Thoughts About The Role of Activism in Radical Mental Health

In considering what I understand to be the roots of the radical mental health movement and ethos, activism runs deep.
(My understanding of said root and ethos was/is largely informed by readings, an informal contextual sense of thematic cultural history and this article:
I know, for me, the activism component is based in having always been a little too aware, a little too compassionate, a little too unable to lie to myself about the world. This constellation of personal attributes, for me, resulted in a strong sense of social and environmental justice from a really young age.

Of course, this presents problems, because it is not easy to care. In fact, living in the world can become, itself a double bind. In order to live in the world and function in consensus reality, you have to not care about all the things you care about, because mass culture conflicts with what you believe in. You are, in your participation in market and economy and relationship and footprint, plagued with an awareness of the implications of your actions. So, caring and being conscientious can become really isolating and alienating if you don’t have a strong collective or a group with which you are able to openly share in some sort of consensus reality.

I’ve really enjoyed the past few weeks of gathering at the new incarnation of the Asheville Radical Mental Health Collective’s mutual aid/discussion group’s. It’s just great to sit among people who, in their way, get it, understand just how vast and complicated and brilliantly earnestly tragically real the world in our hearts and heads and out and about truly is.
This is the beauty of caring. You notice all the wonder and wounding and healing and possibility in a world that is ancient and young all at the same time. You realize how fleeting it all really is and the smallest things become precious, the bigger picture apparent.
I don’t just care about the world. I love it. I have actually ended relationships because I felt like they interfered with my being in relationship with the world.
What does this have to do with radical mental health?
In my mind, I understand that much of my experience of what was thought to be mental health disorder was really the result of me being heartbroken over the world. I understand that part of what makes me mad is the fact that I really want beautiful and amazing, unlikely and sensible, utterly magical and absurdly wonderful things to happen in the world and that I cannot help but to try to figure how to make those things happen.
I understand that I am not alone in this and that many people who “feel the world deeply” and can’t (or won’t, because they feel they can’t) let go of their convictions are often deemed to be mentally ill. I also understand that this is grievously wrong.
Thus enters the social justice instinct, the kid aghast at the edge of the playground, “This isn’t right. They’re hurting that person!” The personal becomes very political when one considers how the systems that diminish us in our own stories work to oppress and harm other people, people that we know, people we love, people we might never get know or never have the chance to love, because they will be harmed, they have been harmed.
These simple truths, these undeniable facts, wake something up in me, hard. I cannot deny that amazing people are being lost under fluorescent lights and in waiting rooms, their mouths dry, their souls retreating.
Moreover, I cannot deny that the systems that do this to people are directly related to every other toxic and dysfunctional, brutal and exploitative system that impacts our potential on this planet.
I cannot deny that terrible ideas destroy lives and erase hope.
More and more, I have come to realize that if I am not active, I become unwell. I get depressed, hopeless, suicidal even. I do not think that this is a trick of psychological martyrdom. I believe it to be the result of a cognitive and emotional intolerance for dissonance, meaning that if I go against what is true to me, I get anxious in the process of resolution seeking, and I am easily triggered into other problems and conflicts, doubting integrity and falling headlong into a deep trench of melancholia.
I am very flexible in how I live my truth, necessarily creative, but I have to live my truth…or I can’t live with myself. That is, I suppose, why it became so vitally important for me to explore what, precisely, that truth may be.
For me, activism – of some form – is a wellness tool. It has been for a very long time, first in kindness, then in generosity, then in hands raised and letters written and signs held, at the edge of collectives, volunteerism and autonomo-activism, in which you become a catalytic force in simply being who you are.
Yet, like so many things, what might be a wellness tool in certain quantity and quality becomes depleting, exhausting, or otherwise toxic if not used in a way that is conscientious.
So, for me, activism and radical mental health are really closely intertwined. I cannot separate activism from mental health and I cannot separate mental health from issues relating to fascist corporatocracy and I can’t separate fascist corporatocracy from issues relating to mental health.
Props: This is why Mindful Occupation ( is so awesome and why Icarus itself is so awesome. There are so many resources about how to engage in the instinct to support healing and change, so many opportunities and ideas. There is just so much.
That is what I often come up against. There is just so much…to do, to read, to learn, to write, to make, to message, to plan, to…live?
These are the questions I have been thinking about on a really personal level, in response to some clumsy activism experiences and some really great ones and some that are just tiring:
How does one live in the midst of a severe and persistent activist instinct?
How does one balance activism with wellness?
How can activism be used as a tool in recovery? (<~ for me, this is a pretty *wow* concept, because if people can be empowered toward activism as a way to involve themselves meaningfully in community and act on their compassion and the strength of their voices and stories in the course of recovery (only, of course, if they wanted to, if it was something that resonated with them, as it does with many) …well, that’d be a lot of activists from a lot of different human communities.)
A lot of research and our own common sense says that true happiness comes about from using one’s strengths in ways that are a service to something meaningfully more broad than our own little lives.
In My Own Little Life
It has been a grueling and dazzlingly exhausting few weeks, with additional work in my state-funded job, a barrage of ethical conflicts to sort through, organizing chutzpah and backfire, wonderful/nerve-wracking children, laundry, rain, loneliness and little fits of camaraderie.
I am going to New York this weekend and I cannot wait to ride trains.
Art is here and there, a few drawings, some paper sculpture, essays 1/2 written due to scarcity of time.
I was accepted into graduate school.
I will not quit.

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