At every juncture in my own encounter with madness, something inside me knew there was value and insight to be mined from the experience. But I often felt alone advocating for that idea! Like so many of us who have been through big personal experiences, I found myself surrounded by the widespread “mental illness” model. It’s everywhere. I was trapped by the weight of mainstream assumptions that said my experiences meant I was sick. I was hospitalized and prescribed drugs, after all. Isn’t that what they give to sick people? If they gave me a label and now say I have to take drugs and see doctors and follow their advice, doesn’t that mean I’m sick?
It was very difficult to gain clarity and find meaning while getting bombarded with fearful, hopeless, stern messages from mental health professionals that believing in the truth of my own experience was likely a sign of my mental illness. I found it impossible to heal in the presence of people who recommended I not trust myself.
The first time I spoke with Gary Reiss, a Process Work therapist, I was struck by his welcoming attitude. He knew there was meaning, beauty and genius in what I had been through. He could identify with the trauma of being hospitalized, drugged and labeled. But most of all, he was interested in bringing forward and integrating the experience of an extreme state into my everyday life.
“Well John, it’s obvious you have a lot of creative energy. Don’t you want to ride this horse and see where it takes you, explore its message and make something useful from what happened?”
“I’m listening!” I said.