Laura Delano is a community organizer, psychiatric liberation writer
, and activist who advocates for fully informed choice about psychiatric diagnosis and "treatment" and for individuals’ right to access alternatives to the mental health system. Laura recently founded and serves as Executive Director of Inner Compass Initiative (ICI) and ICI’s The Withdrawal Project, which are launching in the winter of 2017.
Laura’s work is fueled by the fourteen years she spent lost in the mental health system and the journey that she’s been on since 2010, when she chose to leave behind a “mentally ill” identity and the various treatments that came with it, and gradually began to rediscover and reconnect with who she really was and what it means to suffer, struggle, and be human in this world. Laura was sent to her first therapist at the age of thirteen, and by the time she was fourteen she was labeled “mentally ill” when she was diagnosed with “bipolar disorder”. She was put on psychiatric medicine and fought her diagnosis until she was a freshman in college. Enrolled at Harvard University, she embraced her label of “mental illness” and spent the next ten years on nineteen different psychiatric drugs, in and out of locked wards, outpatient programs, treatment centers, and intensive psychotherapy.
After reading the book Anatomy of an Epidemic
by Robert Whitaker,
her life was forever changed. At 27 years old she embarked on the journey of tapering off of the psychiatric medications she had been put on over the years. Since September 2010, she has been free from psychiatric labels and psychotropic drugs, and firmly believes the human experience should never be pathologized.
Laura’s journey to liberation
meant reclaiming and trusting her voice as well as her agency, sense of accountability, and responsibility as a human being. Through her own personal journey she has come to believe that the darkest parts of ourselves are often our best teachers, and that mental and emotional pain is something to listen to, lean into, explore, learn and grow from – not fear, suppress, run away from, or pathologize and seek to shut down. Having re-entered life fully as a human being, today she looks back on her thirteen years as a “bipolar” patient with gratitude; the years of isolation, marginalization, and darkness which led her to despair and suicidal thoughts ultimately taught her what a meaningful life is by showing her what it is not.
Since becoming an “ex-patient”, Laura has been writing and speaking
about her personal experiences
and about the broader social and political issues sitting at the heart of “mental illness” and “mental health”. She has worked within the mental health system, providing support to and advocating for the rights of individuals in emergency rooms, psychiatric hospitals, and institutional “group home” settings, and she has worked beyond the system’s walls, consulting with individuals and families seeking help withdrawing from psychiatric drugs and rediscovering life in the wake of psychiatric diagnoses. Laura has given talks and facilitated workshops in Europe and across North America, and has organized mutual aid groups for people in withdrawal.
Today, Laura sees the experiences that get called “mental illness” not as sicknesses, but rather as opportunities to deepen our connections with ourselves and with each other – and through Inner Compass Initiative and The Withdrawal Project, she is eager to help create spaces and opportunities for all of us to do this important “rehumanizing” work together.
Laura is a 2006 graduate from Harvard University. She serves on the boards of the International Society for Ethical Psychology and Psychiatry (ISEPP)
and National Association for Rights Protection and Advocacy (NARPA)
, and she is an advisory board member of It’s All About Childhood and Family
Join us in conversation with this remarkable woman!
Five Questions with Laura Delano
What Makes You Come Alive?
My emotional pain. Sometimes it might be a dull ache in my heart, other times sharp pangs, and sometimes big swells and waves, and whenever I feel it, it sparks me fully into aliveness. I've felt this pain as far back as I can remember I'm thinking, as an example, of being five years old and breaking down in tears on my hands and knees before a dead, shriveled worm I'd come across on the sidewalk, grieving the fact that people had built this hot cement structure without considering that it would become an oven for insects. But around the time I went into the mental health system and during all my years there, I was taught that this pain was a sign that something was wrong with me and so I began to fear it and desperately seek out ways to get rid of it. Today, I embrace it, treat it with deep respect, and listen to its messages as best I can, for I understand it as a manifestation of my sensitivities and the intimate connections I feel to what's happening around me in the world.
Pivotal turning point in your life?
The inner capacity that we all have as human beings to grow, change, and even profoundly transform ourselves at every level of our being -- physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, and spiritually.
An Act of Kindness You'll Never Forget?
During the period of time in which I came off psychiatric drugs and began to make my way out of the mental health system, my aunt and uncle opened up their home to me for eleven months. I was going to a nearby psychiatric hospital during the day and was really strugglingsometimes, I'd be curled up for six hours straight, staring at the wall; I think I left a permanent indent on their sofa!yet they allowed me to be exactly as I was without needing me to be someone else or to change in any way. When I needed support, they were there for me, as was my immediate family, too, but more than that, what they really did was hold space for me so that I could find my own path through what I was experiencing and slowly reconnect with myself in my own way and on my own time. What a sacred gift! I will never forget their kindness and generosity. I am quite sure I wouldn't have made it out alive were it not for them and for the rest of my family.
One Thing On Your Bucket List?
The chance to sit in a room with many of the mental health professionals from my past, and make sense, together, of what happened between us.
One-line Message for the World?
Understanding emotional pain as a meaningful response to what's happening to us and around us -- rather than as a â€œsymptomâ€ of â€œmental illnessâ€ -- transforms it into a catalyst for cultivating social, economic, environmental, and political change.