by Kevin Healey
I live in Toronto a city where, more than other places I’ve lived in or visited, it is easier to see what “diversity” means, at least at one level.
For example, according to information reported on the City of Toronto website:
- Half of all those living here were born in another country;
- 47% of Torontonians report themselves as belonging to a visible minority.
Not that by any means things here are all sorted, not at all, just that this is a place where there is more diversity than most and where there exists at least some degree of acceptance that diversity is a good thing.
Still, here too there are undoubtedly many people, and many groups still waiting, demanding and “fighting to be included in the idea of equality” as much as in any other place.
Where I grew up there’s a colloquialism “same difference” and perhaps those words are imprinted within me and inform how, for a long time I have believed that we are each as different as we are the same.
More recently though, I have come to see how experiences of being deemed “too different” and “psychosis” are intertwined, part of the same experience.
For me, experiences that get called “psychosis” are at the heart of the difficulty of living with human difference. For whatever reason we find ourselves deemed “too different” – and it seems we are constantly making up new ones – we can find ourselves overwhelmed and struggling in ways that affect every aspect of our being.
That inner struggle expresses itself in many forms and from time to time it can overwhelm us, and it comes to the surface in ways others use to deem us even more different: “disconnected from ‘reality'” whatever that means; and “in-psychosis” again, whatever that means.
Whatever the roots of and route towards our own personal “too-differentness”, living through difficult experiences that get lumped together under the heading “psychosis” is where many of do us find ourselves.
We are now further down the road to being cast-out, trapped and seemingly condemned to remain stuck there.
“Madness is supposed to be the beginning of a journey, it’s not supposed to be the end result”
If we are fortunate, this can be a blessing, for those of us who are able to take advantage of it and see that the energy we were using up trying to fit-in, or being some version of ourselves that others would have us be; and that we can better invest that energy into breaking-free, learning and being who we can best be.
Sadly, not everyone is offered that opportunity, or able to create it for themselves and even then many are not lucky enough to be able take advantage.
My own experience has shown me that life is often about surfing that precarious, dynamic balance between fitting in just-enough and also being free-enough to be who I am.
Straying too far from either side of that can be uneasy, scary and lead to me becoming exhausted, and if I’m there long enough, not well.
A couple of years ago I was part of organizing a conference Psychosis 2.0, where one of the keynote speakers was Keris Myrick. At the pre-conference get together the evening before, I well remember hearing her talk of how pleased she was to see the city dressed up, and making a show of being very welcoming. It was, I think, the week before Toronto Pride which was also that year hosting World PRIDE. So it was quite a show, even more than the usual show. I remember her saying something to the effect “I don’t know if it’s always like this…” and that giving rise to rumblings in the audience that no, it wasn’t.
More particularly I remember, as she was drawing to a conclusion, speaking to her personal experience of living as a black woman in a world run and dominated by people not many of whom as she said, “look like me”.
”Difference is difficult and dealing with difference is not easy – yet we have no other option but to learn how.”
– Keris Myrick
Difference can be challenging enough when it is at the surface. Perhaps, though it is the differences that lie beneath that are most difficult – how we are affected by our difference, our too-differentness.
Whatever the nature of our own differentness we can be driven or trapped into concealing, withholding, and protecting it: from a world that does not understand and does not know how to accept, our too-differentness.
We can also be driven to protecting the world from our too-differentness, our very being, by wearing a mask or masks that show us in ways that do not cause opprobrium to be aroused in others.
Of course, we can only struggle like this so much, and for so long.
The energy it requires to live like this is just too much to sustain. From time to time it surfaces, and manifests in many ways, some of which stray beyond the boundary of what society regards acceptably different.
I can only imagine how difficult and exhausting it is to live in this world as non-male, none-white person: I only know how difficult it has been and is for me sometimes.
Hearing voices is one of the ways I am different – though, truth be told, even though some people talk of it as “unusual experience” it is really not all that unusual. Three-in-four of us will hear a voice no one else does at least once, usually around significant life events and about one in seven of us of us do regularly.
Like Tom Jones sang, admittedly in a wholly different context, “it’s not unusual” – hearing voices is, actually, remarkably bloody common.
It is, though, another of the ways we can be too-different in a way that our society has yet to develop the capacity to understand, to accept, and to accommodate such differences, and so instead we construct stories that would have us fear what is a not that unusual at all but very human experience.
It strikes me that within the many ways that we can be different, there is perhaps some shared experience in the many ways we might find ourselves deemed too-different.
For whatever reason we that are first deemed to be too-different, that we don’t fit in, and that we’re not good enough to be worthy of being considered as a being-being, as fellow human, the pain that we can feel as a result sits deep within us.
The wound is embedded within every fibre, every synapse and every fleeting second of our being.
William James, who first coined the term psychological trauma, also described this effect as like “thorns in the spirit”.
At those times when life overwhelms us, and which for some of us can be a near-constant experience, the pain from those thorns pops-up to the surface and expresses itself into the world, often in one of the many ways that come, at some point, to be called ‘psychosis’.
And so, once we have been deemed “too different”, we become a sticky target- to which other sticky labels stick themselves all-to-easily.
We too easily find ourselves boxed into categories of others’ making and it can easily happen that we find ourselves cast out to what Franz Fanon called the “zone of nonbeing”, outside of “self”, even beyond “other”, beyond worthy of being regarded as human, more a denial of existence and right to exist as human.
Eventually those cast out there come to believe: “I deserve this”.
This zone serves a function: it allows us to separate ourselves from those who have now been placed within it, so that we can feel ok about whatever is done to them.
And then, one day, we find that we too have been placed within this zone – or that it’s boundary has been extended far enough that it now includes us too.
I’m interested in dialogue, so I’d like to sign off by asking you to share something:
Q. In what ways have you found yourself deemed “too different”?
Q. And what helped you find your way?
- Diversity – Toronto Facts – Your City | City of Toronto. (n.d.). Retrieved December 20, 2016, from http://www1.toronto.ca/wps/portal/contentonly?vgnextoid=dbe867b42d853410VgnVCM10000071d60f89RCRD
- Fanon, F. (2008). Black Skin White Masks. New York: Grove Press. Translation by Richard Philcox
- It’s Not Unusual Tom Jones (Stereo). Retrieved December 20, 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ah0M3EEtOcA
- Psychosis 2.0. (n.d.). Retrieved December 20, 2016, from https://psychosis2.wordpress.com/
- Those fighting to be included…. Retrieved December 20, 2016, from https://recoverynet.ca/2016/08/02/those-fighting-to-be-included/
- Winterson, J. (2011). Why be happy when you could be normal? Toronto: Alfred A. Knopf Canada
Kevin Healey hears voices that you don’t and has done for as long as he or his voices can remember. Founder and coordinator of www.recoverynet.ca, Toronto Hearing Voices group and the Hearing Voices Café.
Drawing on skills and experiences gained from three decades of group work in organizations, in peer support and the wider community he develops innovative trainings and workshops that enable others to better understand and support those who struggle with the kind of experiences that get called “psychosis”.
A member of the hearing voices worldwide community, in Oct 2016 was honored to receive the Intervoice annual Award for Innovation at the World Hearing Voices Congress in Paris.