With mental health, we often create a separation between those that are “sick” and those that are “normal.” But I’ve found that the reality is we’re all on a continuum of mental and emotional wellbeing at any given moment. Whether we develop challenges and imbalances and how well we do when we experience them is also largely dependent on our environemnt, made up of culture, socioeconomic factors, family dynamics, diet, and more.
I remember an incidence when I was volunteering as a nurse practitioner and nurse midwife at a refugee camp on the border of Rwanda and the DRC – the Congo – in Kisoro, Uganda.
A woman walked in through the front doors into the waiting room and started getting into everyone’s face telling them stories, asking questions, walking into exam rooms and picking up stethoscopes and interrupting exams…
and then she went back out to the waiting room, popped a squat, and peed in the corner! it was clear she was having a psychotic episode.
I was watching this wondering, wait, what’s happening? And what are we supposed to do? Aren’t we supposed to do something? Are we supposed to talk to someone, or call someone?
But what I noticed was most people smiled and found her amusing. Some patients waiting twere a little annoyed, of course, but most engaged with her or just chuckled.
Someone cleaned up her pee.
I spoke with my interpreter and she explained that she is a local villager who comes in every now and then and does that. She causes no harm and just stays for a few minutes but eventually leaves (and doesn’t usually pee;).
I thought, holy shit! If that was in the US, someone would have called the cops and she’d have been arrested and probaly experience a very stressful process of being handcuffed and dragged away and put into a jail and whatnot.
Later, I heard Gabor Mate say that “the best place to have schizophrenia isn’t North America with all its meds. It’s a village in Africa or India” where there’s acceptance; where people make room for your quirks; where conneciton isn’t broken but maintained, where one isn’t not excluded or ostracized but wher you’re welcomed, and where there’s room for you to act out or express what you need to.”
Disease isn’t an isolated instance. It’s a culturally constructed paradigm.
Those of us who live in a materialistic society, in a culture that cuts us off from our spirituality and connection by ignoring emotional and social needs and idealizing individualism, materialism and consumerism and distancing from nature are set up for pathology.
What we value in modern industrialized society isn’t who people are, but what people produce or consume. Those who don’t do either are pushed to the side and devalued, like our elders.
In a healthier society where we aren’t walking around in a myth of normal, people are more likely to make room for our differences; where we aren’t excluded, but welcomed in.
Symptoms of different diagnoses – depression, anxiety, etc. – can be present in all of us at certain times in different degrees. A continuum.
Often, there is too much focus on treating the symptoms rather than the underlying root causes. When we do this, we tend to worsen the illness over time because we’re not addressing the root cause, which persists and causes more suffering.
A lot of people receive these official diagnoses when sick enough to seek out help. But many of us live with these symptoms sans a diagnosis, day to day, some days worse than others.
But we don’t need to receive an official diagnosis before starting to address some of the essential root causes.
When we can own and see the common humanity of this suffering, we can stop saying, oh whew! I’m glad I don’t have that disease. Or, wow sucks to be them. But rather, we can start to inquire why are so many us -if not all of us – feeling this way?
When we can let go of the myth that there is some kind of “normal” that walks around unaffected by the dysfunctional in our society, there is less “othering” and more genuine compassion for others – and ourselves; there is less fear, knowing we’re not isolated and alone in our experience.
Now, the root causes of mental health issues are generally not rooted in biology. Sure – they’re connected. But there is no gene or group of genes that if you have it, you’ll for sure get a specific mental illness.
The closest we have gotten to that is research that shows if you have a large group of amorphous genes, you may be more likely to develop a range of mental illnesses. However, this arguably proof of an increased sensitivity more than a tendency to have a specific mental illness.
So, when we’re looking at all the children in our communities with various diagnoses, perhaps they are more the canaries in the coal mine. When a canary dies in a coal mine, the miners didn’t say, “Hey! The bird just died. Must be weak.” NO. They said, “Time to GTF out!”
Why do we tend to see those with mental illness in our society as weaker somehow? Why can’t we see it as an indicator of an unhealthy environment expressed by those with an exquisite sensitivity?
Krishnamurti said, “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”
I think we’re in a society that has unnatural stressors and in a context where it is so challenging to learn how to manage them. Instead, we learn to repress our feelings.
Gabor Mate said, “Biology is shaped by our social circumstances and psychological experiences.”
So there’s culture, socioeconomic systems, oppressive systems, multigenerational family history and intergenerational trauma… these are all part of the environment, and all of them impact the individual.
And since we’re all impacted by our environment, there is no “normal,” as we use traditionally use the term.
There is no single person with no symptoms that are in the DSM-5 (which, BTW was initially created for statistical data collection and severe inpatient cases).
The unhealthy societal conditions, the harmful thoughts and beliefs we hold within us, have to be addressed no matter what.
We can also stop looking to shift our circumstances or history – because that can’t change anyway – and instead shift how we relate to it. The story we tell.
When we see it’s not what happens to us, but what happens inside of us, then we have the power to heal. Knowing we have choices can help us make a shift.
This means a change of our worldview is required, because that is what gets shifted with trauma and growing up in a toxic society. While medications can be life-saving, addressing the root cause of our chronic illnesses will require a lot of discomfort, because the solution isn’t in keeping the treatment biological in a pill. It’s in recognizing that the root cause is often in our environment and how we choose to relate to our life experiences.
That means we are empowered and responsible for how we feel – and that can be scary AF. But it’s worth it.
You will learn:
// Why there is no such thing as “normal”
// How modern industrialized society influences pathology
// What we can do to stop “othering” people (and ourselves) who have mental health challenges
// Where mental health issues often stem from in the first place (hint: it’s not all our biology!)
// How psychedelics, meditation, and time in nature can help us change our worldview AND help us heal
// Episode 50: When Someone You Love Has a Mental Illness
// Episode 97: Psychedelics and Spiritual Practice
// Learn more about “The Myth of Normal” in Gabor Mate’s book
// If you want to dive into this level of healing with a small group of self-identified womyn, having plant medicine retreats in Alaska and Hawaii, adventures in nature and learning more about your mind and your deeper Soul Purpose, visit AdventureMastermind.com to get on the waitlist to be the first to hear about the next dates and locations. (P.S. If you’ve already done the mastermind, stay tuned for a special alumni retreat. We’ll pick up right where we left off and dive even deeper!)
// If you’re new to the squad, grab the Rebel Buddhist Toolkit I created at RebelBuddhist.com. It has all you need to start creating a life of more freedom, adventure, and purpose. You’ll also get access to the Rebel Buddhist private group, and tune in every Wednesday as I go live with new inspiration and topics.
// Want something more self-paced with access to weekly group support and getting coached by yours truly? Check out Freedom School – the community for ALL things related to freedom, inside and out. Learn more at JoinFreedomSchool.com. I can’t wait to see you there!