Hello, my name is Carey. I teach mounted archery and I have schizophrenia. This may seem like an un-ideal combination to many people due to the stigma that people with psychosis are dangerous. In reality, archery, horses and mounted archery have been incredibly empowering for me, and I am really good at teaching it. I was asked to write about how archery was a part of my healing journey, however I think it has been less healing and more empowering, uplifting and connecting.
I began archery over 10 years ago as a past time that I had always been drawn towards. (This is a common experience and I will get back to it later!) When I picked up archery again seriously, I was a year into a diagnosis that had shattered my identity, my community, my confidence and my sense of self. It was through the practice of archery that I began to understand myself again and find who I was at my core.
Psychosis, for me, shattered my sense of self occupationally, socially and conceptually. Prior to psychosis, my occupational sense of self surrounded music. Once I began to grow after my break, I began to develop a new occupational sense of self that led to finding my conceptual self again. That is to say, understanding myself as a strong, resourceful, social and intelligent human being was never broken or changed, but merely buried for a time under the broken pieces of my occupational and social identity.
There were several ways that archery empowered, uplifted and connected me. First, archery is a meditative practice. There is a saying that 90% of archery is the "mental game." This refers to a phenomenon where your success in hitting the target directly reflects your mental state. (In fact there is a whole archery practice based around this called Kyudo.)
In plain speech, when you are thinking negatively about yourself (eg. I'm doing such a bad job. I suck at this. Why can't I get any better? Everyone else is better than me,) you will MISS the target every time.
This phenomenon is well known in the archery community and is commonly called Target Anxiety or Target Panic. To combat Target Panic, the protocol is to simply (or really not so simply) think positive thoughts about your shooting, relax and disconnect your self worth to your success on the target. This practice is very obviously related to cognitive behavioral therapy where you work to change your inner dialogue to produce more relaxation and happiness and reduce symptoms of mental health experiences.
It was through this consistent practice of practically applied CBT during archery that I began to learn the skill of speaking, thinking and feeling good about myself. Feeling good boosted my confidence and allowed me to take more social risks as well as stand up for myself and create social boundaries so I would have more positive interactions. I began to want to be more involved with other archery people, and now had the confidence to insert myself into the circles. It was through this that I began to travel in national and international social circles, getting to participate in a national meeting of traditional horse archers, and making friends in other countries like Canada and the U.K.
Being involved in this community makes me feel like I belong and have an important role to play and things to contribute. This helped me to develop a sense of purpose that I had lacked for years after losing my music dream and community. It's this same sense of purpose that has me reaching out to offer this opportunity for other people who share similar experiences and may benefit in the same ways I have. That brings me back to the most integral part which is connection.
We've talked a little now about connection to communities, but the most important connection is to yourself. When a person goes through psychosis it is incredibly isolating, because not only is connection to occupation and community lost, but the connection to your inner self is lost. We all go through life with an inner voice, or sense that guides us. Whether that be a religious figure, an ancestor or our own voice. When I experienced psychosis, I lost my inner voice. It was drowned out and silenced by very audible voices, and stigmatized narratives from society. When I began practicing archery, it felt like a fulfillment of something deep inside me all the way down to my DNA. When I pulled the bow back, the world was suddenly silent again, and I could hear my own voice whispering "You are strong, you are powerful. You are good." It was in this way that archery didn't heal me, but it quieted a storm in my mind and allowed me to heal myself.
Something that is noteworthy about archery, horses and other ancient pastimes is that there is an evolutionary instinct to perform them and epigenetic evidence to suggest trait inheritance to perform these activities. For example, humans have been shooting bows and arrows for 15,000 years (although some archeologists think it may be as long as 50,000 years!) Homo sapiens in fact have a perfectly evolved shoulder joint to perform archery, whereas Neanderthals could not because of a reduced range of motion. Many young people have the instinct to do archery (watch out for kindergarteners with sticks and shoe strings.) I hear from many of my students that it's something they have always wanted to do and now that they have the opportunity it is so fulfilling it reaches into an almost spiritual level.
In conclusion, beyond the practical applications of archery for increasing confidence, connection to self and community for ANY human, (not to mention a human having psychosis.) For many people, performing archery fulfills a spiritual sense of purpose, connection with the past and elation that they don't reach through other venues. Will archery make people suddenly feel better? Absolutely not. But it will grow them, their sense of self, their life experiences, their community, their skills and their joy. And what is better for a human than to live in the world, to feel it with their own hands and to laugh and succeed alongside their peers?
I you want to learn a little more about the epigenetic evidence for experience inheritance check out this post on the subject and its relation to mounted archery.