Those who have been following my stride know that I’ve moved around a few times in the past 6 years. I left my long term nest and psychiatric survivor community in Northampton, Massachusetts 6 and a half years ago, moved to San Francisco and have been primarily on the West Coast since then.
Northampton was where I was initiated into the psychiatric survivor community movement, where I came off psych drugs, organized with the Freedom Center, was involved with the Western Mass Recovery Learning Community, and pretty much lived as a psychiatric survivor community activist, writer and yoga teacher for nearly 10 years.
To my knowledge, Massachusetts as a state and Western MA in particular can’t be rivaled (in this country) in their psychiatric survivor community support and activist efforts as well as resources for those looking to escape, criticize and/or overcome the effects of psychiatry.
Without even realizing it, for a time when I moved to California, I was a bit lost, or rather, I had lost my passionate local activist psychiatric survivor community, which, even with its drama and in fighting, had been the foundation of my work and life for my entire adult life up until then.
I did meet some activists on the West coast and even reconnected with some I had already known in San Francisco and then Portland, both of which had their own small activist/psychiatric survivor community of sorts, but they were generally (with exceptions I’m sure) less rooted, less resourced, not quite off the ground and were more like budding communities of people who mostly didn’t yet know each other very well. And perhaps it was me who was new and didn’t know these communities very well yet.
After moving between San Francisco and Portland a couple of times, back and forth, back and forth (not recommended, not for the faint of heart), I found myself longing to live in a small town again and following one friend and sublet opportunity, landed myself here in Olympia, Washington, where I’m finally in a longer term home.
It took me a few months to feel settled enough here to initiate something new. After moving over a dozen times in less than half a dozen years, I was very tired at times and needed to focus simply on the essentials of survival and maintenance.
There were a few individual psychiatric survivors and activists I knew here in Olympia, and I continued to meet more (it’s mathematical), yet it seemed there was no actual psychiatric survivor community grassroots “movement” here, and my initial intention was to start one (not because Olympia is more ripe for this than any other college town, but because it’s where I ended up).
I knew very few people here and can be shy as often as bold, so my initial impulse was to screen Daniel Mackler’s Coming Off Psych Drugs and start a discussion afterward, so the film could speak for me.
My friend and I had created a bare bones Olympia website and Facebook page, and I asked around about screening venues. A community cafe agreed to host our screening and I spread the word via a Facebook event and fliers around town, and through an enthusiastic, bright woman I met who runs the yoga collective at Evergreen College.
Even though I’ve been to and organized countless events like this before, for this one I had no idea if 3 or 50 people would show up, since I had so few connections here. It ended up being 23. I brought all of the psychiatric survivor community literature I’ve held onto after so many moves in a single car up and down the coast, each time needing to downsize further (only 2 boxes worth).
The film was well received; the crowd felt like kindred spirits. Two organizers came all the way from Mindfreedom Seattle. So, in the end I felt very supported in this effort, but throughout the planning and organizing process I felt pretty alone and had no idea if many people would even show up. Still, I knew that this topic impacts so many people that it was at least worth a try to create a psychiatric survivor community (anywhere).
It made me realize that there are so many towns and cities out there without psychiatric survivor communities with survivors who feel alone, or like the only people who “get it” are online.
Just like there are psychiatrists offices and psychiatric wards in most every town and city, and many medicated people, there must be movements of psychiatric survivor community building activists in each of these places too.
I realize now how hard it is to start a movement “alone”, but with the films and books we have available, we can feel less alone. Screening a film allows you to let the movement and other psychiatric survivor community activists in other places speak with you, and even for you, so I highly recommend that as an icebreaker and a way to initiate discussion (and am ever grateful to the film makers and their work!).
Despite my initial doubts and insecurities, I can already feel a great group of people gathering to birth a psychiatric survivor community in Olympia, and have made some good friends now by taking the risk.
There must be at least one person like me in every city and town, who feels alone in their passion, who has a story to share, who’s been connected to the psychiatric survivor community movement virtually for some time, and who can step forward to start a local psychiatric survivor community by screening a film, giving a talk or leading a discussion.
It always does help to have at least one or two collaborators, but isn’t entirely necessary. If you have supporters online and in other locations, they can help you plan your events, and before you know it you will have people in your area to help. Bringing in speakers to visit or join by video chat is another way to collaborate in an area where there isn’t a movement yet.
Most of us need local, face to face psychiatric survivor community, even while online connections can be valuable too, and of course some people are limited in their capacity to come to live events. I truly believe, though, that when we talk about a grassroots movement, we need to cover as much of the actual grass as possible. We need to sit and stand and even hold hands and hug, in person, in our local geography.
Rather than allowing big pharma to divide and conquer us, we need to create united fronts of true connection, and we need them everywhere.