As an autistic survivor of a lot of psychiatric profiling and force when I was a teenager, I've been trying to find my way to people who wouldn't direct further abuse at me, nor encourage me to enable oppression against others. (Both have been challenging.) Also I've seen a lot of folks here talk about the trauma of themselves or loved ones being institutionalised, or gaslit by medical providers- it's brought up a lot for me. Here I want to lay out some things that helped me. I want to have healthier, ethical ways of meeting my emotional and social needs - not my 'mental health' needs. It isn't useful for me to imagine I have a thing called mental health that could get worse or better.
A lot of mental-illness discourse is 'modeled off' the psychosis prototype - a person's 'symptoms' are assumed to make them out of touch with reality. But other things that get called psychic ills aren't really about delusional beliefs. They can be about other cognitive differences, like occur on the autism spectrum. Or oscillating between periods of no energy and periods of insomnia and heightened energy. Or about emotional disturbances from trauma. These are wildly different experiences with little in common!
When I don't talk about my mental states as healthy or diseased, it lets me get much more specific. Ie, "the specific problem here is being numb from grief," or "cognitively, I can't process a concept the way other people around me do," or "this specific smell is a panic trigger for me." These are things I can unpack better when I don't throw them under umbrella terms from clinical settings that are very alienating to me.
I also want to be clear I'm not claiming to be healthier or better-informed than anyone who uses a different framework. I really benefited from reading the short article Sick Woman Theory, which talks about being chronically ill and excluded from "the political" for being "too sick," needing "too much care," or presumed "incompetent," and fighting back and reclaiming your space.
What's been most important to me is to remember that there's no point where someone becomes too sad or numb to define their own lived experience, or too psychotic to define their own lived experience, that no type or degree of disability lessens someone's right to do this. And when someone is being cruel or manipulative to me, I try to focus on asserting my rights and prioritizing my own needs, rather than speculate about their inner mental state or their needs.
'Why Does He Do That?' has been an invaluable resource to me, while understanding that I've been socially encouraged to accept abuse towards me in some ways, and given social license to oppress people in other ways. The author has run intervention programs for abusive men for decades and reports the patterns he sees among them. The big takeaway is being aware that when people have been violent and controlling towards me, it's based on their core values rather than overwhelming emotions or delusions. The problem is when someone believes that dominating and battering others is ethically acceptable, there's a really good line, "he doesn't have a problem with his anger, he has a problem with YOUR anger." If anyone wants I can share a full-text pdf of the book...
Also, blaming a person's choice to abuse others on a personality disorder, while lots of (non-violent) trauma survivor's c-ptsd symptoms get labeled as pd's, becomes a cycle of teaching survivors that they're comparable to their abusers - It's maddening - Let me take a deep breath and walk away from that!
I immersed myself in histories and memoirs of consumer/survivor/ex-patient activists (Irit Shimrat, Judi Chamberlin, psych survivor archives of Toronto) and tried to find humanistic perspectives on recovery and burnout and stuff - Many Roads One Journey and Trauma Stewardship were lifesavers! I found texts about somatic healing, "Body Keeps The Score," "Theater of the Oppressed," etc. I saw another poster's thread about depression and remembered how much Kate Bornstein's "Hello Cruel World" had helped me, which is about alternatives to suicide...
Something that's been really heartbreaking for me, is to hear conversations that happen about an absent person, where the absent person gets defined by stereotypes about their presumed disability, rather than by their actions, words, or attitudes. It makes it feel dangerous to try to communicate with people any more.
So I remember how many civil rights activists were diagnosed schizophrenic for their activism, like the protest psychosis talks about. And I remember how many women are diagnosed as borderline for displaying trauma from sexual abuse. I try not to take the wreckage of history so personally.
Also when people I'd considered friends or mentors said that me having been in abusive relationships (some romantic/sexual but some not) meant I needed more self confidence or self worth, or that being lonely and trying to figure out how to form healthy relationships meant something similar, had a pretty discouraging impact on me. It's taken a big conscious effort to try again, and find people who will understand that my cognition, my recovery, my organizing work, whatever, all get bogged down when I don't see any safe ways of forming intimacy with others.
Also when talking about my life goals, career-wise or activism-wise, I get discouraged by knee-jerk "positive thinking" reactions to me talking about my failures and limitations as such, but I keep trying again, to get through to people who can hear that. Sometimes this means we can strategize more realistically about what I can do differently next time, sometimes it doesn't and that's okay too - having shared acknowledgement of reality is worthwhile to me even if it doesn't lead to immediate action-planning.