Are you aware something incredibly special happened last weekend? I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t been a participant.
A group of magicians gathered in a non-descript conference room last Thursday evening, Friday, and Saturday. We had all been chosen to be part of this gathering. To begin with this meeting resembled thousands of others. Polite introductions, bottles of water, ring bound folders, pens, name tags, dishes of individually packaged mentos lollies on the table, a white board. The reason for meeting could have been anything.
It felt like familiar territory. Until we began bit by bit, to describe our countries of origin, and the terrain we had traversed to get to this meeting. It had not been a quick or easy journey for anyone. It had taken most, if not all of us years and years. And we had all encountered horror along the way. Most of us had wrestled with death at some point. We had been cut by sharp rocks, blown off course by hurricanes, nearly frozen solid in blizzards, and felt our skin and hair singe as we galloped through fire after fire. We had encountered monstrous beings from other worlds with fangs and claws and ghoulish eyes. And when we were injured, sometimes we had no one to tend our wounds but ourselves.
And yet here we were: not merely living, but alive, strong, intelligent, eloquent, passionate, and driven. So very driven. Driven not so much to delve into and compare the details of the horrors we’d survived, but what wisdom we had gained from the experience. The room’s walls expanded to accommodate the amount of wisdom in the small space. As I listened to my fellow magicians I wasn’t chilled by their histories, I was warmed by their conviction to spin the excrement life had served them into gold. I realised we had each brought our own gift, a gift borne out of years of suffering, but soldered with love. The realising of common ground set the room aglow.
We wore different coloured cloaks to identify the country we’d set out from. Some of the countries represented were Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Addiction Disorders, Eating Disorders.
But the colours of our cloaks were the least relevant detail because even those who shared a country had encountered different obstacles on their trip into that conference room. Everyone’s story was unique.
I retraced my own steps into that room and realised that much as I had desperately wanted to be at this point for years, I hadn’t been ready before now. The first few years after getting sick I just wanted it gone. I wanted it behind me. There is no way I could have done this work. Each time it dragged me back into its territory, immense indignation at the unfairness of it all blasted through me. I was still too angry to be ready.
The urge to advocate started in the last five or six years. So, I picked up a cloak and talked about my terrain here and there. But I felt alone in my efforts. Not everyone with a mental illness has a passion for advocacy, not to mention the kind that is burnt into your bones so deeply you can’t turn away from it even if you wanted to. Often the scars of stigma, or the symptoms of the illnesses themselves make it impossible for people to voice their experiences let alone stand up for their rights.
When I left that conference room for the last time on Saturday afternoon I felt exhausted and emotionally drained. I also felt exhilarated, because for the first time in my life I no longer felt as though I was fighting for my beliefs alone. I felt understood, truly understood, and honoured to be a member of this group of survivors who are committed to converting what could have been the worst thing in their lives into the best.
The mainstream media almost never has anything positive to report about complex mental illness and the people who live with it. Invariably we are automatically assigned a narrative of victim or villain. I would have loved to have had some journalists in that room with us. They would not have found a splashy ‘psycho’ head line. They would have found a demographic who are so often spoken about and for, reclaiming their narratives and using them for good.
They would have found magic.
I spent the weekend doing SANE peer ambassador training. To learn more about this go to:
If you enjoyed this post, you may also be interested in: