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,
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 generalization based on error,
a static observation about
an always-changing organism,
a lazy way of seeing me.
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
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.
about your body, choices, and abilities
What matters is this happiness–
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
if you keep breathing,
you’ll find goodness
nothing can take away.
You don’t need to kill yourself.
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 listeningtothenoiseuntilitmakessense.com.