All posts by Review by K. counterbalance

Book review: pushing boundaries in mental health

Recently, two exciting small press books were published that discuss mental health and self-care from radical perspectives. Firewalkers: Madness, Beauty, & Mystery – Radically Rethinking Mental Illness was published in February by VOCAL, a non-profit based in Virginia that is made up of people in “mental health recovery”. The seven different personal stories in this collection speak to the deep transformations that can occur through a mental health crisis. It is reminiscent of the Icarus Project’s Navigating the Space Between Brilliance and Madness as well as my ‘zine, Counterbalance in terms of the personal and candid style in which each tell their stories. The stories in Firewalkers are told through interviews with the women who share their stories of mental health struggle, but this book is really about the transformation that comes from making it through these struggles. What is extra exciting to me about this book is that these women are talking about a whole new way of relating to mental health, seeing these struggles as more of a transformative journey than an illness. To quote from the book, “firewalkers redefines mental illness as: emotional turbulence and altered states; visionary meltdowns and spiritual breakthroughs; ecstatic visions and crazy blessing”. After the personal stories, Firewalkers turns to a section called “Burning Questions” which explores topics such as: “What is in your wellness toolbox?”; “What if you could change one thing about the mental health system?”; “Can mental illness be learned?”; “What’s the hardest thing to get people to understand about mental illness?” and more. What I may have found most interesting about this book is that these folks do not seem to be coming out of a political or radical community – they are not your (stereo)typical Slingshot reading punks or activists – they are people who have come to a radical way of experiencing their mental health struggles – I find this quite intriguing.

The other small press book came out in January on Feral Book Press (this is their first book). Living in Liberation: Boundary Setting, Self-Care, and Social Change does come out of the punk and activist community. The author, Cristien Storm, is a long-time Seattle activist who co-founded Home Alive, an anti-violence, self-defense non-profit established in 1993 after the rape and murder of Mia Zapata, singer for The Gits. Storm is now a therapist, writer and performer. Storm’s writing style is clear and direct, personal and even funny and beautiful at times. This book is about boundaries, a topic I feel I know little about and personally struggle with a lot in my life; Storm goes deep into this topic – exploring how we define them, set them, and what our intentions, goals, and objectives are around them. She encourages us to be authentic and really be accountable for ourselves and the context of our boundaries, what she calls “taking ourselves to task” – Storm delves into how racism, privilege and issues of invisibility play into boundaries. Living in Liberation also explores how we create support systems and this whole idea of liberation or how we get stuck in wishing things were different, rather than accepting things as they are (which to me really speaks to Buddhist ideas that are close to my heart). As Storm says, “There are things in life that are unfair, painful and devastating. Accepting those sucky things does not mean we don’t work to change or avoid what we are able to do.” Storm also discusses how boundaries and all the above connect to self-care (e.g. “Self-care is boundary setting.”), connection and community. This book is a practice I will come back to over and over. Isn’t it interesting how things that often seem so right, clear and even obvious, are the hardest things to really deeply know and act from consistently? The topics in Living in Liberation are hard work, work we can all benefit from – Storm closes the book with exercises to work with and resources as well.

For more information on Firewalkers go to www.thefirebook.org; for Living in Liberation go to www.feralbookpress.com. For the Icarus Project or Counterbalance go to www.microcosmpublishing.com and the www.theicarusproject.net. Contact the reviewer at counterbalance@riseup.net.