Laura-Marie River Victor Peace Nopales

what a diagnosis is

a way to justify a pill prescription,

a dull tool,

one doctor’s opinion,

an idea we can ponder

in the isolation room,

a concept I can give a lot of weight

or no weight to,

a term that’s as meaningful as I make it,

an attempt to pigeon-hole

a complex, unknowable, unfathomable miraculous animal,

an attempt at making me responsible

for what was done to me,

a way to say the trauma was my fault,

a culture’s attempt to sidestep

responsibility for failing

to protect its most vulnerable victims,

a joke,

an antiquated label based

on guesses made by a committee

of rich people who never met me

(they might have had daughters like me,

but they didn’t understand their daughters either),

an insult to my soul,

an insult to the miracle of survival,

a denial of my uniqueness,

a death sentence,

a mistake others will try to fix later,

the word-version of a billing code,

an excuse to dismiss me and everything I say,

a way to marginalize my intelligence,

a denial of my experiences

as part of the shared human experience,

an attempt to take away

my place at the table of life,

an excuse to take away my children,

a way to other me,

a source of pain,

a partial explanation,

a decoy,

a generalization based on error,

a static observation about

an always-changing organism,

a lazy way of seeing me.

a lie,

a construction,

the best a rushed psychiatrist could do,

shorthand for something that can’t be spoken,

a weird way of imagining me

that’s wrong the moment you speak it.

what I didn’t know I wanted from my mom until she died

her blessing about my queerness,

the colorful reading glasses,

to let me sing to her in Sanskrit,

her forgiveness that I hated my dad.

her blessing upon

my choice not to have kids.

assurance that she would love me forever,

no matter from where.

did she tell me that?

the secrets that burned up with her.

a certain pyrex dish.

all the family photos.

that little case for doll clothes.

the sewing box 

and all its contents.

the complete story 

of the day my dad died.

I was never strong enough to ask.

the story of my birth

one more time,

the best day of her life.

the way the pain came in waves

as intensity, and she could do it.

her blessing that I’m beautiful 

at any size.

her blessing that she was proud of me 

unconditionally, and her approval

would glow for me 

anywhere, from the ashes,

from the other side.

letter to myself as a 20 year old

dear young Laura-Marie,

You will learn to love yourself as you are.

You’ll heal enough

to live as a happy person.

Your life will open like a flower 

and bees of love will arrive 

to spread pollen and dance 

golden inside you.

Everything that held you back

will resolve,

a question answered 

with the luminous obvious.

Riches that have nothing to do with money

will fill your life with vibrant truth, 

so it won’t matter

what someone in a passing truck says

as you ride your trike

east on Bartlett Avenue.

Others’ judgments 

about your body, choices, and abilities 

aren’t relevant.  

What matters is this happiness–

sunshine, movement.

Quiet, emotional, alert to everything,

knowing who you are.

The women who came before you

survived the abuse of deserts,

drunken partners, childbirth, heartache

to pass you their strength.

Please keep struggling 

to one day find this joy.

Please keep eating delicious fruits,

sleeping on soft flannel sheets,

listening to this whispered promise 

through time: 

if you keep breathing,

you’ll find goodness

nothing can take away.

You don’t need to kill yourself.

hugs,  Laura-Marie

Mental health is a huge lake I find many treasures and monsters in.  The water is beautiful, and I immerse myself.  I love learning about myself and others–how we function, our gifts, embodiment, how we heal from our trauma.  I love taking care of myself and others.  

Radical mental health is about choices and freedom.  I choose not to hand over my power to a paid professional who has motivations that may not be in my best interest.  My wellbeing can’t be supplied by a pill or abuse in a psych ward.  I’ve talked to countless doctors, and none of them ever knew me.  I spend every moment with myself and know myself deeply.  I want to trust myself about what’s best for me.  I believe in interdependence, and I prefer equal power relationships and collaboration with friends and loved ones, rather than what psychiatry has given me, which has been disrespect and painful domination that mostly hasn’t helped.

My first poem, “what a diagnosis is,” is a list of ways diagnosis can function, from neutral to very harmful and invalidating our humanity.  There’s an emotional force behind the list because diagnosis has been used to dismiss me as not an actual person and justify taking away my freedom.  The second poem “what I didn’t know I wanted from my mom until she died” is about grief, lost chances, and longing for physical objects that represent family love.  The third poem “letter to myself as a 20 year old” is a message back through time, encouraging me not to give up.  I hope it can encourage others also.  The happy ending is that healing is possible.  Bodily pleasure and the strength passed to me by my powerful mother-ancestors help me find a good life, filled with love and meaning.

Laura-Marie River Victor Peace Nopales is a queer zinester living in community in Las Vegas, Nevada.  She helps run the Las Vegas Radical Mental Health Collective, which she formed in May 2017.  Originally from the coast, she has a poetry MFA from University of California, Irvine and a BA in Creative Studies Literature from University of California, Santa Barbara.  She enjoys making art, riding trike, ecstatic dance, and fat liberation.  She lives with several diagnoses, including schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type.  She also has sensory sensitivity and social differences. 

She’s disabled and has worked as a teacher, scorer of standardized tests, admissions cashier at a botanic garden, salads expert at a cafeteria, and editorial writer, as well as a lot of volunteer service and unpaid emotional labor.  She spends her time helping run an interfaith anti-nuclear peace organization, writing letters, and making then eating veg food.  She loves her spouse, the sky, desert rocks, lots of rest, singing, ritual, and the full time job that is taking care of her entire being.  Find her at

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