about the theorist
Hi! My name is Tasha Fierce, and I’m a magical depressive realist.
I was diagnosed with numerous so-called mental illnesses beginning in my early teens, for which I took numerous pills for decades. I was told I would need to be on medication for the rest of my life, and even on meds, I could only expect a marginal existence.
In my early thirties, I began a journey of medication withdrawal that would last for six years. In the process, I discovered that many of my diagnoses were inaccurate, as was the prediction that I couldn’t survive without medication. I began to question the prevailing treatment model for “mental illness” entirely.
As a (now fortysomething) queer, fat, non-binary Black femme and a rape/trauma survivor, I experience reality in wholly divergent ways from dominant society. Perspectives like mine will always be considered contrary to the mainstream, demonized, and discarded. I could not look to psychiatry and other colonized sciences for understanding. I needed a new way of understanding myself and how I navigated the world.
After research into decolonial studies and the sociology of mental illness, lots of introspection, and time spent in disabled community, I developed the framework of magical depressive realism. It’s my fervent hope that with it, I can help other mad folks reduce their suffering and transform their understanding of divergent mindbodysouls.
Tasha Fierce is a queer Black disabled nonbinary femme writer, artist, crisis doula, facilitator, and mystic residing in the occupied Tongva territory known as Los Angeles. They hold a bachelor’s in sociology (magna cum laude) from UCLA. Their critically acclaimed essays have been published in WHITE RIOT: PUNK ROCK AND THE POLITICS OF RACE and HOT & HEAVY: FIERCE FAT GIRLS ON LIFE, LOVE, AND FASHION, as well as Bitch, EBONY, NYLON, Bitch Planet, and other publications.
Tasha was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder as a teenager and spent two decades swallowing a dozen pills every day. In their thirties, just as their professional writing career was taking off, a series of unfortunate events made it clear they must find a better way for them to manage their illness. Over the next six years of withdrawal from the medications that had come to define their days, they gained insight into how the medical model forecloses recovery. They also developed a new framework for understanding their neurodivergence—their so-called mental illness—along with a set of tools and practices for dealing with extreme emotional states.
Through their crisis doula practice, liberated transitions, and their disability justice activism with Los Angeles Spoonie Collective, Tasha spreads the gospel they call magical depressive realism, or, “Pleasure Activism for misery”—a radical coming-to-terms with depression, despair, dormancy, decay, and all the negative states of being capitalism seeks to medicate away.
(You can learn more about their work by visiting their website at tashafierce.com or by following @tashajfierce on FB/Insta/Twitter.)
About the Theory
why ‘magical depressive realism’?
The concept of “depressive realism” reveals a conflict between the nature of reality, which we have little to no control over, and the consensus reality we exist in—based in white supremacist capitalism—which tells us nearly everything is within our control. Research by Lauren Alloy and Lyn Yvonne Abramson, among others, shows that so-called “normals” exaggerate their role in determining random outcomes, whereas depressed people see their lack of control clearly. In response, Alloy & Abramson formulated the hypothesis of depressive realism: that nondepressed folks tend to employ positive illusions to maintain equilibrium, that depressed individuals make more realistic inferences than non-depressed individuals, and that their depressive perspective may reflect a more accurate estimation of the world in general.
Magical realism, on the other hand, is a postcolonial Black and Latine literary genre that portrays reality as possessing elements of mythology or fantasy, in what scholars have described as an attempt to make sense of the overlapping realities of the colonized and the colonizer. Magical realism is a political genre that often deals with historical events involving exploitation of land and people (e.g. One Hundred Years of Solitude, Song of Solomon).
Magic is a way of working on reality, and is the root how, the root practice, of magical depressive realism.
Magic is a word for the ways we change our individual and collective consciousnesses with the intention of changing reality. In Dreaming the Dark: Sex, Politics, and Magic, the white ecofeminist scholar Starhawk defines magic as “the art of changing consciousness at will” and notes that political action is a form of magic, as we are seeking to change collective consciousness and in turn cause a shift in our collective reality. Rather than causing change through power-over techniques, she explains that “magical techniques are effective for and based upon the calling forth of power-from-within, because magic is the psychology/technology of immanence, of the understanding that everything is connected.”
Magic requires us to root ourselves in the sacred, in things we respect, cherish and value for their own being, according to Starhawk. It demands that we acknowledge ourselves and other beings as sacred, no matter what forms we take, as manifestations of the Universe, of divine will and consciousness.
That means Mad and neurodivergent people are also manifestations of divine will and consciousness, and should be honored as such, not pathologized and controlled.
Starhawk also names the paradox at the heart of magic: that consciousness shapes reality and reality shapes our consciousness. But as Black feminism teaches us, multiple seemingly contradictory things can be true at the same time.
I am of a lineage of Black feminists seeking to change consciousness in order to change reality, through my political and spiritual work. Through my magic. I see magical depressive realism as a manifestation of Black feminist thought, an act of resistance against Mad oppression, an honoring of the ability my Mad & neurodivergent queer Black femme consciousness holds to enact change. And I want to help empower us all to make that shift from seeing ourselves as broken cogs in a capitalist system to knowing ourselves as fully realized conduits for liberatory transformative god-consciousness.
Magical depressive realism, then, attempts to make sense of the overlapping realities we exist in today, particularly as Black MMIND (Mad, Mentally Ill, and Neurodivergent) folks. At the same time, it asserts that we have unique insights to offer as a result of our experiences, both internal and external/societal, that must be centered in the dialogue around how we reconstruct our societies to be supportive of life.
- Magical depressive realism states that we all exist within multiple realities, some of which are exalted above others. In sociology, consensus reality is the reality we are all thought to share, a reality we agree upon as being real. However, as we learned from depressive realism, the reality of ‘normals’ may be based on an illusion (or delusion, as it would be labeled if they were MMIND folks) of control and the likelihood of positive outcomes.
Right now, we are living in the midst of a proliferation of realities all jockeying for consensus reality status. QAnon, the wellness industry’s fixation on avoiding disease and aging, Fox News/neoconservatism—these are all small group consensus realities that are informed by as well as informing the trajectory of dominant consensus reality, which is what we know as WSSCAIP (White Supremacist Settler Colonialist Ableist Imperialist cisheteroPatriarchy).
- Magical depressive realism seeks to harness the power of our MMIND realities to shape social change, and at the same time, empower MMIND folks to shape their own reality. If ‘illusion’ as it manifests in nondepressives (Alloy & Abramson) is seen as positive, why not lean into the illusions we can create for ourselves? I can imagine that I live, now, in a world where my neurodivergences are celebrated; I can exist within the illusion of us as divine exalted beings here on Earth, regardless of what my surroundings tell me is true.
Normals have created systems of oppression based on the illusion that perpetual economic growth is possible and must be furthered at any cost—including mass exploitation and death—and that they can avoid the suffering inherent to the human condition by shifting its burdens onto groups deemed less-than/Other. We can undo the same systems by listening to what our divergent, ‘deviant’, ‘delusional’ mindbodysouls have to say.
- Magical depressive realism interrogates the WSSCAIP’s predilection for demonizing “negative” emotions and psychic states. Looking at nature, specifically our plantcestors (plant ancestors), we see that states of dormancy and decay are essential. Colonial culture’s refusal to acknowledge the wisdom inherent to such states leads to an all-consuming denial of the reality of disability and death, an ignorance of the needs of our bodies, minds, and spirits for rituals of grieving and respite, the destruction and neglect of environments and organisms deemed barren or unproductive, etc. Magical depressive realism looks at these “negative” states in ourselves and in our surroundings, and sees them as necessary aspects of our existence.
- Magical depressive realism, as a biosociometaphysical model of madness, seeks to undermine the reductionism of the medical model. It draws from the aforementioned concepts of magical realism and depressive realism, as well as disability justice, Black feminist theory, and syncretic witchcraft/ancestral spiritual practices (in particular those of worldwide Indigenous and African diasporic origin). It understands MI as being, at least in part, a manifestation of spiritual forces urging us towards transformation in ourselves and our societies.
Magical depressive realism asks, for starters:
What would it look like if our society embraced a new, metaphysically informed paradigm for understanding so-called “mental illnesses,” that recognizes the sacredness of MMIND (Mad, Mentally Ill, and Neurodivergent) beings?
What would it look like if we, as MMIND folks, internalized that truth, and used it as a guiding principle in directing and managing our own treatment?
What would it look like if we took the idea even further, and tapped into the power our divergence holds to grant us insights that can help destabilize the toxic status quo?