Mike Skinner, Activist Musician

Mike splits his time between his music, teaching about abuse and mental health stigma,  “Surviving Spirit” (a non-profit and also a newsletter), his family, many friends, and fun things, like hiking and camping. As you might guess, he has a lot of energy.

He had an awful childhood that included physical, sexual and emotional abuse from his parents and their friends. What saved him was reading about people who survived against all odds and the Beatles, who opened up another world to him. He became a drummer and joined local bands, eventually touring England for two years with the hard rock band “American Train.” He then spent fifteen years running a small record company and managing an agency that booked 20-30 groups.

At that point, Mike had a flood of memories and came into the mental health system. Here is an excerpt from his blog at http://www.mskinnermusic.com/home/walk-mental-health-awareness-month/

“I came to dread those words (‘mental illness’ or ‘mentally ill’) back in the early to mid nineties, when the horrors of my childhood abuse came back to ‘visit’ me in 1993. I became grief-stricken and overwhelmed by the terror associated with my early life. I was numb with shock and pain and deeply depressed because I was finally dealing with the unresolved sadness, hurt and losses associated with my childhood years. The flashbacks associated with that time frame seemed to roll on in an endless loop – having to ‘watch’ and revisit all of the sexual abuse memories I had worked so hard to suppress was overwhelming and it brought great suffering. Labels were placed upon the experiences I was having now, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD] and Major Depression…and yes, within those descriptions came the many treatment providers letting me know that I was “mentally ill”, and life as I knew it was over. My life, as they were prescribing, would be one of over-medication and the belief that I would never be able to work again. Hmm…a person becomes sad, frightened and overwhelmed because of these horrible life experiences and that means you are destined to a life of nothingness? Wow! How sad and oh-so wrong to believe that. Please know, there were some wonderful mental health treatment providers who did not espouse these hurtful views to me, but sadly, many of them were part of a “mental health” system that did believe in these warped thoughts.”
Well, Mike  proved them wrong, in spades, and built a whole new career based on helping others.

Because of how he was treated when he was in the first stages of coming to terms with his past, he puts  “Please know, I AM NOT A DIAGNOSIS” and “A diagnosis is not a destiny!” all over his websites and newsletters.

Mike writes and performs in two areas, abuse education and fighting mental health stigma, and everything else. Everything else includes his own songs about life, love, loss and hope and cover songs from the Beatles, The Eagles, Cat Stevens and classic rock. He performs  in settings ranging from intimate coffee shops to concert halls with audiences of several thousand.

His music of advocacy and education is performed just about any place people want him. Some of the big names that did want him are Oprah Winfrey, the United Nations, and the State Department.  He’s on the Board of Directors of dozens of non-profits working to end child abuse and human trafficking and has spoken on Webinars, TV and the radio.

Plus he puts out a monthly newsletter describing about 20 artists and activists involved in healing projects; “Surviving Spirit: Healing the Heart Through the Creative Arts.” It has several thousand subscribers internationally.  He’s also active in the non-profit of the same name. You would think he worked thirty-hour days, without sleep.

Now if you are a musician, a writer, a dancer, an artist working in paint, ink, sculpture, fabric (or just about anything else) or a public speaker on child abuse or the stigma of “mental illness,” please remember that Mike is extraordinary in many ways. Try not to compare yourself with him! Each of us is different, each has a different talent and approach. And we need every single person to stand together and give strength to all of us for this long, hard, but intensely rewarding fight.

Use Mike as inspiration to help you start and get through the day. Please write him, let him know what you are doing and ask to be included in the newsletter, so that you, too, will inspire others. You will join his circle of friends and learn of many people doing fascinating work.

You can listen to tracks from his three CD’s, “Train of Tears,” “Waitin’ for a Train,” and “Pirates.” Go to http://www.mskinnermusic.com/home/ and pull down the “Music” tab.

Check out the back issues of “The Surviving Spirit” at http://newsletters.survivingspirit.com/index.php
Ask to subscribe at http://www.survivingspirit.com/contact-us.html


How in the world did we learn how to love? We were raised with deceit and cruelty. The people who were supposed to cherish us were sadists. We had to bond to monsters, because that’s all there was to bond to. By all odds, we should be incapable of love because we have no idea what it is.

I asked one of my healing buddies how he explained it. He said, “I just looked at the fields and knew that there was more, and that it was wrong.” Somehow that little boy could see the beauty of the fields amid the ugliness of his upbringing and his heart went out to it. There must be an intrinsic capacity in children to love.

Of course, love goes against everything we were taught. It was seen as an act of rebellion and invited severe punishment. We learned to love in secret to protect both ourselves and the people and things we cherished. We didn’t stop loving, we just went underground with it.

When we got enough power to escape, we gained the opportunity to love openly. Of course we were afraid to love, afraid to let anybody know we cared. We had to fight against our well-learned fear with every ounce of our strength. But we did it and we continue doing it daily in continued defiance of the cult. The instinct is just too great to deny.


Sometimes I get so disorganized that I can’t stand it. I feel like I am going in circles all day long, unable to decide what to do first, and therefore not doing anything. During those times, even dressing, bathing, and eating can become problematic.

I have to do something to change things and, since I can’t seem to trace the source of my difficulties, I try a little behavior modification on myself. Even if I can’t find and fix the cause, I can at least treat the symptom.

I pretend that I am going in-patient. Now I have never been hospitalized, so I don’t really know what in-patient is like. That leaves me free to design my own program.

My pretend hospital is very structured. There’s a schedule marked off in half-hours and my therapists (me) fill in all the activities. Wake-up time and bedtime are the same from day to day, and so are meal times. I schedule three small healthy meals a day, with optional snacks in the morning and afternoon.

Then my occupational therapist (me) schedules ADL (Activities of Daily Living.) Every day includes the basics: getting dressed, cooking, washing dishes, cat care, and a bath. Each day has an extra activity, like watering the plants, tidying up, laundry, or vacuuming. My physical therapist (me again) schedules water aerobics or gardening three times a week. And of course there’s my real therapy appointment, with my real therapist.

Time gets allocated to working on ritual abuse projects, my family, my friends, and my own personal process. Even if there seems to be no time left over, I also manage to squeeze in a few hours of fun during the week.

Most of the time just thinking up a schedule is enough to snap me out of chaos. Sometime I have to write out the week’s plan before I come around, and only occasionally do I have to follow the plan for any length of time. Just knowing it is there if I need it seems to be enough.

The nicest thing about my pretend hospital is that the whole staff understands me pretty well!

Adapted from Survivorship Notes, January 2001