Annual Conference

TheMHS 2015 S017: Reflections on communicating lived experience

By August 26, 2015 No Comments

“Sanity only starts to have meaning when it is breached through madness, just as day only has meaning because there is night.“ 

-Excerpt from Madness Made Me, Mary O’Hagan

Mary O’Hagan recounted the story of narrating her own story of crisis and recovery in her memoir, Madness Made Me. Mary shared a core message that “Madness is a fully human experience that deserves respect.” In her memoir, Mary speaks to her own experience of mental illness and the mental health system.

She articulated the importance of acknowledging the constructed nature of stories, insisting upon the importance they play in understanding our lives and ourselves: “We are given stories before we can shape our own, and It’s important to not just accept them.”

Mary commented on how those with mental illness often internalise their experiences. For this and other reasons, the experiences of those with mental illness, are often seen as “less true” than that of the “objective-onlooker”.

Mary confirms that it is important to construct stories that:

-honour our lived experience knowledge

-give us power over our own lives

-restore our human status

While still treating one’s audience with integrity and respect. Mary frankly reminded the audience that the stories we may want to share must first of all interest the listener, suggesting that ‘catharsis’ belongs in more private moments. 

Madness Made Me is an open, honest look at challenging the narratives told to us by both onlookers and the mental health system. For Mary, the focus of sharing lived experience falls on the ‘Hero’s Story’, facing the mountain of the dilemma to emerge greater, on the other side. 

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