Many people are all too aware of the shortcomings of our current mental health system. Depending on factors of economic privilege and cultural prejudice, people experience those shortcomings differently and are impacted by them with varying degrees of severity and significance. To psychiatric human rights activists, the mental health system is a cruel and harmful abuse of power for the sake of social control and corporate profit. For many workers within the system, it is a frustrating regimen of paperwork, policies, and feeling ineffectual in what one is able to do within the scope of a bi-weekly check-in.
Often, for service users, in many ways the mental health system is simply an inaccessible insult, with scant appointments, callous and fatigued providers, and treatments that seem to cause more problems than they solve.
While many have been helped by various individuals within the mental health system, people who went above and beyond their role as “staff” and approached their work with a genuine commitment to humanity; the mental health system has tragically failed a great many more, often in ways resulting in desperation, diminished potential, alienation and, all too frequently, untimely and avoidable death, often by suicide.
In a recent article featured in O Magazine, in which radical mental health activist Jacks McNamara spoke about community support and alternative wellness, reporter Alissa Quart mused in closing that intentionally structured community support networks may be the “wave of the future” considering the failure of our public service system and social culture to meet even our most basic human needs for support.
However, the challenges of community support are many.
As one of the coordinators of a local radical mental health group, a person who works as a peer at a community mental health center, and a volunteer at a local safe space that serves the houseless, I encounter a lot of people who are struggling in various ways. Sometimes it strikes me as a little strange that some people can go through most of their lives and not ever be in a position of supporting someone who is experiencing life and death struggles. Personally and professionally, I end up spending a lot of time with people who don’t know how they are going to survive and with people who want very much to die.
Interestingly, it seems that many people who experience crisis may not experience such difficult times if they receive support within their community when they begin to struggle with some aspect of their life or experience. While there are many current dialogues about “early intervention,” very few of them send the message that there are ways that family and friends can support people who are struggling, or that people can learn to support themselves through difficult times.
Research shows that psychosocial support and caring relationships are vital to people’s wellness, but most media messages encourage people to simply call the doctor sooner. We do not see public service announcements designed to raise awareness of the fact that, for many of us, our families and communities are so stressed that they are not able to perform the primary function of human relationships, which is to support and care for one another. We are not informed of the view that, in regard to human distress, perhaps the strain on family and community networks has something to do with why so many people seem to be having a hard time within their lives.
Psychiatry has, by and large, actively marketed the view that human struggle is a matter of mental disorder and mental disorder is not something that we can handle within our private lives. We are encouraged to approach supporting ourselves and other people as something that is beyond what we are capable of, something for “professionals” to handle.
Psychiatry and the mental health industry has also expanded their definitive jurisdiction in determining the appropriately normal ranges of human distress or anomaly within experience and has established that even aspects of the human condition such as mild depression, anxiety, and grief are troubles that are best handled by professional agencies.
We are led to believe that we, as family and community members, are not equipped to know what to do when we ourselves or our loved ones begin to show “symptoms” of being in a state which could be considered to be a mental disorder. Despite our knowing that other things may be occurring in our lives that could be causing upset or confusion, e.g. trauma, loss, life transitions, physical illness, social alienation, and occupational predicaments, we believe that if we begin to show signs of “not being able to deal with things” that we must seek professional help, either for ourselves or for our loved ones.
Last week, I was watching a brief video clip of therapist and activist Will Hall talking about suicide and as he spoke about listening and about empowering people, I found myself thinking, “Yeah, but how…? A lot of people do not know how to do this!”
Neighbors have traditionally helped neighbors, friends have helped friends. There is nothing new about people reaching out and trying to finding a hand to hold in some way.
Why then does it seem so hard for some people to find the help they need?
In spite of the fact that I am a person who has spent enormous amounts of time with people in all sorts of crisis, who has struggled extensively within my own life and who has taken classes, had trainings and spent many hours considering what it means to be truly supportive to another human being, I sometimes don’t know what to do or how to be with a person who is having an extremely difficult time. It frightens me to think about how ill-equipped most “normal” and busy Americans may be to respond appropriately to people who are having a very tough time in their human experience.
It is no wonder that psychiatry and the mental health system are such a booming business. We have, as a culture, become impaired in our capacity to support one another or ourselves in human struggle. We do not have time for distress, for confusion, anger, and grief. There is nothing we can do. We must get to work and pay the bills. We do not have time to listen.
So, the formal mental health system has declared that human struggle is their business, not ours.
However, we know that many people are not well served within formal systems of care and so we are left to grapple with the daunting question of what to do when it seems like the help that is available may not be all that helpful.
Given who I am and what my life entails, I have had to think a lot about how to navigate supportive relationships and how to not let people’s needs for support consume my life entirely, while still being supportive in ways that I can.
Sometimes it works out better than others.
In late June, a member of our local support community died. The cause of death is suspected to be suicide.
I was one of the last people the person spoke with.
Since then, I have wondered what I might have done wrong, or what I may have done differently and whether or not I am even a good supporter. I have also thought a lot about why this person died, and what might have prevented their death, or possibly prevented them from wanting to die in the first place.
I suppose I could have cancelled my plans for out-of-state travel and gone to sit with the person while they talked about how much they wanted to die and how angry they were at so many things. I could have tried to get in touch with the person’s other known allies and developed a plan for more extensive support, but the person had told me that they didn’t really feel comfortable with people worrying about them or talking about them.
I didn’t have a lot of time during those weeks. My children had just gotten out of school for the summer and I had taken on an extra shift at work. I usually have a fairly hard time during the seasonal shift and so was trying to do as much self-care as possible in the small amounts of free time I had.
I didn’t know the person that well and I did the best I could, given the circumstances.
I met with them at community mutual aid group and I stayed late listening to what they needed to say.
“The system is useless. They just locked me up and then bailed when it was time for me to go home, gave me a card with an appointment and the person was a jerk. They didn’t even listen. None of my friends will talk to me. They don’t know what the hell to do. They’re freaked out. I’m freaked out! What the hell happened to my life?! I can’t get out of bed, I can’t stop crying…I mean, look at me! I’m a mess! What the hell am I supposed to do? The pills don’t work. They’re making me feel worse! I can’t talk to my therapist because they’ll throw me in the hospital. I’m not going back to the hospital!”
“I know,” I said, “it sucks. I’m so sorry that this is happening in your life.”
What else could I say?
I worked with the person a little in imagining getting through the day, moment by moment, and on identifying very small aspects of their life that might not be completely terrible. We spoke some about crisis as an opportunity, about plans and empowerment.
We discussed the possibility that perhaps they should talk with the provider who was making so many medication changes, that maybe that had something to do with them feeling so out of control.
The last time we spoke, we discussed the tendency for people who want to die to sometimes not reach out to supporters when they are struggling the most and the person agreed to get in touch if they felt like checking in. However, they did not contact me the day they died.
I texted the person for several days, because I didn’t know that they had gone through with the plan. When the texts went unreturned, I began to think that perhaps the person had died. If I had known how to contact the person’s family, I might have made a phone call. If I had known the person’s address, I might have gone to knock on their door. I didn’t know these things though, and it wasn’t until days later, when a community member saw the listing in the obituaries and notified us, that I knew that he had passed away.
In the radical mental health community, being a strong supporter to friends in need is a core part of the culture and values that define the world we want to be a part of, the world we are trying – in our ways – to create, even if only within our small lives. However, the reality is that our best intentions exist within the larger world and the struggles that we face as individuals, families, and communities are sometimes bigger than we can easily manage and we just don’t know what to do.
The statement “you have to meet people where they are at.” is one that is tossed around rampantly in mental health and support circles. Yet, many of us don’t have a very thorough understanding of what it means to be empathically present and accepting of a person. Supporting people with loving kindness requires good communication skills, the ability to suspend judgment and listen compassionately, as well as a certain degree of grounded emotional awareness.
For people who themselves are struggling, another person’s difficulties may be hard to support, particularly if the way that those difficulties are expressed is triggering or re-traumatizing. This is not to say that there is anything wrong with any particular way of experiencing struggle, but that people sometimes have conflicting support needs. If a person is in a state that is perceived as frightening or threatening to supporters, it can be hard to have the open heart that effective support often requires.
Pragmatically speaking, it is not always reasonably possible for us to stay up late consoling our friends and acquaintances, to simply spend the time that may be needed to help a person find their way. Sometimes, we just can’t be there when people most need us to be there for them.
This can leave people feeling unsupported and cause supporters to feel conflicted and even resentful of the circumstances.
It is crucial that we be clear about the limitations of support that we may be able to offer at any given time. When I am not able to support a person in the ways that they feel they need to be supported, I am clear that the reasons for my limitations are rooted not in a lack of caring for them, but in my need to take care of myself and be present within my own small life. There have been many times that I was unable to concentrate on what my children were trying to speak to me about because my mind and heart were occupied by someone else’s struggles. The time I spend supporting other people is time that I cannot spend caring for myself, because my most crucial self-care practices involve me being quiet and alone.
Setting boundaries of support is hard for me, because I believe so strongly in the value of supportive communities and I genuinely do want people to be okay. Although I know that there is no good reason to feel conflicted when I assert my limits of support, and I know that such limits are healthy if I want to be able to stay well and offer sustainable support, I feel badly when I have to say that I am not able to support someone in the ways that they feel they would be best supported.
People often identify support needs as being “just somewhere to go, where people will listen.” I know that such a simple thing would make a huge difference in their experience and yet community members often do not have the time or emotional availability to sufficiently meet that need, due to people struggling to keep their own lives on track. Within the formal system of services in this community there are not such spaces available.
Many times, people in crisis have expressed to me that they don’t feel safe talking with their therapists about things like suicidal feelings, because most professionals in formal systems are required to involuntarily commit people who present as being a potential harm to themselves. People don’t want to go to a hospital voluntarily because they don’t feel that it would be helpful for them or they have had experiences in hospitals that legitimately have been harmful to them – such as restraint, forced drugging, or abusive treatment by staff.
Therefore, the community is left to support their needs and if their needs are such that the community struggles to support them (e.g. housing needs, extreme states that require extensive listening and support time or which may create difficult communication dynamics, struggles that are compounded by active addiction) then people do, it’s true, fall through the proverbial cracks in ways that are tragic and which could likely have been avoided had there been appropriate services and supports available, such as peer respite houses and other community safe spaces.
In a perfect world, people would receive all of the support that they may need from kind friends and loving family members. People would understand what they need when they are struggling and would be empowered to meet those needs. Communities would be equipped with the skills and perspectives that support healing and nobody would ever have to turn to formal services in an effort to meet their needs. However, this obviously isn’t a perfect world and it seems that often the people who most need loving support have very limited access to it.
It is sad to see that many people do not find what they need, knowing that often what people most need is love and acceptance, patience and understanding, someone to believe in them. It would seem that these would be such simple things to find. However, in a culture and economy that has precious little time for the messier aspects of our human condition, our faltering hopes and broken dreams, our old wounds and persistent memories, it can be hard for pain to find ease.
In our local mutual aid group, we are trying to support one another in becoming better supporters, learning how to communicate support needs to one another and to share in the community responsibility of supporting people who are going through tough times.
We are also talking a lot about how important it is for us to learn how to support ourselves and to find sources of support that are helpful and accessible, like online discussion forums, peer-run warmlines, or wellness practices like journaling, spirituality, spending time with animal friends or whatever works for us.
We are talking about why we struggle. We are talking about what we need to see in our world to sleep well at night and we speak honestly about what breaks our hearts and makes us angry. Most importantly, we are talking about what might help and how vital it is that we stay alive and do the best we can to keep working toward the world we want to live in, a world that is ultimately built on small choices in how we spend our time, whether we choose love or fear, hope or despair, our own comforts or – as we’re able – the comfort of those who’ve known too little kindness.
When I was a young person, I came across the thought that if a person sees a way to help and turns from that opportunity then something dies a little in the human heart. As I have gotten older I have had to learn that I can’t save everyone, or anyone really. Sometimes I know that the only thing I can do is sincerely hope that a person finds what they need, in themselves and in the world. Mostly, it seems that people facing crisis in their lives may best be served by friendship, a hand to hold, someone to walk with them through the dark.
May we all find the friends that we need.
Resources for supporters:
The Icarus Project, Navigating Crisis handout: http://theicarusproject.net/populareducationmaterials/navigatingcrisishandout
Mother Bear Community Action Network: http://www.motherbearcan.org/
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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I know what you mean.
Last month, I texted my son (after he asked me not to) and asked him if he would be okay if I died. He responded. We talked a little bit. He asked for my input for a memorial tattoo. About a week later, I emailed him my “advanced directives”. At that point, he called the police. WTF?
So I said … I’m a little perturbed that you were concerned enough to call the police, but not concerned enough to send YOURSELF to me.
I haven’t seen my son in years.
He lives far away. He just started a new job. He isn’t rich – traveling is a cost.
I said I understood why he did what he did. When the police got here, at one point, one of them asked me if I was having any problems (or something like that). I said it’s none of your business. If I thought for even a split second that he had the ability to “help”, I would’ve opened right up and poured it all on him. But he doesn’t have the ability to “help”, so NO – it isn’t any of his business.
MANY times in the past year I’ve been on the brink of suicide. I’ve actually taken steps to prepare for my death, such as emailing my “advanced directives” to my son. I’m in no position, in any way, to obtain an official legal document so I have to do things the poverty-stricken, half-assed way. As far as I’m concerned, an email by me is sufficient enough to ensure that my personal belongings to go my son and my body is cremated like I want it to be.
I sleep with knives on my bed and that isn’t going to change. I’m not interested in anybody “rescuing” or “saving” me from the ungodly act of freeing myself from absolute agony and misery. I’m a HUGE fan of assisted suicide. If it were possible to take a lethal injection, I’d stick out my arm so fast. BYE.
My needs are TOO GREAT. I just downed two alka-seltzers for the aspirin in it (even though I suffered rectal bleeding a few months ago because I had been swallowing ibuprofen and aspirin numerous times per day for years). I’m SICK. I’m not okay.
I declared a vow, very recently. I absolutely will NOT ever go to ANY “doctor” on this planet, ever again, without a medical malpractice attorney by my side. Since I don’t have the money, I won’t have the attorney and without the attorney, I’ll continue to rot and sleep with my knives.
Do you have any person – family, friend, clergy, you could call or spend time with?
Nope. I’m on my own.
Faith has some good things to say about “being a friend to ourselves” – the comment just below.
Her words really helped me, and I hope they give you some strength as well.
Sure, I can be a friend to myself. But I can’t be my own medical malpractice attorney.
Thank you for your responses, Duane. I do appreciate them.
You need another cat.
I’m not being silly or sarcastic when I say this. I remember you writing about your cat. My cat is my savior. He and I hooked up the evening that I left the homeless shelter for my new apartment and we’ve been best of friends ever since. He can be a pain sometimes but he’s always waiting at the door to welcome me home, no matter what time it is. I don’t know where I’d be right now without Sweeny Todd.
I have a dog – half yellow lab and half collie. She’s a joy in my life.
Nope. No pets. It’s in the lease. It’s alright, though. Sweeny Todd is a cool name. LOL.
I felt very sad to read this. I have also felt despairing at times and wanted to end my life. Many times. I never did do so, and I am glad I didn’t now, but it seemed hopeless at the time. I’ve also worked at a suicide hotline and talked to hundreds and hundreds of suicidal people. I can’t judge anyone for being there. Sometimes it’s good to know you have a backup plan if it gets beyond reckoning.
What is keeping you going at this point? You must be pretty damned tough, to hang in through such daily adversity. I’m interested to know what weighs on the other side?
Wish I could be there to help. I’ve seen a number of your posts and you are always compassionate and smart and insightful. I hope you can continue to hang in there and share your wisdom with us and anyone who will listen.
Ditto. I hope the same for you. You’re the music person aren’t you?
Who, me? The music person? Nah, my beloved Anonymous (lol) is taking that vital position over. lol
But I will share what I’ve been listening to lately, just because it’s so awesome.
Hi Steve, thanks for the response. Sorry I made you feel sad.
There really isn’t anything keeping me going. I just wake up – every day – and it’s possible that when it comes to free time, I am the richest person on the entire planet.
I had no choice, really, and had to get a wifi adapter to be able to use the internet from home, instead of the library. It’s a bit ridiculous – I have to stick my computer against the wall of an open window to pick up a signal. Because of my so-called sleep disorder, I’m almost always awake at night. To sit, alone, in the dark, in the silence, for many hours, for many years is
is not something I can do anymore.
It took about a year to disconnect and free myself from being chained, all day long, to the computer. My home internet services stopped in February. I began using the computers at the library but they closed for 6 weeks between March and April, and that gave me even MORE much needed time away from the internet.
May and June were EXTREMELY powerful months for me, very active. July was also very difficult. I’ve been feeling very pressured, stirred, restless … to connect. I can’t sit anymore – for hours upon endless hours – alone, in the silence, in the dark.
This is what my sleep looks like. It is EXCRUCIATING. Technically, these are my wake times. I was diagnosed over 20 years ago with a circadian rhythm disorder called “delayed sleep phase syndrome”. I’ve been doing my research again and I think I actually have the non-24 hour disorder. I really don’t know, and I’m practically too delirious to make sense of anything anymore.
7/6 – 11:30 PM
7/7 – ?
7/8 – 5:30 AM
7/9 – 6:30 AM
7/10 – 7 AM
7/11 – 9:30 AM
7/12 – 9:30 AM
7/13 – 9:30 AM
7/14 – 12:30 PM
7/15 – ?
7/16 – 1 PM
7/17 – 12 PM (this is unusual – i don’t EVER go backwards, but it’s been happening more and more and i first noticed it this past july)
7/18 – ?
7/19 – 2 PM
7/20 – 2:30 PM
7/21 – 3 PM
7/22 – 4 PM
7/23 – 6 PM
7/24 – 3:30 PM (went backwards again)
7/25 – 3:30 PM
7/26 – 3:30 PM
7/27 – 5 PM
7/28 – 8 PM
7/29 – 6 PM (backwards)
7/30 – 9 PM
7/31 – 8 PM (backwards)
8/1 – 11 PM
8/2 – did not sleep until 8/3
8/3 – 8 AM
8/4 – 9 AM
8/5 – 7:30 AM
My loathing for psychiatry burns with a fire from Hell. I’ve had this “sleep disorder” all my life. In fact, my very first psychiatric hospitalization was because of this sleep disorder. I was 15. I fell asleep in school. When they woke me up, I was disoriented and it took a minute before I remembered where I was and how I got there. I was locked up for 2 months and endured the unholy Hell of quiet rooms, restraints and forced drugging.
This sleep disorder cost me my high school graduation. It has cost me numerous jobs. It also cost me my KIDS.
From the wiki page, “DSPD is frequently misdiagnosed or dismissed. It has been named as one of the sleep disorders most commonly misdiagnosed as a primary psychiatric disorder. DSPD is often confused with: psychophysiological insomnia; depression; psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, ADHD or ADD; other sleep disorders; or school refusal. ”
My grandfather had narcolepsy. I don’t think the SOCIAL WORKERS and JUDGE who took my kids away from me KNOW that vital information. I want to snap their necks.
mjk, just wanted to reach out an acknowledge your pain and the tremendous amount of strength and courage you are having to draw on in these moments. Your life does matter. I have appreciated all your insights on so many blogs.
I will say a metta prayer for you that you find freedom from suffering in life-giving ways if possible. We all deserve freedom from suffering, and friends to help us hold our suffering when we are having a hard time bearing it. I hope you can find both. You are worthy of love and support.
Thank you, Jennifer for your kindness. You’ve been kind to me before and I’m almost fascinated by it. My freedom is when I’ve passed away. I’m WAY ahead of everybody in accepting death, for the beautiful Mercy that it is – that I long for, so deeply.
I loved the way you closed this post – the value of a friend. How true!
“A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter; s/he who finds one finds a treasure. A faithful friend is beyond price, no sum can balance his/her worth.” – Book of Sirach
Thanks, Duane, for sharing your warmth here. I always appreciate the way that when I could go on and on about something, you seem to sum up the best of what might be said in a little quote or a small story.
After I sent this to be posted, I thought, “I should have said something about how we can be a friend to ourselves if we have no friends!”
During times when I had no friends, and there have been several particularly long and friendless stretches in my life, I mourned the absense of “friends” and would say all sorts of terrible things to myself about being unloveable, a “pariah,” invisible with no one who cares.
At some point, I figured out that I had to be a friend to myself, asking, “If I had friends, what would I need from them right now?” …and then trying to offer that to myself…acceptance, belief in my worth, love.
I also had to begin to acknowledge that I did have a lot of friendships, sometimes in the form of small conversations with strangers or a place in the heart of people I hadn’t seen or spoken to in years. We all have a friend out there somewhere.
Friendship isn’t always what it might seem to be in our minds. Sometimes it’s the kindness of strangers, the devotion of animal friends, or even a small bird out in the yard. There have been times I felt friendship with fireflies, wind, stories.
…thanks again for being around here.
Faith, thank you for sharing this beautiful blog about some very ugly challenges we face as a community. I also appreciate your thoughts on how we can befriend ourselves. That is so important as there are many times when that is all we have, if only in the moment. Practicing this is so vital, because life can be so fragile, as the loss of your community member shows. That moment can hold great import if we don’t show up for ourselves.
I have found that mindfulness exercise of “what would a friend say/do” to be so helpful. Often, it is something very simple. Like “love yourself more.” Take a bath. Have a cup of tea. Lay in the sunshine. Friends can indeed be ephemeral and shapeshifting, showing up in our moments of need if we can pause long enough to recognize them.
You have been one of those friends, many times, for me and, I’m sure for the person who is no longer with us. I hope you can take comfort in knowing that.
Thank you, Faith, for your spirit and heart.
My condolences for the loss of someone in your community.
Thank you for another great post. You writing brings out some wonderful dialogue.
I’m so sorry to hear that you lost someone in your community. Thank you for articulating some of what this loss was like for you, and for naming a larger problem: that our communities need more skills, tools, and time to help one another.
I love your compassion for the inevitable “falling short”, which, as you point out, seems to be about needing to care for our selves, and our “small worlds”.
As far as improving support networks, mentor relationships work well. I wonder if the radical mental health collective uses this model? I was a mentor, and had a mentor…support was given and received equally (think 12 step sponsor) and in a more predictable manner. Boundaries were clear, like, “We meet for one hour on Wednesdays”. But, it was also a friendship, no money exchanged…like holding hands in the dark.
“As far as improving support networks, mentor relationships work well.”
I think locally we may be heading in a direction like that, although it hasn’t been formally established. At various points, we’ve talked some about the co-counseling model and about peer-to-peer relationships, which are far less messy than “friendship” – which could mean just about anything in people’s minds. I think that support can get messy when people have different expectations and all sorts of emotional and personal tie-ins with how a person is able to respond or not respond.
I think that we have, at this point, established that though we seek to be supportive of one another, it’s best not to encourage a sense of being responsible for one another’s lives and wellness, but to focus on being responsible for ourselves in identifying needs, meeting them when we can, and accepting that sometimes our needs might not be met and that is – in the broad scope of things – just how it is, but we have to keep going anyway, trusting that people care about us and that the world somehow wants us to be okay.
“Boundaries were clear, like, “We meet for one hour on Wednesdays”. But, it was also a friendship, no money exchanged…like holding hands in the dark.”
We had a really interesting talk at work last week – in the context of a class called ‘Healthy Boundaries’ – in which we discussed how to be a good supporter and we came upon the idea that sometimes people are better at certain types of support than others. One woman was like, “I feel awful. I never know what to say. All I can do is listen.”
I was like, “You have no idea how rare the ability to just listen is.”
Other people identified that they really liked encouraging people or helping them to figure out how to solve tangible problems. Some folks said they felt most comfortable doing things like just watching a movie or giving someone a ride somewhere. So, there are lots of ways to be supportive.
I’d really like to work on some materials about how to operationalize mutually supportive intent in relationships…or at least read more of the materials out there.
I am a little socially vulnerable/socially naive so I have to be pretty mindful in relationships. It took me years to realize this. In ways, my not having the same lines that other people have has led me to some really wonderful and important moments, because I don’t think about social rules and social etiquette much, unless I’m being careful.
When I’m being myself, I just talk with whomever about whatever seems true in the moment.
Like, “Wow. I really want to sit down next to this aging houseless person at this gas station and talk with them. They have blue eyes like a painting and they looked right at me when they smiled.”
(I still see that guy around town regularly. We’ve been friends for two years now.)
Thanks for bringing up mentorship/peer=to=peer relationships and the “B” word…
So glad you’re out there and in touch.
Hi dear Faith-
I am very sorry for your loss, and for the impact of his suicide on you.
The unavoidable questioning of oneself after a suicide- “What could I have done differently,” is agonizing, I know.
Given the huge gaps in potentially life saving services-like both crisis residential and peer respite houses, etc.- and the seeming choice between going back to the hospital or killing oneself, this man’s suicide seems almost inevitable.
But it didn’t have to be inevitable.
I learned the hard way, that for those high risk suicidal people like your friend who recently died that I served as a therapist for almost thirty years, that there was a way to greatly increase their odds of survival.
But it meant that I take primary responsibility in the caretaker hierarchy for their lives.
In the public mental health systems where I worked, and that you are part of, the highest suicide risk people in the country are served.
In such a system, I believe it is the therapist’s responsibility to- “carry the life”.
In the community settings like yours, where I worked, my therapist comrades and I solemnly vowed to do that- by necessity.
Because the psychiatrist isn’t involved enough to carry the life, and part of what you are dealing with now, is how peers and the community support model have been set up to feel the weight of carrying the lives, without the means to do it.
Because if someone was as suicidal as your friend, I would have seen him every single day, given him my home phone number to call any hour day or night, plus I would have teamed up with you, and every other natural support in his life to help him.
But if I believed that all our efforts still were not going to keep him safe, then I solely would make the decision to get him hospitalized in order to survive one day at a time, on 24/7 suicide watch.
I would visit him every day and get him out of the hospital as soon as I believed he wasn’t going to kill himself the same day.
You didn’t have the authority to have him hospitalized if you believed it would save his life, and quite frankly you don’t have the training or experience to make such a fateful judgment call.
The psychiatrist I assume, saw him every month or so and wasn’t “carrying the life.”
Many therapists today, if they exist at all in public mental health systems, are forced to do brief therapy, and haven’t had the chance to build a really strong connection with someone who needs to feel trust that the therapist will never have them hospitalized unless it is to save their lives, and then get them out the hour they are safe again.
You know by my recent blog post here that I am opposed to forced “out-patient” treatment.
We desperately need alternatives to forced hospitalization that almost always means forced meds.
We need sanctuaries everywhere like I-Ward, that I describe in my- “Remembering a Medication-Free Madness Sanctuary” MIA blog here- where we used no medications or leather restraints.
I spent many a night there sitting on suicide watch, a few feet from someone at high risk. If they tried to kill themselves, me and other staff would lovingly hold them and stop them from harming themselves until the storm of emotion passed and they could relax safely.
We need such places so people can pass through their danger zones alive, and not have their human rights violated by forced medication in the hospital.
Yesterday I spent time with a grieving mother whose son was lost- a casualty of a system of care that is culpable in his death.
How many more lives will not be carried to safety?
Yours in the struggle, Michael
” it’s best not to encourage a sense of being responsible for one another’s lives and wellness, but to focus on being responsible for ourselves in identifying needs, meeting them when we can, and accepting that sometimes our needs might not be met and that is – in the broad scope of things – just how it is, but we have to keep going anyway, trusting that people care about us and that the world somehow wants us to be okay.”
Absolutely. I agree, and I do see mentorship an opportunity, while not for everyone, to help someone identify the things they can do to meet their own needs, and how to cope with the feelings of loneliness or abandonment that come up when, at some point, we inevitably don’t get the human support we’re looking for, or when we get none at all. Then how to find creativity and direction in that moment.
I think mentorship can be about learning how to be a friend to ourselves and other people, whether the mentor is a “friend” in the traditional sense of the word, or not. For so long, I couldn’t or didn’t know how to do this! Or I felt so awful and disconnected from myself that I gave up trying.
I needed to learn (still learning!) how to be supportive, how to listen, and how to say ‘no’, or not respond at all when I feel a pull to lessen someone else’s pain when I’m not available, or would rather be doing something else that might serve me and the world a little more.
“So, there are lots of ways to be supportive.” Yes, yes.
Thanks again for this post, Faith.
Hi mjk –
I have got to do something about this awful
“fix it” mode that I learned from my mother.
“Say something positive!”
Oh, it just makes me want to puke.
I mean, clearly, there is nothing I can say here…other than thanks. Thanks for offering up your story because it is such a primo example of the sort of wrenching human life/death drama that we just don’t know how to deal with.
Our entire mental health system is set up to send a story like yours to the hospital.
Will it help? No. Obviously not.
Will anything help?
I don’t know. It sounds like maybe not. One thing that really bugs my suicidal friends is my bothersome commitment to a belief that maybe something will work out, that maybe things will get better.
I know. It’s obnoxious. I don’t question people’s beliefs that everything will suck and be painful until they die, I really do try to honor the reality and power of that belief and for some people it might be true. It is true when people believe it to be true.
Still, I have to tell them that I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t see things differently, or see them differently…and that I’d be lying if I said that I was okay with them not being here.
It makes me feel weird, because usually I just want people to be able to do whatever makes them happy, and I don’t want anyone to be in pain.
Yet, I still struggle with accepting suicide…
See, here’s the deal: you, mjk, are one of the few people around here that I actually feel like I could say whatever is true to me to and you wouldn’t think I was crazy. You have said some beautiful and powerful things in these comment boxes. Poetry.
You were, I could feel it, among the few who really truly got what I was saying about songs.
…so, I don’t want you to die and it’s just that simple in my mind.
I have had to adjust my thinking about death a lot over the past couple of years/decades. I now hold a worldview in which what is best in us never dies. Still, I want very much for people to stay alive…so that they might have a chance to know and enjoy what is best in them while they are living.
I don’t know. I do know that knives are not cuddly and that stomachaches hurt and, damn, I hope you find some ease in dreams tonight.
Please note: this may be selfish, but I have to say it’d really suck for me if you committed suicide and I was one of the last people you were in contact with.
So, I do have a question, because I am always trying to learn more about what helps and what is not helpful at all…
When there is nothing that can be done, nothing that can be said, what can be done and what can be said?
I think sometimes family and friends back away because it’s too sad and they don’t know what to do.
This is probably inappropriate, but if we were in the same room I’d ask if I could give you a hug.
My biggest pet peeve: “hang in there”. By a rope from my neck? LOL. I know that’s not funny, but that’s always my first thought when I hear that loathsome phrase. Well, it’s loathsome to me.
It’s true. You, and anyone, could say absolutely anything to me and I wouldn’t have a problem with it. Throughout my life, many people have been almost stunned by their sudden recognition of great ease in opening up to me. They remark, “wow, I’ve never told anybody that before”. And when they say that, they aren’t lying. There’s just something about it – some people seem to feel a freedom, safety in openness, with me. Shrug. I dunno. Maybe it’s the air and atmosphere of my Highest Value in action: Honesty.
“I have to say it’d really suck for me if you committed suicide and I was one of the last people you were in contact with.”
I completely understand that, and can relate. Sorta. I met someone in the homeless community who had put a lot of effort into being responsible. He was doing what he needed to do, in regards to substance abuse treatment (had completed a long-term residential program). We got along and so, exchanged numbers. He confided in me about his struggles with two women in his life; his mother and girlfriend. They were back home in Massachusetts, he was here in Connecticut. He knew, and was aware, that he needed to stay away from them. He was dealing with homicidality. One night, he texted me. I didn’t respond. Days later, Massachusetts State Police had been in CT asking questions. The man went to MA and killed his mother and girlfriend. I was a bit devastated because I was the one he texted and it was right about the time he was on his way to MA. I struggled with the thoughts of … if I had only responded. Could it have made a right difference? It hurt for a while. I was upset. But sometimes, the situations are just SO vast and complex that it’s really all just too much. And what will be, will be.
“When there is nothing that can be done, nothing that can be said, what can be done and what can be said?”
What will be, will be.
Otherwise, I suppose it’s a matter of Miracles – just the right thing, at just the right time.
I don’t mind sleeping with my knives. I also sleep with a 30 year old teddy bear – an enormous sense of pride. LOL.
Thanks again for sharing parts of your story here…it’s an awful sinking feeling that comes about when we do the math and gauge the days and realize that we may have been the last person someone reached out to before they took a turn…
Interestingly, a couple of weeks prior to the person’s death here, he sent me a cryptic text first thing in the morning, on Father’s Day:
“Thanks for all your help Faith. Take care.” …w/ a little “wink” emoticon.
I was like, “Oh no he’s not…” and texted him back, and he didn’t respond and he didn’t respond.
So, I called him a few times and left some messages (all of this was while my kids were wanting me to go outside with them on a beautiful day and my head was just completely consumed with the thought that this person was committing suicide…)
The person finally got back in touch, said that what did it for him was the knowledge that I don’t usually talk on the phone, don’t much like talking on the phone, and that my calling had made him appreciate my effort.
I ended up spending about an hour texting with him, at one point saying, “You know, it’s not even about you today. You have two little kids and I don’t want their dad to die on Father’s Day.”
He was in the middle of an ugly custody case and was very angry at his family and ex.
It feels ugly for me to think that sometimes the dispossessed and shut out, who feel that nobody can or will help them, might sometimes end their lives in something of a passive aggressive act. I know it is never so simple as just that…but, the world can be a cruel place and removing ourselves from it could possibly – in some cases – be a form of pushback?
Anyway, I have a 30 year old teddy in my bed, too. I got him when I was 7. He has been my bestie in many lonesome times.
“Throughout my life, many people have been almost stunned by their sudden recognition of great ease in opening up to me. They remark, “wow, I’ve never told anybody that before”. And when they say that, they aren’t lying. There’s just something about it – some people seem to feel a freedom, safety in openness, with me”
…is a gift. What bums me out so much is that the people I know who’ve died by suicide are often deeply kind, caring and empathically gifted folks (perhaps part of why living is so hard?)and I’m like, please, the world needs you…some person out there needs you…
hope the day is alright where you’re at…thanks for being around.
Tom Ball is a man I appreciate and understand very well.
Tom Ball completed self-immolation. I survived the same act.
The reason I introduce you to Tom is for you to hopefully gain a greater sense of the MAGNITUDE of these acts – that are actually NOT something that happens only on that one day, in that one hour. These acts, some of them, are built up of jam-packed years that culminate in a “head” – like a festering, infected boil – that WILL pop.
You were involved directly and personally with somebody who decided to stop everything and end it for himself. The decision was HIS. You met what needs of his that you could. There is no way you could have provided all that he needed.
I’m in a LOT of pain today but I’m well distracted by the internet. I found a new contact and I’m waiting for a response. It’s in regards to my sleep disorder, and some other related problem. I’m very much looking forward to the response I get. If it fails me, disappoints me … I’ll be angry, pack it as ammo, then get over it.
We must be the same age, and what a fun coincidence … I got my teddy when I was 7, too. Charred and scarred, like me – he survived the fire. I love my teddy, and I’m lucky to have him.
I have to laugh, as I also have an ancient teddy bear, only he is FORTY-TWO years old. And I was already an adult, at least chronologically, when my first wife gave him to me soon after we were married. His name is Banda Bear, because Judi’s daughter, age three, couldn’t say “panda bear,” but only “panda pear” or “banda bear.” Banda and I have been through a lot together, both good and bad.
Hi mjk–about Faith’s article on compassion and the need for openheartedness which very often falters because of gaps in preparedness or information, and a shaky sense of understanding what to do…
I warmly agree that the wish to end one’s life is personal, highly personal and yet important to everyone else who lives on in one way or another.
I also lose confidence with the style of counsel and kinds of recommendations that experts as well as just plain folks seem to keep in mind for answers to problems, especially when these words of advice obviously miss the individual differences of my own case. And getting very sick and tired of having to add, “Think about what these particular experiences would be like to adjust to for yourself. And about getting no feedback that suggests that anyone knows how to approach them.”
But the worst thing remains not feeling a connection to how to step into anyone else’s difficult situation and relate my own insights regarding self-care. I believe that seeing how someone who has so many successes to her name in helping and protecting people’ like Faith’ has all these same doubts about herself and her efforts, offers me a significant chance to re-frame my understanding of my own imperfect attempts to limit my suffering or assist someone working through theirs.
Besides not liking what conscious experience means to me in many ways and most of the time, I likewise try to consider what the decision not to end my life means. That sort of angle seems and feels most natural rather than asking if my current state of unwellness indicates that the time is right for suicide.
In other words, what should I keep on trying to do? That is the question.
Understanding to believe that just about the same ultimate dilemmae or uncertainties face everyone, but that multiple differences in abilities and resources and the interest taken in these questions of deep importance–like “Why live?”–usually creates the first step to any further understanding and any action or change of attitude. Even to the thought, “Why go on–why live?”
To say it another way, …if no one is listening and nothing appears worthwhile, and this implicates all my choices and everyone’s views on what is or isn’t my right and what should or should not be my purpose in trying to recover by alternative means, then the fact that my reason to try anything for my own good, or trying to see to someone else’s opportunity for self-help, is as personal as my belief that I should just die. But both sides of this gigantic dilemma are affected by realizing that the potential responses are to the human condition and not just the unique aspects of my personal, unenviable one.
You say a lot of revealing things, so what along the lines of the meaning of what effective help is or how it would look if it were found at all? My curiosity originates with never knowing how I will be feeling, thinking, or able to relate until it happens…. Previous solutions or attitudes toward problems almost never function to help me in new confrontations with very chaotic mental and bodily reactions to things, etc. Deciding whether a problem is still uncontrolled or whether again everything is not working for me right is itself impossible. However, sometimes nature works and spares me some peace, and so my situation gets only as desperate as it becomes when I forget that others face similar difficulties believing they can live on.
“what along the lines of the meaning of what effective help is or how it would look if it were found at all?”
I am aware that the level of support I need is literally, no exaggeration, gargantuan. I’d need a VERY large team of people, because there’s just so much and everything is all interconnected. Can’t isolate certain aspects. It’s like a tree. There are the complex, embedded roots. There’s the large trunk. The many limbs. The many branches. There is SO much. Too much.
Edit: I have more to say on this, expand and elaborate a bit – but it will take me some time. I’ll post it in another comment, shortly. I think the idea I’m holding is necessary to communicate but a bit involved and I don’t have it all thought out and worked out yet. Ugh, so laborious for me.
Alright. I’ll start here:
This man opens his presentation by giving credit and thanks to his support team, in saying “they really make my life easy and help me produce these kinds of pieces”.
Really? You can’t do your work without them? LOL.
Is it a shame when a single mother of three kids can’t be a super-mom, and she “needs help”? Let’s just take the kids away, with a foundation of reason – instead of investing in the types and sorts of supports that are NECESSARY to produce “the kinds of pieces”, or – to produce a functional, harmonious family.
It takes WHAT to raise a child, or three of them – and it takes WHAT for a college professor to do his work? SUPPORT. And, lots of it.
Can an architect do all of everything involved in the manufacture of a structure, by himself? Of course not. What does he need? A LOT OF SUPPORT. Contractors and employees. He cannot do all of everything by himself.
Well, just what the heck is it that I’m “trying” or BOTHERING to do? To be honest, I have absolutely no idea. For the most part, I’m simply occupying my time and keeping myself busy. I have this affliction, it’s called CONSCIOUSNESS.
I wake up every day, regardless of the time, and have many hours to fill. I have consciousness, awareness, attention, energy and time. These are my resources. How do I manage them, spend them, invest them? Mostly, suffering and struggling. Pained, hostile and ugly.
I have no idea what I’m doing, or why. I have no idea what I need, what I want, where I belong, what to do, what not to do.
I exist. I simply exist. And it is VERY upsetting.
I don’t have a plan, or a goal, or a dream. I lack a wish, a hope or a prayer. I’m dead, and that isn’t easy to understand straight away. But, I AM dead.
My life WAS my kids. That life is long over and me and my family are destroyed. The AGONY of just that, itself – forget about everything else – is absolutely harrowing. I have an actual SHRINE in my living room, dedicated to my daughters, for crying out loud.
I haven’t seen my kids in over 4 years.
Take the psych drugs, or you’ll never see them again.
F U C K
Y O U
Sorry. But honestly, what else could I possibly say?
Powerball is at $400 million! Damn, that’s nearly half a billion. What would I do, with that sort of money?
I’D BUY MY KIDS BACK, and I know for a fact that Hell Yes I could PURCHASE my own kids.
That, is SICK.
(…a lot that I don’t know how to say, but you’re right…)
The only reason I am alive in the ways that I am is because I got my kids back after they were removed from me as part of the result of me being in grief and losing my mind and my family colluding against me, sending me away and then glibly “chaperoning” me in my own home, for one hour visits with the people I gave birth to and was a good (if not great) mother to.
I have written before about the time that they were away from me and what the whole situation did to me. I am not the same as I was.
Three years ago, I was paranoid and legitimately delusional and totally alone and scared and under real surveillance because my family was openly telling people to keep an eye on me when all I wanted to do was mourn my lousy marriage and me quitting my empty job and losing my best dog friend and a beloved penpal and just, you know, draw some picture and watch some clouds, think some about what means what and why. I had lost my mind before, more than a few times, but that situation with the kids and the family and me…well, I will not be the same.
I got my kids back because I was lucky (…and also because I jumped through some hellaciously insulting rings and made some very hard choices that weren’t really choices.)
If I hadn’t gotten my kids back, I was going to shut down entirely. I could feel that it was happening, that it could happen.
I got stuck a lot those months, fell into a hole in myself, couldn’t move my arms, couldn’t lift my head, couldn’t speak, because when I opened my mouth there was just outrage as thin and cold as a blade or like a motherf*in (a word that I usually spell out because I have the right to use that word because I am mother that was f*ed, but I won’t spell it out here, out of respect and not cursing and all that…)fire in my house.
Still, though, I didn’t want to commit suicide. I just wanted God to stop my heart. I wanted to get a disease or have a freak accident. It seemed like maybe the best that might happen was for me to just give up inside myself and so I’d sit there, stuck, and picture being wheeled to my children’s graduation in a chair by my parents and we’re all so shrunken and small and their mother, the person they first loved in the world, would just be a husk, quiet for years…the thought of that possibility just killed me, sitting there…and I just so desperately did not want that to be our story.
Anger and defiance, ultimately rooted in love – because maybe we only get truly angry/sad in relation to what we love in some way, kept me alive…that and delusions, the belief that the world somehow knew about me, that somehow my heart finally fully ripping open and me ranting on the internet at the height of summer had put me on some interdimensional radar of consciousness and orchestration, and that the world was trying to work something out somehow, played me songs to help me feel hopeful to help me keep going.
I’m lucky and it isn’t fair.
Four years is a long time. I cannot imagine. It makes me feel sick to think about it. I wish that all the women who have lost their kids to anything related to abuse and psychiatry would form an army of sorts. I mean, the power of all those hearts torn wide open…
…sometimes (often) things that come up on these threads make me cry some, feel a lot…and it’s sick that I should be so lucky, my circumstances so kind, that my children and I are not apart in the ways that we almost were, that we could have been…when you, mjk, still live with that loss and I could just as easily be you and you me, with our ages and bears. That makes me feel sick and sad.
I’ll have you know that whenever I feel sick and sad about something I direct that to the world, silently demanding that something be put into motion to ease or correct the situation. Like I said, I tend to be a “fixer” – because some things really shouldn’t happen in the world, some things need to be fixed, need to be made right. There is not anything I can do except for hope that some workings work.
It isn’t fair.
My bear’s name is Frazer.
…what to say when there is nothing to say.
I’m sorry. I wish you had everything you need.
Do you ever listen to the radio?
(I love lots of people, in all kinds of small and expansive ways. Maybe the 7 year old me would have been friends with the 7 year old you. God, I just want to cry…and that’s a good thing because it means my heart still works.)
I can see how much of you is invested in PRESENCE, really being there and making yourself available. That’s awesome. You put well thought out time into your work, and deserve ALL the benefits that could bring. Thanks for spending your time on me. And relating. I think you’re right, we would’ve made pretty good friends. 🙂
I love this line, “put me on some interdimensional radar of consciousness and orchestration”. It happens.
“I tend to be a “fixer” – because some things really shouldn’t happen in the world, some things need to be fixed, need to be made right.”
Fixer?! You have the Justice gene! LOL. It’s a good thing.
My teddy’s name is Fatso. Cuz he’s fat. And he has super powers. They’re real, shh.
Radio. Um. The radio in my head, which transmits and receives … or the table-top radio in my kitchen? I could talk ENDLESSLY about my Sony Psyc. Yeah, the model name is PSYC. Ain’t that somethin’.
Actually, there are times when I CAN’T listen to it. We had some galactic / solar event in May that effected the electronics, particularly the radio, and I had to stay away from it. I got near it and had a horrible screeching feedback sound (saying the least of all that happened). Then, there are times when I’m listening and some song lyrics hit me too personally and they provoke me, so I don’t listen too much. I did leave Modeselektor & Thom York’s “The White Flash” on your page here, though. Anything Thom Yorke (Radio head) does is Majestic and Holy. Yes.
Well, as for kids and motherhood … my second child was BORN into foster care where me and her older brother had already been, for years. I went on my own with the two of them when I was 19 but crashed, hard. Three months later, they went back into foster care without me. Three years later, and with another child, my oldest two came home to me. I really only had very few years with my kids. The rest of the “story” is … an endless conversation.
Thank you, Faith.
this -> “try to consider what the decision not to end my life means.”
…is a powerful thing to consider…especially knowing that a lot of people’s lives and circumstances may lead them to simply say, “Forget it…I’m not going to go through all that.”
I see more and more news articles about people committing suicide in response to poverty. Factory workers in China die regularly to escape their jobs. Soldiers and veterans die rather than to face war or living with the aftermath of war. The terminally/painfully ill commit suicide for relief of physical agony and the psychological effects of pain.
Yet, there are many people in these same general situations who keep living and so, you’re right, it is all so deeply personal.
There have been times that, in talking with someone, I have found myself thinking, “Well, yeah, I’d probably want to die, too, if (…) was happening in my life.”
I don’t ever say that, of course, because it doesn’t feel great to think that. It’s not a pitying thing. It’s more of an objective sense of “yeah, how does a person live with (…)?”
I don’t really have much of a right to think anything about how I would feel in another person’s life. How could I know? It is more a reflexive thought, a “well, yeah…I could see how that might make a person want to die.”
I dealt with my own suicidality for a long time and fleetingly still deal with it, though it is not what it used to be. Now, it is just a feeling that comes around occasionally and then it goes away.
…at this point, I’m really glad I didn’t die and so the “you just never know” factor is huge in my mind.
The thing that really helped me – personally – to be committed to being here, after a couple of “failed attempts” in my early twenties, was the realization that if I were to commit suicide, that would be all my life would have been and my family would never mention me again and if they did they’d tell my story all wrong and leave out the most important parts of who I am.
When I didn’t have a particularly strong will to live, defiance became a useful motivational tool. I’m privileged though, in many ways. Not like I have tons of money or anything, though I have always had a roof over my head, a door to close. I don’t have health insurance, but I’m healthy. I have social capital and cultural privilege that is more happenstance than earned.
I haven’t had near as hard a time as lots of folks.
thanks again for all you said here…
“The time I spend supporting other people is time that I cannot spend caring for myself, because my most crucial self-care practices involve me being quiet and alone.”
My opinion. The best thing a person can for others is to be emotionally selfish – then as they are real to themselves , they are real to others. And as they are real to themselves they will follow the natural path of human development,in which having translated needs into want they are more likely to be altruistic.
But there is no shortcut nor elimination . Nobody gets to altruism without embracing ongoing selfishness.
A world of emotionally resilient people who don’t need much support is more likely a world of caring loving people.
Is Bio-med opposing ‘Support and Sympathy’ or are they just the same thing? Both are systems of control and stabilization. In fact Psychiatry created a new version of psychotherapy called “talk-therapy” which is full of support and sympathy, avoiding confrontation and consequently helps to keep patients on their meds or at least a lifetime of 200 bucks an hour treatment.
Unfortunately I think this general attitude of anti-therapy has filtered very strongly into the public consciousness as an ideology of mental health.
Support is to keep somebody from jumping off a ledge when they are on the ledge, confrontation is something to help them change themselves so that they don’t want to go back to the ledge.
In effective psychotherapy confrontation is used because all parties intrinsically understand that is reason why the person is there – to be confronted with themselves – something like consentual S&M games but there is no safe word, though through experience the person discovers not only a safe environment but a transformative experience as the rotten teeth are pulled.
In a “radical mental health community” I would like to see confrontation proactively used alongside support.
Generally support means staying the same, useful when one wants to be as is – confrontation means change.
I am a suicide survivor. I got the entire story after the fact because I was in another part of the world. My sibling was in a ‘wonderful’ environment of support such that ‘…’ continued to be the same until ‘…’ finally made a successful attempt.
Someone told me . ‘gee they couldn’t figure out what went wrong, they had the psychiatrist, the drug , the circle of supportive friends .. gee… maybe if it had been a different drug…’
Everything except an effective confrontation to help guide the person towards towards self-change.
Yalom thought as a therapist he was love’s executioner – destroying an illusions that kept people self-destructive..
We would be more helpful to our friends sometimes if we were a “friendship executioner”.
In long time observing psychiatric ‘consumers’ interact with social workers I observed a large number of policing ‘unwanted behaviour’. In every one of those instances I could see an alternative path of confrontation a ‘work point’ –that would be experimental and unpredictable and possibly help the person to integrate – of course it would help even more if they had not been dulled on drugs. These social workers in those situations often practice ‘happy face fascism” on the ‘consumers’ even they structure some activities to practice this ie not allowing them to say or express anything ‘negative’ (this perfidy for people who have extremely negative life experiences that they have never shared or even fully digested) . The result is of course , the workers suffocate the real person to both the workers and the person themselves and they help to create an artificial unreal presentation of themselves The bio-med industry celebrates this propped up policed shadow person as a ‘successful recovery’
Hm, I have so much to say here.
The modern world of capitalism is not very supportive. You work to earn money for the boss. If you have troubles you go somewhere else to talk about them, unless the boss provides a counselling service so you can go back to work quick.
Mental distress is caused by all sorts of things but poverty is one of them. If you have money it is easier to escape the people who are oppressing you and poverty grinds you down.
Modern Psychiatry has two main functions:
1 – to be the drug delivery system for multi-national drug companies
2 – to hide, distract from, and evade the true reasons for mental distress (racism, poverty, homophobia, child sexual assualt, family violence, family conflict, bullying etc etc etc)
To offer support to people is fine, to fight the system of oppressive psychiatry is fine. We need to do both at the same time. Some of us might want to link the oppression of psychiatry to other forms of oppression and find links with groups fighting them.
I tried to get a group I set up in the UK to do both: fight psychiatry and support it’s members who were mainly people abused by psychiatric services. We had about five sectionings and one suicide in about 9 months. The suicide was partly because the woman was on a CTO and forced to take drugs she did not want and saw as damaging, even worse it was by injection as a depot which she found doubly humiliating.
I couldn’t work on organising protests with that level of distress in the group. The group didn’t want to work out how to support each other better so I left.
It should be possible to do serious campaigining and serious support work. It should be possible to teach people how to support each other better. It should be possible to put in place structures that do that. Alcoholics Anonymous has a simple sturcture, although the God Rhetoric is something that I would ditch, co-counselling is fairly simple, group work isn’t that difficult once you have some basic skills and there are people around willing to teach it. Even Open Dialogue isn’t that difficult once you get the idea of open ended reflective questioning. But without the spin of being a serious challange to the system you end up taking on the impossible burdon of being a replacement for pschiatry with no wage and a life to live.
I’m reading a book on non-violent social change. It says that alternative institutions don’t challenge those in power very much, but those with a radical manifesto can. An inner city breakfast club for school children doesn’t challenge much, but one run by a Black Power group would.
So I reason we need to combine the support work with the campainging to a much larger ammount than most people realise. We also need to offer services where people can get help in coming off psychiatric drugs safely as that often seems to be a cause of distress, especially in withdrawal. And we need to develop advocacy so people can have a buffer between them and the services.
I’m sorry about your comrade who killed themselves. It’s alwasy tragic and always causes soul searching when that happens. I have no doubt that your work has reduced the suffering of many people and reduced the suicide risk of many but it’s also true that as long as psychiatry is as it is we will always be firefighting.
Meanwhile, I’m off to a camp next week to protest against Fracking. I shall be helping out at the Welfare area offering my not inconsiderable counselling skills to burnt out protesters.
thanks placing within social context John, this is getting missed too much.
I also think top down repression is the source of almost all mental illness. The details are not so obvious – people internalize repressive behaviors and replicate them.
Modern Psychiatry does not, at least in the first place create mental illness – it exacerbates it , prolongs it and often murders the personalities of those it purports to help.
Big Pharma is merely an opportunistic vulture using the situation to secure power and wealth.
Simply castigating psychiatry and/or escaping it doesn’t resolve mental illnesses.
Psychiatry at best is just a distraction along the road.
Most people have neurosis (or worse) from the repression ie unfinished emotional business from their formative years – this is from copying repressive behaviors or being forced into repressive behaviors.
In any case support and sympathy does not help neurosis generally-it’s only a very small part of the road to cure. In order to cure neurosis and some deeper dysfunctions that operate on much the same principle the person has to undergo more pain, not less. But it turns out to be the type of pain they will like or learn to like. It’s much like surgery has to be performed on the battlefield without anesthetic – there is no comfort road.
Some people can find their own way, perform their own surgery – most need a guide or surgeon.
Outside of immediate crisis, support is useless if a person with neurosis or worse is not getting guided interventionist or confrontation or subjecting themselves to guided critical inspection from an expert (of which there are very few these days it seems). Sympathy and support has very limited use in breaking through defensive systems.
And to do that , the person has to want it or be convinced to want it. This last is very important because Bio-med psychiatry with it’s new “Talk-Therapy” has convinced many to not want to subject themselves to confrontation or interventionist technique. It’s the whole purpose of Pharma’s “talk-therapy” (which is not real psychotherapy) to steer their clients away from the processes that would be curative. They have created an entire ideology for this which has crept it’s way into the public consciousness. They present these ideas as ‘healthy’ when in fact they are the opposite. We need the opposite awareness in the public consciousness – that, for instance, sharing and exploration of the negative makes people stronger not weaker.
The situation is complex but those are some general considerations not to be neglected.
I see so much sympathy and ‘support’ used to repress others or block off others in defensiveness.
Sharing to me is the essence of positive human communication. Defensive supportive people often obfuscate or block the sharings of others which very much annoys me. Sharing requires one to be tough, open and honest. Sharing is a curative process. Real psychotherapists encourage provoke, guide or do anything it takes motivate others to share their life experience and they guide them from there.
I love sharing or storytelling and listening or facilitating others to share. If people or a person doesn’t share – there is no one there. Non-sharers are people who are wasting life. It takes concentrated effort over time like an art – to learn to share – sharing is the only true learning and true contact with others.
There’s a lot I want to respond to in these comments…good stuff, crucial perspectives. However, I am about to take my young ‘uns and the little dog down to a big rally downtown.
…so glad you all are out there. I’ll come back to these comments in a bit.
In Solidarity, keepin’ on with it,
sometimes, all we can do is hold hands in the dark
sometimes that’s the best thing we can do Joanna
sometimes it’s the only thing..
Indeed – and such a lovely experience it can be too – but at other times to have the patience to wait until the sun comes up is the greatest wisdom and that is so much easier with a warm heart beside us 🙂
Thanks, John H., for your comments. I am impressed with what I have read from you lately. I agree that to do political work, we have to support one another too. I don’t know how it is in the UK, but here in America my experience of the survivors movement is that emotional support is hard to come by. How can we put ourselves out there, as one of the most despised minorities in society, and yet not even give one another much respect?
Also, mjk and Faith, I hope you didn’t take my story about Banda Bear as making fun of you. I just felt we had something in common, and a little lightness in discussing this grim subject of suicide can sometimes be helpful, I think.
I thought it was hilarious. I laughed for at least a minute and a half. “So there” lol lol
I really liked the story of Banda, Ted, and for some reason it makes me incredibly happy to know that all these “adults” are out there with their bears.
…there is some really special tenderness thinking about our stuffed and steadfast friends.
Here’s to Banda, Fatso, and Frazer!
When I was younger, I used to be pretty sure that Frazer was thoroughly alive and quite magic. Looking into his plastic eyes, I could have sworn there was something alive about him.
I am not sure that I don’t still believe this.
@mjk – I would lose my mind if I couldn’t sleep. When I think about all the stuff you’ve had to contend with and the things you’ve lived through I am astounded by your strength. I hope that something shifts and your life gets easier, so you can use your energy in ways that feel more awesome for you…instead of having to work so hard just to cope with being alive.
I hear the sun is getting ready to go through a reversal of its magnetic poles. Maybe your circadian rhythms will flip, too?
It’s abhorrent that your sleep disorder led to such difficulties and was framed as a mental health issue…yeah, if people don’t sleep, they can’t take care of anything…amazing that nobody has figured out something that will help your sleep cycles work better for you. It’s like, wow, we can launch rockets and measure the magnetism of the sun, but we can’t figure out how to help this person to simply sleep.
Yeah, May and early June were intense for a lot of people. Everybody I know who is on certain spectrums was dealing with all sorts of weird out of the woodwork static and malfunctions. My radio had issues, too and my phone and my computer, everything was going haywire.
Anyway, it’s cloudy and cool here today with a hundred things to catch up on, so I guess I’ll get on with it.
mjk, if you ever wanted to email me, please do. I feel like we’re friends in a way…faithrhyneATgmail.com I have a friend who sometimes texts me in the middle of the night, just to say “hi, I have insomnia.” I don’t get the messages until the morning, but I like that this person does that and if you ever wanted someone to text in the middle of the night and say whatever to, you could do that.
“I hear the sun is getting ready to go through a reversal of its magnetic poles. Maybe your circadian rhythms will flip, too?”
From what I read, the solar magnetic pole “flip” happens by the decade and “flip” is not the proper, most accurate term. *shrug* I can say, I’ll report ANYTHING, ANYWHERE that I think may be of importance or significance.
I’m VERY sensitive and solar / galactic events impact and effect me – ME, a Human Being – not just electronics, computers, radios and satellites. Christ.
Yeah, “flip” was probably an oversimplified term to use. I do that sometimes. Maybe “shift” was more the word I was talking about here, like maybe instead of being awake too much, you may become very tired. Sorry to 1/2ass hypothesize about a condition that has wrecked your life. Coming up with every little possible good outcome is how I keep myself from feeling trapped in a dreary fixed reality, but I do get that I have no right to muse about “what if…” in regard to other people’s lives.
I personally think it’s absurd that nobody recognizes the fact that human beings are sensitive to activity in the geomagnetic fields and insulting that psychiatry makes it out to be some sort of tinfoil hat issue. Our brains and bodies have electricity. It’s what makes our hearts beat. We have electrical fields. There is electricity in our brains and in every cell. If there weren’t we’d be puddles of carbon, in which case we’d still have electricity, because it’s what holds everything together.
Yeah, I’d really like to someday speak out (i.e. have people listen to me) about how reasonable it is that people are radio and energy sensitive, some more than others. We’re amazing creatures, sensitive in ways that just aren’t a part of our 5sense/5cents thinking about what impacts our lives and experience and what is real.
It’s a big issue in our modern conceptual split between humans and the environment, denying recognition of a vital aspect our human experience…that some people are sensitive to how the stars are arranged and what’s happening with the sun. It’s not crazy. Seems to me to be about physics, nature.
When I said my phone and computer and radio were going haywire, I meant that in addition to being impacted by connectivity being affected by big lightning storms, it seems sometimes that how I am feeling or what I am thinking about at certain times seems to shut devices down out of the blue, single stations dropping off the air, things getting overloaded, shutting down…though it could just be coincidence, a spurious connection…but, I know that I am affected by universal forces, just like anything else that is alive.
I really don’t like that the psychiatricized part of me says, “You shouldn’t talk about such things, Faith. People will think you’re crazy.”
At this point, that makes me want to say more…
hope the night’s alright.
It’s not you – everybody is calling it a “flip”, but somebody in a community where I subscribe made the correction in terminology. I’ll try to hunt his comment down but it will take a while (yesterday’s comment stream).
“denying recognition of a vital aspect our human experience…that some people are sensitive to how the stars are arranged and what’s happening with the sun. It’s not crazy.”
Solar / cosmological events bring out my inner Jesus and I swear to god, my three wise men are always there. It’s SO strange. The last time I had my “three wise men”, one of them was smiling so happy, another was shaking his head NO in disapproval, and the third was almost stupid looking but very open to what was about to happen (Me!) LOL.
I have NO idea why, but this last episode of activity had me going around singing in public “oh come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant”. LOL. I’m not kidding, I was really doing that. LOL.
“seems sometimes that how I am feeling or what I am thinking about at certain times seems to shut devices down out of the blue, single stations dropping off the air, things getting overloaded, shutting down… though it could just be coincidence, a spurious connection…but, I know that I am affected by universal forces, just like anything else that is alive.”
You (we) are more than affected.
Insofar, my experience is that it is OBSERVATION based (but not solely, or entirely)… In other words, when we turn our FOCUSED attention on something – WE can effect it, immediately. I noticed that electric lights would turn off when I looked at them. That hasn’t happened for a while (I’m not currently in that peak state). One time, I burst a light bulb in my kitchen during an intense mediation. I was in another room, but focused MY MIND in the kitchen, on a clipping I had on the refrigerator that REALLY made me mad. I had VERY intense energy built up. All of a sudden, HUGE FLASH and LOUD POP which, of course, BROKE my concentration. WOW. There was another time when my energy was extreme, concentrated and intense. I had been typing, pounding, and when I hit the enter key, I BANGED. In the EXACT moment that I banged, the entire house shook. A power line snapped, from my house to the pole across the street. I said something about fire in my last sentence before banging it into existence on the internet, and the snapped line lay there on the ground, on fire. OOPS.
This just in, from Spirit Library:
“Indeed you do create your reality. Every nuance, every thought, every deed. You are powerful creators. You have just not yet accepted that role in totality.”
Well, they posted that 2 hours ago.
There’s a lot, a lot, a lot to it all. I get too hyper and that makes me messy (all over the place, can’t maintain coherent structure).
This is interesting: http://www.7cupsoftea.com/ “Free, anonymous conversations with trained active listeners.”
Anyway, I think that John was spot-on in his clear identification of how the phenomenon of human misery is directly tied to the trappings of a militaristic, capitalistic Industrial Growth Society. One of the reasons I am more involved in
“radical mental health” than I am in “mental health advocacy” is because I cannot separate the abuses of psychiatry and Big Pharma from the abuses of corporatocracy and fascism in general and so, for me, working around issues of mental health and liberation is how I am choosing to do my part in trying to change the much bigger picture.
Kudos to you, John, for offering support in the broader activist community.
Seriously, I went to a talk on collective liberation last month and the speaker was saying something about activists having to face and work through their trauma related to living in a world that wounds our humanity, harms what we love and makes us less than what we may be…rule-bound mechanistic commodities. The speaker said, “Yeah, a person might have to get some therapy for a couple of months…”
…and I sat in the small audience and just kind of balked, like – “What? Really? What about the roots of mutual aid in revolution? What about people helping people to be real and to be whole and to rise up in their lives? What about all these amazing radical supporters and trained facilitators that have been living and dying and healing with people for years and years?”
One thing that I think is going to happen is that a lot of activist networks are going to begin coming together around these ideas of mutuality, support, and cooperation. At this point, people have burning out and in-fighting and destroying themselves for causes (which is their right)for so many years, and there is finally more literature on how to actually do activism in sustainable ways that it’s almost inevitable that different networks and overlapping causes will begin to figure out how to collaborate.
…or people will just keep burning out trying to keep their little lives going.
The economy alone can wreck a person at this point. The cost of food is just getting ridiculous, even margarine.
That being said, onwards and thanks for being out there.
“I think that John was spot-on in his clear identification of how the phenomenon of human misery is directly tied to the trappings of a militaristic, capitalistic Industrial Growth Society”
Heartily agree,but you can be jumped on for even raising these issues as being ‘left’ or ‘socialist’, groups are not looking at this and social justice issues despite them being intrinsically linked to diagnosis and pushing people into or back into psychiatry
Wow, I hit some chords here.
I find the anarcho-eco-anti-capitalist crowd quite receptive. They specialise in critiquing big business and have an exquisite view of power relationships. Socialists generally see this issue about having equal access to medical care but often can’t quite get thier head around the evils of pschiatry or of the dangers of Big Pharma. There seems to be a disconnect between the middle class who critique big pharma and working class activists, or those who say they are working on the behalf of the working class.
Occupy in London last year had a series of talks from the Critical Psychiatry Netowrk which were very good. But the Welfare area of Occupy got a load of professionals involved as they were so overwhelmed by homeless needy people. The professionals got annoyed by criticisms of psychiatry when I spammed them with a Speak Out Against Psychiatry leaflet but others were receptive. Over all it generated a useful discussion.
NSUN in the UK had an article about how a private provider was taking over part of mental health provsion in Gloucester. The provider also does prison contracts and their workers had killed at least one person. They also charged for tagging a lot of people in the community they had not actually tagged. So these issues are raised a bit now. But generally service user groups, and to a degree survivor groups, are aware of how shoddy their treatment is but have swallowed the psychiatric pill in terms of having almost no idea of what the major causes of mental distress are, what can be done to address them or the braoder social issues. They used to about 20 years ago, I’ve seen the documents and had brief communications from people who were involved then. The broader dissability campaigners seem to get it more easily, but then in the UK they are all having thier benefits cut so it then becomes easier to make a broader social analysis.
On Faith’s comments on burt out activists: I help out at Welbeing for the anti-fracking camp. It was started by Activist Trauma Support. Originally they catered for people who had suffered state oppression, eg being beaten up by the police, but very quickly realised the bigger nead was helping people who had gone to too many badly ran meetings.
My group work training and my experience of going to retreats which have a big empahsis on therapy type work says it doesn’t have to be this way. It should be possible to run campaigns where people do not end up feeling worse than they did before they started campaigning. But that takes work and an emphasis on building trust before you do the campaigning and makind sure you continue to build it as you go along. It’s my big task these days, trying to help groups be supportive as they engage in campaigning. A lot of it is about looking at how groups are getting on and bringing it to there attention. It’s not a popular way to work but I see it as essential. Why repeat the old oppressvie patterns of a society you’re trying to change? It doesn’t make sense to me to work that way.
@John – I am really interested in the work you are doing with sustainable activism practice and had to nod my head emphatically at this ->
“the bigger need was helping people who had gone to too many badly ran meetings.”
Are you familiar with the Mindful Occupation publication that was put out in 2011? It’s a great little book, oriented toward supporting people involved in direct actions, but also toward building a culture of mutuality, appreciation, and support in activist communities. http://mindfuloccupation.org/
I think that @skybluesight’s call for more proactive confrontation of what’s not working and identifying other approaches is relevant not just in supporting individuals, but also in supporting groups of people who are struggling with one another in trying to get things done and move forward.
“A lot of it is about looking at how groups are getting on and bringing it to their attention. It’s not a popular way to work but I see it as essential. Why repeat the old oppressvie patterns of a society you’re trying to change? It doesn’t make sense to me to work that way.”
It doesn’t make sense to me either. I think it’s a true skill to be able to step back and see what is happening and to then be able to facilitate solution-oriented awareness of group dynamics and other ways of seeing things. I’m so serious when I say I want to learn more about how you’re getting involved in that work. I want to be doing things like that!
I think about things in terms of micro/macro similarities a lot and I see the ways that the conflict and tension, dysfunctional expectations and frustrations that play out in groups are really similar to the ways that we sometimes approach ourselves in our efforts to remedy our lives.
I like the idea that gentle challenge can be supportive, too…that we don’t just have to support people in staying where they are at, walking with them in circles, but that we can help people move forward. I think that as a supporter who has a background in education and mentorship, I am much more oriented toward that mode of support.
I can listen compassionately and accept where a person is at, but being one who has trained my mind to always try to see past where things are currently standing, to look at the bigger picture and strategize a navigation plan through whatever tangly landscapes I might be inhabiting, it’s hard for me to not say, “Okay…and so how are you going to get this? Is there another way to approach this? What’s your plan?”
…which is not always helpful for people, but sometimes it is…to just have someone truly believe that a way through and out is possible. I honor how entrenched some people are in pain and impossible circumstances. In my own ways, I have hung out in those dark and closed in spaces for some good bits of time…but, at this point I know – more than I know anything else – that everything changes (though true, things can get worse before they get better) and that we often have more power in our lives and states of being than we (as humans) often realize, even in times of experienced powerlessness.
Thanks for being out there and, John, please keep us posted on your work with sustainable and supportive activism…very important.
John you’re right, physical disability activists do have a broader social analysis. I’m thinking that there needs to be a MH version of Spartacus written by survivors, there is the start of some interest by a couple of individuals because it’s clear the larger groups are not going to take a lead on these issues as a campaign topic even though it does dove tail with diagnosis debates. So maybe if a few individuals draw up a position paper it would help.
Thank you for your beautiful post. So many things resonate with me…I am perpetually baffled about how much of the human experience is considered too inconvenient in our society. I was supporting someone recently in what would be considered by many as “a dangerous state” or some other iteration of pathology. Yet, all that was needed was a simple, caring presence by someone who saw them as a human being who was processing deep, scarring memories rather than as “sick” or “crazy”. It is, of course, not always so simple and I , too, relate to finding the balance of what type of support a person needs and what I am able to offer.
I am grateful to be on this path with you as we continue to wrestle with the truths, lies, beauty and pain of it all. Your presence and voice bring hope to so many intersecting communities.
@Jen Maurer, @Claire, @Michael C. – Thanks all of you for reading and for doing the work you’re doing out there…and for being my allies, and mentors. The blessing/burden of supporting community and working toward a more kind world is carried with more ease knowing that you all are out there doing your parts and that we all share in the struggling grace that comes of caring deeply about people and what happens with them in their lives.
Thanks Faith for your thoughtful reflections on the struggle we face “I know,it sucks. I’m so sorry that this is happening in your life.” It seems quite true to me to suggest that when a person is excluded by community from community and the support it provides how can a stranger replace what is lost – what can a person do – how do we respond – I would say if can do nothing but be present, even as you are worn out listening that is so much more than our society can provide at this stage so applaud yourself for that. And we must always be humble in our belief – each individual can do so little and its unfair to ask more of ourseleves than is humanly possible – It will take much time and energy and maybe alot of resentment needs dissolving as the means of justice are to vast to be real – It is more wise to attempt the development of alternative recourses, to mature new communities that welcome passionate feelings as valid responses to lifs darker experiences – emotions that currently are all too easily exploited to sell drugs and therapy rather tham as signs that need acknowledgement.
Thank you. That’s fine writing you’ve done on your site.
This small poem of yours seems apt to post here:
Remus and Romulus remembered
December 3, 2012, 1:52 am
Filed under: Poecry
Isn’t it amazing how wild wolves,
In the wild.
Wild wolves will nurture a human child,
Will care for them, suckle them,
Feed them, cuddle and hug,
And keep them warm and clean,
Give them a home, play with them,
Include them in the pack.
But some people won’t!
🙂 Thanks again…
why thank you Faith, I’m honored 😀
You shared much of what I believe in is a part of the foundation of me, expressed it for me. Thank you Faith.
So many times I feel I am alone paddling, fighting the currents on my river to wellness. Sometimes I am too weary to keep paddling. It is folks like you I truly believe my God as I understand him brings into my life at just the right time.
Community for community.