On Recovering from Psychiatric Labels and Psychotropic Medications: An ‘Occupy APA’ Manifesto

Laura Delano
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To Readers: I’ve decided to sway, briefly, from my traditional story-telling style on this blog in order to post my short speech from this weekend’s ‘Occupy APA’ event in Philadelphia.

 ——

It is an honor to be in Philadelphia, the city of “brotherly love”, as one voice among many in this Occupation of the American Psychiatric Association, brilliantly organized by MindFreedom International.

It is an honor to be a part of a civil rights movement so vital to our age, yet still so invisible to the majority of our country and much of the world.

It is an honor to be able to call myself a psychiatric survivor, especially one representing my generation— the medicated generation, a generation in which facing the emotional upheaval that comes with hitting puberty has meant being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, ADHD, depression, anxiety, or schizophrenia and subsequently medicated with brightly colored capsules and bitter-tasting tablets.

My generation has grown up believing that if we can’t focus on our work because we’re distracted by the boy we have a crush on, by the upcoming game we’re playing in, or by the constant bombardment of media from which we can’t escape, we have a brain disease.  If we find ourselves experiencing intense emotions that seem, at times, unbearable, we must go to psychiatry to tell us how to bear them.  If we have thoughts too intensely creative, we are ‘grandiose’, ‘delusional’, or even ‘psychotic’.  If our thoughts move so quickly that we chase after them with our spoken words, we have ‘pressured speech’ or ‘tangential thinking’.  If we feel misunderstood, marginalized, isolated, or disillusioned by this complicated thing called life, we have a chemical imbalance with only one solution—a solution that means turning our agency over to a psychiatric label and our sense of self— our livelihood, our ability to feel innate feelings and think innate thoughts— to a bottle of lifeless pills.

To stand here before you as a person who ingested the intoxicating language of psychiatry and began to speak it as her own, who incorporated the clinical gaze and began to see herself entirely through its lens, brings a flood of emotions that I am proud to say today is completely, entirely human.  My feelings are not ‘symptomatic’ of illness, and I do not ‘lack insight into my mental condition’.  These emotions bring with them the pain that came with being labeled ‘abnormal’ and unacceptable by society for my most formative years; with carrying a diagnosis after my name that meant I would always be different, always fighting to appear like everyone else, struggling to manage life instead of living it.  I was bipolar, from my teenage years until age twenty-seven, and I was convinced it was all I ever would be.

I became adept at staying on top of my ‘symptoms’, of letting my psychiatrist know when I was having ‘racing thoughts’ or ruminating too much on the meaning of life and my part in it so that she could adjust my medications appropriately, or maybe throw a new, more ‘sophisticated’ prescription into the mix.  I thought I was making my psychiatrist proud by learning the language of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual to describe myself, and knew that because I’d never be successful at anything else in my life due to my ‘chronic mental illness’, I could at least excel at becoming good at being a patient.

During my thirteen years in the mental health system, I believed that I was broken and incapable of being fixed.  That I needed psychiatry to create a life that came anywhere close to being considered ‘normal’.  That my emotional suffering was due to something wrong with my brain, and not to the fact that I was a young girl trying to make sense of herself in a culture based so much on performance, achievement, and perfection.  That the emptiness I felt inside, beneath the masks I wore and the parts I played to keep up with everything I saw around me, was because I was severely ‘borderline’.  I kept waiting and waiting for the day to come when my psychiatrist and my medications would give me a life worth living, and that day never came.  Instead, my life became lonelier, emptier, and number than it had ever been before, and living it grew increasingly more challenging.  Desperate for relief, I spent more and more hours in psychiatric treatment and left many months with an additional prescription in hand.

I am proud of my story and at peace with my past, with the dark depths to which I went before I found my way to the light of my recovery from psychiatric labels and psychotropic medications.  This is the beautiful paradox of it all— that in order for my life to be what it is today, full of meaning and purpose, everything that happened on my journey into psychiatry and out of it had to happen just as it did, from having dreams and aspirations for the future fizzle to being entirely stripped of any meaningful sense of self.  I have accepted my past, and, in a strange way, am grateful for it.  The profound anger I have today, for those still labeled and still trapped within the biomedical paradigm of psychiatry, is a healthy one that fuels me and motivates me to do whatever I can to make a change, from sharing my story at madinamerica.com, to working as a peer specialist in the belly of the beast, the mental health system itself, and to participating in amazing events like this one, today.

It is one of the greatest existential insults to slap a biomedical label onto the experience of being an emotive human being, no matter how well-intentioned the labeler may be. Today, label-free and in recovery, I am genuinely connected to a sense of who I am and of what I believe in, and I experience my emotions with the beautiful knowledge that I am no different— no better, no worse— than anyone else.  I am a thread in the greater human fabric that weaves us all together and unites us, regardless of the emotions we feel and the thoughts we think.

If you are here today and believe that the speech I just gave is all the more proof of how ‘mentally ill’ I am, I respect your right to believe what you want, and only ask that you keep an open mind and an open heart to what we have to say today.  If you are here today and have freed yourself from psychiatric labels, I send you a deep and loving congratulations.  If you are here today, still enslaved by your labels and the ‘treatment’ they require, and want liberation, join this movement and find your own path to recovery.  We are here waiting for you, to walk together on this journey towards equality and justice for everyone, regardless of how uniquely each of us experiences this complicated, painful, and unbelievably beautiful thing called life.

Related Items “In the News“:
Schizophrenia Outcome Still Better in Developing Countries
DSM-5 Field Trials Fail to Compare New Diagnostic Criteria with DSM-IV Criteria
Incoming APA President Emphasizes “Positive Psychiatry”
Antipsychotic Drugs and Relapse
Weak Field Trials Scuttle DSM-5 Diagnoses
Benzos Quadruple the Risk of Suicide in Schizophrenia
DSM-5 Retreats from Some Controversial Diagnoses
Ethics Complaints Over DSM Filed With the APA

56 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for that beautiful speech.

    It was good to see you among that wonderful group of courageous people who gathered in front of the Philly Convention Center.

    I was saddened by the psychiatrists (sporting LABELS on their chests that prominently identified them as such!!) who snickered or who patronizingly sneered when they saw the signs and the protesters. Some didn’t….some actually appeared to commiserate, but they were such a tiny fraction of all who passed through or around the protesting crowd….most wearing psychical blinders that didn’t permit them to look left or right or take any of it in. They stared straight ahead as if afraid if they looked it would contaminate them.

    Paradigms, like operating systems in a computer, can only run programs that fit their working code, even when it means ineffective application and system dysfunction.

    The doctors haven’t been able to raise their own consciousness to this simple fact….

    I guess the other thing that struck me so much Saturday in Philadelphia was how greatly the collusion between PHARMA and the medical practitioners SHOULD BE indictable under the RICO act. If nothing else, the simplest tenet of the Hippocratic Oath says “Do No Harm” . . . and any physician who breaks that oath has moved beyond responsible behavior and the laws that protect them ought no longer apply.
    Psychiatrists are particularly guilty of failing to honor that oath.

    I wonder if a class action suit filed by ALL who have been damaged by medications and psychiatric treatments against the entire APA and AMA and drug manufacturers would have merit……?
    In a sane, and just world, it thoroughly would.

    But in the world we have, the laws protect the criminals, not the victims.

    • “I was saddened by the psychiatrists (sporting LABELS on their chests that prominently identified them as such!!) who snickered or who patronizingly sneered when they saw the signs and the protesters.”

      Well of course, they don’t believe we are human hence the reason they don’t believe we deserve human rights. Human rights are only for humans.

    • They aren’t going to admit to anything because then they might have to give up their title of Doctor and they’d have to give up the big money that they make off of “treating” people with toxic drugs. They have lifestyles and egos to maintain and nothing is going to get in the way of that.

  2. -“If you are here today and believe that the speech I just gave is all the more proof of how ‘mentally ill’ I am, I respect your right to believe what you want, and only ask that you keep an open mind and an open heart to what we have to say today. ”

    That’s how I feel. People can believe whatever BS they want I couldn’t give a rip. It’s when they use the commitment laws to force the BS they believe on me that is unacceptable. In Iran the state religion is Islam, in the West, the state religion is labeling everyone brain diseased without any evidence. I’m sick to death of it. Other people have a human right not to have your reckless beliefs forced on them by the government.

    Get your ideology the hell out of my neurology!!!

    Good speech.

  3. Wish I would have been there. I am learning so much about who I am, what makes me who I am and who I want to be, how I want to live life. Thanks, great food for thought and education for this newbie to living life for the fun of it. I gained much from my pain but I don’t want to sit in it anymore life is to precious.

    Thanks for sharing

  4. Thank you Laura for sharing your experience. I would like to know more about you and your organization.

    In the 60’s when this society was first falling in love with ingesting chemicals, young people who were counter culture chose their own drugs which determined the way they were “enlightened”. Now days, somebody else is choosing the drugs for these young people. It’s no longer the counter culture who has control over how they are “enlightened”. If we thought the first option ended up being a bad idea with too many negative side effects, can we deduce the same outcome for the second option?

    In the mean time, people who are empathetic, idea driven, or have any kind of an “out there” idea are muzzled and put back in the box. This leaves the compliant, socially manipulative, ridiculously pragmatic and those easily distracted by sports or celebrities to their own devices with little insight from a unique perspective. This contributes to why our economic/political systems and even our information stream, has gotten so far out of balance. Society functions as a whole, we need the input of everybody to be a healthy functioning system.

  5. Thank you Laura, I wish I could have been there. I have seen the damage psychiatry has done. How can I help?

    I have been diagnosed ADHD at 8 years old and fell into the hype again at 25 in collage. My father was labeled Schizophrenic at 24 and was on Haldol and many Psychotropics.

    I found that there is a strong Gluten intolerance in my family and have been Gluten free for over 5 years. The results have been remarkable.

    I can’t think of anything more important than getting our kid off the meds. Please join my discussion group.

    http://health.groups.yahoo.com/group/addfree/

    Thank you
    CJ

  6. Thanks for sharing your story. I always look to see what you have on your blog. Thanks also for standing up and standing out at the convention this weekend. There is nothing in my state that a person can get involved in to make a difference in this crazy system of torment versus treatment that is carried out against us. I look to this website to find the inspiration needed to keep going back and trying to change the system. Thanks again for your work.

  7. Laura,
    Thanks for your courage to stand and speak your truths in such a public (and unwelcoming) venue. I regret that there is not yet an open forum inside APA meetings for the voices of “patients” and former “patients”.

    There is much that needs to be learned by doctors. Open minded listening by psychiatrists would be a good place to start. We psychiatrists are supposed to be specially trained with this skill. We are also supposed to be advocates for those we work with.

    You’re right that the field of psychiatry has gotten extreme about labeling and pathologizing many aspects of the human condition and exsistence. So much of the labeling begins early in life, inside the education system, as your story so clearly reveals.

    Your writing is eloquent, your story poignant and your energy powerful.

    Keep up the good work. Keep writing and speaking. All ears are not deaf. I’m listening.

    All the best,
    Alice
    (Alice Keys MD)

  8. “You’re right that the field of psychiatry has gotten extreme about labeling and pathologizing many aspects of the human condition and exsistence.”

    Care to tell us your version of a less extreme psychiatry? What behaviors and thoughts would still be pathologized if you ran the show?

    • Demo,
      In the highly unlikely event that I “ran the show” I would have everyone lay their anger to one side so that we can work together to make things better. Anger clouds thinking when we need clear thought. Anger divides us from ourselves and others when we require unity.

      If I “ran the show”, respectful and loving conversation would be how all people everywhere communicated. It would be natural because everyone knew it to be right.

      If I “ran the show” everyone would be invited to the table on equal footing and every voice would be heard and valued.

      If I “ran the show” everyone would already know in a deep personal way that we are all one; hurting you is the same thing as hurting me. Loving you and loving me is the same thing.

      Thanks for asking a great question. You could ask yourself this question as well and see what you’d come up with. I suspect we are surprisingly close together on this.

      Perhaps we do “run the show”.

      My deepest respect,
      Alice

  9. I was in the audience. What you didn’t mention here was that you cried. I was deeply affected by the emotion behind your speech. I loved the atmosphere in the room. Everybody had a story to tell in five minutes and tell it they did. I’m very sorry I wasn’t able to stick around for the protest march, and I’m looking forward to hearing more about the outcomes of the protest.

  10. Laura, it was great to meet you in Philly and to hear your moving speech. You are truly an inspiration and living proof that buying into the psychiatric paradigm leads down a very dark path. Thanks for your inspiration and for taking a few minutes to share your experience with me directly. Hope we’ll meet again!

    —- Steve

  11. Ideologies are formalized grudges,
    All but ubiquitous solutions
    To the uncertainties of life.
    Would that we come into the world
    Insulated from the locally inexplicable,
    But that is not the fate of most.
    However well equipped our predecessors,
    We each will develop
    From what we have
    Who we are.
    About the result
    Opinions vary.
    Through all,
    A witness may persist.

  12. Laura I just watched the video of you reading your manifesto. Your pure, radiant and shameless emotional truth made me cry tears of grief and gratitude. I’m so glad you survived and I mourn the awful pain you went through.

    You are speaking for so many countless young people still trapped in the bio-psychiatry gulag. But you bring them the soul filled good news they can hear. Thank you and bless you for doing it so braveley in your speech in Philadelphia, on your blog, and at your job.

    Your manifesto and blog are now part of the ever growing new canon of hard won emotional truth that makes the DSM look like a dessicated piece of soulless propaganda.

  13. Hello Laura,

    I am sorry that I missed the Occupy APA event; it sounds like it was inspiring. I am especially sorry to have missed your speech; you are remarkably eloquent!

    But I’m not sorry that I missed sneering shrinks; the arrogance of self-righteousness and privilege while causing such harm to the community would be hard for me to tolerate.

    Thank you for your service to the community.

    Best wishes, Steve

  14. The mental health services deliberately set out to brain- wash you into believing that you are mentally ill. I watched in amazement it happening to my son when he was in a run-down and drugged up state. It would have worked too if I hadn’t been sitting there telling him not to believe a word of it. So they took him out and worked on him behind my back. He is well now, he knows that he is not mentally ill but now and then he gets flash backs of what he has been told and needs then to talk about it and some reaasurance that it was just a ploy by the “recovery team” to frighten him to get him back on medication.

  15. I am also a peer specialist and your comments sound very much like mine when I tell peers they don’t have to wear those labels all of their lives. I feel so much happier since I found alternatives to taking medication, too. Keep up with this exciting part of your life journey.

  16. Dear Laura,

    I appreciate the courage you displayed as you spoke out against the machinery.

    If you’re interested in learning how to actually create space, help your body heal itself from emotional trauma, contact me on my website.

    You would be amazed how simple and effective my style of advanced emotional freedom technique is.

    With kindness,
    Randy

  17. Dear Laura,

    I, too, am a psychiatric survivor. My “treatment” began at age twenty and continued until thirty-one. I was taking three to six “medications” for over a decade. These drugs took away my energy, my interests, my ambitions for my life. I was among the walking dead as psychiatry gave me no hope of recovery except for the promise of new and/or different drugs. I feel lucky to have over a year of sobriety. I am still trying to make sense of my experiences, and in particular, the notable absence of a voice against a multi-billion dollar industry doing more harm than good. Before coming upon this, I had no words to describe my hopes for others to resist the lies of psychiatry. Do you really think it could be a civil rights issue? Thank you for your groundbreaking witness and leadership.

    I am eager to read your blog,
    Emily

  18. First of all, congrats on your bravery to fight towards your own health and recovery, regardless of the labels and prescriptions of authority. Your courage is amazing. I was in tears watching your speech, I wish I could have been there.

    I battle with extreme emotions and substance abuse and like you, was “stripped of my sense of self” by psychiatric descriptions of my spiritual life when I was twenty one years old. I recently beat a decades long addiction to benzodiazepenes and am feeling like a million bucks!

    The societal pressures of “performance, achievement and perfection” are starting to lesson their grip on my consciousness and I now enjoy long walks and bike rides and create peaceful works of visual art.

    Your words hit home with me. I had to let you know how powerful your presence and bravery is, even online.

    Many blessings to your health and well being!