Component Exploration

Component Exploration – Claiming Space

Timing: 30 Minutes
Mode: In-Class; Online

Namitha is a racialized young woman with a disability. The first component presented is her poem “O,C,D.”. The second component is an excerpted set of Namitha’s thoughts on her work as a spoken word artist, navigating mental health differences in her family, her experience with the mental health system, and the need for and the importance of opening up space for shared conversations about these topics.

Work through this powerful material by reading and listening to Namitha’s poem and considering her piece alongside a careful read of Namitha’s thoughts that she shared with Mad School.

PDF Version

O, C, D.
According to numerology,
The number three is said to have the meaning of positive affirmation.
I do not know if this is why I tap my middle finger to my thumb
While repeating,
“Everything is fine, everything is okay.
Everything is fine, everything is okay
Everything is fine,
but there is a wave of relief that rivals the sea that washes over me when I do so.
I am told that I can rid myself of this,
baptize myself in good health if I simply stop.
But how can I divorce my marriage to superstitions
if this lover is all that has ever kept me safe?
during a home invasion,
I stood unmoving
apart from my fingers,
Still tapping to the rhythm of my prayer.
“Everything is fine, everything is okay.
Everything is fine, everything is okay
Everything is fine,
I attribute my renewed subscription to Life to these hands.
How can you separate me from the only thing that has ever protected me?
My pocket sized saviour, born from my very movement,
I have been chastised for my childness.
Been told this movement can never actually save me,
“Don’t you know it is nothing but your own warped reality?”
But what is triviality but tradition to another?
How can something that brings me so much peace be considered a distress signal?
How can I be saved from my own hands when they are just hands?
Ritual is nothing but a promise I make to myself everyday,
and still, you believe it unholy.
What is this religion when I can only pray in secret?
Who else will tell me, that
Everything is fine, everything is okay.
Everything is fine, everything is okay
Everything is fine,

Namitha discusses the scope of her work and highlights why contributing to this project is an important intervention for her as “racialized and disabled person”:

“I usually talk about big picture ideas, like I talked about race, I talked about womanhood, I’ve talked about queerness. And I’m kind of getting into those more taboo conversations like disability and mental health …”

“…I believe that artistry, as a racialized and disabled person is a means of communication and community that exists outside of the white cis het lens. There is no ladder to climb, or expectation to fit into a box when creating are that is honest and true. It exists as a voice to scream, to whisper, to tell our stories. I have been able to find healing in issues related to my race and mental illnesses because of the art community…”

Namitha discusses her experiences navigating her mental distress in her family and how she articulated her voice in space:

I think when I was younger it felt really impossible [to access mental health support]. I think that, because it felt like my parents were kind of gatekeepers… not that they actively didn’t allow me to, but I think, because it was such a taboo topic in my household, it felt really uncomfortable to— like I needed their permission or them to access resources. Whereas, I think, as I got older, especially through my university, I was able to access it in a way where it didn’t need to be something that I necessarily disclosed to them.

It felt a lot … easier to access, I think, just not having to have this other middle person. And I think through that, I felt less ashamed, or like it felt less taboo, because I think that when I had to like explain it to my parents— who didn’t have this grounded understanding of mental health— I was, “Oh well, your reaction makes me feel like I don’t need this or like I shouldn’t need this.” So, I think as I got older and I didn’t have to go through that it just felt a lot easier and I had a more positive experience learning about my mental health and my mental illnesses.

As I’ve gotten older and I’ve kind of become more confident in my understanding of my own mental illnesses and my own mental health having those conversations as an adult, I think, is a lot easier. I think it feels like there’s like a bigger power dynamic when you’re a youth trying to access these resources and it feels like your parents are like the determinant of whether you do or don’t.

She also discusses her experiences talking about mental health as a racialized woman with a disability, as well as her experiences seeking support from the mental health system and medical professionals. Namitha highlights the complexity of intersections of race, gender and disability in this context:

I think that speaking about disability as a woman of color, is very different than to speak about disability as someone who holds other privileges, because … I feel like to be a woman of color navigating the medical field as someone who also has a disability, I think is very different in nuance because of those kinds of stereotypes and expectations that medical professionals hold…

Navigating the medical field as a woman of color obviously is much more difficult, and I think that being able to talk about … things like what it means to receive treatment and … being able to navigate that system to receive treatment, I think, are both things that would not be the same if I wasn’t racialized.

I feel like my expectation when I have racialized doctors is that they understand how being a racialized person can impact you in the medical field and how you can not be believed, or not receive treatment because of assumptions based on that. But I think that I’ve had that experience, where I’ve spoken to racialized men doctors and you know they rely on these assumptions of my weight, or my menstrual cycle and I’m … really frustrated because as a racialized person, you should understand what people like us, that look like us, go through [in] the medical field. It’s really frustrating…

Namitha discusses how the issue of exclusions and silences across the spaces and communities to which she belongs emerges for her, also highlighting some of the ways this issue is countered. She reflects on writing her poem:

“I feel like the common ways that [mental illness is] talked about is [from a] white lens. Mental illness is only really [talked] about in the context of anxiety, depression and other [diagnoses]… I feel like other factors of intersecting identities aren’t really spoken about… like [how it intersects] with my queerness or my race. So, I really wanted to kind of make an active effort to talk about how my race impacts my mental health and mental illness, my diagnosis of OCD. So I think that I noticed in writing the poem that you know these themes like my relationship with my parents or my relationship with my racial community were, finding their way into my poem….”

“I feel that conversations about mental health [are] non-existent in Sri Lankan Tamil spaces… I think that’s …a by-product of colonization. I think that, within spaces with other women, I think it’s like kind of similar to queer spaces where for some reason [they] are a lot more open about mental health struggles. But I think that, like each space has it has its faults because of the way that intersectionality works. So, I think like in racialized spaces, it might not be as queer affirming or queer centric and then … spaces are often very whitewash[ed], so I think it’s just like a matter of finding my place in those different communities and those different conversations.”

“I feel the way that [my mental health] intersects with my race…it’s not really spoken about. Mental illness is not a thing that was really spoken about in my family or like I don’t really notice it spoken about in other, racialized spaces that I’ve been in so much.

I think that changes are kind of coming about nowadays with like folks my age, having those conversations…”