Hey y’all – I’m living on this farm in the Hudson Valley with a bunch of amazing kids but we have this outlandish amount of work to do to get ready for winter so I don’t really have any time to write a column but instead here’s a piece off the Icarus Project website which might be really helpful to you or someone you love. It was a whole crew of us that wrote it over the last year but most of the credit should go to Will Hall and Ashley Mcnamara.
You can find this text and lots of other good radical mental health info at: http://theicarusproject.net
Mad Love, Sascha
By: The Icarus Project
Too often, we don’t get help or identify our problems until we’ve reached a total breaking point.
When it All Comes Crashing Down: Navigating Crisis
When you or someone close to you goes into a psychic crisis it can be the scariest thing to ever happen. You don’t know what to do but it seems like someone’s life might be at stake or they might get locked up, and everyone around is getting more stressed and panicked. Everyone knows a friend who has been there, or has been there themselves. Someone’s personality starts to make strange changes, they’re not sleeping or sleeping all day, they lose touch with the people around them, they disappear into their room for days, they have wild energy and outlandish plans, they start to dwell on suicide and hopelessness, they stop eating or taking care of themselves, they start taking risks and being reckless. They become a different person. They’re in crisis.
The word “crisis” comes from a root meaning “judgment.”
A crisis is a moment of great tension and meeting the unknown. It’s a turning point when things can’t go on the way they have, and the situation isn’t going to hold. Could crisis be an opportunity for breakthrough, not just breakdown? Can we learn about ourselves and each other as a community through crisis? Can we see crisis as an opportunity to judge a situation and ourselves carefully, not just react with panic and confusion or turn things over to the authorities?
Crisis Response Suggestions
1 Working in Teams. If you’re trying to help someone in crisis, coordinate with other friends and family to share responsibility and stress. If you’re the one going through crisis, reach out to multiple people and swallow your pride. The more good help you can get the easier the process will be and the less you will exhaust your friends.
2 Try not to panic. People in crisis can be made a lot worse if people start reacting with fear, control and anger. Study after study has shown that if you react to someone in crisis with caring, openness, patience, and a relaxed and unhurried attitude, it can really help settle things down. Keep breathing, take time to do things that help you stay in your body like yoga and taking walks, be sure to eat, drink water, and try to get sleep.
3 Be real about what’s going on. When people act weird or lose their minds it is easy to overreact. It’s also easy to underreact. If someone is actually seriously attempting suicide or doing something extremely dangerous like lying down on a busy freeway, getting the police involved might save their life. But if someone picks up a knife and is walking around the kitchen talking about UFO’s, don’t assume the worst and call the cops. Likewise if someone is cutting themselves, it’s usually a way of coping and doesn’t always mean they’re suicidal (unless they are cutting severely). Sometimes people who are talking about the ideas of death and suicide are in a very dangerous place, but sometimes they may just need to talk about dark, painful feelings that are buried. Use your judgment and ask others for advice. Sometimes you just need to wait out crisis. Sometimes you need to intervene strongly and swiftly if the situation is truly dangerous and someone’s life is really falling apart.
4 Listen to the person without judgment. What do they need? What are their feelings? What’s going on? What can help? Sometimes we are so scared of someone else’s suffering that we forget to ask them how to help. Beware of arguing with someone in crisis, their point of view might be off, but their feelings are real and need to be listened to. (Once they’re out of crisis they’ll be able to hear you better). If you are in crisis, tell people what you’re feeling and what you need. It is so hard to help people who aren’t communicating.
5 Lack of sleep is a major cause of crisis. Many people come right out of crisis if they get some sleep, and any hospital will first get you to sleep if you are sleep deprived. If the person hasn’t tried Benadryl, herbal or homeopathic remedies from a health food store, hot baths, rich food, exercise, or acupuncture these can be extremely helpful. If someone is really manic and hasn’t been sleeping for months, though, none of these may work and you may have to seek out psychiatric drugs to break the cycle.
6 Drugs are also a big cause of crisis. Does someone who takes psych meds regularly suddenly stop? Withdrawal can cause a crisis. Get the person back on their meds (if they want to transition off meds they should do it carefully and slowly, not suddenly) and make sure they are in a safe space. Meds can start working very quickly for some, but for others it can take weeks.
7 Create a sanctuary and meet basic needs. Try to de-dramatize and de-stress the situation as much as possible. Crashing in a different home for a few days can give a person some breathing space and perspective. Perhaps caring friends could come by in shifts to spend time with the person, make good food, play nice music, drag them outside for exercise, spend time listening. Often people feel alone and uncared for in crisis, and if you make an effort to offer them a sanctuary it can mean a lot. Make sure basic needs are met: food, water, sleep, shelter, exercise, if appropriate professional (alternative or psychiatric) attention.
8 Calling the police or hospital shouldn’t be the automatic response. Police and hospitals are not saviors. They can even make things worse. When you’re out of other options, though, you shouldn’t rule them out. Faced with a decision like this, get input from people who have a good head on their shoulders and know about the person. Have other options been tried? Did the hospital help in the past? Are people overreacting? Don’t assume that it’s always the right thing to do just because it puts everything in the hands of the “authorities.” Be realistic, however, when your community has exhausted its capacity to help and there is a risk of real danger. The alternative support networks we need do not exist everywhere that people are in crisis. The most important thing is to keep people alive.