We had a lively, intimate gathering at Branson Hospital last evening.
My husband Marty and I were greeted by the amazing Theresa Claxton, the coordinator of the Central LHIN Consumer/Survivor Network, who planned this event. She had placed dozens of bright blue “Coming Out Crazy – an evening with Sandy Naiman” signs along the circuitous halls of Branson to ensure no one got lost.
Tanya Shute, the electrifying executive director of Richmond Hill’s Krasman Centre for Community Mental Health was buzzing about, too. Tanya never stops. We’ve become friends because I’m putting the finishing touches on a Field Note for The Walrus magazine about one of her programs.
The Branson Hospital auditorium seats about 250, but it was more like a private party. About 30 people chose to forgo the third televised presidential debate to attend. Quite the sacrifice, I thought.
A few minutes before we began, I asked everyone to move close to the front. I wasn’t planning a formal talk, but more of a “Phil Donahue.” I moseyed around, chatting “up close and personal,” introducing myself, shaking hands, thanking people for coming and trying desperately to remember their names.
The first person to approach me was Sonia – a familiar name to you. Sonia responds often, eloquently, and with exquisite insight, sharing snapshots of her life here at Coming Out Crazy. For me, sitting here in the quiet isolation of my little study as I write these posts, Sonia has become a cherished confidante. We share some of our innermost secrets without ever hearing each other’s voices or looking into each other’s eyes. If a reader’s comment is in the least disagreeable, she always bolsters me with her calm, comforting, encouraging wisdom.
Sonia, meeting you last night was thrilling for me. Thank you for trudging up from downtown Toronto to attend this gathering and for giving me a copy of your book. I will cherish it and can't wait to read it.
Another reader, Brandon, attended. He was one of the first to respond to Coming Out Crazy, long before we were interactive. He emailed me from Europe while travelling and studying. What a kick to meet you now that you’re home, safe, continuing your studies here.
After Tanya’s gracious introduction, the evening began, with a question from me.
“What would you like to hear?”
One lovely gentleman asked, “How can I become friends with my mental illness?”
What a great question! It set the tone for the evening. I think we should all become friends with our so-called mental illnesses. Then we become friends with ourselves. And we can begin our recovery.
My knee jerk reaction was to say, forget the mental illness and start loving yourself exactly as you are. After all, who says you have a mental illness? It turns out he has an obsessive-compulsive nature. He refers to it as a disorder. That’s who he is.
Believing is seeing, I suggested. It’s what you believe that you see. Perhaps you can change your belief system around this “disorder.” See yourself differently
He said he has overcome about 80% of this "disorder," but it’s that 20% that’s still nagging at him. He wants to be rid of it all. Why can’t he accept that’s who is? Now? He has a fraction of the obsessive-compulsiveness that he used to have – 20% of what it used to be. Why can’t he become friends with himself, accept himself and that 20%? Why cling to the idea that something’s wrong with him, when so much is right. When 80% is right? Nobody’s perfect.
He was a darling. Lovely. And at 80%, he’s an “A,” I told him.
Another woman wanted to know how to better treat patients on an in-treatment unit.
“Start thinking of them as people, not patients. We’re all people first. Human beings.”
Oh, how I hate those diagnostic labels. Trying to fit individuals – unique – into the a set of categories. The fit is never right.
Another lively young woman bravely confessed she’s finally learned to accept herself exactly as she is, despite the expectations of her family, who have always seen her as “different,” as “mentally ill,” and never accepted her just the way she is. It was thrilling to hear her celebrate her natural “exuberance.”
We’re all unique. Special. Different.
There were many questions. The discussion was lively. Finally, after 90 minutes, we adjourned for coffee, fresh fruit, cheese and pastries. Everyone continued talking, sharing with each other, mixing and having a great time.
What was billed as a public forum turned into a celebration of all our uniquenesses.
We were all Coming Out Crazy together. Free to be exactly who we are.