Eradicating the Current Cultural Consensus of Mental Illness by Mary Clista Dahl

Changing her own perception of what was happening for her emotionally helped transform Mary’s existence as a labelled ‘mental patient’ to living a joyful life as the energetic Soul she knew she was; and consequently, more able to heal in ways that have been helpful to her. Here Mary shares her journey from ‘dismal diagnosis to spiritual emergence.’ 

“You may be right, I may be crazy, but it just may be a lunatic you’re looking for.

– Billy Joel

Mary Dahl

In 1998 I was given the label “Bipolar Disorder,” after a perceived psychotic episode.  I was frightened, engulfed by stigma and compliant to the existing mental health system because I was terrified of losing custody of my two young children.

I lived episode-free until 2016 when I was hospitalized after traumatic events for a stress-induced breakdown.  After release, I noticed that the antipsychotic medications I was placed on made me feel sicker than when I had arrived.  This time I emerged from the experience not fearful, just curious, with a new attitude toward my “illness.”

I asked myself the question, “How is it that I, someone who is diagnosed with a “serious mental illness,” has flourished for thirty-four years in a career guiding thousands of college students (accumulating 1400 sick leave hours in the process)?”  Add to that raising two children as a single Mom while earning my college degree, authoring four books and converting my home to a certified National Wildlife Federation habitat.  My answer: In reality, I am not the least bit ill or disordered. As a matter of fact, I am perfectly well.

This epiphany and much historical, scientific, social and cultural research prompted other important questions:

What if…
…”Mental illness” in all of its forms are the body’s natural defense mechanism to re-establish the mind-body-spirit connection in response to trauma, emotional anguish and information overload from a crazy culture?

How different would life be if…
…We who are labeled stopped thinking that we had an illness and embraced our capabilities instead? 

…We exited that proverbial road to recovery and started a life path to our future by returning to that place of our perfection before someone told us we were flawed? 

…We shifted our focus from what society perceives as “wrong” with us (experiencing human emotion) to what is right about us?

…We simply found a better way to help each other?

The current accepted mental health system in the U.S. has progressed from an intentional helpful entity to a frustrating tangled web of documents, regulations, government and legal policy, insurance and pharmaceutical companies and confused providers and consumers. This system has taken on the definition of insanity that once described the people it was trying to serve.  It is dictated by a collection of diagnoses; scary terms and adjectives to describe human emotions and behavior written in a language that has evolved and become outdated.

In September 2017 I sat down for the last time across the desk from a psychiatrist who was only doing his job when he asked me the routine questions regarding my symptoms, sleep patterns and side effects. After answering, I enthusiastically started to mention my latest accomplishments of accepting an offer for a dream job and sending my latest manuscript to an agent. He interrupted with “You seem too happy; we will discuss increasing your medication at your next visit.” I thanked him, and left with kind parting words knowing I would never return.  I smiled with relief that my journey back to my joyful (manic in his world) loving, compassionate self was complete.

On the drive home, I mentally replaced my Bipolar label with ones more accurate and deserving that others who know me best have bestowed upon me… Inspiration to Your Children, Celebrator of Life, Serving Heart, Optimist, Valued Friend.  I immediately stopped thinking, talking, writing about and acting like I had an illness; focusing my energy on my attributes and passions, choosing to tell a different, more important story filled with hope and discovery.

It’s time to rewrite the language, wiping mental illness out of the vocabulary, telling the gift as opposed to symptom-oriented experience. To reassure each other that we exist as thriving, feeling, living, and not disordered human beings. That we are well and all deserve the chance to shine.

Since emerging, I have shared my story with others who all have a similar one of being diagnosed with a “mental illness” or know someone close who has.  It is time to help each other transform from this epidemic.

This month, I celebrate 20 years since I was labeled.  During that time I came to realize that it was journaling, quiet reflection, and the support of those who cared about and listened to me that were all I needed to realign.  Through my organization, Capture Life Writing, I now use this formula of the power of words, human connection, Myfi (unplugging and reflection) and nature to bring others to emotional and mental wellness, the process that brought me from dismal diagnosis to spiritual emergence and perpetual joy.

I now live the mission to eradicate the current cultural consensus of mental illness.


Mary’s Blog:

Would you like to join the army of Hope Warriors #EmergingProud and share your story? CONTACT US HERE to find out how…

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