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Firewalkers: Madness, Beauty and Mystery

The book Firewalkers: Madness, Beauty and Mystery, Radically Rethinking Mental Illness tells the stories of seven people who have lived through a mental health crisis and through this experience have learned things they never expected to learn and become people they never expected to be.

Firewalkers redefines mental illness as “a journey of emotional turbulence, crazy blessings, ecstatic visions and mad gifts; spiritual breakdowns and spiritual breakthroughs; a sacred quest that has the power to enrich us, reveal unknown strengths, and transform our lives.”

The book, created by VOCAL, a Virginia nonprofit mental health program, challenges traditional concepts of mental illness and Western medicine. While not anti-medication, it presents a view of mental illness as “something off-balance that needs to be gently righted, not medicated out of existence.” The individuals who tell their stories include some who no longer take medications and some who embrace medications in the management of their illness. They explain how the support of friends and family, religious faith and healthy lifestyles also play a part in their recovery.

Among those who share their stories are individuals who’ve been laid low by their illness, been hospitalized and lost jobs and children, but who now lead satisfying lives. Many have become advocates, peer recovery specialists and executives of mental health organizations.

The narratives are honest and courageous. Michelle’s story is one: “My mind, my thoughts and my emotions scared me and others. It was exhausting, tiring and maddening.  [But] I like who I am right now. I like the fact that I can relate to the hurt and the pain and the sadness that other people go through.”

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