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  • Writer's pictureShannon Gibson

Honoring My Medicine:The Gift in a Mental Health Crisis Overcoming Mental Health Struggles with Indigenous Wisdom

A wet milkweed pod with seeds bursting out

Studying with the Well of Indigenous Wisdom School did not begin my healing journey. What the teachings provided was a reinforcement of stronger foundations and the blueprint for sustainable ways to continue the clearing of a decades-long inner fog. The lessons and guidance shared helped me to see life through a more honest and clear lens. 

After years of cycling between starting and quitting different antidepressants, I had hit rock bottom. Alone on a night in 2014, desperate and fearing what I might do to myself, I was transferred from a local crisis center to a psychiatric emergency room. Still there the next morning, I signed papers voluntarily admitting myself for inpatient hospitalization in a locked ward. What followed would be the longest, most horrifying eight days of my life. I promised myself that whatever pills they gave me would be taken consistently. That I would keep going to the psychiatrists and therapists. Anything to keep me from experiencing that kind of hell again. Making even those commitments to and for myself were key in allowing the real healing to begin.

Regular medication and talk therapy allowed me to obtain a small measure of stability for the first time in years. I learned methods and techniques to help evaluate and regulate my mood, but I had only begun to scratch the surface of what healing could really mean. My mind and body were still under the control of several powerfully numbing drugs despite the progress gained in five years. After only a few weeks of classes with the WOIW, stability was interwoven with Indigenous teachings. This produced a subtle awareness that allowed profound questions to bubble up and be considered.  What if all the heavy emotions I was feeling– the hopelessness, the loneliness, anger, darkness, and frustrations were only my limited perspective? What if all that I felt was in itself a type of medicine? What if these experiences were truly gifts for me to unravel and share with others? What if this wasn't suffering, but journeying? My experiences and retrospective revelations were compared to those found in rites of passage, sweat lodges, and vision quests. Everything was to help me find the way back to myself.

  Until finding plant medicine and the Indigenous Wisdom of wellness and psychosis, my spirit had been trapped in a cage, unable to grow or see past its bars. Years of various antidepressants and antipsychotics disconnected me from my true self the minute I began taking medications to treat major depression at 20 years old. All soul growth had stopped but the psychosis evolved. Depression had morphed into Schizoaffective Disorder. The latter of which Western medicine believes there is no cure for and was told medication would be necessary for the rest of my life. 

A quick internet search will show numerous sources reporting statistics of those experiencing mental health issues as 1 in 5 people, or approximately 22% of the population in the United States. Other sources will say that this number is steadily climbing and the US is currently experiencing a mental health crisis that is projected to become much worse. 

The Western approach to science and healthcare is founded on reductionist ideals and for-profit business with little to no interest in an individual and their needs. The most obvious symptoms a person may be experiencing are only suppressed or exacerbated with medications and removal surgeries. What is prescribed are expensive, ineffective bandages to keep people bound within these systems, not true healing. There are of course many more reasons why systems in the US have been built this way and still thrive today. My experience shows only some of the lies society tells and the universal truths of nature. I discontinued all pharmaceutical medications two years ago with the help of plant medicine and have been stabilized for five with the guidance of Indigenous Wisdom. 

Malidoma Somé, a West African Elder of the Dagara tradition wrote several books reflecting on his experiences in walking between the two worlds of Indigenous tradition and modern society. Particularly reflecting on the culture and societal structure of the US from the viewpoint of the Indigenous. He often commented on how many health issues and societal woes of the West were a direct reflection of the peoples' disconnection from spirit, nature, and each other. That these were the root cause of problems that needed to be addressed. This sentiment is echoed throughout many Indigenous cultures and in the teachings at the WOIW. The Healing Wisdom of Africa by Somé is one of the required readings and a reflection assignment in the school. The book was a confirmation of many thoughts and knowings I already felt. In my reflection I wrote:

“I think I've always seen the disconnects within society in the U.S., but did not understand why they existed. It has many times also been a question of if the issues occurring in Western society have mainly occurred here and why. Particularly where so many of us have no idea of what our purpose is and how we tend to have a lack of strong support systems or sense of community. Imagine if we all knew our purpose, and had others with systems in place to help remind us of that. This instead of searching aimlessly, lost, and seeking to fill these voids with distraction and literally anything else. Malidome speaks of Western society creating artificial goals and these goals are often dictated to us by others looking to keep us forever trying to obtain the unobtainable. Always wanting to fill the voids. This keeps our society continuously working and sacrificing ourselves to maintain a lifestyle that actually gains little of substance while staying empty, sad, and forever wanting some unnamable thing.”

Ultimately, it is a need for the sense of fulfillment that people are searching for. This will look different to each individual. Be it finding deep connection in all its forms or a sense of purpose, the search to discover what forms fulfillment will take in life requires a high level of commitment to self. It means taking the time to learn all the facets, intricacies, light, and shadows that make you "you". This means choosing to do the best for yourself everyday. A strong sense of discernment is developed to inform a person on what is and is not best for them, while providing a filter for determining wants versus actual needs. These needs must then be met and consistently observed with flexibility and grace. Having solid support systems of all types is crucial to remain anchored in the present. Support can look like talking with friends, family, and ancestors even meditation and breathwork to maintain groundedness. Finding gratitude in even the smallest and seemingly insignificant aspects of your life can do amazing things to shift perspective. I often named all the things I was grateful for on nights my mind refused to let me rest. Everything from being thankful for the bed I slept in, to being born in a place and time where hot water and indoor plumbing were common were listed until I was lulled to sleep. These are some of the ways I found the quiet calm of balance within and began to see clearly.


Maintaining balance is the key to finding healing and is a practice in observations and adjustments. Only then is a person able to begin to know their heart, a compass that will always be a guide. With practice the knowledge of how to regain inner balance would be set in place anytime you fall out of alignment. The same methods inform adjustments needed to support growth. Sustained imbalance and stagnancy lead to physical and mental illnesses. Despite how the concept is sometimes portrayed in Western society, healing is a commitment and practice. It is not something that is obtained, purchased, or achieved outside of oneself. 

Despite my initial disbelief and doubt that the experiences I have endured would be of use to anyone, it is now obvious to me that sharing what I've learned is intertwined with my purpose and sense of fulfillment. It is wisdom and my medicine to share with those dealing with mental health issues. When something is meant for you, spirit will keep calling you towards it. If ignored, you may need to hit rock bottom before you’re ready to face the truth. Telling my story is only the first step of acknowledging my path in helping others with their healing journeys. I will accept my path in uplifting the collective, step into my purpose, and celebrate the sense of being whole. I will be prioritizing mental health in my clinical practice and developing knowledge shares for the community in the coming months as a guide to help others through the fog.

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