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  • Max Schneider

"Pathology" as Systemic Illness // The Illness Outside of Me

Hi dear reader, I've been thinking a lot lately about the power of locating illness when it comes to healing trauma.

One small aspect of this has been how I have conceptualized and framed my own healing journey over time.

I've used the traditional pathology models to describe my experience. I've used labels like "BPD" and "Bipolar" and "Anorexic". But those have just never quite fit right in my understanding of myself. They never really described what I was *actually* going through or what I had *actually* been through. They described things I was doing that were seen as a problem.

I remember having thoughts throughout my life of, "Why me?" "Why am I the only one in my family who sees this?" "Why am I the only one in my family who seems affected by this?" "Why am I the only one in my family who wants to talk about this?" "Why am I the one who is "sick"?" (you can easily replace "family" with "friend group", "work place", "team", "community", etc.)

I couldn't understand why it was my responsibility to get shut away in a treatment center, dealt with as if I was doing something wrong by struggling, and my responsibility to "recover" when I really didn't want to.

"Recovering" didn't serve me in the context of traditional, individualist and pathologizing mental health approaches because "recovery" would have asked me to give up the things that were keeping me alive. "Recovery" asked me to be silent about my emotional realities. "Recovery" asked me to demonize and discard the parts of me that were showing up to protect my system and myself, without helping me hear, witness, and understand them. "Recovery" taught me that my "ED" part was "bad" and something to push and fight against. When really my ED part was raising really important alarm bells about how my environment and certain aspects of my life weren't working for me. By being asked to push it away, subvert it, or suppress and avoid it, I was being asked to push away, subvert, suppress, and avoid a very wise and important part of me that was trying to help me survive. Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy is a modality that was developed out of Family Systems therapy/theory. IFS teaches us that we experience internal multiplicity (parts!), each of which have wisdom and and valuable qualities and each of which make up our internal system. This system also includes our core Self. IFS teaches us that by tapping into the wisdom and knowledge of our core Self. We also have the innate capacity to heal and to assist our parts and system in becoming more integrated, so that we are not regularly at war within ourselves, having internal experiences that are destabilizing, or allowing our parts to run the show from places of trauma responses.

I still use words like "healing" and "recovering"**. But I've been naming the "illnesses" I'm healing and recovering from in systems contexts, rather than individual ones. "I'm recovering from toxic monogamy culture."

"I'm healing the from ways that white supremacy lives inside my body and mind, and the ways it has taken my humanity from me and allowed me to refuse the humanity in others." "I'm recovering from the internalized ableism that I acquired growing up white and working class in late-stage capitalist America." "I'm healing from sexual and emotional trauma that was enacted upon me, for which I had no community or familial support after the fact."

I no longer wish to change myself. I only want to change my relationship to myself and my internal system so that I can become more of myself and be more Self led. I want to shift how I relate to my community and my loved ones, so that I can do so from a calm, connected, creative, confident, compassionate, curious, clear, and courageous place. The things I want to change now are the systems that we exist within, that harm all of us to different degrees. I want to change how we all talk about and individualize harm and struggle in America. I want to move away from models of pathology that don't help us understand ourselves and our world beyond individual illness, towards one that help us address the root of these problems inside these systems. I want to change how we talk about care, healing, transformation, and liberation to center collective models and models that bring us together, rather than push us apart. xx In care,

Max **When I use the word "recovery" I do not use it in a binary context as if "recovered" is a real place we get to or the actual goal, but as a way to point to the destabilizing nature of the things I am "recovering" from. I feel both critical of this language and okay with using it right now as a reclamation of a "recovery" process that I feel was done to me in my adolescence. For more resources related to ideas/topics that have informed my thoughts and writing in this post, check out:

And lastly, but certainly not least, this writing would not be what it is without many long, thoughtful, and supportive conversations with my friend and mentor, Johanna Foster.

the photo depicts a pine needle path through a pine forest, from the point of view of standing on the path, looking ahead to where it goes.

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