The following interview is part of a “future of mental health” interview series that will be running for 100+ days. This series presents different points of view about what helps a person in distress. I’ve aimed to be ecumenical and included many points of view different from my own. I hope you enjoy it. As with every service and resource in the mental health field, please do your due diligence. If you’d like to learn more about these philosophies, services, and organizations mentioned, follow the links provided.
Interview with Krista MacKinnon
EM: You were “diagnosed” with “bipolar disorder” but didn’t believe in that “story,” that label, or the so-called drugs prescribed to “treat” it. Can you share with us a little bit about why you didn’t accept that diagnosis?
KM: I was diagnosed in my formative years, at 16. In my heart I identified as an artist, a mystic, and a creative. I was told I’d have to spend the rest of my life on medication and that I could anticipate it would still be a struggle to participate in the basics of society. When I learned that there were no blood tests, X-rays or hard evidence to prove that I had this illness/disability I decided not to believe in it.
I felt insulted by what I considered to be their "fortune telling” of my future, and I had a deep-seated knowing that they actually had no idea who I was, or what I was capable of becoming. They were predicting that I’d have a difficult life filled with struggle and sadness, and that my disability would hold me back. Instead of believing them, I began crafting a preferred future for myself based on the alternative belief that I was an incredibly unique yet misunderstood person with important gifts to contribute to the world.
EM: You are now involved with an organization called Families Healing Together. Can you tell us about its philosophy and what it does?
KM: Families Healing Together helps families to understand and cope with the complicated experience of extreme distress, psychosis and psychiatric labeling. Traditionally, when someone in a family is given a psychiatric diagnosis, families are educated to understand the experience from a brain disease/medical perspective, and often aren’t given much else in terms of tools on how to heal and move forward as a family.
The philosophy of Families Healing Together is to consider all information with a critical perspective. Instead of focusing on causes, symptoms, and explanations, we propose to instead focus on deeply connected interpersonal relating, healing, and hope. We do this by sharing a curriculum filled with powerful recovery stories, helpful communication tools, and informative theories and articles about human nature. People in the class give and get support from one another as they share their personal responses to the content, and they find solace in knowing they aren’t alone in the journey.
EM: Families Healing Together says it offers support and education to families from a non-medical perspective. How does it handle questions about medications and psychiatric treatment?
KM: People in the class discuss everything from orthomolecular treatment to electroconvulsive therapy, but FHT offers no medical advice. Families Healing Together takes a relational approach to mostly everything, including medications. The question of medications can be complex in families with intense dynamics and hidden meanings, old hurts, and trust triggers. We encourage families to dissect power dynamics, to weigh the pros and cons of psychiatric treatment from a "quality of life” perspective, to explore their biggest fears and hopes together, and to create crisis/wellness plans together.
In most families where disagreements around treatment arise, the problems are usually founded on secrecy, hiding, fear, and lack of connection. Some people are taking their prescribed medications, some are trying to come off medications, and some are painfully over-medicated; but these circumstances are not what Families Healing Together places specific attention on; The goal from a family recovery perspective is to focus on strengthening the connection and communication around the circumstances.
EM: Families Healing Together offer online courses. What are your thoughts on how an online course might help a person in emotional or mental distress? What are its strengths?
KM: Online classes are great for a number of reasons.
1) As long as you have an internet connection, the support is open and available to you at all hours.
2) You can be completely anonymous if you choose to be, which can be incredibly liberating for many people.
3) You don't have to reorganize your life to "attend" class because you engage with the materials as needed, at your own convenience.
4) If you are struggling emotionally, communicating in person can sometimes feel like a challenging barrier. Communicating complex emotional concepts and epiphanies in bed in your pajamas at 2am in the moment you feel inspired and compelled to reach out is a real gift.
5) It is unifying. People from all over the world take the class, so inevitably there is great diversity in the class, which translates to very rich and multi-faceted discussions.
EM: If you had a loved one in emotional or mental distress, what would you suggest that he or she do or try?
KM: Try to avoid power struggles and/or getting locked into patterns of non-communication. The best way to do this is to let your heart be vulnerable and open to the person you love as much as possible. Be as curious as you can be about their experience and reality in the moment while simultaneously suspending your judgments, interpretations and advice. Align yourself with them as an ally by valiantly focusing on their strengths, power, possibility, and potential.
Believe in them completely while staying unattached to outcomes and having faith in your own patience. In the process, pay close attention to your inner landscape so that you don’t get compassion fatigue and subconsciously become resentful. If you start noticing internal tiredness or frustration take action right away by amping up your self-care practices and setting any boundaries or limits that need to be communicated.
Most importantly, remind yourself daily that the only person you have control over is your own self, and focus much of your energy and effort on being your best self, because that will ripple positively towards everyone you love in beautiful ways you can’t even imagine.
Krista Mackinnon has worked with families in mental health recovery for over 10 years. She is a mom to three boys, a yoga teacher and student, and the founding director of Families Healing Together. She believes deeply in the power of hope and possibility. To register for the next Recovering Our Families class, please visit: www.familieshealingtogether.com
Eric Maisel, Ph.D., is the author of 40+ books, among them The Future of Mental Health, Rethinking Depression, Mastering Creative Anxiety, Life Purpose Boot Camp and The Van Gogh Blues. Write Dr. Maisel at firstname.lastname@example.org, visit him at http://www.ericmaisel.com, and learn more about the future of mental health movement at http://www.thefutureofmentalhealth.com
To learn more about and/or to purchase The Future of Mental Health visit here
To see the complete roster of 100 interview guests, please visit here: