disability. She’s become well versed in offering trauma sensitive support to people very much like herself (and, more importantly, very much not like herself.) She meets people where they’re at offering unqualified empathy and assurance that they are strong, competent, exceptional people. She understands for herself that much of her life’s difficulties can be attributed to trauma and her unique personhood, not to supposed and scientifically unproven “mental illness” diagnoses. She is not broken and never has been.
She’s designed and implemented trauma sensitive environments, like Afiya. She’s come out as the voice hearer she’s always been and become a stalwart advocate for the Hearing Voices Movement in the US. She confidently offers her voice to the growing chorus of activists speaking out to change a dehumanizing ‘mental health’ system that often swallows both those that work within it and those that seek its help. The woman, once considered by those that cared for her as “a walking catatonic”, has traveled nationally and globally speaking to issues of human rights and training others to offer Hearing Voices groups in their communities. She supports efforts like Hearing Voices and Alternatives to Suicide through curriculum development, outreach, facilitation and training. She counts among her friends activists and people who know their own power both around the world and in her own backyard.
My life since the RLC came into it, a timeline:
In 2007, I started employment with the RLC as County Coordinator, Part time
In 2008, I helped establish the RLC’s first Pittsfield-based center
In 2009, I met a man that would become my fiancé when he walked into the RLC’s Pittsfield Center
In 2010, I became a first-time home owner
In 2010, I developed a curriculum with support from Jacqui Dillon of the UK and started training others as Hearing Voices Group facilitators in the US
In 2011, I moved to full-time employment with the RLC and closed my disability claim
In 2012, I became engaged
In 2012, I was a part of the creation of Afiya, Massachusetts’ first peer respite
In 2013, I developed a curriculum around the amazing Alternatives to Suicide groups which have been birthed and grown through the efforts of my community
In 2014, I traveled to Greece to present at the 6th World Hearing Voices Congress
In October 2015, I will marry a man I may never have met if it were not for the community we hold so dear. Our community, our friends will witness our union.
I offer this testimony and timeline as a qualitative glimpse at what my life has been since the RLC has existed. While I have very actively supported the RLC, both as an employee and community member, my community has supported me in so many tangible and intangible ways that I become choked up trying to enumerate them. With a 50% budget cut looming, I suspect legislators would prefer some quantitative analysis of my existence as it might be easier to wrap their heads around. The work they have chosen to undertake is certainly daunting. I would prefer, however, that they read these words; that they see the value in not reducing my life to numbers; and that they reconsider cutting a budget line that will effectively shut down opportunity for similar and unique stories for others. I would also like to thank the state of Massachusetts for supporting this incredible work for so many years and to especially thank the many people who have been a part of my making a life for myself that I find truly breathtaking. In the coming months, you will find me with my community, speaking to our representatives and advocating on behalf of those who value peer support. Please join us with the power of your unique voice. Thank you.
Thanks so much for offering your thoughts around this difficult subject which as you so aptly frame as rights for “all” not “some.” I would love to sit over a coffee/tea and learn more of your experience.
As someone who also struggles to find and offer her voice, I can not begin to express how much I appreciate you offering yours!
Looking forward to more! ~Lisa
Your clarity resonates! Looking forward to your next installment!