The United Met States of Psychiatry

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Dr. William F. McLaughlin Building, Metropolitan State Hospital, October 2012

 

About two weeks ago, I stood in silence to watch nature’s fiery colors make a beautiful and desperate attempt to engulf the history of human destruction emanating from this brick prison, the last remaining physical evidence of Metropolitan State Hospital in Waltham, Massachusetts.  Knowing this to be the Administration Building, I imagined the offices that once felt sunlight through the now-boarded up windows, countless metal cabinets containing decades of human life reduced to charts, lists, files, and records, an institutional machine well-lubricated by the myth of necessary “long-term treatment” for the “chronically mentally ill”.  I imagined the building closing down at the end of the day, its staff locking up the doors and heading home for warm cooked meals and time with family.  But more than this, I imagined the inmates locked up a few hundred feet away, watching the cars pull out to freedom, the thought of sitting at a dinner table a distant memory from a lost time.  And although I admired the fall leaves for their efforts, I wasn’t for a moment tricked into thinking that the evil of Met State Hospital is a thing of the past, that all I imagined isn’t still happening right in this very moment, around me on a grander scale than ever before.

A designated group of people was systematically isolated, marginalized, and dehumanized by psychiatry for nearly seventy years on these grounds, under the Hippocratic Oath, ‘First, do no harm’.  Many of its inmates were decimated— turned into walking zombies by electroshock, lobotomies, and heavy psychiatric drugs, or even killed.  Met State prepared for this aftermath by building a morgue and a cemetery, which today lies hidden in the adjacent woods, relegated to a nearly forgotten status.  When I learned of this last spring, I joined a group of people, some of whom had survived Met State themselves, to visit the graves, tend to them, and pay our respects.  I walked the woods path slowly that afternoon, deliberately mindful of each step and exactly where it was bringing me.  Side by side with survivors of this institution, I was awed by their human resiliency.  Determined life, in the face of so much death.

After walking about a mile through the woods, we came upon an opening in the trees.  They were old trees.  Wise trees.  Trees that had seen things.  I wondered about their memories, likely now nightmares of all they’d been forced to witness.  Enclosed by an old wall of loose stones, the cemetery was made up of back-to-back graves covered in sticks, weeds, and tall grass.  There were hundreds of flat stones— hundreds of human beings that once lived and breathed and walked the earth as free men and women before being sentenced to Met State and discarded by society— each marked with either a ‘C’ or a ‘P’ and a number.  ‘C’ for ‘Catholic’, ‘P’ for ‘Protestant’, I soon learned.  Human beings, with unique human histories, reduced to a religious classification and a number, hidden beneath segregated soil for eternity.  I couldn’t help but be reminded of the darkest of mankind’s modern history, which I’d only ever learned about in classrooms.  I felt a chill to my bones.  These are my brothers and sisters, I thought.  How is it that I’m here, walking free, while they were robbed of their life and their liberty.  What is this society we live in, that speaks of liberty and justice for all?

After laying roses on a few of the graves, I found myself crying in the arms of a man I’d met that afternoon— an older man, one of the survivors who’d seen, among all the countless horrors at Met State, people die while he was locked up there as a young man.  We stood there, holding each other, holding the weight of everything this place represented.  As I looked into his penetrating blue eyes, fiery spirit beneath a wrinkled face and missing teeth, I had no words.

Although Met State’s doors may have closed in 1992, the institutional oppression that fueled it for all those years is with us today, and not just in the well over two hundred state psychiatric institutions that still stand in operation across the country after the proclaimed era of “deinstitutionalization”.  It thrives as well in the hundreds of millions of pill bottles that scatter the bedside tables and bathroom sinks of America— in 2011, 264 million prescriptions were written for antidepressants alone.  It thrives in the more than one million Diagnostic and Statistical Manuals (DSM-IV) that sit propped up on desks in hospitals, clinics, offices, prisons, and schools across the country— pseudoscience disguised as medicine, a black and white belief system of emotions, thoughts, and behaviors deemed “normal” or “abnormal” now firmly ingrained in our societal fabric as though it were a capital ‘T’ Truth.

Psychiatry’s desperate drive to legitimize itself as a profitable medical authority has resulted in a mass delusion so pervasive and destructive that it’s put us on a path towards societal collapse.  This is not an overstatement, in my opinion, as the statistics are mind-boggling— one in five Americans are on psychiatric drugs.  One in five.  By my calculations, this means that 62,913,200 people ingest mind-altering, body-altering, spirit-altering pills they believe to be “medications” on a daily basis.  Not only are “medications” aimed at treating physical disease and dysfunction, which all that is labeled “mental illness” most surely is not; “medications” are also by definition substances that restore or preserve health— not psychoactive chemicals that disable the vital neural pathways determining one’s ability to feel, to think, to connect, to speak, to love, to hate, to fight.  To feel alive.  To be alive.  At the mass level, psychiatry is committing genocide of the human spirit.  It is a loaded statement, and I own it with conviction.

Far from disappearing into the rubble of its demolition in 2009, Met State’s sinister legacy is spreading outwards, past its existing fellow state hospitals as an existential plague that festers in our nation’s emergency rooms, locked psych wards, group homes, ‘day treatment programs’, ‘partial hospital programs’ and ‘intensive outpatient programs’.  In our prison system, our juvenile justice system, our education system, our foster care system, our local communities, and behind our own closed doors.  While American society voraciously consumes sixty percent of the world’s psychiatric drugs, it is slowly self-destructing, day after day, as the “meds” continue to physically, cognitively, intellectually, spiritually, and socially disable us.  Again, strong words, and again, I own them with fierce determination.

Metropolitan State Hospital, pre-2009

The United States is Met State, in a most insidious and omnipotent form.  Its prison walls may no longer exist as brick and mortar, but they’ve now become the drugged minds and bodies of both those forced into psychiatry against their will and those spellbound by it.  As a once-spellbound ex-inmate, I know what it’s like to be locked away from one’s Self in an existential prison of psychiatric drugs and psychiatric labels, and I am grateful to have awakened to my oppression and found my freedom.  I now spend my days pondering what I see as one of the most important questions in this human rights movement— how do we help people awaken to their own oppression, which isn’t always visible and overt like the old walls of Met State, without perpetuating the force of “doing knowledge to” them?  How do we help our society understand that Met State is all around us?

References

Angell, Marcia. “The Illusions of Psychiatry.” The New York Review of Books 14 July 2011. http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2011/jul/14/illusions-of-psychiatry/?pagination=false

Centers for Disease Control and Preention, http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hus/2011/117.pdf

Lindsay, C. W. (2012) The Top Prescription Drugs of 2011 in the United States: Antipsychotics and Antidepressants Once Again Lead CNS Therapeutics.  ACS Chem. Neurosci. 3 (8), pp 630–631.

Wang, Shirley S. “Psychiatric Drug Use Spreads.” Wall Street Journal 16 Nov. 2011. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203503204577040431792673066.html?mod=WSJ_WSJ_US_News_5

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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.

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Laura Delano
Journeying Back To Self: Laura Delano is an ex-mental patient who writes about her thirteen years of psychiatric indoctrination, how she woke up in 2010, and what it's been like to come off psychiatric drugs, leave the "mentally ill" identity behind, and rediscover an authentic connection to self and world.

51 COMMENTS

    • Hi Ted,
      Yes, it was written during my time in Portland… I couldn’t stop thinking about that photo I’d taken a couple of weeks ago, and found it a nice reprieve to dig deep into my thoughts about it while at the conference. In fact, I felt compelled to write the piece all the more while there… I’m sure that isn’t a coincidence ;).

      Love,
      Laura

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    • Ted,

      Re: SAMHSA

      I understand your concerns (the ones you’ve expressed on MiA) about SAMHSA. I wonder however, if the organization may be doing some good, by encouragong people to believe in recovery.

      My thought is that if D.J. Jaffe (with Mental Illness Policy.org) wants to *get rid* of SAMHSA, it may be worth *keeping*.

      D,J, Jaffe, as you know is an advocate for forced treatment, IMO, a monster. He hates SAMHSA, with a passion. –

      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dj-jaffe/washington-times-eliminat_b_961125.html

      Food for thought.

      Duane

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      • They are highjacking what recovery is. They say you can recover, like a person with diabetes, you must be on medications for life, and you can only live a sheltered life surrounded by mental health professionals, with jobs chosen by us, etc, etc. That is not true recovery.

        The survivor movement came up with recovery, they have highjacked it to ensure that they can pretend to be listening to us and doing what we want.

        They do the same thing with supposed peer support. They choose the people who will tell you that you have a life long brain disease like them and can have some semblance of a life and they call them peers. Get the right people in those positions and you can give us what we demand and yet nothing of any real substance occurs.

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        • Belinda,
          I totally agree that massive and systematic hijacking has taken place…

          For me personally, however, as time has gone on, the word “recovery” has become less and less relevant to me. I used to feel like I had “issues” that I’d “recovered” from, but I know don’t even think about what I’ve gone through as any sort of “recovery” at all. It’s really been an awakening, a re-birth, even.

          I’m curious to hear your thoughts about “recovery”– if left un-hijacked, is it a word that makes sense to you in your own life?

          In solidarity,
          Laura

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      • I hear what you say about Jaffe. I don’t think he understands where his interests lie. SAMHSA is the liberal wing of the mental illness system, and Jaffe is bothered by, for instance, some of the harmless venting that SAMHSA allows. But what SAMHSA has done is to smash the movement we used to have, that did a lot more than vent. We had a movement that was starting to reach the public. Now for the most part people just talk to the mental illness bureaucrats.

        Please have a look at the article I wrote for MiA on the history of the movement, as there is too much to say about this to fit into a comment.

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    • Laura,

      Thank you for writing such an honest and solemn piece.

      It touched my soul, because my great-grandmother spent the last seven years of her life in a similar prison (Pilgrim Psychiatric Hospital in NY).

      Her gretest sin was becoming frightened, suspicious, non-trusting (what psychiatry would call paranoid or delusional) when she was older. It cost my great-grandmother her freedom.

      I hope we wake up in this country, and begin to realize that these painful and frightening states of mind can be experienced by anyone, and that we need to provide *safe* places and *compassionate* care for our brothers and sisters, treating each-other as *equals^ at all times, during any/all states of mind, human suffering.

      Be well.

      Duane
      discoverandrecover.wordpress.com

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  1. Once again a brilliant piece that has me thinking more about what was inflicted on me and how glad I am to also be free. Also about how to challenge society to question what is being said to them as some gosbel thruth, without the slightest bit of science behind it.

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    • Hi Belinda,
      Thanks for the comment, and I too am so glad you’ve found your freedom :).

      Yes, this question about how to help not just other individuals but our society as a whole awaken to this deeply disturbing false truth is with me every day. I know there is tremendous power in the sharing of our stories, but there is power, too, in the numbers, which is why I felt compelled to write about them in this piece. I mean, they are just mind-boggling. Almost unbelievable, really!

      The ‘Beyond ‘Anatomy” community will hopefully continue to develop as a place where we can seek answers (because there surely isn’t one) to this important question. The more we continue to stay connected around this issue, in conversation, discussion, and debate, the better our odds of cultivating solutions. See you over there :).

      Onwards,
      Laura

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      • Your a truly gifted and inspiring writer Laura, I’d like to ask, what do you see yourself writing in 20 years from now? Also your thoughts on the meaning and creation of an individual sense-of-self, and its sense of freedom?

        Freedom! Freedom from what?

        Can we recover from & be free of the human condition?

        IMHO People seem to group around personal relevance in any community, with the most common form of ignorance being an “ignore-it” postural and mental reaction towards the personally irrelevant, no less so in our own community.

        IMO The disavowal of “unconscious” motivation seems to be a key factor in binding human society, with an increasing degree of “objectification” from Descartes on. Hence, there is twice the rate of psychosis in urban areas, as in rural areas. Its interesting to watch “dystopian” movies and note a common theme of an “object” oriented belief system and motivation, as a denial of nature?

        “Unconscious,” is a word curiously absent from these pages as we too, play the disavowal game in a basic assumption about the nature of the human mind, like the rest of society, cognitive dissonance is far to painful? Consider Dean Radin’s views on society;

        “We do not perceive the world as it is, but as we wish (need) it to be. We know this through decades of research in perception, cognition, decision making, intuitive judgment and memory. Essentially, we construct mental models of a world that reflect our expectations, biases and desires, a world that is comfortable for our ego’s, that does not threaten our beliefs, and that is consistent, stable, and coherent.

        Our mind’s are “story generators” that create mental simulations of what is really out there. These mental models inevitably perpetuate distortions, because what we perceive is influenced by the hidden persuasions of ideas, memory, motivation, and expectations.

        Cognitive Dissonance:

        This is the uncomfortable feeling that develops when people are confronted by “things that shouldn’t ought to be, but are.” If the dissonance is sufficiently strong, and is not reduced in some way, the uncomfortable feeling will grow, and that feeling can develop into anger, fear and even hostility. To avoid cognitive dissonance people will often react to any evidence which disconfirms their beliefs by actually strengthening their original beliefs and create rationalizations for the disconfirming evidence. The drive to avoid cognitive dissonance is especially strong when the belief has led to public commitment.

        There are three common strategies for reducing cognitive dissonance. One way is to adopt what others believe. Parents often see this change when their children begin school. Children rapidly conform to “group-think,” and after a few years, they need this particular pair of shoes, and that particular haircut or they will simply die. The need to conform to social pressure can be as psychically painful as physical pain.

        A second way of dealing with cognitive dissonance is to “apply pressure” to people who hold different ideas. This explains why mavericks are so routinely shunned by conventional wisdom. To function without the annoying psychic pain of cognitive dissonance, groups will use almost any means to achieve a consensus reality.

        A third way of reducing cognitive dissonance is to make the person who holds a different opinion significantly different from oneself. This is normally done by applying disparaging labels. The heretic is disavowed as stupid, malicious, foolish, sloppy, insane, or evil and their opinion simply does not matter.

        When we are publicly committed to a belief, it is disturbing even to consider that any evidence contradicting our position may be true, because a fear of public ridicule adds to the psychic pain of cognitive dissonance. Commitment stirs the fires of cognitive dissonance and makes it progressively more difficult to even casually entertain alternative views.” _Dean Radin.

        As a community, are we as guilty as the rest of society when comes to disavowing the positive aspects of our own experience, and its contribution to the evolving question, “what does it really mean to be human?”

        “No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.” _Buddha.

        Best wishes,

        David Bates.

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        • Hi David,
          Thanks for the thoughtful comment. You ask, “Can we recover from and be free of the human condition?” For me, my freedom hasn’t come from actually freeing myself from the human condition, but rather, from seeing myself and my humanity in a new way, through a lens of power. There is power everywhere, and no way to escape it. Beyond the visible institutions of power (government, law, medicine, religion, etc.) lie the invisible institutions— I think specifically here of knowledge and its social construction. All of this has been directly influenced by my reading of Michel Foucault (particularly relevant to the topic at hand, of course, is his concept of ‘Biopower’). Through him, I came to see that there is no way around power, but that freedom/empowerment comes from simply becoming aware of it and seeing it. Yes— I may think with words that have been socially constructed and that carry historical weight behind them, but by knowing this, I can be more deliberate in understanding the words I use to think about myself, and can always resist the urge to create definitive capital ‘T’ Truths in my mind about what is and isn’t.

          The way I make sense of Foucault’s ‘Biopower’ is that it means the controlling of people through the construction of knowledge around human biology. This couldn’t be more applicable to the case of biological psychiatry, of course, and for me, when I came to understand that scientific/medical/bio-discourse wasn’t, in fact, a capital ‘T’ ‘Truth’ as I’d always believed it was, but rather, that it was a language constructed by people in positions of power (aka “medical professionals”) to exert control over people without that power (aka “patients”, “clients”, “consumers”), everything about the way I thought about myself transformed. I should say that I don’t think this is necessarily a conscious process by doctors (to exert power, I mean); many doctors have the most noble of intentions in mind. However, it was freeing for me to realize that my human essence lay so much deeper than biomedical jargon, and that science and medicine are just one of many modes of understanding. Some of my own awakenings are definitely similar to what you wrote about, in terms of gaining perspective on one’s Self and on the stories we construct to make meaning of our experiences. I guess I now understand that everything I think, do, or say with language is a construction, and thus, only a representation of an inner human essence that lies deeper than words. I don’t think this is necessarily an imprisoning condition, however, because I see it for what it is and am no longer at the mercy of all this beliefs I once had that I saw as capital ‘T’ Truth.

          To answer your question about what I see myself writing in 20 years, I must say, I have no idea. My life has unfolded in front of me in so many amazing ways in the last two years— ways that I could have never imagined for myself— so I’d like to think that it will continue to do so, and that trying to figure out who I’ll be or what I’ll be writing about down the road is a fruitless exercise (although a wonderful thing to fantasize about!). All I know is that I’ll be writing ☺.

          Thank you for all that you contribute to the community here, David.
          Onwards,
          Laura

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    • Thanks so much, Jack. I just couldn’t stop looking at the photo in my phone and felt like I needed to tell that story and share my thoughts about it. I’m so glad to have met you in NYC the other weekend, and so grateful for your important contributions to the MiA community :).

      Onwards,
      Laura

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  2. If society hasn’t seen it up until this point they are not going to see it. Too many people are hanging on to their shoe strings economically that they don’t want to be scared even more. And it is not just The Church of Psychiatry, the whole medical profession is handing out pills like they are skittles. The US consumes 99% of the world’s hydrocodone! America is a rapidly declining empire with collapse ever imminent. That does not mean we should give up the fight because we have a moral obligation to fight back against tyranny and fraud in all its forms. I’m just saying if people don’t see it now, they are just going to have to learn the hard way.

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    • Hi Scott,
      Great to meet you in NYC the other weekend. I have to say that I disagree with the first sentence of your comment, that “if society hasn’t seen it up until this point they are not going to see it.” Past social segregations and oppressions– of race, gender, and religion– sometimes persisted for hundreds of years (not that much of it still doesn’t exist today…). I say this to say, do not give up hope! Yes, I sometimes get mired in thoughts about an impending apocalypse, but I honestly believe that we can dismantle psychiatry. It may not happen in our lifetime, but I believe it to be possible.

      Onwards in solidarity,
      Laura

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  3. Who, What, Where, When , Why and How.
    “How do we help our society understand that Met State is all around us?”

    Who diagnoses mental illness? Not society or the people, the doctors give the diagnosis.

    What results in the diagnosis? A lifetime of psychiatric drugs.

    Where does this diagnosing take place? Everywhere there are “mad” people.

    When will this diagnosis and drugging stop? The brain chemical imbalance theory-explanation . When the “mad” stop being the responsibility of doctors. (Not going to happen)

    Why do people go “mad”? It is a mad world.

    Those spellbound by psychiatry seem happy enough to continue on.

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    • Hi markps2,
      I definitely agree with you that doctors are the ones who give diagnoses. However, I think that it’s important to step back and look at the cultural context in which our doctors are diagnosing people as “mentally ill” (which of course follows, as you said, with a lifetime of psych drugs). I think Bruce Levine’s writing about anti-authoritarianism is particularly appropriate to this conversation, because in my opinion, it is definitely those of us who’ve landed “outside the box”, so to speak, who get labeled. Of course, “the box” is a very small, very homogenous space of rationality, logic, politeness, white picket fences, regulation of thought/emotion/belief/etc, and so on and so forth. To me, it is totally “mad” that our society (and I make assumptions about America here) stubbornly persists in acting and performing this “perfect” part of success, order, productivity, attractiveness, happiness, when there so much violence, isolation, oppression, and marginalization going on all around us. Anyone who doesn’t effectively play this “perfect” part gets dropped off at the gates of the closest psych hospital to be labeled, funneled into the system, and removed from society’s view, so that it can continue trudging forward under the delusion that perfection is a real thing.

      I would challenge your claim that those people spellbound by psychiatry “seem happy enough to continue on”. Some of them might well be— I’m thinking particularly of “mental health professionals” who are just as spellbound as the people “willingly” on psychiatric drugs themselves, although in different ways. However, I don’t think we should assume that just because people continue to “willingly” take their psych drugs, they’re happy. For me, I “willingly” took psychiatric drugs for over ten years, because I’d placed all my faith in the hands of psychiatry to one day, somewhere down the road, make me happy. I was never, ever happy during my years on psych drugs; not for one day. In fact, I was constantly hopeless, lost, lonely, and suicidal. But I had enough hope (false hope, as I see today) to keep taking the pills day after day because my psychiatrists told me, “It’s your treatment-resistant bipolar disorder that’s preventing these medications from working. We will keep trying until we find the right combination. Stay patient.” Because I was so miserable, I stayed patient. That is, until I woke up to what was really going on ;).

      Onwards,
      Laura

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  4. I love hearing about the psychiatric history of the state of Massachusetts. Maybe just as Ohio is a traditional weather vane of the presidential elections, Massachusetts is one for trends in psychiatry.

    I don’t live in Massachusetts. Not even close. Yet that is where I got my diagnosis of a lifelong severe mental illness.

    I had dropped out of college with just two weeks left in the semester and all A’s in my classes. I was convinced my panic and existential angst were not normal. There had to be something wrong with me.

    So I had the brilliant idea that I would get the best ‘help’ available. I did not want the experts from my world-renowned university that I had just dropped out of… too close for comfort. I did some research on the oldest and most esteemed psychiatric hospitals out there and came to the choice of the Menninger Clinic in Topeka (which has subsequently moved to Houston in 2003) or McLean Hospital in Belmont.

    Why would anyone do what I actually chose to do? It is a gross understatement to say that people often do things that don’t make much sense in hindsight… I entered McLean voluntarily without being in any acute distress.

    I went to a high-functioning ward where the patients were well-educated professionals. I went to get comprehensive testing to get a better understanding and outside appraisal of myself, but that never happened. What did happen was an indoctrination for drug therapy. Lots and lots of heavy duty drugs.

    Now, 13 years later, I am joined to you Laura by those experiences. I am learning about myself now through the Massachusetts portal of MIA.

    Life is nothing if not riddled by paradoxes and irony, of which Massachusetts is both the introduction to my psychiatric existence then and the hope of my new found antipsychiatry identity now.

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    • My friend, Emily,
      Another beautiful sequence of words from you ☺.

      Your story is so, so, so common, which makes it all the more tragic. Pain from “life on life’s terms” is pathologized and drugged, creating “chronic mental illness”. You and I are both so lucky to have come out on the other side with our minds, spirits, and hearts intact.

      I spend a lot of time on psych wards these days for work or to visit friends, and boy is it a strange yet totally empowering experience to step foot on the same unit I’d once been locked up on (“voluntarily”, like you). The strangeness comes from a deep fear that’s still inside of me that I could get locked up again; I think this is a healthy fear, and one that makes sense given my past experiences. It also comes from realizing that I’m free to walk through the locked doors at the end of my visit, while the person I’ve come to see is not, and often times, doesn’t want to be. You are right that there is tremendous irony in this whole thing— I sometimes feel like I’m looking at myself from four years ago, or eight years ago, or fifteen years ago, when I first entered the system. How am I here, when I was once there? I find myself thinking. If only they knew what I now know. If only I knew then what I know now. You know the mind games I’m talking about…

      Like you, I’ve had plenty of moments in which I feel baffled by some of my past decisions. I no longer hold anger towards myself, however, because I did what society taught me to do. Although I never understood that “society” (aka all the norms I’d been taught or had somehow incorporated into the way I saw myself) was not a capital ‘T’ Truth to internalize without any questions or challenges, I get to see that today. I get to see that the belief I once had that I wasn’t acceptable as I was and needed to turn to psychiatry to fix me is a belief not founded in Truth. I get to see that the belief I once had about emotional pain as a thing to be rid of is based on a fantasy. I get to look back on all my years in the system and feel a deep gratitude for the way my life went, because I get to be who I am today, doing what I’m now doing. Today, I get to look inward for the answers I seek, because I know they’re there. So much beauty today, from so much past pain.

      Onwards in solidarity,
      Laura

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  5. Laura, a very moving piece.

    What I find so frustrating about being a survivor, is the resistance to simply my existence by the people who are still in bondage and sinking, clutching their meds. I have been met not with just avoidance, but down right hostility. I understand this attitude from psychiatrists and other professional leaders, I’m thinking of priests here. They are in the position of power which we threaten. But the people who are being crushed, the spellbound, the people that don’t have long before their minds will betray them, they just don’t want to get it. Especially I shutter when I think of those in the ‘recovery’ movement who are peer support specialists and WRAP facilitators who are still on meds, still getting locked up, and the most confused by the presence of a ‘survivor’. They just space out. Surely there is a way to reach this particular group of phonies! That is a very unkind word, but they teach the newly ‘baptized’ by the system to build a crisis plan with which hospital you want to go to and what meds you want to take. They are giving the newly oppressed stones when they are asking for bread!

    I think we need to reach out to parents, normal parents. We need to inform them that putting their children in school is a grave danger to them these days. I pulled all of my children out of school when the teacher wanted my kindergartener to be evaluated for ADD. And now we’ve got juvenile bipolar and juvenile schizophrenia! The new DMS now lists these disorders with the additional qualifier of ‘spectrum’ tacked on to the end. We need to get parents to SF in May!

    I have a friend whose is a social worker for a county service board and her peers are having severe concerns about this broader DSM-V. We need to motivate these ‘normal’ people before they fall into the new ranks of the mentally disturbed.

    This is truly a human rights issue. EVERYONE is at risk in this system that wants everyone to be addicted to their expensive drugs.

    There are anti-DSM petitions floating around the Web. At least find them and sign them. And please, let’s have a showing in San Francisco on May 14. We can’t give up! Everyone’s freedom is at risk! I certainly don’t want to loose my new found freedom that I fought so hard to get.

    Thanks for listening.

    See you in Philly in November everyone!

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    • Hi Maxima,
      I feel a lot of the same frustration. I have to continuously remind myself that I, too, was spellbound, and for a long time. Waking up didn’t happen overnight for me, that’s for sure, and when I find myself feeling angry, impatient, or frustrated, I pause and look for myself in the other person (or people), because I’m in there, too. I was once so desperate to feel OK that I placed all my dependence on psychiatry. I too once wanted to believe I had a “chemical imbalance” so that I didn’t have to feel like a bad or weak person. I once gave up my agency and any sense of responsibility for myself, for my family, and for people around me because I’d convinced myself I was “too bipolar” and just couldn’t handle adult life. To get from where I was in the spring of 2010 to where I am now has been a very slow unfolding, new doors swinging themselves open as time goes on, but not all at once. Because I know for myself that I don’t want to operate my life based upon anger and resentment, I try my hardest to practice acceptance, even when I REALLY don’t like what it is that I’m accepting. This doesn’t mean I stop fighting— if anything, I write more, protest more, advocate more, etc.—but what it does mean is that I no longer become paralyzed by anger. When I’m paralyzed by anger, I’m useless to myself and to anyone else.

      I completely agree with you that everyone is at risk in this system. Literally, every person. What happened to me, and what happened to you, could happen to ANYONE. This is an important message that we must carry.

      I really look forward to meeting you “in person” in Philly in a couple of weeks! It will be wonderful to connect face-to-face ☺.

      In solidarity,
      Laura

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  6. Beautiful piece as usual. Poignant, eerie. “These are my brothers and sisters, I thought. How is it that I’m here, walking free, while they were robbed of their life and their liberty.” It often occurs to me: The people (at least the same kind of people_ who so vibrantly contribute to enhancing consciousness today were effectively rendered mute–and destroyed– in another era.. “How do we help our society understand that Met State is all around us?” Yes but even beyond psychiatry–the prisons that have multiplied with the growth of prison-industrial complex, the soldiers that come back from the war crippled, physically and or emotionally–and drugged..The society as a giant madhouse, Panopticon as Foucault called it–the effort to bring everyone under surveillance and control
    Spellbound–that’s great word. I forgot about that word.
    Sleepers awake!
    Seth
    wwww.sethHfarber.com

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    • Hi Seth,
      It was so good to meet you in NYC, even if it was brief. I hope our paths cross again soon.

      The same thing that occurs often to you, occurs to me too— I can’t even begin to wrap my mind around how much human potential (for art, for writing, for activism, for humanitarianism, for science, for innovation, for discovery, etc.) has been silenced by psychiatry. It is beyond tragic, beyond scary to think about. If people at the mass scale realized this, do you think they would let it continue? In my opinion, it is one of the greatest human injustices of modern man, and it is happening right under everyone’s noses.

      Yes— you are so, so, so right about prisons, and about soldiers, too. We mustn’t forget the foster care system. The numbers are mind-boggling. Re: war, I don’t even have words for just how tragic it is that soldiers are coming home and being silenced by bottles of pills, their traumas completely ignored and shoved behind closed doors of shrinks’ offices. The greatest insult a person can receive, in my opinion.

      Haha, I LOVE that you mention the Panopticon!! I wrote about that in an earlier chapter in my blog. Jeremy Bentham coined the word in the late 18th century, and Foucault beautifully incorporated it into his writing on power. It’s funny— I’d learned about it before I was ever locked up on a psych ward, and was always so conscious of the strategic placement of the nurse’s station, the visible hallways, of the realization that at any second I might be being observed… And I was always a “voluntary” patient! It amazes me today how much I’d internalized the oppression.

      Here’s to sleepers awaking!! I love that, Seth.

      In solidarity,
      Laura

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    • mi,
      Such a good point. I’m curious, do you have any numbers on those populations, and what psych drugs are specifically being given for these neurological conditions (some of which are likely being caused by the drugs, themselves)?

      In solidarity,
      Laura

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  7. thanks for writing such a great, thoughtful article! mentioning your visit to the graveyard at met state reminded me of visiting the cemetery at central state hospital down in milledgeville, georgia. i used to live about a hour and half away in athens for a few years. a community/interest group erected a simple memorial there at CSH, but the woods on the grounds of the old asylum have as many as 25,000 unmarked graves… so tragic. i’m a musician, and visiting and researching this place so powerfully effected me it even inspired my last record. thanks again, mark tulk.

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    • Hi Mark,
      Thanks so much for sharing this here. I just went to your website and listened to the two songs from your “Central State” album— beautiful!

      I’m curious to hear if folks in GA are working on identifying those graves? Or at least locating them all and giving them the proper care they deserve? I had NO idea that this vast graveyard existed. 25,000 unmarked graves. Unbelievable.

      Thanks for your powerful creative contribution,
      Laura

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  8. Laura, great piece.
    We’re considering a fairly risky and unorthodox approach that is consistent with your observations here. Simply put, we’re considering a network of “resource people” name not fully agreed upon, whose primary job would be to keep as many people out of the traditional community mental health system by linking them with other support systems/resources that are less harmful. It’s a prevention approach, where we’re preventing the harm caused by a broke system.

    As you might imagine the details of something like this are tricky and need thorough study, but we can’t just keep doing what we’ve always done and expect something different to happen. Preventing a DSM label, preventing harmful drug prescriptions, preventing disability due to a “mental illness” preventing the notion that “you can’t work” and “you have a chronic illness” seems like a good place to start!

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    • David,

      I’m not convinced that what is needed to spare someone from a lifetime of “mental illness” is more “thorough study”.

      My psychiatrist claimed to not be able to help me get off of the drugs she prescribed for me because she wasn’t trained to help me taper. She needed some “thorough study” that she did not have nor ever intended to waste her time getting.

      Ignorance of the “tricky” details of an alternative way (which is a life without experts) is nearly always a clever excuse for maintaining business as usual (which never had anything to do with health, anyways).

      Also, who is the editorial “we” that you are referring to? Because Laura is not a “trained” mental health worker, as far as I know.

      It takes the experts to get people hooked on legal drugs… All 62,000,000 Americans today. The experts have done an excellent job.

      Where would my life have led me had I not sought out such expert ‘help’?

      Sorry for coming on harsh here as I know that you are working very hard to not pathologize people in your work,
      Emily

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      • I appreciate the passion Emily! I work for a governmental agency responsible for providing a network of services to folks, regrettably, diagnosed with so-called mental illness and addictions. We have a Board structure of 18 persons who are ultimately responsible for making decisions, thus the mouse in my pocket. I say regrettably because I don’t find value in labeling of this sort.

        There is a bit of careful consideration needed because what we would be doing is creating a system that deters people from another system we’re supposed to be promoting. Also, we can’t treat everyone the same. We have to ensure that all options exist for folks after informed consent is provided. For example, we can’t refuse to offer psychiatric services.

        I think what you will see with Laura is someone trying to actually make a change in how we currently function as a system. I see her as kindred spirit in this regard. I think it’s important to note that change looks different and can come from different perspectives/directions. My focus is making changes at the level I work at and have some limited influence. Laura makes change where she’s at, et ct. We need everyone to push for the changes we’re talking about here at MIA for it to become reality.

        I understand that change does seem to take too long. It probably does. I feel like we’re doing a lot to make things better here in little old Ashland Ohio though. Thanks.

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        • David,

          Must look up your Little Anytown, USA one of these days.

          Thank you for your generosity of spirit and further explanation… You are killing me with kindness!

          Yes, change takes time. This I can understand. But still, it is a great excuse of people who do not necessarily mean well to suggest, “further study recommended”.

          You are not one of those people using that kind of cop-out.

          I can get a little possessive of such a rich resource such as Laura to want to represent the patients’ perspective vs. the experts, but in reality she represents both. True life goes beyond the limits of an us vs. them paradigm.

          You’ve won my confidence,
          Emily

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    • Hi David!
      Wow, I am so encouraged to hear about this! I’m curious to know why you think it’s ‘risky’? Is it because of pushback from the state, or for other reasons?

      All of those preventions you listed, to me, are such obvious ones to strive for, but it doesn’t cease to amaze me that so many people either can’t see the harm from labels, drugs, and the “mentally ill” identity, or refuse to see it? Of course, there are people/institutions out there for whom a person entering the mental health system means big money, but you’d think that the overall cost— first and foremost, to that person and his/her livelihood, physical health, sense of Self and inner confidence, and hope, among the countless things I could list here; but also, from a fiscal standpoint, to the taxpayer; and from a societal standpoint, to that person’s community (family, friends, etc.)— would encourage more people like you to be working at prevention. We are on a path to societal collapse, in my opinion, and I’m grateful to know that you’re working hard to prevent this from happening in your community!

      In solidarity,
      Laura

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      • Sorry I wasn’t more clear. The “risk” or “trick” has to do what jeopardizing our State funding. We just need to be mindful not to do that, while still promoting reform efforts. For example, in most states Medicaid will pay for “Psychiatric Services” that service is typically conceptualized as the providing of psych meds for a DSM diagnosis. If we also include psychiatric drug tapering, and promote that we offer the tapering program, but still bill the same code, “Psychiatric Services” we should be able to survive an audit, but we’re “hijacking” services to fit reform efforts rather than how they were originally conceptualized. We don’t want to put our Board or our contract agencies at rist of a State/Federal audit, but we don’t want to put our residents at risk of dangerous drugs! Reforming a bureaucracy from the inside is challenging stuff, but we’re up for it in Ohio. Sorry I missed you at NARPA.

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  9. Thank you, Laura. This is a beautiful, poignant, strong and important piece. I remember being at the closing of Northampton State Hospital when music was being played while many people gathered outside in the chilly mist. For me, the music was totally weird as it was in some way making the closing into a performance which couldn’t possibly come close to paying the proper respect for the thousands of souls lost in that awful place. I also went to the closing of the Massachusetts Mental Health Center in Boston where I spent a long year of my teen life. The entire building was filled with tulips…gorgeous tulips. I had thought that I might be able to actually visit the room where I had spent so many days and nights. The patient rooms were sealed off, and they would not let me in past the tulips. Very sad and also infuriating. The tulips were for the many doctors who were there chatting and smiling. To me, here also the “event” was completely inappropriate. They thought they were honoring the former patients, but it just showed how far removed the doctors were from the reality of how it feels to be locked up in a place like that.

    Keep writing, Laura, as you are making a real difference!

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    • Hi Dorothy,
      Wow, my mind evoked some serious images while reading this. I don’t know what I would have done if I’d been at that closing in Northampton… with the music, and the mist… Haunting, and disturbing.

      I’ve heard a bit about Mass Mental, mostly from a psychologist friend of mine who’d conducted an experiment with some of his students back in the ‘60s— they were admitted as patients and observed the ways in which they are their fellow patients were treated by staff, and I guess many of them were so deeply disturbed by the experience that they published some important writing about it. I don’t know the details, but would like to learn more, or maybe get my hands on those old papers…

      Wow, the tulips. As though filling a place of oppression and violation with beautiful flowers would drown out that evil. To be honest, I’m not surprised that they did that; I feel like that total ignorance is so commonplace in psychiatry. They have to be ignorant, to protect themselves. This doesn’t justify any of what they do, of course, but it’s how I’ve made sense of it all, I guess.

      Thanks so much for your support, Dorothy. I have much to learn from you, and it makes me so happy that we live so close to each other ☺.

      Love,
      Laura

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        • Hi Ted,
          I know about the Rosenhan experiment– the psychologist I’m thinking of is David Kantor, who taught at Harvard circa 1960s, in the now defunct Department of Social Relations. A really awesome guy, who’s done a lot of amazing things in his career, whom I was lucky enough to work for a year and a half ago.
          -Laura

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      • Chrys,

        I suppose someone could argue that drinking alcohol helps them deal with life’s pains. And I would venture to guess you could easily find a bunch of folks who might go as far as to say that alcohol saved their lives.

        But mostly, I would say that it may be best to ask them (the ones who swear by their drugs), and not someone like myself, who sees no “medicinal” value… i.e, certainly no proof of correcting chemical imbalance… in fact, a strong argument in the other direction…

        The drugs appear to create a chemical imbalance with long-term use, much like alcohol or street drugs. There’s not much difference.

        Duane

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        • I suppose an argument could be made (in fact, has been made) that their short-term use may be of benefit for a minority of folks – acute crisis, to help with sleep, etc…. especially, since there are so few places that offer alternatives… but they are not a long-term answer, IMO.

          Some may disagree.
          So be it.

          Duane

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          • Thanks for responding Duane.

            I didn’t like taking psychiatric drugs, even short term, as they made me feel really bad. The psychosis wasn’t a problem for me but it was for other people. Which is interesting I suppose.

            I don’t like alcohol, the taste or effect, never did even when young, when I took alcohol when out with friends. It didn’t affect me much, as in make me any different. And I don’t smoke, was never tempted to. Although my mother and father both smoked.

            But I know that some and even many folk like to take something or other to make life a bit easier. And that’s fine with me, as long as they don’t try and make me take stuff.

            This is why I don’t like force being used in psychiatry. For I don’t like it being used in ‘normal’ life. And I don’t want to be made to take chemical substances which make me feel worse. Although I do take pills for my blood pressure. Which seem to help.

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      • Chrys,
        You pose an interesting question about people who find psych drugs “helpful”. I think about this a lot, because I talk to many people who say the same thing. I guess the question we must ask, is, what does one mean by “help”? If “help” means detaching someone from his/her feelings, thoughts, and ability to connect with others, then yes, they are “helpful”. I can definitely say that I’ve met few people who say psych drugs “help” them who are functioning well in life, active, healthy, and relatively content. They are often sad, isolated, and disconnected, yet claim the drugs “help” them. I of course am only speaking from my own observations, and will not generalize. Would love to hear more of your thoughts about this.

        Onwards,
        Laura

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        • Hi Laura – I’ve known some or even many people in Scotland who take psychiatric drugs and they seem to be OK mood wise, with ups and downs like the rest of us, have social networks and do useful things with their time.

          And I’ve known other folk who take alcohol to cope with life, as in self medicate. In Scotland alcohol and recreational drugs are probably as much of an issue as psych drug prescribing, although the latter is increasing.

          For me the issue is power and control in psychiatry but I don’t want to replace it with something else prescriptive and paternalistic. What I do want is to see are alternatives for people in mental distress, real peer support in standing with people who want to get out of the psych system and a taking back the power of the system by the people.

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