Mentally Ill

The Magnificence of Lifting Our Voices Together

I’m not into sports. I have cheered my kids along in the sports they’ve participated in and I can be interested in the games which are of interest to my friends, family, and associates, but I will probably never be a fan or truly “get” what it means to be passionate about and have allegiance to a specific sports team, say, like the Seattle Seahawks, the new NFC champions who are heading to the Super Bowl on February 2, 2014 for only the second time in their franchise history.

Why do I know this collection of sports trivia? Because of all the voices around me, figuratively speaking, who are speaking up in passionate support and pride of this team. As a matter of fact, the “12th (wo)man” fans of the Seattle Seahawks have raised their voices and joined their enthusiasm together twice since 2011 to cause seismic events to register on the Richter scale.

There is power in lifting our voices together, especially when those voices are in agreement. Have you ever attended a concert, conference, or some other stadium event where the people in the audience were invited to sing the words to a song or anthem they had in common together?

When voices are raised in unison and harmony, it doesn’t matter if each individual voice is pitch perfect. The combined power of shared emotion, meaning, and experience unifies and transforms the disparate, individual voices into a singular, powerful, and magnificent voice that lifts and carries the hearts, minds, and imaginations of all who are participating.

The combination of unified action merged with unified voices can tear walls down according to the Old Testament tale of the Conquest of Jericho found in Joshua 6:1-5 – Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)

An army marches around the fortified walls, steps falling in unison, sending powerful vibrations from their steps into the ground, day after day for seven days. On the seventh day, that same army marches seven times around while the sound vibrations from seven ram’s horns are continuously being played. Then, a prolonged blast of the horns and the combined voices of every member of the nomadic nation of Israel in a mighty shout causes the walls to crumble and fall.

So often that story is relegated to myth. However, after seeing how rowdy football fans can cause a minor earthquake, it seems less mythological and more plausible to me.

Today, in the USA, we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. A flawed and human man who had a dream to end the prejudice and stigma separating and oppressing people because of the differences in the color of their skin and their genetic origins. There is still a very long way to go in achieving that dream. Fifty-one years ago, he raised his voice to share his dream for us to not walk alone but to march ahead in unity to overcome oppression, prejudice, and injustice.

His speech was specific to the experiences of “The Negro.” However, I have little doubt that if he were alive today, he would be fighting against the stigma and prejudice that oppresses and marginalizes those who are neurodiverse and experience a spectrum of “disorders and illnesses” of the brain, as well. Especially, considering the increasing numbers of mentally ill overrepresented in the prisons, jails, and caseloads of probation officers. The National Institute for Corrections reports:

In a 2006 Special Report, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) estimated that 705,600 mentally ill adults were incarcerated in State prisons, 78,800 in Federal prisons and 479,900 in local jails. In addition, research suggests that “people with mental illnesses are overrepresented in probation and parole populations at estimated rates ranging from two to four time the general population” (Prins and Draper, 2009). Growing numbers of mentally ill offenders have strained correctional systems.

An NAACP Criminal Justice Fact Sheet identifies Racial Disparities in Incarceration:

  • African Americans now constitute nearly 1 million of the total 2.3 million incarcerated population
  • African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites
  • Together, African American and Hispanics comprised 58% of all prisoners in 2008, even though African Americans and Hispanics make up approximately one quarter of the US population

A report on Gender, Race, and Mental Illness in the Criminal Justice System by Melissa Thompson, published through the National Institute of Corrections in the Corrections & Mental Health indicates that there is an inequality and disparity in psychiatric evaluations and mental health services received by African-American men who are incarcerated or supervised in the criminal justice system.

Using federal and local statistics on the hospitalization and/ or incarceration of mentally ill persons, this article finds that psychiatric need is not the only factor criminal justice decision-makers take into account when seeking psychiatric explanations for criminal behavior. Instead, demographic, family, economic, and criminal factors are all important in predicting which defendants will be the recipients of psychiatric evaluations in the justice system. In this context, gender and race are important considerations. Violent women, for example, are more likely to be evaluated for psychiatric conditions, while African-American men are less likely to receive psychiatric evaluation.

I can’t stress the importance of using our voices to share our experiences enough. I don’t know what the true statistics are, but for generations people have been taught to suppress the “crazy,” ignore the “down,” to hide the “different,” and to be ashamed of being weak and wounded. We are increasingly criminalizing and marginalizing those who are experiencing cognitive, developmental, and psychological impairments and damage, criticizing them for not being able to pick up and put together their broken pieces. For every individual who speaks up and shares his or her story, hope, strength, courage, and truth is shared with others who do not yet have a voice. If we raise our voices of experience together, we can drown out the voices of stigma, ignorance, and hate.

Please visit The Official Blog For Mental Health Project

Blog For Mental Health 2014

For more stories of Magnificence, join the Creative Buzz Hop #34, hosted by Michelle Liew from Muses from the Deep and Tamara Wood from PenPaperPad.

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Mentally Ill or Neurodiverse?

Blog For Mental Health 2014Earlier this week I reblogged the launch of Blog for Mental Health 2014, a movement to raise awareness of and destigmatize Mental Health issues, diagnoses, and concerns. Here is my pledge:

I pledge my commitment to the Blog for Mental Health 2014 Project. I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others. By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health. I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma. ~ A Canvas of the Minds

A new blogging acquaintance of mine, wrote an article on her blog, Crazy Good Parent, “Naming Names: Why “The Mentally Ill” Is The Wrong Thing To Call Us.” In this article she brings up the issue of how those of us who experience mental health “issues” are labelled by ourselves and by others and how the term “Mentally Ill” is a term which automatically instills negative connotations and responses both in us and in those who believe they do not experience such difficulties. She shared that one of our mutual blogging friends has coined the term, “Neurodiverse,” as a positive and constructive label, which eradicates the false wall separating us from the rest of the population. I agree.

The truth of the matter is that there truly is no such thing as “normal.” Normal is a statistical construct to classify and categorize a standard by which a statistically represented 80% of the population can feel comfortable and at ease about themselves because they fall into what is considered to be a “normal” range. The truth is that these kinds of statistical representations tend to follow a curved spectrum from a low, rising to a peak, then going back down to a low. The “normal” portion of the curve is where 80% of those tested fall on that curve. It’s actually where “grading on the curve” came from and why people who actually either studied more or understood the material better or easier came to be ostracized and criticized by those who fell in the “normal” range, because they raised the curve and expectations of the educators who used that method of grading. At any rate, the point is, that there is always a spectrum or range from low to high with which people function whether it be socially, intellectually, cognitively (the two are not really the same), or by any other operational measure.

It’s taken me a very long time to realize and accept that the things I have been criticized and blamed for, things which I have hated myself for, were things which were not correctly identified, understood, or taught about.

We toss about and misappropriate mental health diagnoses and joke about them the way Archie Bunker used to tell his bigoted racial jokes, getting canned laughter and increases in popularity because it makes us feel better to pretend that there is a “them” we are not part of, which makes “us” better. This is a big lie which keeps us sick and dysfunctional in our world, creating divisions and hiding the fact that we not only believe that there is such a thing as the “deserving poor,” but that there is also such a thing as mentally ill people who are worthy of dignity, support, encouragement, and respect and those who are not.

Once upon a time in America those who had visible physical deformities, with corresponding intellectual and cognitive delays and disabilities, were treated horrifically. In some places that may still be true today. However, we now have things like Special Olympics where the people who experience these differences are still taught to respect themselves, each other, and to work to the best of their abilities, within the context of who they are and what they have to reach to achieve whatever they think they can achieve.

Concurrently, there are multiple generations of people whose physical appearance and basic communication skills gives them the appearance of “normality.” They may be socially awkward, excel at spatial relationships but be incapable of understanding how to function or navigate within complex systems. We may be able to process and understand anything we study, yet be unable to make consistently rational decisions and have failed to achieve our potential, as determined by family members, friends, and society, despite numerous efforts.

If we “look normal” and our actions and outcomes fail to meet “normal” expectations, then, we are often considered to be broken, less than, at fault, and to be shunned and discounted as being unworthy or unwilling to help ourselve to be more normal.

I’m not normal. I haven’t had a normal life. I wasn’t born of normal people and was not raised according to normal standards. I haven’t had a normal day in my life, except that every day has been normal for me. I’m finally coming to understand what my kind of normal is and forgive myself for not having been normal and not knowing how to work with the normal that was mine while raising my oldest two children. Now that I’m doing so, I’m understanding that I want to raise my youngest daughter to accept herself and her normal and that I want her to learn to accept that other people will have their own version of normal.

Just as we are culturally and ethnically diverse, with different gifts and skills, we are neurodiverse with different neurochemistry, different life experiences which have affected brain development and cognition, different genetic predispositions for different diseases, disorders, addictions, and compulsions, and have been raised by people with different abilities to teach us how to live inside of our skins and inside of our brains. We are neurodiverse and there is no normal.