This weekend, the Huffington Post has hosted a forum inspired by Eleanor Longden’s (great) TED talk, “The Voices in My Head.” Some of the resultant dialogue is inspiring. Some of it is not. Some of it, of course, is eliciting the most typical of responses from those spouting the standard media and system-driven messages offered so freely because they “know it to be true.”
I’m not sure why I get so easily drawn in to these battles at times. Sometimes my fingers are typing while my mind is already insisting, “Stop! This is pointless!” Nonetheless, this weekend, a Huffington Post reader (impenetrably named ‘B m pgh reaper’) caught my attention. Here’s how it went:
B m pgh reaper: “Before we get all touchy felly about schizophrenia, maybe we should remember that a large number of the ppl who go on wild killing suffer from this illness! … The last 5 mass shooting were all committed by ppl with this or other serious mental disorders. In the past we use to lock these folks up, now we give them a pill, dont ask any questions and hope we dont get another Aurora, Newtown, VA TEch, etc.”
My response was perhaps not my most articulate ever, but went like this:
Sera: “Uh. People do violent things. Some of those people have psychiatric diagnoses. Some of those people work at McDonalds. Some of those people play incredibly violent video games. Some of those people eat meat. Some of those people watch Oprah.
So, point number one is that Point A is not necessarily the cause of Point B.
Next, you say that all these people were diagnosed… But in some instances, you’re talking about posthumous diagnosis and/or speculation. That means that the people making the diagnosis have spent even less time (NONE) with the actual person they are diagnosing than the average psychiatrist (about 20 minutes… if you’re lucky).
Finally, let’s say we are trying to draw causal links. Well, then, why leap to the diagnosis? What does that even mean? Research is suggesting that taking psychiatric medication and/or the withdrawal effects of stopping psychiatric medication can lead to an increase of violence and suicide. So, is the ’cause’ the so-called ‘illness,’ or the chemicals from some medication? Or how about drugs (other than psych meds) and alcohol? Research suggests that many people who have been given psychiatric diagnoses and end up getting violent often have something in common with the general population who has not been given a psychiatric diagnosis and gotten violent: Alcohol/drug use.
There’s much information you are missing and your statements are ultimately dangerous.”
To my at least reasonably well-thought-out words, our beloved b simply replied:
B m pgh reaper: “I get it, you dont want locked up for your disorder. Got it spaz”
Sigh. For the most part, I got what I deserved. In some ways, responding to such typical spouting off of mainstream misconceptions does little more than make space for more of the same. Shame on me for making more space. I didn’t bother with any come backs; I didn’t argue that I wasn’t a ‘spaz,’ and that my points were worthy of some contemplation. I just (mostly) moved on.
Letting our voices be heard is important. I deeply value, for example, the Mad in America website and all that it’s enabled me to learn about others and share of myself. Yet, I find that there are (at least) two talk-related methods by which we can get in our own way. The first is to engage in such endless banter and sharing among a select group with whom we already agree, that we substantially limit our ability to do much of anything else. The second is to waste precious time talking to those with whom we disagree so steadfastly that all we accomplish by engaging in battle is to drain our own reserve.
That’s not to say that we shouldn’t do any of the above. Talking among ‘ourselves’ can strengthen our resolve and courage to move forward. It can remind us that we are a part of something much bigger than ourselves, and that there are a growing number of people ‘out there’ who have our back if not directly, than at least philosophically. And talking to those with whom we disagree can sometimes be productive. On occasion, it may actually result in change. Additionally, as more of us speak up with views that counter the status quo, those who remain stuck in the box of old perspectives my at least begin to get the idea that the world outside their box is growing. If nothing else, arguing with those with whom we disagree challenges us to get better at articulating our ideas.
Yes, there is a time and purpose for talk. However, there is also a time for action, and each of us would likely do well to ask ourselves what we are doing to actualize the changes we talk about. If we truly believe in a world where voices, visions and other unusual experiences are accepted as real and valuable, then we need to develop a picture of what that world might look like and how we might take steps toward bringing it to life. If we know that people who hear voices exist in numbers far greater than most would believe and that voices can become an integral and positive part of someone’s life, then we need to have more than just blog posts and speeches to support us in gaining that recognition. (Note, this is not a criticism of blog posts or speeches, both of which can be powerful in a way that I thoroughly enjoy!)
So, what to do? Most of you know that I work with the Western Massachusetts Recovery Learning Community (RLC). As we’ve grown, we have become increasingly aware that the grand speeches and big words can’t be sustained without the hard work on the ground (and, in some important ways, vice versa). I have often felt reluctant to share too much about the work we do because it feels uncomfortably like gratuitous self-promotion. However, I’ve been encouraged by some of the Mad in America crew to re-think the value of sharing more about our work ‘on the ground,’ so here we go. In terms of fundamental change in the realm of voice hearing, we offer multiple Hearing Voices groups and have worked to integrate the Hearing Voices movement’s values and beliefs into all we do in our day-to-day, including the support we offer at our peer respite, Afiya. Some from our community have also volunteer our time however we can to support Hearing Voices USA to grow and develop.
Additionally, we offer multiple opportunities for people to really learn and practice a different way of thinking. For example, we facilitated three ‘Hearing Voices Group Facilitator’ trainings in the last year with participants (many of them working in clinical roles) coming from as far away as North Caroline and Arizona. (We plan to offer the next training in early 2014, and are also available to travel to other areas.) We also offer film screenings through our ‘Alternative Perspective Series,’ and have tentatively planned to bring Jacqui Dillon to our state in the early spring to facilitate viewings and dialogue around the film, “There’s a Fault in Reality,” which follows the story of three people labeled with Schizophrenia (Jacqui herself being one of the three).
I’m also excited to share that – in October – we will bringing Peter Bullimore and Kate Crawford to Massachusetts to offer two two-day trainings on using the Maastricht Interview (co-sponsored with Advocates, Inc.). The Maastricht Interview was developed by Doctor Sandra Escher, Professor Marius Romme, and voice-hearer Patsy Hage, and is one of the most exciting tools to come out of the Hearing Voices Movement in recent years. It is designed to empower, validate, and to map and build an in depth understanding of one’s voices. It is a training that is particularly geared toward those working in clinical and other supporter roles, and has the power to substantially change the nature of the way clinicians work with people who hear voices. That change will happen as more professionals shift how they work and talk about those shifts with their colleagues, but also because more people will be adequately supported to move through the parts of their experience that are negative and better integrate their worlds. Both voices will join the movement. To the best of our knowledge, it is the first time that this training will be offered in the United States. (For more information on this training or if you’re interested in attending, visit our website!)
Sometimes the best way to make real change is just to do the work. Sometimes the talk is the work and it can be hard to separate out the two. However, in a growing number of instances, it’s hard to miss the futility of the talking and how tied up we can get in our own virtual war of words. Stepping away can be liberating. Sometimes, while everyone else is wrapped up in the talking, you can get an awful lot done.
And then, slowly but surely, the numbers of people doing the work gets bigger and eventually the talk isn’t as necessary because you’ve become the majority; You will have become a part of the group known to be on the side of what is true.
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.