I write this from New York City, where well over a hundred people united in solidarity today to protest the American Psychiatric Association and to demand human rights for those in the mental health system. After gathering near the United Nations to speak and rally, we marched over to the site of the APA’s Institute on Psychiatric Services conference, called Pursuing Wellness through Recovery and Integration— I won’t even pretend to understand what could possibly be meant by this title— and protested for two hours with loudspeakers, banners, chanting, and music.
At one point, I went inside the conference and was able to get my hands on the APA’s flyer for its 166th Annual Meeting in San Francisco in May 2013, called Pursuing Wellness Across the Lifespan. I’ll leave you to have your own reactions to this title, as I surely had some visceral ones of my own.
Here is my speech from the protest.
October 6th, 2012— Today, I am liberated from psychiatry, here to take a stand for those who can’t yet make the same declaration of freedom. The chains I wore until just over two years ago weren’t forced upon me as they are for so many of our comrades— as we speak, four point straps are being grabbed in nurses’ stations, syringes sit sterilized and prepped, and electroshock machines wait patiently in the seclusion of hidden hospital basements to extinguish the next human spirit. This violence is happening just blocks from us, right now, in this moment, perpetrated by those who were taught to “First, do no harm”. Fellow human beings stripped of the most basic of human rights— to own one’s body, one’s mind, one’s voice, and one’s spirit. To be free to stand under a blue sky and feel the warmth of the sun. To be free to cry and laugh and scream and rage, connected to the most primal of human emotions, without fear of forced injection at the hands of those without the faintest idea of what it’s like to be trapped inside a sedated mind and body, the worst of dungeons. To be free to think and feel with a brain undamaged by toxic psychoactive chemicals or electric currents, united with one’s true human potential. These, our most basic of human rights, extinguished by a psychiatrist’s stare and everything that follows.
The details of my own story don’t involve needles, shocks, restraints, or seclusion— I wore different shackles during my years in psychiatry, ones that were insidious and mostly invisible. You see, I was once psychiatry’s biggest believer, bound by its spell and intoxicated by its promises to take care of me. It never needed to force me with injections or commitment hearings; spellbound as I was, I willingly opened my mouth to the doses and held out my wrist for each hospital bracelet, any hope for my future placed entirely in the hands of those I called “treaters”. The click of pills on plastic, the rip of a script pulled from the pad, the crunch of a vinyl hospital mattress under over-starched sheets— these were sounds that once soothed me into submission.
This oppression crept quietly into my bones as a young teenager and devoured my agency and my authenticity for the next thirteen years, when in one frighteningly beautiful and painful moment, I woke up. I see today that this awakening was sparked by the last scraps of my human spirit, suppressed and numbed, making a last ditch attempt to bring me back to life, to a memory of what it was like to think of myself as anything other than “bipolar”. When I was first stripped of my human skin by a psychiatrist, my adolescent anger at the world and at myself labeled “mania” and my life story reduced to a list of symptoms needing treatment, I became relegated to a class of “other”. At age fourteen, I lost my most sacred of rights— the right to be an acceptable human, just as I was.
After fighting back for a short time, I eventually surrendered to that “bipolar” diagnosis and let it infiltrate me. For the next ten years its weight grew heavier, the accumulating prescriptions and inpatient hospitalizations an increasingly exhausting burden to bear. Day after day, year after year, with each pill swallowed and each session on display before a shrink with my head hung low and my eyes on the ground, I lost my Self, until it became too painful to pretend to be anything other than the diseased, broken patient I’d been told I was, my only true safe-haven a locked psych ward.
Plagued with a growing existential amnesia, I lost the ability to feel, to love, to yearn, to strive, to hope, and to believe in anything with conviction beyond my life sentence of “chronic mental illness”. Guided through life by bottle after bottle of antipsychotic, mood stabilizer, antidepressant, and benzodiazepine, I bowed in subservience to the god of polypharmacy. Life’s vibrancy faded into the faintest of memories in my mind, along with my ability to be connected to anything or anyone, especially myself, and to have an inner compass orienting me towards the future. I became faced with what I saw as my only solution, and after nearly half my life spent spiraling downwards into psychiatry, I became convinced I’d lost my human right to be alive.
Almost two and a half years ago, I awoke from this psychiatry-induced coma, becoming aware of my oppression for the first time. I discovered that I’d lost my freedom to a master cleverly disguised as medicine, its whips and chains the “treatment” that enchanted me with false promises, and I began to fight for my freedom, for my right to stand in front of a mirror and see myself as one fiber in the great, beautiful fabric of humanity, no different than anyone else. We are here today for those who have been stripped of their right to do the same, whether they’ve been restrained by drugs and straps and solitary confinement, or by the internalized chains of a “mentally ill” identity. Our voices must be loud as we speak for the millions of people who’ve been pulled out of society and discarded at the gates of psychiatry, deemed unworthy of their humanness based on an arbitrary categorization of emotions, thoughts, and behaviors deemed “illnesses”, “disorders”, and “diseases”.
In the name of “normality”, society blindly pushes forward towards a utopian dream of white picket fences and frozen smiles— a fantasy world of chronic happiness, chronic productivity, chronic success, and chronic perfection— and psychiatry, as the elected arbiter of human value, is quick to oppress anyone who doesn’t make its cut. How is it that we’ve forgotten what it means to suffer, to experience gut-wrenching tears or fits of passion in this beautiful and dysfunctional world? How is it that we’ve forgotten how to embrace the ever-changing, infinite reality of which we each have a unique piece? Pharmaceutical advertising for psychiatric drugs saturates our media, tricking us into the delusion that we are super-humans floating above the realm of pain, sadness, anger, and madness. And yet behind closed doors, beneath this plastic fantasy, we all feel intense feelings, think about the meaning of life and death, get trapped in isolation, and feel paranoia. Under psychiatry’s spell, our society has forgotten this— with at least one in six Americans on psychiatric drugs, this fact is clear— and we trudge onwards, further and further into psychiatry’s grips, towards a bitter end of social segregation, oppression, and iatrogenic disability, millions upon millions of people kneeling in submission, whether by surrender or force, as though psychiatry’s language was an almighty, absolute Truth.
What I’ve come to understand is that the desperate drive to be “normal” that once pushed me into psychiatry’s arms long ago came from a place of deep, unresolved fear of myself and of the world around me— a beautiful human fear that I’ve now come to embrace and understand. Our world is an inherently unpredictable place, despite what psychiatry tells us with its A+B=C reductionism, and emotional and existential pain is a vital part of what it means to be human. At my root, none of me has ever been broken or imbalanced, and only when I truly began to believe this did I become connected to a meaningful sense of myself and my place on this earth, with each and every one of you, as we stand amidst our seven billion fellow humans. Only when I truly began to believe this, did I become free.
This movement is not a “recovery” movement, a “peer” movement, or a “mental health” movement. It is a human rights movement, and must be understood no other way. Until our emotions, thoughts, and unique realities are defined solely as a part of the broad spectrum of human experience, never as “symptoms” or “mental health issues”, we will remain mired in oppression. When I identify as having “lived experience”, it isn’t of “mental health challenges”, or of “disorder” or “illness”; it means that I’ve lived the experience of being oppressed and dehumanized, and that the only thing I’ve “recovered” from is psychiatry, itself. Countless people share the same story, whether they’ve awoken to it or not, and this is why we are here, today, uniting our voices.
Somehow, the spell of “mental health parity” has been cast upon those with good intentions— that rights must be the same for those with “mental health issues” as those without. My response to this is NO. NO, to the socially constructed boundary of mental “illness” and “wellness”. NO, to the arbitrary distinction between emotions as feelings and emotions as symptoms. NO, to the entirely misinformed belief that “mental illness” is a valid medical entity to be equated with physical conditions like diabetes or cancer. Each and every human on this planet feels the same emotions and uses the same basic human biology to think and act— there is no “us” and “them” when it comes to one’s emotional and existential experience of the world. What those of us with “lived experience” do share is the experience of being oppressed in the way that those with non-white skin, women, or those with non-heterosexual orientation have been oppressed. Time and time again, those of us deemed outside the acceptable “norm”— a very small and homogenous group of centralized social power— have been stripped of rights and treated as less than human. And just as the civil rights movement, the women’s lib movement, and the GBLTQ movement have fought to dismantle this power structure, so must we.
I am grateful to be free from psychiatry. To be alive, and to feel alive, my senses awakened and vibrant, my connection to myself, my fellows, and this movement magnetic. I am truly lucky to have escaped the numbed hopelessness of a “mentally ill” sentence when so many others are still imprisoned or have lost their lives to psychiatry; this humbles me more than words can say. Standing up for what I believe in with a determined voice is a new experience for me, and I sometimes find myself riddled with self-doubt and insecurity. But the beauty in this is that I know with firm resolve that my feelings, my thoughts, and my unique experience of reality will never again be violated by psychiatry, and that my purpose here is to help others gain the same freedom. No matter how much my heart is pounding with fear and self-doubt as I say these words, I will say them, loud and clear, because they come from my newly awakened heart. ONWARDS… to liberation and justice for those imprisoned in the mental health system, and to the reclamation of the most basic of rights for all of us— the right to be human.
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.
This pretty much sums up most of what I believe about psychiatry so it is refreshing to read it in what I hope was a rabble rousing speach.
I particularly liked the way Laura laid aside all the terms that I personally find so mealy mouthed, terms like, “Recovery movement, and, “Peer movement,” and, “Mental Health movement”.
Recovery and Peer Support were ideas that started with service users/survivors but which have been taken over by psychiatry and sold back to us in patronising ways with the drug Dr’s deciding what it means. Originally Recovery meant that the Dr’s were wrong and that you could get better, now it means they Dr’s are using new words but doing nothing different. Originally Peer Support meant that it is helpful when people try to understand each other, care for each other and offer encouragement. Now it means that if you have used psychiatric services you can get a low paid job (which may or may not help people who are distressed or may not) providing you don’t rock the boat too much.
Once you realise that diagnosis does not help very much, that the drugs do more harm than good, that ECT is dangerous and leaves many traumatised, that an awful lot of hospitals are not places of safety or sanctuary and that the basic causes of mental distress are routinely ignored by psychiatric institutions then the whole edifice of psychiatry and drug based help for mental distress crumbles.
We are distressed because our lives are hard. This is not a medical problem.
I’d like to see more reports like this on this site. It would hearten me to hear more people making such stirring speeches
“We are distressed because our lives are hard. This is not a medical problem.”
Couldn’t agree more John!
Thanks for the comment. As I was reading your response I was thinking about how much evolution I’ve gone through in these last two years when it comes to how I make sense of my life’s journey so far. I started off on the “recovery” bandwagon, thinking “Yes! I am proud to say I have recovered from mental health issues that psychiatry named Bipolar Disorder! I once met the criteria for this diagnosis, and now I no longer do!” [this was in the summer and fall of 2010] As my brain cleared up during the withdrawal, and as I started to educate myself more and think more clearly off the psych drugs, I thought to myself, “Wow, I should become a peer specialist to support others as they have their own mental health challenges, which I have experienced myself!” [this was towards the end of the summer in 2011]. Slowly but surely, these beliefs have faded into the background as I continue to move further and further away from psychiatry, and closer to my truth. it’s really been in the last year or so that I’ve fully come to understand everything that I went through just as I described it in my speech.
I need to remind myself of this slow evolution when I spent time with others who are at different stages of their journeys out of psychiatry. It is not an easy thing to unlearn a deeply ingrained paradigm of thought about oneself, and I remind myself of this fact every day, especially when I hear people use psychiatric labels and talk about psychiatric drugs as their “medications” or “meds”. I was once exactly where they are now– I am them, and they are me.
Thanks again for the support, John! Isn’t it beautiful to know that we all share the experience of feeling distressed, and that life’s beauty comes from knowing what it’s like to feel life’s pain?
That was pure excellence, Human. (giggle)
Thank You. It was a joy to read your words.
Thank you, fellow human (giggle back). It was a joy to write them, from the deepest part of my heart and spirit.
I’m grateful that you shared your powerful speech here. I’m going to need to read it 5X more times before I truly understand the ramifications. I do get that them there are fighting words.
A great comedian, Mel Brooks, made fun of Hitler with a funny play (now two movies), The Producers. The Producers is about the making of a play titled: Springtime for Hitler. Catchy lyrics include:
And now it’s…
Springtime for Hitler and Germany
Deutschland is happy and gay!
We’re marching to a faster pace
Look out, here comes the master race!
Springtime for Hitler and Germany
It is springtime for patent protected antipsychotics and the new DSM.
Here’s one young comic with a parody drug commercial:
In all seriousness, this tragic situation demands that we call in the clowns.
That video is hilarious, except for the very end where he’s on the ground twitching (exactly the way that I twitch).
I totally agree that adding humor to darkness is an important part of storytelling. I fantasize about all the stories I”m going to write as I turn my blog into a bigger writing project– I have many memories that I can laugh about today, for their utter absurdity and ridiculousness (most of the these memories are about past “treaters”, and the things they said to me). It is an empowering act to turn one’s trauma on its head and gain freedom from it by turning it into art (comedy, in this case). I hope you write/create something, yourself?
Bravo! This speech is an articulate expression of the truth about biological psychiatry and the medical model!
The medical model is pseudo-science; “each and every human on this planet feels the same emotions and uses the same basic human biology to think and act.”
Thank you for your community service.
Thanks for the support!
Brilliant work Laura! The last paragraph hits hard. I need to meditate on it a bit to fully absorb its meaning. I wish I had your talent with words, but I think I can more readily pick up some of your conviction.
Love your ‘Onwards’…
May it be so.
Always so good to read your voice here :).
I felt compelled to open myself up in the last paragraph because I know how important it is to acknowledge my fear and own it, to put it front and center before me so that I never again get paralyzed by it and risk giving up my agency. I also wanted to make a statement about the importance of being open and honest– speaking for myself, I never again want to live in the shadows, hiding myself and my feelings from the rest of the world. I own my humanness today, even the parts of it that I find most uncomfortable.
I must say that you have an unbelievable talent with words, yourself! If you don’t see that in yourself today, I am confident that one day you will…
Glad you like the ‘Onwards’– for some reason it’s the word that pops into my head most when I am doing anything in this movement!
Beautiful! Emotions aren’t diseases. I’m so glad you got free and that you are so impassioned and articulate. A powerful Voice for the voiceless.
It surely does feel good to be free… Although it makes the pain I feel for those who aren’t all the more intense, which is why we all must fight hard for our comrades who are still trapped inside. It’s always good to read your contributions to this website. Thanks for your voice :).
What a joy it is to have a young, intelligent, articulate, spirited person such as yourself in this movement of ours!
I look forward to the day when we have another ‘March on Washington’ to announce civil rights for people who have been diagnosed with “severe mental illness.”
And I look forward to being in Washington to see an Act of Congress signed by the President of the United States.
From the ‘March on Washington’ – ‘I Have a Dream Speech’ by Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. –
“I have a dream today!”
“I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”
“This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.”
“With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.”
“And this will be the day — this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning:
My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.
Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim’s pride,
From every mountainside, let freedom ring!
And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.
And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.
Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.
Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.
Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.”
“But not only that:
Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.
Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.
Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.
From every mountainside, let freedom ring.”
And across the plains of Texas.
Thanks for this comment, and for bringing MLK’s beautiful words to the conversation. I always appreciate your input here at the website!
Power to you, Laura!
Ditto to you, comrade!
I’ve been reading your blogs for a while now, all with that overwhelming sense of anguish and compassion. Yes, our cultural fabric is tight and narrow and does not admit for anyone who does not cooperate as a full cog in the system of the empire. We know this. But to see what you’ve been through enrages me. You have such strength, such beauty. Thanks for kicking some ass.
I have a movie recommend that I think you’ll find salient. Got to http://www.whatawaytogomovie.com.
$14 bucks. It’s beautifully written. The chains of the empire. Worth seeing.
I’ve fought this system it feels since I was born. I got caught and now I’m fighting back. Glad to know you’re out there, shining and alive and speaking the body electric.
I feel you on the rage… It took me nearly a year after being off the drugs to come to terms with everything that I experienced in psychiatry, and luckily, today, that rage has transformed into a healthy anger that fuels me and drives me to make change happen and to help others. It’s a different rage when someone’s been through it– like you and I both have– because it carries with it betrayal, violation, the stealing of spirit, and the loss of Self. I know that freeing myself from resentment against my doctors, the hospitals I sought “treatment” in, and psychiatry itself was one of the most important steps in my process of regaining agency and freedom. Just as I was enslaved by the labels and the drugs, there was a period of time afterwards in which I was enslaved by resentment, as well. It feels good to be freed from that today.
I want to say how much I appreciated your recent post (and that I look forward to more!). You captured the agony, the desperation, the fear, the isolation, the hopelessness so well. I am so glad that you are a part of the MiA community.
Benzo withdrawal is a massive beast; I know it from firsthand experience. When I step back and think about how many millions of people are out there and heavily addicted to these tiny little pills, all I can do is shake my head in disbelief. It is a true epidemic, and there are so few people speaking up about it. I’m glad you’re one of them, and that you’re doing it here.
Looking forward to reading your next post,
“Fellow human beings stripped of the most basic of human rights— to own one’s body”
Such a wonderful speech all up. Such a graceful nod to the survivors of forced psychiatry too.
I have to go. Speeches like this, the existence of people like Laura mitigate the horror to a small degree and I am grateful.
But the horror, the sheer mostly unmitigated horror of living in a world where most people think it is just fine to force this quackery on people is not something I cope with. I don’t cope with it well being considered less than human by billions of people.
As always, I greatly appreciate your contribution here at MiA. Thanks for the support– it means a lot to me, as I have tremendous respect for you and your voice.
At this stage, all we have are those small mitigations of which you speak. When I feel them, I too feel much gratitude. I felt a massive one this past weekend, and it reinvigorated me tremendously. I see them as rungs in the ladder– we need them to keep going, to keep fighting this fight, no matter how daunting it may seem.
The sheer horror is too great for words, I agree. But if you think about past horrors that seemed insurmountable but ended up being conquered, like slavery here in the U.S. (of course, I acknowledge that it still happens elsewhere in the world), I hope you can still cling onto hope, even the tiniest sliver of it, as we keep putting one foot in front of the other in this march towards liberation. I know that there are many people out there who likely could or do consider me less than human based on my psychiatric history, and I’m in a place today where that no longer affects me. If they want to see me that way, that’s their loss, and has no impact on the way I see myself; I know that the people with admirable values, admirable hearts, and true human rights-oriented spirits see me as fully human, and I cling onto that. It is their view of me that reflects how I think about myself today, and that is a beautiful thing.
My beautiful human friend and comrade, Anonymous, keep fighting this important fight and speaking with your important voice :).
Thankyou for yet another brilliantly written piece. I love reading your writing, it just so resonates with all that I think and feel. You say it so brilliantly.
Thanks so much for the thoughtful comment– it means a lot to me! Two years off the psych drugs, and I finally feel really connected to my words. It feels unbelievable, and boy am I grateful to be free.
Well, I’ll add my voice publicly here to what I say to you in private as a friend. This speech was great. It’s good to be able to read it and appreciate it more, as while I was at the Occupy event, it was hard to concentrate on anything, including my own speech.
This was really beautiful, and it said what really needs to be said.
I am so happy that there are people like you who are in our movement now. It makes me understand that we WILL prevail, and I’m proud to be your comrade and your friend.
My dear friend, I am so proud to consider myself a comrade of yours. You are a true role model for me, and I learn much from you each time we speak. Your voice this past weekend was unbelievably powerful (I have to admit that I too was distracted by all the activity and energy), and I look forward to protesting the APA in San Francisco in May :).
Wow! Laura, you are amazing. Thanks for sharing that inspiring speech – I may just print it out and post it on my refrigerator!
Thanks so much for this comment– it made me smile :). I am really honored by and appreciative of your support.
A beautifully written, although sometimes uncomfortably intense, commentary.
Although I find this worthy of sharing, I’m certainly not saying that my children should think or be like this writer (any more than this writer is suggesting that she should be like anyone else) — but her’s is at least an interesting and seemingly more popular viewpoint, for what that’s worth. Due to the Internet and social networks, we may very well see what that’s worth as it becomes increasingly difficult to suppress the spread of ideas — and it seems that psychiatry may be headed towards it’s day of reckoning sooner than later — and it’s very possible that the DSM-5 will be psychiatry’s coffin rather than it’s revival. It’ll be interesting to see how much fireworks go off once it comes out. No doubt the APA and Big Pharma are strategically planning for battle as we speak.
I love the line– “it’s very possible that the DSM-5 will be psychiatry’s coffin rather than its revival.” I hope this to be true.
I completely agree with you that we are each unique people with unique experiences of the world and understandings of ourselves. I’m curious to hear what you found ‘uncomfortable’ about the speech, or what about the basic message of it you wouldn’t want your children to think? I am always open to feedback, especially when it’s critical!
All the best,
I’m sorry to say my sister and I missed the memo and did not find the group in NYC until later in the afternoon in front of the convention. So I missed this fantastic speech! I would’ve loved to meet you but I’m sure I will one day; you are becoming a more and more articulate leader with each awesome post, bravo! This is so beautiful.
And still it was good to stand in solidarity on Saturday with the rest of that awesome group that fights for the most intimate and cherished of human rights. Thanks always for your words and your work!
What a fantastic speech. You have amazing talent and know how to drive a point home like no one else. I struggle with defining myself as ‘against psychiatry’ per se…yet everything you said rings true! Bravo!!!
You are a compelling speaker and I thank you for your fire. When you so accurately identify the issue of basic human rights, I can’t help but wonder, “Where is the ACLU?”
Absolutely brilliant words. I would like my child to think and be like this writer 🙂
“Promoting Illness through Drugs and Discouragement” would be a more fitting motto for the APA.