It was Sunday, December 4, 1960. I had been sad and depressed and taken a small overdose of Aspirin in an attention-getting gesture for help. My parents took me to where they thought was the best place at the time: Massachusetts General Hospital emergency room. From there, my three-year hellish odyssey began. A psychiatrist sent me to Baldpate Hospital in Georgetown, MA. In those days, it was easy to be locked up and committed against your will and nearly impossible to get out. Many people never did.
I can still feel the cold, sticky linoleum beneath my bare feet as I shuffled my way to the bathroom on those freezing early mornings during the winter of 1961 at Baldpate Hospital in Georgetown, MA. The sensations and memories are as much a part of me now as they were then, perhaps even more vivid now as I realize the shocking brutality of my treatment as an adolescent girl locked into a mental institution for feeling sad and lonely and depressed.
We were lined up side by side in our beds on those mornings, four girls, huddled beneath our cold, white sheets; petrified and silent. I can see the nurse in her starched white uniform. I can smell the alcohol she rubbed on my bottom, and I can feel the sting of the sharp needle as she injected the insulin into me: combined insulin coma/electroshock therapy, five days a week for eight weeks.
After we were groggy from the insulin, but often not yet in a coma, the second treatment would begin. I can still see him walking through the door to our bare hospital-green room, his face grey-white in color, and his black suit and black shoes. He carried all his equipment in a small black suitcase in one hand, this man of death and destruction. He set up his machine behind our heads, one by one. Curled up beneath our sheets, heads covered, as though seeking womb-like protection, we were – as they peeled the sheets off of us, forcing us onto our backs – bare and open and vulnerable. I was second in the line-up.
Before being turned, I would often peek out from a small secret opening in my sheet to see what they were doing to Susan, the first to receive the treatment. I would force myself to watch as if it might prepare me in some way. And when she would shake violently all over, my eyes would close. I could no longer watch. I would shiver beneath my sheet in fear. And then they would come to me. I can still feel the sticky, cold jelly they put on my temples. My arms and legs were held down by mental health workers. There was no anesthesia at all. Each time, I expected I would die, and I woke up with a violent headache and nausea. My mind was blurred, and I permanently lost pieces of the eight months of memory for events preceding the shocks. I also lost my self-esteem. I had been beaten down as flat as a pancake.
But I was lucky. I was very, very lucky. On one of those cold winter mornings exactly fifty-two years ago they injected my friend, Susan, in the bed next to me with more insulin than her young body could tolerate. A few hours later, as the four of us were having our mandatory afternoon nap, still huddled beneath our sheets, my friend, Susan, went to sleep and never woke up. She had just turned seventeen. She was my fragile friend and fellow traveler on this dangerous journey, and when she died, she became a part of me… I am the witness.
On the afternoons after Susan died, I can remember my “mental health care” continued by my being taken into that same shock room, where we also slept at night, by a mental health worker. He would lock the door, push me up against the wall, and sexually abuse me. My head was foggy from the insulin, dazed from the Thorazine; I was petrified. I did not scream. I did not dare. I survived. And I did not tell anyone for many, many years.
After six months, I was transferred to another institution, The Menninger Clinic in Kansas. What I recall most vividly is the seclusion. The room was dark and hot and sticky. It was bare except for the roughly-covered striped mattress. There was no sheet. I could feel every thread in the fabric against my skin as if I were being cut into pieces with my every move. And inside, the pain was rushing through my head and in every vein. I could feel the Thorazine sting as they injected the needle into my skin, and I would then become a stranger to myself, dead and dying from the inside out. It went on for weeks and weeks and weeks. I was crying for Susan, for my shattered self, for my lost freedom. I was trying desperately to survive. The seclusion did not help. And the Thorazine nearly killed me. I shuffled. My tongue was swollen so much that I couldn’t talk.
One woman I shall always remember from that locked ward for her fearless rage. In her fifties, she wore her graying black hair pulled tightly back in a bun, and she always wore the same long, dark, straight dress and black shoes with thick high heels. Her fury was something to behold. The only times I saw this amazing woman were when she would emerge from her room, three times a day, tray in hand, and smash the entire tray with all the food spraying upside down across the floor outside her door, screaming that she did not want to be locked up and she would not eat the food until they let her go free. Her shrieks were piercing, sometimes even frightening; but I always held her in very high esteem because of her bravery and her ability to yell out the truth for and before all of us who were so much younger.
During the three years I spent in institutions, I saw and experienced a lot of abuse. Some of it was violent, some of it was more subtle, but it was almost always present in one form or another, like a polluted river running through our lives. I still see Technicolor images of the elderly women lined up and tied to their chairs from 6 am until 8 pm at Westborough State Hospital. They mumbled in the hall next to each other. Sometimes they wailed and pleaded to be let out. They wore diapers, and their urine often spilled out onto the floor. I tried to soothe them; they were inconsolable. They were the women who had been abused in their youth; many had been shocked, overmedicated, secluded for years. They were the women who never made it out, and they were a constant reminder of what could happen to all of us who were so much younger. They were the poor women of 50 years ago, now dead, many of whom had been locked up by their husbands for “bad” behavior. Most of them had probably simply been looking for love and affection. They now wore the scarlet letters of A for adultery plus S for Schizophrenia. I was educated at Westborough… I am a witness.
We all did the best we could to survive, and many of us did not. I have long felt that my anger and defiance were what ultimately saved me from dying there. We were all thought of as crazy; I was labeled as being schizophrenic. But, in fact, we were all desperately trying to find our individual ways of adapting to the atrocities of our “mental health care.” We were learning essential survival skills in this war, not only a war within ourselves, but also a war against the system that had put us there. And it was not a war we could ever win. We tried and tried and tried. It took vigilance and patience and acting skills, and it was exhausting.
It is important to realize that the worst atrocities happened to me in the prettiest places. Baldpate looked like a farmhouse from the front, with flowers and trees, but way back in the woods there was a small concrete unit where the the shocks were given. That is where they kept me. The other pretty hospital, The Menninger Clinic, looked like a college campus. Terrible abuses of restraint and seclusion and drugging and cold packs happened there. The large state hospitals were often out in the country surrounded by trees and grass, but at least no one pretended that they were pleasant. The inside of these hospitals looked horrible, and they were horrible, but the “pretty,” “private,” “nice” hospitals were an illusion where more drugging and sexual and physical abuse happened to me than anywhere else… I am a witness.
Finally, I was released through the help of a friend, and I soon met a kind and gentle doctor. With his sweet smile and a twinkle in his eye, this young man saved my soul and nursed me back to living, into college, and into a full life. He was a mother to me, telling me that nothing had ever been wrong with me, that I was expressing a natural response to my barbaric mistreatments. I have been absolutely fine ever since meeting him forty-nine years ago. Kindness and compassion are the sweetest, most powerful medicines of all.
Recently I was at the Massachusetts State House, hearing traumatic testimony from young people who had been grossly mistreated in the mental health system, pleading for change. I had done the same way back 35 years ago. There have been some small changes, but not nearly enough. Damaging drugs are widely prescribed to silence those (including many, many young children) expressing their natural life emotions in response to normal stressful life situations. Shock is still widely given to people without real consent. Mental pain is something which we all feel at some times in our lives. Some feel it more than others. It is certainly easier to isolate and silence those with intolerable pain, those who are different, for being around them is a constant reminder of our own vulnerability.
I feel an enormous bond with the young people of today, expressing again, and so articulately, poignantly, and with such dignity, my same concerns of 35 years ago: In the mental health system, where is the kindness? Where is the compassion for our fellow travelers?
We share a language and set of feelings similar to Holocaust survivors and veterans of combat battle units. This connection to people who have traveled the same rocky path through violent hospitalizations or years of brain-washing medications in their youth is strong and powerful and a fiery political force which is growing stronger around the world every single day. Our books and our films and our speeches and our written testimonies in the New York Times and other newspapers around the world are waking people up, lifting off their blinders as our experiences are resonating with their own. Meaningful, lasting revolution is sometimes slow, but the river of passion is flowing. The barricades are cracking and beginning to fall. It is time for all to pick up their banners and march forward with us to make this world a kinder and gentler place for all.
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.
Dorothy, your story, your voice, and your beautiful heart are a gift and a blessing to the world.
Sometimes, when I am driving and just sort of going over things in my head, I find myself thinking about you (because you are a source of inspiration) and then, almost invariably, I think about Susan. It is not lost on me how truly amazing and powerful it is that you have carried your friend with you for so long, and have shared her story with so many, never letting her be forgotten.
I feel so much hope for the world knowing that there are people like you in it. Really.
“Kindness and compassion are the sweetest, most powerful medicines of all.”
There is nothing more true than that.
Thank you, Dorothy.
Thank you so much for your sweet comment, Faith. You are a generous and wonderful fellow comrade.
Thank you Dorothy. The brutality you survived (and describe with such literary talent) inspires me to do better. As I heard you say on youtube – it doesn’t matter that they now give people anesthesia and you are speechless that this still continues today. We should all be speechless that this barbaric practice still happens quite regularly in the name of “treatment.”
Thank you so much, Greg. I really appreciate your comment (especially about ECT), and I am honored to be working with you.
I also find it hard to accept that this barbaric and draconian abuse of humans is still being used and then called medicine. By my experience the medical providers who did this to me, not ECT, they threatened that, admitted they don’t know what they are doing, they seemed to invent all manner of human nature to be defect and dysfunction, and to them it was all about money. I had abusive parents, sexually, and violently, the State knew this, I did not, I had been lynched and vivisected in 1981 and later told I had an “accident” it was a lie, I had amnesia from the attack, and they ended up using all of that and the harm the criminals caused me to get away with murder later in effect.
This mental health sham is a State sponsored train wreck and murder for hire campaign for sure and I find it impossible to believe that something is not being done to stop it. Why?
“I had been sad and depressed and taken a small overdose of Aspirin in an attention-getting gesture for help”
I’m alway struck by how mental health professionals have managed to pathologise the ordinary process of communication, of which getting someones attention is always the first step.
Attention getting is nothing to be ashamed of, it’s only mental health professionals who manage to frame it in such an unhelpful way…
Exactly, theinarticulatepoet. Mental health professionals and others who do not understand or want to acknowledge the real, valid, emotional needs of human beings, and seek to simply silence them instead.
Yes, so true, and my refusal to be silenced certainly kept me in there for much longer. In the end, however, my anger helped me to survive.
Be well, Dorothy
Thank you so much for your comment. Of course, what you say is so true.
Hope you are well, Dorothy
Dorothy, thank you for sharing your harrowing and beautifully written piece about the horrors you experienced and witnessed in the psychiatric system. It’s an outrage how little has really changed since. And I have to agree with theinarticulatepoet’s comments above – wanting and needing the attention of others is not a pathology, and it’s an outrage that mental health professionals twist things like that. It is a wonderful memorial to your friend Susan that you keep telling the story of how the system killed her. You are an inspiration!
Thank you, Darby, for your amazing support over all of these years! You always articulate the truth so perfectly.
A very powerful Dorothy, thank you. So much of what you write rings true for me, about the women in the psychiatric system, the attempts to silence pain, the horror of it all.
Although I have been through the system, 3 times, I was fortunate not to experience the worst of what it had/has to offer. My mother wasn’t so fortunate although she never spoke of it in later life, just took the depixol injection and made the best of it. My father wasn’t as strong and the experience I think disabled him, he died at 57 after many years of mental health challenges but having nothing to do with medicine or psychiatry.
My two younger sisters survived the psychiatric system, in different ways, and my sons also, although still coming through. I won’t be silenced and am glad to be part of the “fiery political force” and “meaningful, lasting revolution”.
Cheers, or as we say in Scotland “here’s tae us, wha’s like us!”.
I am so sorry to hear about your mother and father and sisters and sons! And I am so happy that you are a fiery political force. Hopefully, together, we shall all make a difference in the lives of all who follow us.
Be well, Dorothy
I just read your essay again Dorothy and feel compelled to tell you again how beautiful it is. You should be very proud of what you have done and continue to do with your life. I found these sentences particularly important:
” There have been some small changes, but not nearly enough. Damaging drugs are widely prescribed to silence those (including many, many young children) expressing their natural life emotions in response to normal stressful life situations. Shock is still widely given to people without real consent. Mental pain is something which we all feel at some times in our lives. Some feel it more than others. It is certainly easier to isolate and silence those with intolerable pain, those who are different, for being around them is a constant reminder of our own vulnerability.”
And of course I appreciate immensely your final two paragraphs about youth, the bond of those with comparable psych experiences, and what we can do in the future.
Thank you again, Greg. You are a beautiful writer and have so much to say. Yes, you and your fellow young comrades are the future, and I feel certain that you will all make this world a kinder place for those who follow us.
I have heard bits and pieces of your story before, but never in such a well constructed and powerful narrative as you have written and spoken above.
This not only brought tears to my eyes, but most definitely deepens my hatred of Biological Psychiatry and the oppressive character of the psychiatric profession that gave rise to today’s only slightly more sophisticated form of human oppression. This should be required reading for anyone who dares to step foot in the mental health field with the intention of helping people in a state of extreme emotional distress.
Dorothy, your courage and resilience, and most definitely, your Revolutionary spirit is truly inspiring. I hope to be there with you at the barricades. We all have much work to do.
Thank you so much, Richard. Your comment means a lot to me as you are such a longtime and experienced activist. I am really looking forward to the next phase of the Revolution!
Be well, Dorothy
I too was brought to tears.
Saddened; angered; left numb.
But inspired with the thought that you’re still here.
Thank you, Duane. I am definitely still here and still hoping to make this world a kinder place for those who follow us. Hope is always very, very important.
Be well, Dorothy
Since the day I first met you— when you drove ALL the way up to Freeport, ME to have lunch with me while I was at a conference last fall, which meant so very much to me— I have looked to you as a friend, a mentor, and a fellow freedom fighter. Your presence in person, and your presence in your words here on this page, and in your art work and court testimony too, are full of a life force so powerful that it’s no wonder the barbaric “treatment” you received for those three years stood no chance at breaking you. Like Faith, I often think of Susan, who you’ve so importantly made eternal in your story. Let us never let her life fade into the background; I am so glad that you’ve weaved her story into yours.
I feel so lucky to live a town away from you and to see you on a regular basis. You are family to me, and your contributions to the Psychiatric Survivor Movement are so very valuable, and have helped me find my own voice. Thank you for your story, and for being the woman, mother, grandmother, friend, and survivor that you are!
Thank you so so much, Laura! As you know, you are the young woman I talked about who writes now. And you are such a wonderful and passionate writer! I am counting on all of you younger revolutionaries to carry the banners forward into a bright new world.
With love, Dorothy
In the early 70s, as an eighth grader in a new school I pulled the exact stunt you did to communicate my disgust with my situation to my parents. My dear Dad just gave me a hug and asked me if I wanted to talk about it. I didn’t, but nothing like that ever happened again. I’m sickened to read of the inhumane treatment you received for the same gesture.
Thank you, Diana. You were so lucky to have your “dear Dad” respond as he did. Yours is a sweet story which shows just how important and healing kindness and compassion can be.
I hope you are well, Dorothy
I cringe at the power of your words… I cringe because I know what happens when the mental health system ‘breaks’. My grandfather was alcoholic, and from what I understand via an aunt who shared with tears – violent when drunk. He was arrested for vagrancy just days before my older brother was born, in 1948. He hung himself in jail …
All I knew was ‘this’, told me essentially once, with clenched teeth by my mother.
I was born with a disability, and I found asking questions provoked anger – “DO YOU WANT ME TO END UP IN THE STATE HOSPITAL SOME DAY?” That was the ’50’s…
My dad … became alcoholic, depressed … and committed suicide, too. Us kids – we never talked about it …
While my ‘version’ of mental health care was less onerous than yours (25++ years of ‘everything’… ) I know – even for someone who never ‘tried it’ … the system has been badly broken.
You write with deep clarity. You write compellingly. In having both visible and invisible disabilities, I am struck by the unique challenges of each. I tend to believe that ‘this one’ – mental ‘illness’ – is the one that people fear will suck them Over the Edge to a point where they ‘lose it’ and never return. Your writing shows so deeply the flaws in that logic. It is not ‘us’ who go “off the deep end” … it is those who fear what our experiences are, that drag us to where no one should go and dump us there.
Most profoundly, people like you show you are more human, clear-headed and rational than those who would ‘dump’. THANK YOU.
Thank you so much for your comment. I am so sorry about your family’s sad stories. Yes, it is true, there are difficulties in both kinds of disabilities, and the “mental illness” one really does tap into everyone’s deep fears of going crazy, over the edge, losing it. Of course, it is much easier to hide away those who are different rather than compassionately living together with all of our individual differences.
I send you every good wish,
This brings back such memories.
I was so extremely lucky. While I had to watch my friends be sexually abused, I was only ever threatened with it. I also had a friend die from”improper restraint” while hospitalized, and another one die while escaping… No one would believe the “crazy girl” when she said staff was raping her, so she escaped. She made it about 75 yards before being hit & killed by a car. It still never occurred to anyone that the reason she was so desperate to escape just days before she was supposed to get out was because she had been telling the truth.
It’s interesting to me how vehemently people who have not been in the system deny the abuses that occur within it. Even if they will believe individual stories (which is unlikely in itself), they always consider it an outlier, not representative of the system as a whole. They couldn’t be more wrong.
Thank you for sharing your story and working to help create change. It is badly needed.
Thank you so much for your comment. I am so sorry you had to watch your friends being abused. I have always thought it was more difficult to watch than to actually be the one being abused. As the watcher, you have even less control over the situation. And then it must have been horrifying to know friends who were killed by restraints and another who was killed by the car after no one would believe her when she told of her sexual abuse in the hospital. I could not tell anyone about my sexual abuse while in the hospital. I knew no one would believe me. It took many years for me to find a person I could trust enough to tell. Yes, no one wants to believe how horrible the system is….NO ONE…except those who have actually lived through it. It is very, very frustrating!
Take care and thank you again, Dorothy
You’re right: it was difficult. My traumatic experiences inside the mental health system kept me a part of it for much too long. I stayed quiet for so long I lost myself. I believed what they said of me, and so I became what they expected.
And then one day I met a pair of amazing, beautiful, feisty survivors. They taught me that there is nothing wrong with me. They taught me that I am worth loving. That sounds so simple and cliche, but it is more powerful than any medication or treatment.
I can never repay those first survivors I met because they truly led me back into life- into actually being *glad* I’m alive. It has been almost 10 years since I met them, and I still marvel at the very basic and profound impact they’ve had on my life. I can only hope that one day I have the opportunity to show someone else that they are also beautiful.
Reading your story and the following comments make it clear you’ve impacted other survivors in similarly powerful ways. I hope that you realize how amazing you are and how much you are appreciated.
I am so happy for you that you met your feisty survivor friends. I did too. There is nothing like the wonderful support of people who have been through experiences similar to your own.
Best of all wishes to you, Dorothy
What powerful words from a lovely woman, Dorothy. When I met you for the first time at a MindFreedom International conference some years ago I immediately bonded with you and felt I knew you all my life maybe because of our shared terrible experiences. However we both survived and while we will never forget the onslaught on our personalities, the quenching of our spirits we have found ourselves again. We will not be silenced. We will continue to let the world know that the same destructive force is still at work today. I like you believe that we are beginning to be heard. We are becoming stronger daily. We will not be moved until the world knows that the wolf is indeed in sheep’s clothing and that everyone is in risk of having similar experiences today.
Thanks so much for being YOU!
Love and blessings,
Your soul sister,
How wonderful to hear from you! I remember meeting you and Jim at the conference in CT, and I felt the same way. It was wonderful to meet a fellow ECT survivor, and your story is so heartbreaking. I saw that you were speaking in Syracuse last week and wished so badly that I could have been there. Thank you so much for your kind comment. Yes, we are slowly changing the world.
Love and best wishes to Jim and your beautiful family,
I love your writing in this post but I love the video so much more because it gives those who haven’t met you in person such a wondrous glimpse into your generous character and even the inspired decorating of your home.
That you are able to witness to the effects of intensive psychiatric treatment 50 years after the event means that you have outlived the unnaturally shortened lifespan of those who stay in psychiatric treatment. You are quite an elder of our kindred.
As with Greg Benson, it absolutely astounds me that you found your belief in yourself and your impetus to leave psychiatry from an actual doctor. My personal experience of doctors around psychiatry is so very different.
Another thing that is very foreign to me and my story is that you never integrated the psychiatric labels such– as “schizophrenia”– into your psyche the way that I did with my “bipolar”. It humbles me that you even wrote of initial sadness rather than “depression”. I’m still, even today, so ingrained with “clinical” terms rather than ordinary ones.
Something we share in common is coming to psychiatry as college students; another is that we were ushered into the supposed best of the best as far as pedigree institutions and doctors. What’s more interesting is that, as we discovered while talking in person, how you found a role model survivor activist in Judi Chamberlin and how I found mine in Laura Delano.
I’m so honored to know you, to have visited your home, to have your poster shown in the video, and a signed copy from you of “A Way Out of Madness” (in which you authored the chapter “Attachments Lost and Found”). Thank you for welcoming me into the survivor community and for remembering that those of us who do find our voices must speak for the others who never get such a chance at a life beyond psychiatry.
With much admiration,
Thank you for your kind comment. I have to say that I was extremely lucky to have survived. Luck played a bigger part than it ever should have. Finding the sweet doctor after 3 years in hospitals was simply the greatest gift of all. In terms of not taking in my diagnosis, that is not entirely true. Although that doctor succeeded in helping me to believe there was nothing the matter with me that had not been caused by the atrocities, I still have a small kernel of the schizophrenic label nestled somewhere deep in my heart, but I try never to go there. I think when you are labeled at a young age it is very difficult to remove it entirely. I did speak to that in parts of the video which had to be edited down for this current use.
I hope you are well, Emily.
I first met Dorothy at Alternatives 2011 in Orlando and immediately she took me under her wing. While I am one of those dreaded mental health professionals (and trust me, I do understand where that comes from), I am also a psychiatric survivor. I “came out” about my recovery to my colleagues in 2006, when I discovered Dan Fisher, the NEC and the C/S/X movement. Many of my colleagues have taken time to hear and try to understand my experience–as professionals and as people. (And I thank them for that, if any are reading this–because I sent a great many this link, to Dorothy’s story.) But I did not truly open up about my once-closeted life until I sat around the pool in Orlando in 2011 talking to Dorothy and Judene Shelley.
They asked me to tell my story. And in the warm, trustworthy embrace of their empathy and lived experience, I said more about what I went through–going mad, being taken down by a police officer, Haldol, isolation and restraint, and on and on–than I ever have, before or since. Dorothy told me some of her own experience in person (what an honoring experience). And I heard more the next morning when I listened to her Voices of Hope and Recovery story.
But never for one moment did she allow me to feel what any reasonable person might have felt (there are certainly some advantages to not having to be reasonable, at least at Alternatives). I did not for one moment feel ashamed or think, as I probably should have, “What in the name of God am I doing talking about what I went through, to this woman, given what she went through.”
I know that is what is amazing about our movement, in general–that we are all welcome and supported as equals, regardless of where we may be in our own journeys of recovery, healing, living and advocacy. But Dorothy really lives this intentionally. (Just look at the responses she has taken time to write to each and every person who has commented on this page!)
– – –
Dorothy, you are an amazing human being. As others on this page have also testified, you have forever changed my life, taking me under your wings and continuing to mentor and support my work, my life and my healing.
No one can give me back the years of painful inner isolation I experienced before I discovered the C/S/X movement–even after I was recovered and living an otherwise full life. (Here I am doing it again, being unreasonable, speaking about that pain on the same page as you have described yours. But you are the living embodiment of what Elie Wiesel has said–that when we compare suffering, we all lose.)
Yet as much as anyone, you have come close to giving me back those years, especially those lonely, agonized years in the 1980s. NIMH may have shut down Soteria 10 years before I went mad. But I also know that, five years before, you published that article in the Miami Herald, touching everyone you could reach with your story of outrage, courage and perseverance and hope.
I may not have had the MPLF here in Gainesville, Florida in 1983. But through you, I have. Through you, we have ALL been there with you and Dan Fisher and David Oaks and Judi Chamberlin! (My God, what a gift.)
You are a true hero, Dorothy. And you have helped so many of us realize what is heroic in our own journeys. This is a beautiful, spectacular, harrowing and hope-filled narrative. I am moved beyond words–and plan to share this with many, many more people in the future.
With all the others who have been touched by your life, I am grateful.
Thank you for your amazing comment. I remember very well meeting you with Judene Shelley in Orlando. We sat out on the chairs near the pool and you talked about your life and your family in such a moving way. And then we met again in Portland among our fabulous fellow comrades at Alternatives. I am so happy to hear that you are giving seminars to your colleagues to try to educate them on the finer points of the needed decline of the broken mental health system and what it feels like to be incarcerated within it. All of this change takes time and we need every single survivor to speak out in whatever way he or she can.
Thanks so much for your support and kindness, Jim.
Be well, Dorothy
Thank you for sharing your powerful story. Much of what you say here resonates with my experiences of psychiatry as a teenager in 1968. It’s appalling that many of the wrongs you articulate so clearly still continue in one form or another in the mental health system to the present day. Thank you for all the work you do to bring about the still so much needed change.
Thank you for your kind comment, Jean. I hope you survived your experiences in 1968. I am so sorry to hear you had to go through that time. Even though my experiences, and yours, were terrible, I do believe we are in a unique position as survivors to make real change and to help the greater society to realize just how much we need to embrace our differences rather than isolating those who challenge our own feelings of vulnerability.
Take care, Dorothy
I am deeply moved Dorothy. This hits a nerve with me. I had 6 treatments of ECT while sectioned under the Mental Health Act in the UK in 1993. Only later have I realised the true extent of the barbarism I endured and that brain damage occurs. The worst headache ever and the total loss of dignity and now the enduring anger and resentment. Later to add insult to my injury I developed cataracts in both eyes and the ophthalmologist asked me had I taken chlorpromazine (yes in industrial quantities ten years previously) he said the lens opacity he saw in my eyes was not the norm and he knew immediately how it had been caused. Thank you for this post Dorothy I send you my support and utmost admiration
kind regards Judith Haire http://www.judithhaire.com
Thank you for your kind comment, Judith. I am so sorry to hear that you, too, had to go through ECT. Yes, I remember those horrible headaches and the endless vomiting. I am sad to hear that the Thorazine has caused you to have eye problems. I am so sorry this has happened to you. I was on it for about 2 years and mostly remember shuffling and a swollen tongue and feeling absolutely drugged beyond belief.
Thank you again and best wishes to you, Dorothy
Heartfelt thanks Dorothy – all the very best Judith
I started reading your post Saturday night and simply could not finish – I could not read though my tears. Your words brought me back to my childhood watching powerlessly as my mother was abused by the “mental health system.” Like you – she has spoken at length about her experiences but there are some things she does not talk about or possibly remember – the same ones that I will never forget. My beautiful and brilliant mother strapped to a gurney in a hallway – yelled at and not allowed to go to the bathroom. Not because she broke any laws – no just because she was f’n sad. I have lost track of the number of times I visited her in a psych hospital but I cannot lose the memories. The most recent memory is of my mother coming to see me in a psych hospital – my life had just completely fallen apart. I thought she was going to tell me to listen and try to learn what I could while I was there. But I was wrong – she screamed and fought to get me out of there as soon as possible. There are some things she will never forget too.
Thank you for sharing this Dorothy. Thank you for everything you do. I admire, love and respect you for many reasons – not the least of which is for allowing me in to your home. Meeting you and your friends has been life changing for me.
Thank you for your very sweet comment. I will always remember when you talked about your mother at the summit. You were so moving, and you are here again. I can only imagine how frightening it must have been for you as a child witnessing her abuse in the hospitals, how powerless you must have felt. I would love to meet your mother. You are lucky to have had her steal you out from the system. Some mothers do that (Violet Oaks rescued David) but I think most do not. I am honored to know you and to be your comrade in this difficult but important work.
All the wonderful comments above say so much of how I feel about you too. You hold the compassion and fierce passion for liberating all who are oppressed and suffering, in a way that helps us find strength to carry on.
Thank you again dear comrade.
Thank you for your kind comment, Michael. I am so happy to know you and the rest of our kind and passionate comrades. It has been an honor to be working with you on this important and sometimes wild ride.
Thank you thank you thank you for sharing this very important piece – your story. You could have easily just led your life with your beautiful family, but you decided that it was too important to be silent. It is a privilege to know you.
Thank you, Oryx! Well, you and I both know that we cannot be silent in the face of what we have experienced. I feel honored to know you and love that we are part of this revolution to make the world a kinder, gentler place for all of our children.
Thank you Dorothy for your courage to always speak up, especially for those who did not live to tell the tale because they lost their lives to psychiatric abuse. Beautiful, beautiful piece. I feel blessed to know you.
Thank you, dear Leah! You are my original video maker, and I am happy that you like this one. It is a little longer and tells a bit more of the story. I have so much respect for you and the horrible story of what happened to BOTH of your parents within it for so many years. Thank you, always, for your kindnesses.
Much love, Dorothy
Thankyou for sharing such a beautiful story and for not forgetting your friend Susan, and for honouring her.
What I love most I think is that you are able to acknowledge the absues that still go on today. What I hear all the time is that the system is so so so much better. Nothing could be further from the truth, especially in my state of Australia, with the highest rates of forced treatment anywhere in the world. We have over a 1,000 people die in psychiatric care in my state alone each year, of unnatural, unexpected and unexplainable causes. We have no rights to question ECT, or any forced treatment order. The only thing we can question is the label of being mentally ill, but the onus is on us to prove to a panel of psychiatrists, not a court, that we are sane, not for them to prove that we are insane. Very very few people make it out of the system alive, most die on forced orders.
Yet I keep being told the medications are so much better – which is totally not the case. That ECT is now done in more effective and less harmful ways – no way of putting electricity through someone’s brain that is not harmful. Seclusion is now at a record high here. Standard practise is to strip people naked first. And our seclusion rooms are bare concreted, if we are lucky we are given a bucket to toilet in, but clinical practise guidelines state they are not required to do that if it is not clinically indicated!!!! People are kept there for days and weeks and in some cases months on end. They are NEVER allowed out for one second. No interaction, no nothing, and they call that treatment.
To some small levels some of the most barbaric things you went through have changed, but for the most part it has not. What has changed is the laws that very tightly regulate who is allowed in, friends and family must in most circumstances be supervised at all times and are only allowed in visitor rooms, not the wards themselves. Families are now being actively discouraged from visiting, being told it makes the condition worse and does not allow the person to begin to take responsibility for their own illness. Wanting to do the right thing, most families stop visiting, in many cases making things even worse. Very very few people have the courage to speak up and question what is happening. The vast majority believe that doctor knows best, that these are evidence based medications for medical conditions, etc, etc. I unfortunatley was one of those people at one period of time. I look back now and wonder how I could ever have been so naive, but it does not suprise me given what we are told, and how much society knows it. And of course even more so in the country that I live in, with what we hear and are told.
Thank you for your detailed and kind comment from Australia! The conditions sound even worse where you are – barbaric! It is such a long and slow road to make even the smallest improvements, never mind trashing the entire system for a kinder one or doing away with it altogether, which of course is the best idea. I very much appreciate every detail that you shared.
I wish you the very best of all wishes, Dorothy
I am so glad that you are still here and that you still stand as a Witness. You give the younger survivors someone to look up to and to emulate. You not only survived but you thrived. Thank goodness also for that young intern who “mothered” you so very well so that you are here today to Witness!
I stand as Witness to what the system did to my grandmother with the 30+ ect treatments they gave her. She was never the same ever again and it destroyed her life and the life of my grandfather, and wrecked havoc in the lives of her daughter (my mother) and son. It was torture and never treatment and was done in the days before any anesthesia. It makes me angry even now to even have to think about it!
Thank you for bearing witness to your grandmother’s barbaric ECTs, Stephen. Yes, I also had it without anesthesia and was very lucky to survive. I was so fortunate to find that lovely young doctor who helped me back into life. I am so sorry that she was not so lucky. Most people were not. And many, many died in those institutions. I see that you are here on MIA, and I hope this finds you well.
Very best wishes to you, Dorothy
Beautiful writing, Dorothy! What a harrowing story, but thank you so much for sharing it. So sorry you had to go through such terrible experiences. You certainly deserved better!
Thank you, Suzanne. It is so important that we all speak out.
Hope you are well, Dorothy
I just read your piece and I am, well, in awe. I’m in awe of your writing. I’m in awe of your honesty. I’m in awe of your courage. I’m in awe of your survival. Mostly, though, I’m in awe of your ability to embrace life as something that’s still so beautiful, despite all the ugly experiences and memories you have from the early 1960s.
I remember a time, many years ago, in the early 1980s, when you first showed me one of your Op-Ed pieces and I was shocked to learn of your terrible experiences. I also remember having a hard time equating the person in your Op-Ed pieces with the person I knew at the time. How could a person who had experienced such horror, be this gentle, understanding and sparkling person. Now, as I look back at this time, I realize what I was witnessing: a beautiful flower blossoming after a raging storm. Today, many years later, you are in full bloom, and as beautiful as ever.
Carry on. The world needs more heroes like you.
Your Montreal pal,
Thank you so much for your sweet comment. Yes, I remember well that amazing summer of ’83 in Montreal with all of the children. What a time we all had living those amazing “chance of a lifetime” film experiences. Even now, I am careful with whom I share stories of my hospital time of so long ago in the ’60s, but I trusted you with the information. Sadly, societal attitudes have not really changed that much in all of these years. Hopefully, this Mad in America website will work to positively influence all of that. It is so important that we all speak out.
Thanks again, dear friend.
Thank you for this piece, Dorothy. I must admit this is the first thing I’ve read on this site because I’ve kind of avoided things about psychiatric abuse for fear it might trigger the PTSD I have because of having endured it myself. I wrote a book about my experience when I was 16 and it was published when I was 21. My tragically “institutionalized” (both meaning of the word) uncle had told me when I was young that when “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” came out there was public outrage and some improvements in the way mental patients were treated. I survived my own experience with the feeling that it was my mission to write about it and generate improvement again. Instead I was dismissed as someone no one should listen to because I was young (as if things are not true until a person is a certain age?) and “crazy.” I received hate mail. I got a strange internet stalker who repeated claimed on every internet site that mentioned my book that she was a member of my family and knew the “real story.” This was an outright lie, but oh! how quickly other readers were happy to say they were glad an adult was there who could tell us the “truth!” The only positive feedback I received was from other young people who had been psychiatrically abused who could relate. I was glad to reach them and help them know they are not alone, but my book did not seem to spark any change like I had wanted and I was devastated about that. I’ve tried to avoid the whole thing since then, to “move on,” whatever that means. As if I could forget. As if I were not marked and vulnerable to further abuse the rest of my life whenever I hoped for some relief from the pain. I have been so sad, so outraged, and felt so futile. But I was reading your words, so close to my own, thinking of how your Susan was like my Doug- the first boy I watched die from institutional abuse and neglect- and how I spoke those same words to myself, “I am a witness.” And I feel better to know I am not alone (even though I am sorry this sort of thing happens at all, and especially all the time). And then I realized that myself helping others to feel not so alone is no small matter. Thank you so much! (((safe, internet hugs, if acceptable)))
Thank you so much for commenting on my blog. I am so so sorry you had to go through your terrible abuses and that there was not more of a positive response to your book. Yes. Every time we speak out and tell the truth, there are some who hear us and we give them hope. This is very important. I am sure there are many who have been enormously helped by reading your courageous words.
Thank you again and best wishes to you.
Dear Dorothy. I work as a clinical psychologist myself, and thank God that things like that does not happen anymore (though there is still misuse of power everywhere). I have heard about ECT without pain-reduction, but insulin shock, my GOD! How they actually could do this to so many people, is hard to understand. I wonder how blind we all can get, sometimes. Thank you for sharing!
Unfortunately I think you’d be hard pressed to speak for what does not happen here since I am betting it still does. They threatened to do this to me and what ended up happening is they attempted to euthanize me and failed to complete the process. Using and abusing mental hygiene laws, and breaking all of them and about another dozen violent felonies got all of that done. The State here largely seems to do as it pleases and don’t be shocked to learn that any citizen can be plucked from the street and put to death in this process, with NO DUE PROCESS, and that is from my witness and experience. Consider those knife wounds on my person and what it took to make them and how the State lies to this day about them. Not ONE medical provider will touch those even now and they still hope to hide that behind a mental health condition. Hogwash. Your medical community has not gotten better as you’d offer here, they are getting more and more mentally ill themselves. Sociopaths, start there.
For me this was done to obstruct and to assassinate my character and by that hope to use ad hominem attacks to counter my witness to their crimes. It does not work. In the end it was witness intimidation, jury tampering, obstruction, conspiracy to commit murder, and more. When they realized they were losing and getting in deeper, they went for the jugular and left my head hanging by a thread. A chemical lobotomy also helps the State’s case here so they hoped. But I got up from the table and walked away as I found them out for offering me as the meal. You do all of us and your peers a disservice in your statements here, they are flat out wrong and false.
This is barbarism and draconian abuse in the worst form. And you support folks like my parents who are violent pedophiles who enjoy their freedom and lavish lifestyle and expensive homes and cars. At my expense and that of others.
That is just wrong. I was going to die to protect them and the violent lynch party who made it happen later on. And it is still ongoing.
This mental health sham is a State sponsored train wreck and murder for hire campaign for sure and I find it impossible to believe that something is not being done to stop it. Why?
Thank you for your kind comment, niinjah
Dorothy I am so sorry you’ve had to go through this and I am glad that you’ve made it out alive. Nobody should take that for granted, I certainly do not. Thank you for being so brave as to share this with others and I know all of this is not easy. I’ve hesitated telling others about my treatment here but it has been too harsh to be silent about. The mental health stigma was to be used to suppress my witness to the prior violence and that is just wrong. Others who come here to suggest that what happened to you longer ago does not happen today would be liars and con men who enable this kind of harm to go on.
Thank you for your supportive comment, Terry.
You are welcome Dorothy. Thanks again for sharing this.
I believe my mother experienced this to degrees as well. Very sad. She has an amazing story as well. I wish you could connect with her.