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Embracing the Paradox

Navigating Healing in a Chaotic World

Olivia Florence

📅 2023-07-13

I often contemplate the concept of 'healing' and what it truly means. Does healing involve reversing the damage caused by wounds, or is it about accepting and embracing those wounds as a part of ourselves? The idea of healing can be abstract and confusing, especially in today's world where we are bombarded with countless ways to 'heal'. It suddenly seems as if the world does care about deep-seated trauma, unregulated emotions and the psychological shackles of a production driven society. Maybe, it's just found a way to commodify it.


As someone who works in mental health and the healing sector, I often find myself fluctuating between a sense of purpose and an intense feeling of aversion. On one hand, I witness the profound impact of healing on individuals' lives, and on the other hand, I cringe at the commodification of healing through sage infested workshops and expensive self-help trends that promote narcissism.

The question arises: How can we expand ourselves and connect with the world around us without losing sight of our place and connection within it? The answer remains uncertain. Perhaps healing should transition from a private, personal journey to a publicly driven and openly explored process. It could be community-based, allowing for unconventional and unique expressions of pain, grief and fear. Why not push the boundaries?

Imagine a society where people go outside to cry instead of retreating to their bedrooms. Envision a world where therapy is not confined to clinical practices where an authoritarian guru-like figure absolves you of responsibility, but rather a space where neighbours and communities provide genuine support. Picture normalised spaces in nature where people are free to express their most vulnerable emotions through dance, tears and howling. A space where raw emotions are given their freedom to be seen and held, not commodified.

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Yes, you're right. This does sound unquestionably chaotic and perhaps a smidge anarchist, but history has shown us that chaos and entropy create new pathways for survival and growth. Psychological issues such as depression have been labelled the biggest cause of global disability in the first world (World Health Organisation, 2017), making it clear that our current system of coping is failing us. Men, in the UK, under the age of 50 are more likely to die by suicide than from any other cause. In other words, if you identify as a man the thing you need to be most scared of is yourself! Admitting that the system is broken requires more than just demanding a few extra therapy sessions from our workplace or having a mental health awareness week. Yet, we idly go by, signing up to neoliberal self-improvement Instagram pages, drinking our chai tea and watching Goop Lab.

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We passively choose to numb over and over again. Whether it be with drugs, sex, endless scrolling, Netflix marathons or mindless consumerism. We seek control and happiness in bite-sized, predictable and reproducible experiences. The alluring comfort of control, the idea that we can buy our happiness. This concept has become such a cliché that we literally buy t-shirts with the word 'happiness' printed on it. Absorbing and ingesting anything that evades us from the raw truth of it. The human sense of connection is going extinct.

The current psychiatric framework, represented by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) has unending limitations. The entrenched issue with the medical model is that mental health simply cannot be neatly categorised as a medical condition. Clinical psychology and psychiatry has been grossly misguided and modelled around a reductionist framework; classifying and treating 'distinct mental disorders' according to regimented guidelines, akin to the treatment of bacterial infections with antibiotics.

However, Mental health issues themselves have become fashion statements. I appreciate that being diagnosed can be enormously helpful, they allow us to zoom in on particular sets of pathological issues and give us guidance on how to manage them. Yet, somewhere between the endless instagramable yoga retreats, corporate psychedelic 'journeys', kombucha and Kanye's public mania, depression and anxiety became glamourous, this season's 'must have'. People walk down the DSM catwalk and parade their experiences. Wearing their diagnoses like a very sought-after Burberry coat. Its warmth provides a crutch and an eloquent mask. A way to not take responsibility for their actions and wellbeing. While awareness about mental health is crucial, we must be cautious not to let our diagnoses define us entirely. It becomes a delicate balance between acknowledging our challenges and not allowing them to dominate our identities. It is an arduous tightrope between owning one's diagnosis and wearing it.

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The rise in mental disorders has not been met with significant advancements in psychiatric medication. This calls for a shift toward more holistic approaches that combine community-based and nature therapy, mindfulness and medication, including psychedelic guided experiences with the (and I cannot stress this enough) utmost caution, if and when appropriate. New psychotherapeutic models are incorporating Eastern spiritual practices like meditation alongside western frameworks such as acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). This integration of spirituality and science may pave the way for future clinical treatments.

Working in mental health, I have learned to navigate between clinical cynicism and a belief in making a difference. We are trained to be logical and flow from one thought to the next, with intentional reason and rationality, but the human mind does not work like this. It's contradictory and paradoxical. Oscillating between 'objective reality', visual imagination and dream states (this will be an entire essay in and of itself). Our society, both as a whole and as individuals, is alienated and confused. We have lost sight of the map and forgotten why we needed it in the first place. Our fragmented perception of what yields connection in the rich tapestry of our earthly experiences has rapidly unravelled.

The future of healing lies in embracing a comprehensive approach that combines various therapeutic modalities and acknowledges the spiritual and metaphysical aspects of our being. By integrating compassion, perceptiveness and intersectional spirituality into psychotherapeutic frameworks, we may uncover new possibilities for healing and societal transformation.

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