A Crazy Half-Breed Femme’s Reflections on Mental Health & Reclamation
by Gesig Selena Isaac
I cannot talk about reclamation without talking about its relationship to my mental health. For me, these things are intrinsically connected. I cannot talk about one without talking about the other. I think for a lot of us who are trying to seek out traditions and parts of our culture, and ourselves, this is true. It can be confusing, exhausting and sometimes very lonely. It can also breathe new life into our lungs and push us forward. Many obstacles can come between us and our culture; being estranged from blood family, unstable housing, being low income, mental health. There are also many ways we can seek out Reclamation; elders, community members, schooling (both formal & informal). Whatever way we choose, our e orts are both beautiful and valid. Mental health has very much shaped my path to Reclaiming.
Above: Rose Earrings beaded by the Author
It has also taken a lot of time to get here; to seek out and find something that works for me. Reclaiming has been, more than anything, a creative outlet. I can tell you that for most of my life I carried around what I can best describe as a dam, weighted on my chest.
Holding back a barrage of water that needed to burst forth and ow. I knew something had to come out. ere was this limitless energy that I couldn’t necessarily name but knew was there. Sometimes in my mind, I visualized this energy as being a wooden chest that was waiting to get busted open.
My depression never was the cute kind. It was never the kind that could be transformed into something productive. I wasn’t making art about it. I wasn’t writing zines about it. I was very much in bed about it. And if not that, going to work and bursting into tears about it. When I think about what I’m going to write next I feel like a fraud. Sometimes, I feel like a fraud. Thirteen months ago I put my Crazy ass on medication. It helped. A lot. It blew up that dam and it busted open that chest. It helped me to see how my anxiety was manifesting in ways that I wasn’t able to realize, or even conceptualize, at the time. I knew it was holding me back but I hadn’t realized fully the extent it was doing so. I have Dreams now. Like, Real Live Fucking Dreams and goals and shit. Thirteen months ago if someone asked me what my life Dreams and Goals were I would have a) broken down and cried and curled up into a ball or b) fucking ran. I am not advocating for medication. I am talking about my own personal experiences. I am lucky. I know very well that this is absolutely not the experiences of most people who enter the world of Psychiatric medicine. I am telling you this because this has been a part of my path to Reclamation. I am invested in and committed to maintaining my Culture and Traditions in ways I am happy and very proud of. I do not know if I would have come to this place hadn’t I made that choice to medicate. When I write this I hear the voices of some herbalists telling me I just need to pull myself up by my “Spiritual Bootstraps” and “Stop feeling sorry for myself ” or “Depression is an ailment of the Spirit.” at’s fucking ableism and fuck that.
In the past year or so I feel like I have come to terms with that fact that mental health is an area in my life where I struggle. For a long time I was in a sort of pseudo denial about it and with that came a lot of anxiety and turmoil as to what my next steps in life might be. Today is my second day of school. I’m enrolled in an “Aboriginal Visual Arts” program at a Cra s College on the East coast. School for a long time was never something I had considered. I floated around for a very long time in cities where I felt out of place and inadequate. Finally, I honoured my Virgo rising self and finally, acknowledged and accepted that routine and a schedule might be one of the many things my crazy heart and brain may need. There were a couple of other schools I was previously interested in and frankly still am. Ultimately, I settled on the one I am in now because it is relevant to who I am as an Indigenous person. It is specific to where I come from geographically. e other schools were either in Northern Alberta or just outside of Yellowknife. rough making this decision a lot of questions came up for me like, What would it mean for a half-breed Mi’gmaq such as myself going to Northern Alberta to learn craft mean? My teachers wouldn’t be Mi’gmaq. My teachers would be Blackfoot and Metis or Dene. Would I have a place there?
I was in Toronto recently and there was an art show opening called ‘Indian Giver.’ It was a beautiful show. Later, I read an interview with one of the artists*, Sage Paul, she said:
“Across Canada there are 500 different Indigenous nations. There are some commonalities but we’re all pretty different. So, for example, I would never use a headdress in any of my work because I don’t have a cultural connection to it. I have a feeling of protection over it but it’s not part of who I am or my nation… Our language and culture have been taken away from us so, for me, a lot of the artwork is one of the things that’s been constant… Clothing and textile identify who we are, especially because we are an oral culture. There are very specific c visuals that you can place to nations: the types of oral work on a mitten or moccasins, for example, can place us geographically.”
Reading that helped solidify my decision. I understand the need to grab on to a Nation’s culture that isn’t yours when trying to navigate your way back to your own roots. These things can be cyclical. They can lead you back to yourself. But when given a chance to learn from your own people, about your own ways: take it. I want to know more about what it means to be Mi’gmaq. What makes us unique as a Nation. That being said, we all do what we can to get by in this Colonized world. Not everyone has access to the places they are from or money to go to school. Like I said before our efforts are beautiful and our efforts are valid
There were definitely a lot of “sexy” elements to going up North. Hide tanning and welding were both a part of the different curriculums. Having a chance to see the Northern lights was also a huge draw for me. In the end though I knew what the right choice was.
In class I learned of Maliseet scholar Andrea Bear Nicholas. She writes extensively of the ubiquitous dream catcher and Medicine Wheel. She is adamant that neither of these beliefs were ever apart of the Mi’gmaq teachings. She writes:
“To Mi’kmaq, Maliseet, and Passamaquoddy Peoples of the Maritimes:
It has been repeatedly brought to my attention how completely our people have been fooled into believing that the medicine wheel is somehow part of our traditions, especially our spirituality. While I had long had concerns about its origins, what woke me to the hoax was an event that occurred several years ago at a national conference of Aboriginal women scholars. It occurred when I raised the concern and prefaced my remarks with an apology to those whose tradition it might have been. Immediately a chorus went up with virtually everyone in the room saying loudly that it was not their tradition! And these were Aboriginal women scholars from across Canada!”
It is not a part of our oral traditions. These are important things for me to know. If I had sought out formal education at any one of the other schools I don’t think I would have heard of this. It is a part of my Reclaiming work to know what is and isn’t ours to pass on, to Reclaim.
The more we talk about our demons the more room is made for the good stuff. The stuff that feeds us. It can be vulnerable and messy at times but in the end I don’t think we have much other choice. Let’s honor our own processes, learn everything we can and share it.
Gesig Selena Isac
Gesig is a mixed race, half-breed Forest-Femme demon. She currently resides in wolastoqiyik territory.