Thursday, November 22nd, 2018

Firewalkers: Radically Rethinking Mental Illness

Published on February 21, 2010 by   ·   13 Comments Pin It

We have all been touched by a mental health crisis – whether its ourselves, a family member, or a friend.   Today Guest Blogger Malaina Jean Poore shares why whom society deems the craziest can sometimes be the most beautiful;

“Today I  brought a copy of the book, “Firewalkers: Madness, Beauty and Mystery” to donate to prisoners in my community. The volunteer opened to a random page and read the title, “What happens when you  give power to crazy people?” “Oh, no,” she said, “this will never pass. Too radical.”

Firewalkers, $15

Firewalkers chronicles the profound, turbulent, spiritual experience of living through a mental health crisis. What our society labels as “mental illness” can be a sacred quest that has the power to enrich us, reveal unknown strengths, and transform our lives.

It’s funny because someone gave power to a group of crazy people and they put a book together of brilliant stories and photographs. They told their stories in their own language about the internal landscape of struggle and brilliance. One person said she didn’t believe she ever had a mental illness. One woman said she felt she had a brain imbalance that she could keep in check with diet and exercise. More than one person talked about their faith and spiritual life. The book manages to inspire without being trite, to give hope and stay down-to-earth.   I’ve always been interested in the fringe because its so fun out here! I never had to “come out” as a person with a psychiatric history because I thought that was just implied when you are a creative type. Doing the work that I do forces me to come out again and again, and it makes me people uncomfortable. A dirty little secret in this age of too much information and downright voyeurism.

Cassandra Nudel says, “Could it be that what we are diagnosing as mental illness is in fact a search for wholeness, balance, and meaning in a sometimes painful and irrational world?” I would say yes. That and so many other things. I’m much less interested in labels and diagnoses. I like to hear people speak from the heart about what they’ve experienced.   I want to invite you to ask yourself this question and see what comes up.

Malaina Poore is the mama and two and no crazier than you.

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Readers Comments (13)

  1. Chloe says:

    Thank you, Malaina, for your strength… and this important piece!

  2. Did I mention that more info can be found at

  3. Lee says:

    Thank you so much. I have spent my life watching people I love , including myself, go through the trials of mental illness. It is so wonderful that this book was written. I believe exposure, in a true light, will lead to understanding.

  4. Jennynyc says:

    Thanks to Malaina for her vision and follow-thru!

  5. Suze says:

    I woke up early the other morning and stoked the woodstove and curled back under my blankets. Firewalkers was brought by by a friend and I take a peek. Wouldn’t we all feel better if we walked through life with the sense of worth and acceptance? Thanks to Ms. Poore and others for creating an genuine piece for us to ponder.

  6. Chastity says:

    Thank you for the inspiration! I always found that those who deal with mental illness are individuals who experience the world in a very truthful way, no matter how beautiful or painful.

  7. Michael says:

    Firewalkers is an amazing book. One that I wish I was able to read years ago. This is the type of information that should be mandatory in Psych 101. Thank you Vocal (and Malaina).

  8. luna says:

    I’m sorry, but what a badly written post–from beginning to end. You guys need a decent editor. It’s hard to tell what the book is really about, but I’m not inclined to find out after reading this “review.” The author’s flippant comment that “it’s so fun out here,” re: mental illness, is no doubt quite offensive to anyone who has actually experienced serious mental illness. Really, it’s not that much fun.

  9. Hi Luna,

    Thank you for the reminder that I need to be more clear in my writing.

    When I said that it was fun out here, I was talking about being on the fringe of a system. In this case it would be working on creative healing with like-minded peers vs. the medical model of Dr. and patient, particularly when you are being told your symptoms are chronic and you can expect a lifetime of pain.

    I can see where that may come off as flippant.

    The book is about metal health recovery, which doesn’t for a minute mean that the struggles suddenly cease and everything turns rosy. It was intended as a different way of viewing mental illness that ultimately supports the whole person.Everyone who worked on the book has been inside the mental health system, including me.

  10. luna says:


    Thank you for your follow up and clarification. I understand now where you were coming from with the “it’s fun out here” comment. Having experienced the mental health system myself, I’m happy others are speaking up about their successes with alternative approaches. Sorry if I sounded harsh. I’ve spent a good deal of my life dealing with the pain of mental illness, so I am particularly sensitive to this issue.


  11. Luna,

    It was actually a brilliant reminder for me.

    The book is very well written. If you want a copy I would be happy to send you one. I have a little stash. My email is

  12. Jason says:

    Did I dare stare too long in my Medusa’s eyes? Rocketships and crusty bread? As the stars extinguish one by one, rasping chain of breath constricts, and I see my brothers on leashes and eating from dog dishes, I think of the fallen. I am half-way though firewalkers madness, beauty, & mystery.

    I can answer your question, (the one where you said What Question?)but to do so we must journey to the beginning, come with me to the sea when fish with legs first plopped hopscotch on the brimstone rocks, it was brother eat brother to survive, but oh the heartache when Cain shoved the blade in the mirror’s back, and his head rolled into the sea. The fallen, Angels trapped in the bodies of trees, the forbidden fruit then? from the first tree. The taint, the seed, the prison of the gods, the tree! The gardener, the flaming bush, the painted on smiles, the sea of souls, the mind that knows Yes I read firewalkers and the trees speak to me, call me insaNE, but the levels, the planes, of reality overlap, my thoughts to me set me free while others get imprisoned in their own heads. If you are convinced there is only one room, and the solution is in that one room, and you search and search for it but you cannot find the solution in that one room, I say to you, Is it possible the answer to your question is in another room? (Thanks Dalai Lama for that analogy).

    So now I wear the label of mentally ill around my neck, my pirate brand itches, hungry for salvation I keep safe the map that was drawn in my mind. It leads to my destination, I have the key, I have glimpsed at eternity’s horizon, medusa’s face, I am a guardian of the trees, I have seen such beauty, before it was roped, dragged down, soiled, broke, smashed and imprisoned, crawled over and scrutinized by judges of the best apple pies, taken digested with added laxative, poked at, dressed as a clown, an image of reality too close, too real, a crown of needles, they must paint a mustache on for society to safely see.

    The point here is I did not know there were other guardians, so closely woven in my mental fabrics tapestry until I got firewalkers and began to read. I have not finished it, but already I’m incorporating it into my program, many of the keys fit me, and as my heart gets lit, I can go into the dark and light other hearts who may be lost. I do not want to say what parts really speak to me, as it must be different for each, and I do not want to rob the experience, but it carries a deeper message to those who have the power to believe in belief. I recommend this book to everyone, and I am listening, some people, like antennas of trees, are sensitive, and pick up signals a little differently. I can understand the beauty of the review here stating criticism over a life of pain caused by mental illness, that it was triggered by Malaina’s review as if she reopened the wound, I see this person so very close to breaking through, I see it as a person swimming, but holding a heavy stone to their chest, they love the stone, and they are trying to swim, the stone is so precious to them, and they are trying to swim, they are struggling very badly, they love their stone, and they are trying to swim. I have many scars, but do they tell a story of wounding, or a story of healing? This book is written by healers. Thanks Malaina and all involved in its production! It is beautiful!!

  13. Ariel says:

    Thank you for this book. I had many emotional reactions while reading it. My own (recent) experience with the mental health system was terrifying, and I walked away with a diagnosis of an illness that I don’t believe I even have. Meanwhile I have been terrorized by my ex-husband and he is threatening to take my daughter away. I have been prescribed anti-psychotic medication for an illness I don’t really have. Who dares to define sanity? I thank god for this book, and
    Thank you Malaina.

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