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visioning Soteria in radical mental health

Today we’re having a visioning about soteria houses, which are home-like alternatives to hospitalization for people who are in psychiatric crisis.  We’ll discover what we really want, opening up to our truth without judging it.

Creating a soteria house has been a dream of the Las Vegas Radical Mental Health Collective since its beginnings four years ago.  Soteria is important as a place of freedom and healing, an alternative to the harm many of us find in institutions and hospitals that do violence in the name of help.  The values of soteria houses, which include no forced medication and unlocked doors, respect our bodily autonomy and worth as valid people.

We’ll be led by artist Glynda Velasco, who is a member of the Las Vegas Radical Mental Health Collective.  Glynda will facilitate our visioning over zoom.

Please get in touch for the link and password, if you would like to join us.  All are welcome who agree to our safer spaces policy.

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dance party

We had a beautiful dance party–felt great to move some energy through.  I hope Sunday morning is good for you, at Craig Ranch Park.  We’ll do it again next month.

Love to all of us as we feel our feelings.  Thank you for facing reality and doing truth.

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great listener

Thank you to the great listeners.  Thank you to everyone who is there for us and skilled at taking the time to open up to another’s truth.  What an important way to love.

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what we can control

This meme by @cazkilljoy about climate crisis, therapy cliches, and what we can control addresses something we’ve talked about in meetings.

Danger can be something in ourselves, that we create from painful coping strategies.  But there’s also real danger in the world.  There’s the option of adjusting ourselves to the world, and there’s the option of changing the world.

Wellness cliches can be appealing and sometimes helpful.  They can also mean we avoid huge truths.

Climate crisis is real, and the systemic issues that harm our lives, such as racism, misogyny, hatred of queers, hatred of trans people, poverty, pollution, and a culture the doesn’t protect its most vulnerable.

Here’s to finding ways to face reality, and find a good balance between changing ourselves and changing the world, as we do radical care.

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radical care

I like the idea of doing what we can do–no more or less.  I think of it as radical care.  It can be very appealing, to want to do ton, or try to save people.  But that often leads to burn out, and it’s impossible to save people anyway.

Then on the other hand, it can also be easy to get overwhelmed and do nothing.  When I’m overwhelmed, I sometimes want to run away or give up.  Perfectionism can do that to me too–if I can’t do it just right, I’m not doing it at all.

So it feels special, to do something–to find a middle spot where the work is pleasurable and stick with it, for a while.  I’m happy the Las Vegas Radical Mental Health Collective has been going for more than four years, doing what we can do.  Yeah!

how to respond

When someone in our everyday lives or at a meeting expresses huge feelings, big life problems, self-destructiveness, or other intense issues, how do we respond?

An important part of radical mental health for me is to react honestly, caringly, and not with standard wellness cliches.  I want to listen, meet someone where they are, validate, ask how I can help, and give them space if they want it.  The person I’m talking with is someone I deeply respect.  People are allowed to make the choices about their life.

Certainly I don’t want to rush in and try to fix things.  Nor do I want to say, “This is no big deal.  This doesn’t matter to me.”  I want to find a sweet spot that’s sustainable and makes sense for all involved.

I need to be kind to myself also.  How to help others in a way that’s not at my expense is a lifelong lesson.

regret

I’ve had friends and relatives who committed suicide, and that’s intense grief.  I’ve gone through regret, did I do enough, should I have done this or that differently.

The way I treat people is really important to me, including how I care, who I choose to make time for and prioritize.  When I was young, I had very few friends.  As the years pass, I have more friends than I know what to do with.  How I decide who to pay attention to and give energy to is a huge thing to learn.

But I know that I can’t save anyone, a person’s life is theirs to take, and I’m responsible in the sense that I loved them and was part of their life.  But I’m not responsible in the sense that I did my best, and their life was full of many factors other than me.

cause

I often think of proximal cause and distal cause.  For example, you could say a landscaper got skin cancer because they didn’t use sunscreen or a hat often enough.   Or you can say it’s because the chemicals they work with made too many free radicals, capitalism required they work way too many hours, or sunscreen prices are unregulated and they couldn’t afford it.

Likewise, when someone commits suicide, you can say it’s because of the bad news they got the day before, or too easy of access to harm-methods.  Or you could say our culture is dysfunctional, they were isolated by fear, or they had very few tools in their toolbox.

You could stop someone from jumping off a bridge, which is dramatic, but they might just do something else the next day.  I’d rather help create long term well-being by meaningfully being there for someone for many years, than step in at a magical moment for a dramatic save.

I like to work on big systemic issues as well as the small ones.  I want to love my friends and family how they want to be loved, but I also want to change the world.

culture

The work of love has to do with one on one, being there for people, listening, giving, hugging, reaching out, being real, and being vulnerable to an individual.

But the work of love also has to do with being real and vulnerable with the whole world.  I want to connect with individuals and be a good friend, but I also want to do what I can to transform culture.

Adjusting myself to the world is a smart thing to do, when I need to for survival and happiness.  But part of being radical is wanting to change the world.  Racism, misogyny, domestic violence, war, exploitation, hate against queers, harm to mother earth, and many other problems are Not Okay.  I can’t just look the other way, or adjust myself to the destruction.

balance

It’s a lot to balance–my well-being, how to interact with the people I know, how to change culture to be more just and work better for all of us, not just a rich few.

I’m happy to do what I can, treat people with respect, be who I really am, and do radical mental health as long as that makes sense for me.  Thank you for what you do also.

Radical care is a beautiful calling.  Thank you for everyone who answers the phone. —Laura-Marie

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radical mental health collective style

This morning I found this document about Las Vegas Radical Mental Health Collective style, meeting format, and philosophy.  Feels charmingly archaic because it was written before covid, when we met in person.  There’s something about snacks shared, the emotional first aid kit, and the purple sketchbook. Aw!
I miss the purple sketchbook!  The idea came to Laura-Marie in a dream, a group sletchbook we could all write and draw in, during meetings.  I want to find it and give it some attention, during its pandemic hibernation.
Please read on, to see how things are, with the Las Vegas Radical Mental Health Collective.  There are differences now, but over zoom, we do similar stuff!  Thank you for caring about inter-dependence, radical mental health, and loving one another.
how our meetings go
Our meetings are welcoming. Many different people come, of all genders, many ages, many mentalities and life experiences. But most of us have been touched by mental health challenges, whether through the system or on our own. We are pro-choice about medication.
Meetings involve a quick first go around for name or alias, pronouns, and some designated small fact about yourself, such as something you love or a favorite song.
Then we have a moment to explain what radical mental health is for newcomers. We share the emotional first aid kit and purple sketchbook. We pass around the safer spaces policy for you to read and agree to. (The safer spaces policy can also be found here, safer spaces policy, if you’d like to read it beforehand.)
We have juice to drink, and sometimes people bring snacks. Then we have a longer checkin where people have a set time of up to five minutes to speak about whatever they want to–how they’ve been feeling over the past week or anything going on they want to share.
We also talk about mutual aid–if anyone needs something or has extra of something to offer.  The whole thing is mutual aid, but this moment is about physical objects, mostly.
Not talking is ok–you can always pass. We offer hugs, but you can opt out of hugs also. Some people have been coming since the first meeting May 2017, and new people show up all the time too.
It’s a good mix of old and new, and the set format gives it more of a safe feel than the open-endedness of a party. There’s plenty of opportunity to connect with others, but in a way that feels less stressful because there are expectations and the certain order we do things.
for us, by us
This is a group run by people who are considered crazy, for people who are considered crazy. It’s not for the family members of the person considered crazy–it’s more for us, the actual affected people.
However, you don’t have to be crazy at all. You can come to connect with others and be social, for support during a rough spot, or maybe you don’t need support but can offer some. Maybe you like mutual aid and building community.
This group was started by Laura-Marie and Ming and has roots in the Icarus Project. Laura-Marie has a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder, which entails mood swings including depression and mania, hearing voices, extreme states, and times of extreme anxiety. Laura-Marie is a writer (hi!–it’s me writing this!) and makes zines, some of which are about mental health and radical mental health.
The collective has its own zine also, which contains beautiful art and writings about mental health, our collective, the Las Vegas Street Medics, poems, and ways to get more info.
compassion
This group is special because we create a culture of compassion. We listen and respect boundaries, which means offering help when wanted, and being considerate if someone doesn’t want feedback also.
Many of us are unemployed, under-employed, disabled, retired. Many of us are queer and transgender, though not all of us are. Some are parents and some are not. Many are activists, and some are radicals, working to form a new world in many different ways, such as helping homeless people, creating art, working toward justice, street medicine, and waging peace.
A lot of us need a form of support that will accept us outside of the medical model, but many choose to engage with mainstream psychiatry also, to differing degrees. Some of us believe in mental illness as a physical brain disease, while others believe in mental illness as a social problem or response to trauma, or some combination of all this.
We like collaborating with other groups. If you have an idea of how to become involved, please come to a meeting and let’s talk about it, or you can contact us through facebook, our email address, or a phone call.
Below is our old mission statement from the first year the collective was in existence. Thank you for reading, and hope to meet you soon!
old mission statement
Our ideas of mental health are bound up with, and are inseparable from, the structure of the society we live in. In many ways the idea of “good mental health” has less to do with the everyday experiences of human beings and more to do with the degree to which they comply with the expectations of that society. When people do not meet those expectations they are often shamed as crazy, or lacking in good sense, or being delusional. The stigma associated with “mental illness” does not exist in a vacuum, and is not simply an emergent phenomena of human interactions, but rather a deliberate attempt at delegitimizing the suffering of those who do not fit easily within the preconceived and limited “acceptable” ways of being a human.
We are a coming together of people who seek to challenge these ideas, and in doing so create our own language of mental health, one which seeks to empower rather than quiet the voices of those who experience the world in ways that are commonly referred to as “mental illnesses”. We do not believe that these are problems to be solved, or diseases to be cured, but rather natural variances in human experience that should be celebrated. We believe that neurological diversity is valuable and makes our communities stronger by ensuring a variety of viewpoints and abilities are represented within them. We believe that the current psychiatric institutions, because they operate within an environment of social and economic inequalities, are not equipped to assist those most in need of that assistance, and that by reaching out to each other instead we can begin to build a new mental health paradigm, where compassion, self determination, and community support are available to everyone, regardless of economic or social status.
We do not believe that people coming together to help themselves and each other is, independent of this society, a radical notion. We believe that this is the most natural thing for humans to do, because we are a cooperative species, and our health as a whole depends on the health of each individual. That this should be seen as a radical or alternative approach is a reflection of the failure of this society to view those with mental health challenges as being capable of making their own decisions about how best to confront those challenges. Therefore we recognize that in this environment doing so IS a radical act, and so we choose to be unapologetically radical in our approach. We believe that we are our own best advocates, and that we can determine for ourselves and with each other what that paradigm should look like, and we intend to do so.
Our mission is to discover and create together this new language, as well as new ways of caring for ourselves and others with it. We are more than a support group; we are a radical community that seeks to change ourselves by changing our world, rather than the other way around. We envision a world where the differences that make us unique, physically and psychologically, are championed rather than shunned.
We are the Las Vegas Radical Mental Health Collective, and we hope you will join with us in creating this world.
Your uniqueness is essential to it.