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.
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.
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.
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.
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