Worker Training- Workshop#1: Accepting Voices – Fri 21 Nov 2014

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If, in your work, you encounter people who hear voices – and who might be struggling with the experience – then this workshop is designed for you.
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Perhaps there is a beast… maybe it’s only us.

Three score years ago today saw the publication of Lord of The Flies, William Golding’s allegorical tale about who we are, especially when we get together.

I don’t know what he would have made of that modern question that is only ever asked rhetorically: “What are we like”? but William Golding shows us his version and it makes for uncomfortable reading.

Thank you Mr Lowe for introducing me to this, one of my favourite books.

On beasts and where beasts are to be found…perhaps there is a beast

“Maybe there is a beast… maybe it’s only us.”

On beasts and fear and fear of ourselves and each other.

“I know there isn’t no beast—not with claws and all that, I mean—but I know there isn’t no fear, either.

Unless we get frightened of people. “

unless we get frightened of people

On how to build a world that can really, really suck…

we did everything adults would do“We did everything adults would do. What went wrong?”

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Living With My Voices – Kevin Healey

Living With My VoicesBrief film interview with some bloke named Kevin Healey – released today by The Trauma and Mental Health Report.

Big thanks from me – and my voices – to P.B. and the filmmakers for inviting me to do this – tis a great job you did .

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do you pop a pill when you’re feeling ill?

It can be difficult to remember or even recognize but  what, in westernized cultires, we call “Medicine” is not the only medicine but merely one way of practising medicine that is more properly called “allopathic medicine”.
Allopathic Medicine might dress itself up in a cloak of invincible science, look down upon and call all other practices “alternative’ but is actually both a newcomer and a minority.

“Medicines are everywhere.”

Choose and use your medicine wisely.

Do you pop a pillDo you pop a pill when you’re feeling ill?

If you do, you’re in the minority.

In fact, 80% of the world depends on traditional methods and medicinal plants to treat illness.In North America, First Nations healers use almost 3,000 plants.

Detailed knowledge of plants is part of their tradition. Its also essential.

To use plants safely and effectively, you need to know when to harvest them, which parts to use and how to prepare and administer them. 

…and from another panel in the same exhibit…

Food is medicineFood is medicine

Food is the first line of defence in traditional Chinese medicine.

Classified as yin and yang properties, food helps balance qi (“chee”)- your vital life force.
For example., a “warm” yang food such as barbecued chicken wings balances excess yin by stimulating circulation and heating the body. “Cool”  yin foods such as raw carrots, celery and lettuce balance excess yang by helping secrete fluids and cooling the body,

What if food fails to prevent illness?.
The next step is herbal medicine – often as teas or broths.

These examples are both from the exhibition at the Toronto Science Centre – “A Question of Truth” which asks questions like “is science objective” and illustrates that many of the things we regard as certainties or the one truth, are merely one interpretation, and often a minority one at that.
 Science does not give us one objective truth but is a process of inquiring into,  describing and interpreting our world and of how culture shapes that process we call science.

As one of the greatest of all scientists recognized:

“there are no data – all is interpretation”

-Albert Einstein

So when we talk about scientific “truth its worth asking “which one?” or “in which culture?” . 

Can you handle the truth?

“Join Dr. Hooley McLaughlin, Chief Science Officer at the Ontario Science Centre, as he tours the “A Question of Truth” exhibit, which highlights the role of culture, race, gender and social bias in scientific research.”

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those voices in your head that say “You’re Shit!” – Nick Cave

Nick Cave -creative processInterview with songwriter, playwright, novelist and cool icon Nick Cave on his creative process and how, for him, “those voices in your head that keep saying: ‘you’re shit’ you know, and ‘it’s no good‘,” are a part that process.



“I have an office that I go to everyday, I get in about 7:30 stay there til about 5:00, 5:30, every day, except Sundays. For about the last five, six years.

I don’t think creatively with other people around, I just need to be on my own.

It’d be wrong to think I’m in this process where I go into the office and sit there writing, writing away and all that stuff is coming . No, it’s not like that.

There are very grim periods at times when really nothing comes and times where a lot comes…

Times where I get really on a roll and start, which is a self-perpetuating thing. Once that kind of starts, I find you get this kind of confidence in what you’re doing.

…and its like all those voices in your head that keep saying “you’re shit” you know, and “it’s no good”, they seem to kind of go away.

… you just sort of.. you get on a roll and that’s fantastic when that happens.

nick cave maestroBut a lot of the time it’s kind of dead time, really, but I just go every day anyway because I don’t really trust the process. It’s just too slow to go around and go about your business and, you know, wait for inspiration to give you something.

All you can do is fail, and that doesn’t really matter anyway. The greatest artits have failed constantly.

My heros have had abysmal periods in their careers and it just doesn’t matter that much…and you can approach the whole thing with a sense of humour and a “sense of play” if you like – to use a 201st century expression- and just carry on.

And if you can flip that over, for me that’s the secret.”


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George Clooney – the coolest “voice” in space ?

george Clooney in spaceGeorge Clooney, not hearing voices but playing  a “voice” Matt Kowalski in a key scene from the movie Gravity.

Gives the lie to the “in space no one can hear you…”. Well, in Hollywoodland at least, Sandra Bullock can hear you – or maybe you just have to be George.

Spoiler Alert: Clooney plays Veteran astronaut/cosmonaut Matt Kowalski  who dies a few minutes before this scene, yet comes to the aid of his colleague Sandra Bullock’s character Dr. Ryan Stone as  a “vision”, “presence”, “voice”, “spirit”, “ghost”, “hallucination”- or whatever you want to call it – to coach her through  the reentry routine.

It’s a story, a movie – but take away the space scenario and substitute any other of your choosing to reveal that this is a surprisingly common human experience – so common that it’s become a cliché, a commonplace in even hollywood movies never mind more artful fare.

How common? well, in one study almost 50% of people in a long-term marriage reported that they heard, saw, or otherwise sensed the presence of their deceased spouse – and most reported that they found it comforting and were disappointed if the voice later went quite.

That’s not “mental illness”, that’s just cool.

“but, but, but”, say the tutt-erers..

Now, many a self-described “scientist” or some such will opine and argue that there’s a difference between such helpful “visions” and that unhelpful kind experienced by those who find themselves diagnosed with all manner of categories of human failing. They would, wouldn’t they ? since that’s how they justify their funding and position in society.

But what if  the real difference in these experiences arises not from the differences between the experiences themselves  but from whichsoever category the pointy heads, in their wisdom, categorize and assign because it best fits their needs more than it fits ours?

The only difference, or better: maybe the biggest difference is simply that the person who is struggling has yet to find a way to make sense out of whatever it is they experience.

The stories that we tell…

Maybe the biggest difference is in the stories that we tell a person who with grappling with weird and struggling – and that and whichever explanations have thus far been proffered or coerced upon then simply don’t make sense..?

the biggest difference is that a person who is struggling has yet to find people who can help them make sense of their own unique experience – their own version of weird world.

Now, if weird comes to you as George Clooney breaking into your bubble,  smiling and reminding you how to reenter your crashing spaceship then it’s likely not too hard to regard that as somewhat helpful.

Less so if it weird comes in the form of  a “perpetrator voice” of a person who at some time had power over you, yelling obscenities and demands,  transporting you in a flash, back to some painful time that your conscious self has worked overtime since to delete or bury.

One of the hardest things to deal with when life gets weird and we find ourself being sucked into the wormhole is the way that people around us lose their ability to listen, and simply catalogue us into some sub-category of the big category marked “broken”, “scary” and “dangerous”. We are cast adrift, lost in space one more broken, hopeless “case”, drifting in space.

What if  the real sickness in “mental illness” is not within the individual, but within some collective inability or refusal to accept  that every one of us is uniquely weird and does have  experiences everyday for which the best descriptor is: “weird”?

“What limits our freedom is the stories we tell ourselves and eth stories we tell each other”
– Simone de Beauvoir

It is time for some new stories.

What if, instead of trying to force narrow-based beliefs up folks who are already struggling we accepted that life getting too weird to handle right now can happen to any of us, that it can and does pass – and when it does pass people who’ve been through it find at least some and often much value in the experience?

This might lead us to a whole universe of different approaches less obsessed with more  of the old fixes that fail, or the game of our pet theory is superior to your pet theory – and more rooted in helping people learn to get comfortable and able to handle, living in a weird, weird world.

Learning to accept weird experiences, make sense of and incorporate them, and, yes, even value them is harder – way harder – than taking a pill. But it can also  be way more fun and empowering.

For some of us on that journey, we have come to realize that the weirdest  experiences we had were during that time when we believed that such a  narrow-minded “mental health system” as we have builded here, and here, and here could ever hope to help us.

Heck, you may even get to turn your own weird experiences  into blockbuster movie and portrayed by Clooney – now that would be well weird.



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July in Toronto 2014 – reflections by a friend from Taiwan


 psychosis2.0 end photo2

Back row:  Kevin Healey, Carmen Carrasco, Leslie Morris, Karyn Baker, John Read, Heinz Klein.
Front row: Dave Umbongo, Rufus May, Will Hall, Michael , Keris Myrick, Eleanor Longden.
Photo: Ling.

Some say – and it is much disputed – that “Toronto” means “place where people become to meet”-  on this occasion its was certainly true. Toronto is just where we are located, our readers and friends are all round the world…

Ling travelled from Taiwan to attend the Psychosis 2.0 conference and Living With Voices and Understanding our Sensitivity workshops in Toronto, July 2014. Ling stayed for 44days; visiting with survivors, families and organizations round Toronto; attending Pride, MadPride, many other events and even squeezed in a WRAP programme as well [likely setting the all time record for furthest distance travelled to attend a group]  as well as making many friends here.

We were pleased to support and get to know Ling as she explored what’s happening in  Toronto and invited her to reflect and share something of what she found and observed in our city.

Here is Ling’s piece, we hope you find it as enlightening as we do.

By Ling

Before I came to Toronto, I imagined that Toronto would have all the answers to my questions, just like some miracle pill, that I will become a whole new me, that I will find some new way out to the limitations of my working situation.

I work as an organizer in Non-Profit Association for Psychiatric Survivor Rights.Working with survivors in an alternative Association, the desire to resist dehumanization in the rapid world bridges me with them, we both long to become a person not hiding behind a diagnosis or maladjustment label.

During my years 28 to 30, I “suddenly” felt lost and not so sure where I belong. Frustration, unworthy feeling, seeking to the physical pain and suicidal ideas dominated most of me. Spending time worried about other’s judgment, living in here and now was hard to reach.

The sudden feeling of lost does not just show up, it comes from places where break people into fragments. Under the culture of “economic-benefit-priority” in the main stream, people with mental health challenges, families and workers are all suffering.

The world changes too fast – to label a person is always a quick way to rationalize our fear of unknown but leaves people with mental health challenges and their families living in an isolated situation, eliminated from society. Workers are oppressed by the efficiency required from the funders, government and the value of money-first. People with mental health challenges and families become numbers, workers become robots – what a sad story.

After visiting different organizations and having conversations with survivors, workers and organizers in Toronto, one thing I realize is that there is no quick model to make perfect fit to everything.

Learning to see things in 3D, knowing the difference and uniqueness in history, social context, culture, population and geography is giving me a strong base to review things, not flatten them into problems. To appreciate what we’ve been through and deepen our living experiences into practical and local knowledge is the thing worth to do.

I would like to thank all the survivors, voice hearers and family members I’ve communicated with in Toronto. You all are the most sincere artists I’ve ever met in the world. You all are also the representatives of beauty and all your efforts to survive and your humbleness encourage me tremendously.

Specially thanks to KH who lead me to a whole new universe and gave me opportunity to write in Toronto Recovery Network.

Ling Lee
from Taiwan, August 2014.

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Jack Kerouac reads from On The Road

Kerouac with ScrollJack Kerouac reads from his On The Road.
-Published 57 years ago yesterday.

[And cheers to Mr.J. for that info]

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reality – much weirder than anyone’s imagination

reality-much weirder than anyone's imagination


What if madness is simply in the gap in between our ability to grasp the full weirdness of reality and our ability to handle that, to find ways to harness it, and to incorporate it into a liveable life?

…and what if life is really about holding ourselves open enough to learn how to handle any amount of weirdness?

…and what if we could learn to support people as they learn that?

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No 9 Dream – John Lennon

no 9 dreamSeemed so very real, it seemed so real to me
Took a walk down the street
Thru the heat whispered trees
I thought I could hear
Somebody call out my name as it started to rain

So long ago
Was it in a dream, was it just a dream?
I know, yes I know
Seemed so very real, it seemed so real to me
Took a walk down the street
Thru the heat whispered trees
I thought I could hear
Somebody call out my name as it started to rain
Two spirits dancing so strange
Ah! böwakawa poussé, poussé

Dream, dream away
Magic in the air, was magic in the air?
I believe, yes I believe
More I cannot say, what more can I say?
On a river of sound
Thru the mirror go round, round
I thought I could feel
Music touching my soul, something warm, sudden cold
The spirit dance was unfolding
Ah! böwakawa poussé, poussé


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