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mental health is a spectrum

There is no established “normal” level of any given neurotransmitter.

Different people will have different innate tendencies towards euphoria, melancholy, mania, depression, psychosis, dissociation, etc., and this varies throughout an individual’s lifetime as well. This variability does not necessarily correlate to comparatively lower levels of neurotransmitters like serotonin, norepinephrine, GABA, and dopamine.

Our brain biochemistry is responsive to socioecological stimuli and shifts in our habitat/environment, e.g., depressing conditions increase rates of depression among vulnerable individuals, and can even induce depression in people who might otherwise not be prone to it. This is true for other states of so-called mental disorder as well.

Given all of the above, to say mental illness is caused by a chemical imbalance is incorrect, and in fact harmful.

Why is it harmful?

The medical model is a tool of individualism and neoliberal capitalism. By compartmentalizing mental disorder into individual differences and vulnerabilities, we:

– elide the systems and structures that create the conditions which allow mental suffering to persist,
– enable preferential treatment of pharmaceutical interventions that can cause serious and permanent physical harm, and
– provide justification for the forced treatment, incarceration, and torture of psychiatric inpatients, as well as coercive mental health conservatorships.

Your mental distress not being caused by a chemical imbalance does not make your suffering less real or less worthy of treatment to alleviate it. It does not mean that you are responsible for your condition or that you are not disabled by your condition.

To explode the binary of sane/insane we must recognize mental health as a spectrum, like the spectrum of bodies, of neurotypes, of health in general. We are not imbalanced. We are beautifully diverse humans navigating an unbalancing time.

more thoughts on reality and cycles of dormancy

(Below text supplements above video and vice versa. As above, so below, but not precisely.)


I want to talk a bit more about the nature of reality. Specifically, the nature of the reality of living as a multiply marginalized, neurodivergent person at the end of a world. And I say “a world” in quotes because I believe a new world is being birthed as we speak, but that’s a topic for another day.

My particular reality is this: I am a person with ancestors who were enslaved and colonized, and I am also a person with ancestors who enslaved and colonized. In this incarnation, this physical form, I am oppressed and I am oppressor, or oppressive. I have had psychic and physical violence inflicted on me by other living beings, and I have inflicted psychic and physical violence on other living beings. Those are the lessons given to me. And I have learned from all this that there are many realities that converge within us.

Another aspect of my reality: I am neurodivergent. As a teenager I was diagnosed with multiple mental illnesses, and in the wake of my early-thirties escape from the mental health enterprise I’ve diagnosed myself with some sensory and processing disorders (ADHD, autism). But I still identify as a Mad person, a person who experiences extreme emotional states and “altered” realities.

My experience as this person has forced me to reconcile overlapping realities. The world says I am depressed when there is no reason to be, or I am depressed because my brain chemistry is out of whack, or I am depressed because I experienced trauma. All of this may be true, but I’m not trying to debate that right now. Right now I am asking questions.

Like—what does it mean to be depressed at the end of a world? What does it mean to dissociate from an untenable reality? Why must I accept the consensus on my reality, that I am abnormal, that I need to be treated, when we don’t say the same of winter, of autumn, of leaves dropping and trees going into dormancy, of bears trundling into hibernation? What if all these things that I have been told for my entire life are undesirable features of my neurology are in fact valuable parts of the spectrum of human experience?

Here I also want to talk about interconnectedness, the ways we mirror each other and the world around us. How those threads connecting us and the nonhuman world have been severed by individualism, colonialism, and white supremacist capitalism. How death is a lifting of the veil that makes us seem separate from the Universe itself. And how depression is a small death. How it can nudge us towards reconnection. How we are perhaps vessels for the grief of ecosystems, of other humans far from us; how we are being asked to mourn losses we maybe can’t perceive in the moment, but are worth our attention nevertheless. And how we can also channel joy from a distance. How offering compassion to others can help us extend it to ourselves. How helping others lifts us up as well. The veil lifted, the illusion of separateness demolished.

And I think about how those of us who see and hear things that seem unreal might be seeing and hearing things someone else saw or heard once. I think about the magical nature of my own reality, how sometimes I think things into and out of tangible existence, how powerful and frightening that magic can be. How my love has kept people alive, how collective love is necessary for life.

This is magical depressive realism: our interconnected psyches, our ways of navigating overlapping realities. Colonized and colonizer, enslaved and enslaver, sick and well, madness and whatever sanity looks like in this upturned world. I reject consensus reality if the consensus is that we should keep exploiting each other and the Earth, that one group of people—white people and particularly rich white cisgender men as a subset of that group—should be excluded from suffering while the rest of us are left to carry the burdens of existence on our own. I’m living in my own reality as much as possible, and they can call it delusional, but it’s a place where we, QTIBIPOC, are valued and supported and loved and even exalted.

I want—no, I need y’all sane folks to listen to us when we tell you this realm is miserable, when we tell you we must escape. If we are to remodel the human world in a way that is supportive of life, the experiences of MMIND folks (mad, mentally ill and neurodivergent), especially queer & trans & intersex, Black and Indigenous, sick and disabled MMIND folks, must be our blueprint.




(reposted from instagram for accessibility)

The phoenix. A brilliantly colored bird that burns to ash only to rise again & fly away home in an ever-repeating cycle. A resurrectionist, practiced in the craft of making themselves whole after tearing themselves apart. A kindred spirit to those of us with brains that like to upend things.

While many cultures describe an immortal bird that is associated with the sun (i.e. the Chinese fenghuang), the myth of a bird that rises from the ashes is thought to originate with the ancient Egyptians. Bennu, a bird who represents the soul of the sun god Ra, is described as living 500 years before dying in a blaze and rising again to carry the ashes of its ancestral self to Heliopolis. This cycle of death-birth-rebirth repeats until the end of time.

Where the phoenix myth appears, it is used as evidence of the cyclical nature of existence, of our resilience as humans who can die little deaths and still continue on. For me, I see the phoenix myth as instructive of a way of being, a practice: fall apart, come together again, repeat.

As a disabled, multiply neurodivergent person, and as someone who experiences extreme emotional states and altered realities, I find that the human-made world in its current configuration can be too much to bear, too often. Sometimes I can’t move, speak, or process information. Sometimes I just need to detach myself from reality and let all the laundry build up and gnash and wail and moan until there’s nothing left in me.

I fall apart in slow motion sometimes, over a period of weeks, months, years. But always, I come back to reality, gather my ashes, fly home.

Falling apart is a practice. An honoring of the cyclical nature of the self. We need to be able to fall apart safely, but too often, we must fear the repercussions. Falling apart can mean missing work, missing meals, missing rent. Falling apart can get you institutionalized. Falling apart in front of the wrong people can be a death sentence, especially if you are Black. And still, falling apart in safe spaces is how I survive.

I know from experience that the emotions I fear might break me will pass through me like a wave if I lean into them. I know that I can remain tethered to shore by my love and breath and purpose, that I will not disappear into the vast ocean of myself if I allow these realities to unfold. I know that I am capable of incredible feats of magic: I have put myself back together again multiple times despite believing myself irrecoverable.

Right now I am in the process of slowly falling apart again. The world itself seems to be slowly falling apart, and it is overwhelming. It feels like we will not arise from this, that this may be a final disintegration. But I remember having felt this way before and risen the next day. I know that how it feels in the midst of a transformation is not reflective of the final result. I know that no matter how uncertain we might be about the outcome, we can still share wisdom with each other, we can still engage in acts of love and communion and resistance. We have worth even as we are coming undone.

As the phoenix burns, does it suffer silently? Or does it cry out, pleading for respite from its fate? Nothing in the mythologies I’ve read mentions the torment a phoenix must endure, but I can imagine, because the deaths I myself have experienced were not gentle.

The death our society is experiencing is not a painless one, either. And a resurrection from the ashes of whatever is left when this is over will also need us to curse and toil. But there is always joy to be had, and celebration. As long as we remain within the cycle. As long as we live to rise again.

Creating space/time to fall apart safely within will help make sure we do.

If you feel like falling apart… lessons from the phoenix

  • Set up an emergency plan, a mad map (check out pubs by @fireweedcollective), and/or a psychiatric advance directive, so if anyone catches you mid-collapse they’ll know what to do.
  • Talk to roommates or family about your needs. If you’re close enough, explain to them that you’re dealing with x mental health struggle and you need some spacetime to just let things out, so please don’t worry, and you’ll check in when it’s over. If you’re not close, just tell them weird stuff will be going on in your room/space/etc. for x hours/days/weeks, and you need them to be chill about it and not call the cops.
  • Depending how long you plan to be a mess, make a plan to check in periodically with friends, whether online or IRL, or family, so they know you’re still alive.
  • Find a space where it’s safe to cry, scream, throw things, dance naked, whatever you need to let this move through you. Do this for however long you need to/are able to. If self-harm is a concern, remove things from the space you might use to hurt yourself (ask for help with this if needed and available). The closer you can get to creating a space where you can completely abandon societal norms around behavior and masking your crazy, the better.
  • When it’s over, baby yourself back together. Order takeout if you’re hungry, get in a warm shower or bath, masturbate, do art, watch trash online. Whatever best eases you into this reality. Don’t plan too much for the days after a scheduled collapse if you can avoid it. Let the tender edges of your self heal over first.
  • Integrate time to fall apart into your routine if you can. Once a day, once a week, once a month, however often you need. Allowing yourself to feel and experience what you must suppress to get through everyday life is a powerful tool for self-preservation.



(reposted from instagram for accessibility)

TW: death, suicide attempts, hospitalization, r*pe, IPV, police violence

This moment in time feels like The End for a lot of us. The myriad crises we are facing—white supremacist fascism, climate chaos, ever-mounting COVID-19 deaths and infections —loom apocalyptic, cataclysmic.

Every day is a universe unto itself, yet somehow we string them together, continue putting one foot in front of the other on the long march towards what feels like an ultimate doom.

I want to honor the reality and gravity of our collective situation. We haven’t taken nearly enough space for grief, for feeling these tectonic shifts in ourselves and our human-made world.

A huge chunk of our population has fallen ill and perished within a few months. Black maGes continue to be murdered by police and intimate partners, strangers, anyone. Our country seems on the brink of civil war. For those folks who have died, who will die, this moment is The End.

But for the rest of us, it is not. It is An End. There is a distinct difference.

An End for my personal world has looked like memories of childhood rape flooding back to me in the middle of a school assembly at ten years old.

An End, for me, has also looked like courting The End by swallowing enough pills to kill me multiple times, and being forcibly incarcerated in psychiatric facilities as punishment.

My world has been shattered and remade multiple times, like the Earth in its infancy. And like the Earth, I am continually changing, unfinished. I will meet An End again, just as surely as another cataclysmic meteor will hit this planet in the next billion years.

But: until I die, until The End, I can shift course. I can grow.

Sometimes An End looks like someone we love abandoning us, or losing a job, or getting kicked out of school, or losing secure housing. And sometimes, for some of us, those situations do evolve into The End. But sometimes, for some of us, they don’t.

Our human-made world is in the middle of An End that could very well evolve into The End of our species if we do not change course. But for now, we are, gracefully or not so, inhabiting the space of An End. And that space is full of so much promise.

Because after An End, there is A Beginning.


Beginnings are difficult times, messy times, but they are hopeful. We have survived a brush with The End. The possibilities for our lives seem endless.

Beginning anything, any new way of living, requires care and cultivation. There will be missteps & stumbles. Sometimes we might seem to go backwards, looping like eddies in a temporal river.

We can look to the rocks below our feet for reassurance.

For eons, the infant Earth was bombarded with debris from the still-coalescing solar system. Our moon was carved from the Earth’s flesh by a direct hit from another baby planet. After the Earth re-formed itself, it was tilted on its axis, but still here.

(Do you know that feeling?)

Our planet has nurtured life and then watched it nearly die off. It has frozen over and thawed, taken multiple asteroids to the chin, and endured millenia-long volcanic eruptions. Whole worlds have ended and begun anew.

And after all that upheaval? We are here, today, enjoying this world, this Earth, this beauty. Snow-capped mountains and savannahs and rainforests and glaciers. The expansive ocean. Our pockmarked moon at its fullest.

When I feel my anxiety rising, when I am depressed by the weight of human and non-human suffering and death, I allow myself to feel it. I cry as if I am an expression of collective grief.

Then, I situate myself in deep time. Geologic time. The scale at which the earth moves. I remind myself that this is not The End of The World, it is An End of This World.

And we can still shape A Beginning.

A question of time

Where are you allowing the false urgency of consensus reality to overwhelm your senses?

How can you place yourself or humanity in a broader context (i.e., deep time) to let some pressure off?

Why are you convinced that the past should be past? Who taught you the future must remain forever out of today’s reach?

How might allowing yourself to live within a better future today make it more possible for us to achieve collectively?



(reposted from instagram for accessibility)


Consensus reality is a postmodern concept, based in the idea that reality is inherently subjective. What we all “agree” is real, is real. That means “reality” is highly influenced by systems of oppression.

We are currently living within multiple consensus realities. The dominant, liberal/neoliberal consensus reality is the WSSCAIP (White Supremacist Settler Colonialist Ableist Imperialist cisheteroPatriarchy), which has us grinding ceaselessly yet somehow still at each other’s necks for scraps, and which is responsible for: the destruction of the planet, the colonization and genocide of the Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island and around the world, the enslavement, colonization, and genocide of African peoples, etc.

There are fascist/alt-right/neoconservative realities which derive from the main consensus reality but are invented fantasies, branches in the timeline. QAnon, for example, believes instead of cishetpatriarchs and capitalists, the world is run by a pedophile cult. Fox News taught us climate change is a hoax, and that COVID-19 isn’t real/was engineered by China, etc.

I clearly don’t agree with the realness of any of that shit. I agree that the WSSCAIP exists, yes. But is it part of what I consider my reality? Not exactly.

What’s real to me? What we human animals need to survive and keep our bodymindsouls thriving. What the non-human animals need to survive and thrive. What plant people need to survive and thrive.  The relationships between all of us, all the things on this Earth of this Earth. The Earth itself, the Sun, the Moon, the relationship between our world and the universe.  Those things are real to me.

Some background: I’m a crazy person. I was diagnosed with a bunch of so-called mental illnesses (bipolar/schizoaffective, DID, BPD, GAD, PTSD, some other stuff) when I was younger, and I was on all sorts of meds for decades. And then later when I was older, I realized they were fucking up my brain and I had to come off them.* It took seven years to withdraw. I had to learn how to deal not only with my underlying craziness but also the craziness that arose in me from the withdrawal fucking up my brain chemistry even more. I faced what i thought was my end numerous times. Slowly, surely, I felt into a way of generative living with my crazy.

I’ve been calling the framework I built around my crazy magical depressive realism, a way of living in the lineage of liberatory madnesses.

Being a magical depressive realist means acknowledging the true, destructive nature of the multiple consensus realities I navigate while, to the best of my capacity, living in and building towards alternate realities. Realities where things that are real are sacred.

It also means accepting and honoring that there are some experiences and affective states that are real, that are created in concert with my bodymindsoul, but somehow exist outside of the bounds of shared reality, and cannot be easily contained by diagnostic labels or symptom profiles, or productively managed by biomedical model-based treatment strategies.

I accept & honor these states & experiences by no longer trying to suppress them in conformance to the WSSCAIP, by caring for myself, allowing my community and pod to care for me, and seeking treatments I can access and that work well for me.

By embodying magical depressive realism I commit to reconciling my personal realities, the universes I hold inside myself, with the realities of others, where appropriate, in order to avoid harm. I am constantly reconciling my reality with the realities of living day-to-day in a world that is hostile to liberation.

At the same time, I do not abide the pathologization of my (our) personal realities and “negative” human emotions/experiences under the WSSCAIP. I respect the lessons depression, dissociation, and other altered states of being have to teach us about our world.

I understand that magical depressive realism is a radical idea in a world where bipolar, ADHD, psychosis, dissociation, BPD, and other so-called mental illnesses are demonized and blamed for lost productivity and profits, for failed relationships and missed opportunities, for the antics of a white supremacist U.S. president. Our ways of being are inconsistent with capitalism. Our existence is resistance. I want us to refuse to compromise our well-being to gain acceptability or access. Our bodymindsouls are too precious to be mined for resource.

If you, too, have had your way of being pathologized, I invite you to choose your reality.

Will it be the biomedical reality, the reality of the WSSCAIP, where you are an aberration, a “broken brain”, a useless eater?

Will it be the reality of liberatory madnesses and magical depressive realism, where you can harness the insights our ways of being offer us, to aid in collectively changing the world?

Or will you embrace an altogether different reality, your own unique way of moving towards liberation? 

Sources: embodied wisdom, black feminist theory, the sociology of mental illness (ex. Creating Mental Illness by Allen v. Horwitz, [2002, UChicago press]), my ancestors, & so much more.

*not the right path for everyone – do what works best for you