Tomorrow, September 10th, is World Suicide Prevention Day. According to Wikipedia, its mission is “to provide worldwide commitment and action to prevent suicides, with various activities around the world.”
I am alive today in the most intense, sometimes painful, always beautiful of ways, and one of the many reasons I credit for my life is this: I am a failed product of ‘Suicide Prevention.’
For this, I am eternally grateful. While this statement may sound like a confusing paradox, I’d like to explain what I mean.
My long relationship to suicide began after I met Psychiatry as a fourteen-year old and ended when I found psychiatric liberation thirteen years later, in 2010. My suicidal experiences and I shared something akin to a passionate, painful love affair that grew stronger over time. It was a relationship that I both yearned for and loathed, relied on and desperately tried to pull myself away from, but because I was convinced that the roots of my suicidal urges rested in bad brain chemistry, I felt powerless to do anything about them.
Indeed, after a while, I simply accepted my “chronic suicidality” as part of what it meant to be “mentally ill.” I also accepted and eventually embraced that it was only a matter of time before I took my own life; that this was the inevitable conclusion of being “treatment-resistant Bipolar.” I remember reading a write-up of some Rorschach test results which declared I had a “death wish” and was a “high risk” for suicide; I nodded in agreement, pushing my lips together in grim acknowledgement that this was my fate and that, tragically, even the best treatment in the world wouldn’t stop me from meeting it.
For many years, my thoughts of suicide kept me living. I always have my death, I used to say to myself. I can live another day knowing this. Visual images of my final moments soothed me, and I found relief in the idea of eternal sleep. Like a dark angel, the knowledge of my future suicide sat perched next to my ear, whispering its promises to me. Life passed this way for a long time, the seconds ticking by, days and weeks and years of going through the motions of a meaningless, numb “Bipolar” life, until I reached the end of the road.
After years of receiving elaborate and extensive psychiatric intervention, I determined that I was a lost cause, and allowed the whisper of my fate to crescendo into a loud and determined call. On a cold November morning in 2008, at the age of twenty-five, I made the calm, rational, peaceful decision to end my terminally “ill” life, and I acted on it.
I feel a deep, human obligation to talk openly about my attempted suicide and the years of suicidal thoughts that led me to, and subsequently followed, that decision, because I see my once-profound urge to die as not only the most significant consequence of my psychiatric indoctrination, but also a crucial step towards the profound realization of how much I actually yearned to live. Leading up to my suicide attempt were years of shame, guilt, and secrecy; of fake smiles and spark-less eyes; of believing so deeply that I had no agency over my “illness” that each day would just be a fight against myself; of feeling hopelessly dependent on my doctors and therapists and parents and the hospitals I kept checking myself into; of knowing no other way to understand myself than as a manifestation of psychiatric pathology; of ever-increasing iatrogenic dysfunction as one prescription became two, became three, became four, became five, while believing all along it was my “disease” causing me such turmoil; of feeling completely disconnected from myself and from the world; of finding peace of mind only after fantasizing about my death. My relationship to Psychiatry turned me into a living, breathing ghost, left with only one logical next step to take.
Although I don’t remember what followed in the days after I slipped into a coma that November day nearly five years ago, I will never forget the quietness that washed over me after I swallowed the last handful of my pills, closing one eye, then the other, to focus my blurred and fading vision on finishing my suicide note. Tears are pushing themselves out from the corners of my eyes as I type these words because of how real that moment still feels. I will never forget that peace—I never want to forget that peace—because it’s a testament to the totality of hopelessness that results from a psychiatric label and everything that follows.
During my “Bipolar” years, there was a tremendous amount of energy expended by a tremendous amount of varied “mental health” practitioners in an effort to prevent my suicide. I was taught to see my urge to end the life I felt hopelessly trapped in as evidence of how “ill” I was, and as a medical problem that could only be resolved by compliance to “treatment”, and by the thoughtful strategies of the “experts” around me. At night, when my suicidal thoughts seemed to demand action, I did what I was told and called my psychiatrist so that she could prevent the crisis from escalating. (On more than one occasion, the advice was to “Take extra Seroquel,” and I remember feeling beyond lucky that she’d stay on the phone with me until I passed out into drugged sleep, scared as I was of having to lie there alone, trapped in my head.) I was committed to preventing my suicide, and the psychiatric infrastructure around me was, too. This commitment led me right to death’s door.
There’s no denying that my relationship to The System was a complicated one because of how deeply I came to believe in Psychiatry’s tenets. It’s hard to make sense of the fact that while Psychiatry introduced me to a plethora of reasons that sparked in me the urge to die, it also carried me along the way, determined to prevent me from acting out on the hopelessness that its labels and “treatment” instilled in me. Locked wards and heavy polypharmacy gave me hope, however false and misguided it may have ended up being. It’s not an easy thing to write this, for the values and principles I live by today go firmly against the institutionalization of a human being, especially a human being who’s suffering, hopeless, and questioning the meaning of life. It’s not easy to write this because I see, as I continue to heal from the physical, cognitive, and emotional trauma of over ten years of daily psychiatric drug consumption, how deadened, numbed, detached, and destabilized I was by psychopharmaceutical “treatment”. But there’s no denying that while I was an indoctrinated mental patient, I stayed alive in the short term because I continued to trust in the God of Psychiatry, and to surrender myself to its power, which, unbeknownst to me, was stripping me slowly of my life.
In the end, psychiatric intervention and “treatment” did nothing to quiet my suicidal thoughts, nor did it play any role in cultivating the unquenchable inner fire to live and thrive that I feel today. What my relationship to Psychiatry did for me—and I am truly grateful to it for this—was establish a life not worth living, and lead me as far down its path as I was capable of dragging myself. It was a life of accumulating hospital scrubs and rubber-soled socks and DSM diagnoses and pill bottles, medical records and outpatient programs and locked wards and “treatment team” members. But it was also a life that led me to my awakening—whether determined by luck or destiny, I’m still not sure—which began when I found myself face-to-face with Robert Whitaker’s Anatomy of an Epidemic in a Vermont bookstore in May 2010.
The rest is history, so they say. Actually, the rest is this moment, right now, as I write about who I am, and what I’m not, and as I sit back and reflect on my life today, which is full of meaning and purpose. A life that I have faith in, and hope for. A life that I could never imagine ending. Had I never had the opportunity to awaken and free myself from Psychiatry’s grasp, I am sure that I would never be where I am today. I am sure that it was only a matter of time before I stopped believing the promises it made to me and concluded, again, that better than sleep on a sterilized plastic mattress was sleep I’d never awaken from.
The “Mental Health” Industry—and American society as a whole, for it seems we’ve reached a point at which we look only to those with letters after their names to speak as authoritative “experts” on the causes of and solutions for the human urge to die—has infused suicide with a deep, oppressive fear. Much of The System’s fear is self-centered in origin: it is fear manifested as liability, risk, and responsibility by those in positions of clinical power. “I just can’t let you leave the ER, I’m afraid, as you’re a safety risk.” Or, “My license is at stake if I allow you to go home after sharing what you did with me. I’ll be forced to make a phone call if you won’t get a crisis evaluation by choice.”
Missing from this “Suicide Prevention” framework is acknowledgement of the agency of the person considering suicide; of the dignity of risk and choice; of the human legitimacy of thoughts about life and death, especially when life has lost its meaning; of the right to feel and believe what one desires, however dark and scary that may be to those around her.
Missing from this, most of all, is faith in the human condition and our capacity as human beings to survive and move through profound suffering and hopelessness. When an entire system of “care” is founded upon this lack of faith, as today’s system is, it makes it hard for those reaching out for help to have any, either. In fact, I believe that it’s this collective loss of faith and infiltration of fear that lies at the root of America’s rapidly increasing suicide rates.
In my own experience, my shell of a “Bipolar” self had become so thin and permeable that the “safety” and “risk” narrative of doctor after doctor who sat perched before me with crossed legs and furrowed brows, determined to keep me alive, became my own. Full of so much suffering, and convinced I was at the mercy of “my disease”, I concluded that they were right: that I couldn’t be “safe” with myself, or trust myself. That my “chronic suicidality” was evidence of how much help I needed from outside sources.
Soon enough, I began to yearn for the authority and decision-making capacity of those around me, for their assertions of power over my dysfunctional life. I remember often feeling like a wild, dangerous animal, desperate to be confined, contained, and controlled. Eventually, I came to see one-on-ones in the ER, fifteen-minute checks on the locked ward, and large bags of pill bottles as the only valid evidence of my suffering, and as the only potential cure for it. I was just so damn afraid of myself, of my mind, of my emotions, and of what my life had become because of “being Bipolar.” And my “treaters”, blinded both by their own unquestionable faith in Psychiatry’s tenets and by their deep-seated fears of liability, were incapable of seeing anything other than an end objective of preventing my suicide. There wasn’t room for anything else to matter.
When the hand of fear grabs hold of the topic of suicide, it pushes everything else aside and leaves no space to explore. Fear drowns out curiosity, faith, honesty, empathy, and the opportunity to listen with open ears and hearts. It forces an immediacy that simply can’t allow for the lapse of time, for uncertainty, or for the unknown. Fear breeds control, and whether or not this control is welcomed or resisted, the clinician’s agency almost always trumps all. At the heart of it, fear of suicide strips away the humanity of life and death, leaving in its place a sterile, objectified “problem” or “symptom” that allows for only one course of action: prompt and effective intervention and prevention, usually via evaluations, diagnoses, locked wards, and prescription pads. Sometimes even by volts of electricity sent through the brain.
When suicide is seen as something to be prevented, honest listening — which, to me, means listening without needing to act and without needing to find an immediate answer — is deemed irresponsible or even dangerous. Doctors are trained to see preemptive intervention as the only “responsible” course of action: to quickly diagnose and ramp up “treatment”, which, of course, only further buries the designated “safety risk” in The System. This was my experience, and I went along willingly, because I believed I needed to.
Never once was my urge to die seen as something meaningful, as something to be explored and faced, not “prevented”. Never once was I presented the opportunity to take the time to listen to it, or to consider that if I did, I might discover that on the flipside of my urge to die was an urge to live, just in a very different way. I never once had the space to consider that something deep inside of me was telling me that a “Bipolar” life was not the life I was meant for, and that beyond the confines of Psychiatry lay true peace of mind, and true freedom. Trapped in The System as I was, none of these paths were open to me, or even visible.
So what do you say about all those people out there who want to kill themselves right now, in this moment? Some of you might be asking “Where should they go?”
My answer is that I don’t have the answer, nor do I pretend to. But where it starts, I believe, is in re-humanizing suicidal experiences, and in embracing them as important and meaningful messages that need listening to, not running away from. I’ve learned this along my own journey, and by listening to the wisdom of other suicide attempt survivors like David Webb. The answer to this question starts also in the creation of alternative spaces in which people can talk about their suicidal experiences without fear of incarceration, or silencing, or pathologizing. These kinds of spaces are developing here in Massachusetts, where the Western Mass RLC is running ‘Alternatives to Suicide’ groups and has a respite, Afiya, which offers non-pathologizing support.
The answer, for me, was to take my life back from Psychiatry. In doing so, the urge to take my life from the world fell away.
Tomorrow, the international community commits itself to preventing suicide. I can only hope that those of us who consider ourselves failed products of “Suicide Prevention”—for I have a feeling I’m not the only one—do whatever we can to share our stories to encourage the de-pathologization of suicide, and, as David Webb so poignantly says, to foster the idea that suicidal feelings should be treated with dignity and respect, and not seen as problems to be annihilated or “prevented.” I’ve come to believe that suicide is an open-ended question to be explored with trust, and with open ears and hearts. When we as a human family choose to see the urge to die as a human response to a world — which is full of trauma, isolation, discrimination, and dehumanization, whether resulting from Psychiatry or from some other oppressive form of social power — I truly believe that life will begin to glisten more brightly with the potential for meaning, connection, purpose, and peace. Life will increasingly become more worth living, and more worth believing in. At least, this has been my experience.
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.
I haven’t read anything about suicide that has as much sense and meaning as what you’ve written, Laura. Indeed, your turning point in life was in 2010 inside that Vermont bookstore when you stumbled upon RW’s masterpiece, Anatomy…Epidemic. You believed this book about the failed MH industry of labeling, drugging, and forever stigmatizing a person that they have a chronic, debilitating MI for life. And I felt the same revelation when I stumbled upon RW’s writing about the tainted MH system, but tragically, my wake-up didn’t happen until after my sons’s suicide Jan 13, 2012 on Friday, the 13th. My son’s quick descent into madness, though he came out of psychosis after ten weeks, each of the two times his brain spun out. I never believed the ” bipolar for life, meds for life, mental illness for life” brainwashing my son was immediately assigned despite he tested positive for a substance- cannabis- with psychoactive effects to some brains ( as my google searching began immediately once he was locked away in a psych ward for ten days). But the MH system insisted cannabis could not cause a psychotic break!!!! To my face, these p- docs and staff ignored the research studies I waved in front of them. And sadly, I cowered, and listened to family, professional friends that also insisted I had to accept my sons’s dx. Even though both family lines have no hx of any severe MI. Long story short, but every feeling you so eloquently express why you wanted to opt out with all the MH labels and the system of indoctrination is what my son expressed in his good- bye note on that fateful Friday, Jan 13th. Who would want to live after ” the system” boxed him in and society reminded him, wherever he went, of the label he owned. You found with RW’s writing, a way to take your life back from Psychiatry. I’m so sad that I wasn’t awakened in time to help save my son.
I hope your message, and after all I read about suicide prevention which mostly lacks sense to me, spreads like wildfire. Of course, allowing a person to open up and express their darkest, most haunting thoughts should be embraced, not squashed, not met with consequences of re-instituting, more meds, more labels. IMO Laura, you’ve nailed it!!! Please keep writing and helping others ” de-pathologize” suicide. I truly believe this direction is the way to save precious lives, like my Shane, who always lived life to its fullest until his fate with ” the system” began 27 months before he opted out of life.
I’m sharing your message so apropos today, World Suicide Prevention Day.
I am so glad you’ve connected with the community here, although I feel pain in my heart knowing that Shane didn’t make it through his attempt, as I was lucky enough to. His story is so incredibly important, and I am grateful that you’re sharing it here, and elsewhere, in the hopes that the message it carries will change the minds and redirect the paths of others who find themselves heading down the road Shane and I found ourselves on.
Thank you for sharing the kind words you did here about my post; it’s certainly not an easy thing to write about suicide, and I found myself scared at points along the way to allow my voice to claim what it needed to say. But it is rewarding to feel connected to people through this topic, however painful it may be. I wish the sequence of events in Shane’s life went differently than they did, and I feel a deep connection to him despite not knowing him. His memory and his spirit will live on and have the potential to change the world, and it’s really encouraging to see that you’re not letting this tragic loss silence you, but in fact, amplify your voice louder than ever before.
I am inspired by mothers like you and Mary Weiss, whose son Dan took his life several years ago after being enrolled in a drug trial at UMinnesota, and I am grateful to be connected.
This article about suicide makes more sense than any I’ve seen. I’ve just been hashing over the topic myself, because I have anorexia nervosa. I am 55 years old. Only a few weeks ago, I was treated like a hardened criminal because I nearly “succeeded” at starving myself to death. I was abused, called a liar, forced onto antipsychotic medication, and I was given pills that would have killed me had I not had the sense to spit them out as these were medication errors. When I finally left this prison/hospital, many of my friends would not even believe what had happened.
My friends ask me “Why don’t you take their antipsychotics and just shut up?” and I tell them I will not shut up about the abuse. I will not shut up. I will not shut up. I will not shut up, and I will not let them force drugs on me to shut me up, either.
I know what you mean. I endured the same LACK of support from people.
Please, DON’T shut up. If your friends don’t want to hear it, maybe they aren’t your friends.
It sounds as if, despite the forces around you, you are staying true to your voice, and that is courageous. It’s hard to maintain one’s determination to stay free from psychiatric drugs when the majority of the world around us has internalized the “mental illness is like diabetes” and “you need to take meds for the rest of your life if you stand any chance at stability” narratives. It’s inspiring to hear you owning your truth!
Wow, Laura. Thanks for articulating what so many of us need to say. I struggle with these feelings still. Please bear in mind that I, as merely one of the many people who know you and treasure you, have a vastly improved life simply by the fact of your being a part of it.
I feel the same gratitude towards you, and treasure you, too. It was really fantastic to be able to spend time together in July (hopefully I’ll be back soon!) Thank you so much for sharing that suicidal feelings are a part of your life today. Your strength in the face of psychiatric oppression is inspiring to me, and my respect for you is only deepened by your openness to talk about your search for, and questioning of, life’s meaning and purpose. The more we own these experiences and speak about them loudly and determinedly, the bigger the space we’ll create to explore the meaning of our lives, and support each other along the way. I am so glad to call you a comrade!
Another great article Laura; it’s wonderful to hear you articulate the truth about the counter-productivity of the psychiatric view of the world!
Emotional distress is the natural biology of distressful experiences, and it is painful. Emotional pain is similar to physical pain; emotional pain is pain without an identifiable source. I had suicidal thoughts during a period of extreme emotional distress; the pain was constant and unbelievably intense, and I eventually just wanted the pain to stop.
My experiences taught me that people can gain a healthy sense of wellbeing over time if they feel empowered to work at it.
Psychiatry is currently counterproductive with its paradigm of mental disorders caused by a malfunctioning mind; this promotes powerlessness and thereby reduces the ability to change (real) distressful experiences. Mental health care will dramatically improve when psychiatry assists clients in reducing emotional distress and empowers them to change their experiences.
Best regards, Steve
Great to hear from you, as always. I definitely agree that the medical model of Psychiatry today runs completely antithetical to agency, empowerment, and access to one’s sense of humanity. All of this, of course, is a perfect recipe for hopelessness, for eternal dependency and powerlessness, and for profound isolation. That more people don’t see how backwards this is never ceases to amaze me!
I am so glad to know that you moved through your difficult experiences and grew from them. I hope our paths cross again on the conference circuit this fall!
Laura, Thanks for this heart felt article as usual. Of course, another despicable thing about the mental death profession is that their life destroying stigmas like the latest fraud fad bipolar and their lethal drugs known to cause suicide, mania, akathisia, violence and a host of other horrible effects and their own abusive “treatment” and psychopathic behaviors are enough to drive the most healthy person over the edge not to mention a confused teen ager suffering an identity crisis.
I admire your courage for being strong enough to overcome the horrific child/teen predation by “Dr.” Joseph (Mengale) Biederman and his cohorts in crime who made hidden millions with Johnson & Johnson for inventing the predatory child/teen bipolar fraud epidemic. For those who thought themselves lucky to be born in a better time than Nazi Germany, little did they know that we had other eugenics/euthanasia predators like the horrible Biederman plotting the destruction of humanity including our children no less. “Dr.” Allen Francis, editor of the DSM IV plotted with Johnson & Johnson to prey on adults with their horrible neuroleptic drugs by grossly expanding the bipolar fad fraud for adults in the early 1990’s in his junk science, “invalid” DSM to pave the way for Biederman. Unfortunately, unlike Biederman, Francis didn’t get full credit for inventing the horrible, bogus Texas Medical Algorithm to prey on the poor for Johnson & Johnson marketing purposes.
Like millions of others, you just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time like all too many others like those in Nazi Germany and/or Stalinist Russia.
You continue to be a great inspiration to all.
Thanks for your comment. Indeed, we are up against a powerful, industry-driven institution that has effectively disguised itself as legitimate medicine. I truly believe the tide is slowly turning, and that despite the tremendous forces working hard to keep the status quo (and to make Psychiatry even more powerful), change—even transformation—can and will happen. We all must continue to share our stories of liberation, because it’s at the heart, and through the power of identification, that people will truly be able to listen.
Another lovely fad of the ’90’s: “Borderline Personality Disorder.” Don’t fall prey to that one, either. All it means is that your therapist is jerking you around too much. Break free of those people and you’ll find out there’s nothing wrong with you! The therapists are the needy and dependent ones, not the patients! That’s why the therapists got into the profession in the first place, so they could abuse, control, manipulate, and then claim their patients were the “sick” ones. Leaving a controlling therapist is like leaving an abusive marriage…it’s tough and people will tell you how “nice” these people are, how “professional” and “smart” they look, but they are wolves in sheep clothing. I’m learning that I need to hang with people who have had experiences similar to mine, who know the truth, and stop hanging with people who insist I am lying or delusional or need to be drugged so that I’ll shut up.
Again, I know exactly what you mean.
Unfortunately, some of us have had the absolute worst possible experiences. I mean really, really bad. The sort of bad that does worse damage to our already (sometimes severe) suffering conditions, circumstances and situations.
Here’s my point-blank bullet review of Verno’s book (which he personally gave me and did I read it – then it burned in a fire. Amazingly, me, my teddy bear and my Bible all survived but Verno’s book didn’t LOL)
Because of Verno’s “report” after a “psychological exam” and “interview”, it of course was used as “evidence” against me in a FAKE “family court” process (FAKE because it was state appointed attorney. The state pays them and the only thing they do is tell you to DO WHAT THE STATE SAYS OR ELSE. They don’t bite the hand that feeds).
Verno outright lied but he is considered trustworthy and reliable and I’m considered to be an absolute retard.
It is a sickening, evil “system” with corrupt, irresponsible, dishonest, incompetent people (I’m speaking of the WORST of them and yes, they exist).
I self-immolated AFTER I HAD THE GREAT MISFORTUNE of being Verno’s victim. Then, the state set me up – offered a second meeting SO THAT I COULD CONFRONT HIM (“dispute” what we wrote). Well, I’m not *that* stupid and had to decline their evil, sinister, sadistic “offer” (entrapment).
In this monumental event of MY life, the only way of looking at it is *MINE*.
“and did I read it”
Typo. and I did read it (which I did, and I thought it was stupid (uninformed, unknowing).
Iidefinitely got labeled “Borderline”… and i, too, once was sure that my “treaters” were taking “care” of me, and that i needed to be a good patient and listen to what they said. i was scared to disappoint them, or do anything to make them frustrated, all along convinced that this would somehow help me feel OK… of course, i know today that connecting to that part deep down inside of me that yearned to say NO! was what saved me :).
Thank you for expressing so eloquently and clearly what so many of us have and do feel about suicide. I will always maintain that just because I wanted to kill myself did not mean that I was “mentally ill.”
None of this will get any better unless we all begin talking about what we’re feeling concerning wanting to die. Psychiatrists don’t want to listen to us because they really don’t want to deal with anything that’s “messy” or “dark.” They would rather drug us rather than listen to us. This is why they hvae to be ejected from the profession of medicine.
There is definitely a tremendous amount of fear embedded within Psychiatry, as well as within society as a whole, especially when it comes to talking about suicide. I’m right there with you—let’s keep talking about it, and working to dispel the fear!
Laura, what a beautiful and moving essay! You really have a great gift, and your story is so characteristic of so many people I’ve seen, both those subsumed into the psych system and those committed to escaping it.
Your reminded me starkly of my days as a counselor and volunteer supervisor at a suicide hotline. For one thing, I learned that lay volunteers often made much better counselors than the professionals, because they knew they didn’t know anything much, but were there to LISTEN to the caller and help him/her figure out what to do, rather than labeling or judging or ordering them about.
Second, I remember that the main thing I advised and applied to suicidal callers was to ask what was going on in their lives that made suicide seem an appealing option to them. I assumed based on the fact that they’d called us that on some level, they really did want to live. So something pretty painful must be going on to lead them to think of killing themselves. This almost always led to very deep and meaningful conversations that were appreciated by the callers. It was what they wanted and needed – someone to care and listen.
As soon as suicide or other “symptoms” become the problem rather than an indicator of distress, we lose the ability to intervene in a helpful way. That’s what the DSM does for us – it takes the meaning away from our suffering and leaves us as a list of symptoms to be controlled or “managed.” I don’t know that I’ve ever read a more effective personal description of the vast difference between being a set of symptoms and being a human being seeking meaning in the world. I rejoice that you’ve found yours, and may you be a beacon to others who are where you once were!
Wow, thanks for the thoughtful words about my post! I always appreciate your comments here, too. It sounds like the support you provided on that hotline was invaluable. It reminds me that there are people out there already listening and helping people to find the meaning in their experiences; I need to continue to remind myself of that!
Indeed, the DSM and meaning exist in an inverse relationship. Let us continue to speak out about this!
Thanks, as always, for your contributions to MIA.
Oh my god, Laura, this may be your most brilliant piece ever! Thank you so much for your writing. You’re right up there with Tom Szasz and Mark Helprin for me — just incredibly, incredibly talented…
I recently took a 2-day “Mental Health First Aid” course, mostly out of curiosity about the very clever marketing of that whole scheme. Their obsession with preventing suicide was certainly the defining motivation of the program.
But oddly, the instructors repeatedly endorsed respect for non-Western cultures where attitudes about mental illness and values are different. This was an obvious contradiction to me, though they didn’t seem to have the slightest awareness of it. While I would probably react like most Americans if confronted by somebody’s active suicidality (i.e., I’d probably try to “save the person’s life”), I am at least aware that in many other times and places, coercive interference with a person’s choice about life and death would be deemed rude at best, or perhaps criminally offensive.
Anyway, you just totally nailed it in this article. I’m passing it around to everybody.
Hi S. Randolph,
Thanks so much for this very humbling comment. I am incredibly appreciative for all the advocacy you do out there in Illinois!
I would be curious to hear more about that “Mental Health First Aid” course you took… I’ve heard pretty, ahem, “interesting” things about it!
And thank you for the important reminder of the inherent subjectivity of human experience ☺.
Brave and eloquent article, Laura, thank you. I relate to so much of it, especially the ultimate shift from having bought into the psychiatric indoctrination to realizing that this is, in reality, not a healthy, liberating, or empowering path to take.
I tried to end my life after all the clinical and advocacy support around me told me that I was cooked. I had just completely come off 20 years of multiple medications to start my natural healing journey, and of course my brain was scrambled from the harsh withdrawal. My psychiatrist repeatedly told me that I had ‘lost my dreams,’ which was the phrase that stuck in my head like a broken record, it’s all I could hear echoing in my mind and heart, pounding louder and louder in my ears as I poured the bottle of pills into the palm of my left hand.
Leading up to this, my partner was angry, frustrated, and overwhelmed, and I felt responsible for this. After all, I kept being told to consider at how I was affecting others—that is, to consider how my state of being (due to having been crazily overmedicated) was so negatively impacting those around me. How *I* was feeling didn’t seem to be an issue, nor was I questioned about this. Whenever I tried to express how I felt, my psychiatrist would say, “That’s because you _(fill in blank)_.” He’d tell me I was lying, manipulating, etc.
So finally, figuring that I was a lying, manipulative, chronically ill person who would never fulfill his dreams nor have any kind of joy in life, and who was the cause of so much trouble and grief to others, I took the pills, and I remember saying out loud to myself, “If I screw this up, I’m in trouble.”
Sure enough, I was found, pumped, and then yelled at all over again for causing so much trouble and for being manipulative and sabotaging. My psychiatrist told my family and my partner that I had a borderline personality disorder. Whereas, I was rather meek and timid at the time, hardly able to speak above a whisper, and was overwrought with guilt. My brother said to my partner, “I think this guy is trying to cover his tracks.” He was right. Insanity. I don’t understand how it is legal to practice this kind of ‘medicine.’
Today, the meds, diagnoses, the shrinks, the system, and the mental health field are all behind me–as is this idea that I am, somehow, the sole responsible party for how others feel–and I’m living my dreams, as I’ve talked and written about often. I’m living beyond my wildest dreams now, in fact, after being told only 10 years ago that I’d ‘lost my dreams’ by my psychiatrist. Plus, I’m perfectly healthy, happy, and fulfilled, with no dependency on anything more than nature and my own spirit, manifesting my desires as I go along in life.
I take heart, gratefully, in however this path led me to my truth, purpose, grounding, and peace of mind, because one way or another, it did.
When we try to end our lives out of despair, we do not have the big picture. That’s what I was missing in my life at that time, someone who knew and could talk with me about the big picture—that there was something beyond the seemingly bottomless and hopeless misery that had become my life as a result of traditional mental health care. All the mental health industry could do is to tell me that this WAS the end of line for me, that there was no process of healing for me to look forward to. Upon leaving the hospital, it was written that I had a ‘poor’ chance of recovery.
So this is what I focus on now, the big picture—who we are beyond these human bodies of ours. I learned a lot about this as my body was dying. My spirit never went away, and continued to teach me. Still does.
Thank you for sharing this painful and beautiful part of your story. You are spot on that a life sentence in the “mental health” system means that the ‘big picture’, as you put it, is completely blocked from view. We become our “illnesses”, and that’s that. I am so glad that you found your way out, and to freedom! I am so very appreciative of your voice here at MIA.
Alex, so inspiring. Yeah, I was told the same thing, poor chance of recovery, told if I don’t take their drugs I won’t be “receptive to therapy.” Receptive to further brainwashing, I think my shrink should have said. Receptive to further hopelessness because the side effects of these medications were driving me into further illness and repeated “relapse.” Staying in “treatment” meant furthering what I learned was gaining further treatment-acquired illnesses and bad habits. These habits, for which the practitioners continue to demean us, are forever reinforced by these quacks over and over again. They encourage us to repeat childish behaviors that we never even did before we entered the System. We learned them there and the System taught us that doing them was good and rewarded us, telling us, “Keep coming back and take your meds. You need us so badly. You can’t live without us.”
It’s a myth. As soon as you realize they are lying, you are taking yourself back. But it does hurt when you realize the deceit has occurred. You feel betrayed. It’s like a bad, bad divorce. It can be a huge shock, too. Many, too, won’t be ready to see you divorce, and many won’t be supportive of your decision.
I have decided to stick with those who have had similar experiences to my own, such as the folks I have met over the past couple of days right here on this site. I’m staying away from those who doubt me. Trying to knock on those doors is fruitless, because anyone who thinks I’m lying or psychotic or doubts my word…trying to be pals with these folks is like trying to pound down a door that will never, ever open. They’ll just say, “Julie, take a pill,” and slam the doors in my face over and over. I don’t want such frustration and wasted energy and heartbreak again. Who would want that? I want to live. In fact, we mostly all do. The human will to survive, grow, and thrive is very, very strong, powerful, and on our side.
Hear, hear, Julie, so perfectly stated! Fruitless, yes, just more and more of the same, and more flagrantly. And yes, thank God when clarity occurs, that’s a huge awakening. And also like you say, then there’s the healing process from *that*! What a road to travel…
I agree, all about taking back our lives, here, and owning our truth. Letting everyone find their most appropriate support, people start to heal. Although learning to trust can be a process in and of itself.
It’s great to hear that you are moving in a more positive and support-filled direction! Great freedom 🙂
Powerful beautiful piece again. The system seems even worse than when i was working in it before I became a renegade psychologist in 1988. AS I read this I see it clearly, described by you Laura with such lucidity. This is where it leads—the disempowerment of the self, the stripping away of subjectivity,of creativity, potency, identity, of autonomy, the transformation of the self which initiates into a process, a bundle of symptoms, a cipher. The drugging into obliviousness. And the constant repetition by the System of the invalidation of the self, the reduction of the self to a victim, always acted UPON, never the actor … Yet the longing never extinguished to recover the lost self, to act again even if the only act left is the final rebellion against the divesture of your being leading to annihilation….reduced to a vegetable ministered to by caretakers, custodians who kept your body alive, your soul a ghost…Invalidated you hoped to reclaim your self in that final authentic act, having been robbed of all authenticity…This constant pain of the awareness of what had been taken from you testifying to “the profound realization of how much I actually yearned to live.” The psychiatric invalidation of all subjectivity leaving you no way to ACT but to extinquish the shell of the self. This then is the logic of psychiatry, the only way to escape from its hall of mirrors, to recover your dignity, to ACT: the literal negation of the body/self. But it led back to the same cycle. It was only a dress rehearsal while you awaited that strange moment of destiny, confronting a book of facts and figures that turned out to be an epiphany freeing you from your false self and leading to a rebirth “So what do you say about all those people out there who want to kill themselves right now, in this moment?” To me the answer seems like common sense. “Humanity is destroying itself, destroying nature. We need your help.”
Seth Farber, Ph.D.
Wow, Seth, what a beautiful comment. Thank you so much. You really nailed the entire experience of psychiatrization and subsequent awakening on the head!
These words are chilling to me: “. . . I believe that it’s this collective loss of faith and infiltration of fear that lies at the root of America’s rapidly increasing suicide rates.” This whole post is haunting me in a strange way.
I have a lot more to say about this, but it is late, and I need to sort through my thoughts first.
Wow. I can think of so many who could benefit from reading this, and I will carefully consider it. I can’t believe I missed seeing this when you first published it. I am blown away at the clarity with which you presented such a complex paradox.
I could write pages and pages in response to this incredible post. Several months ago I joined the coalition to prevent suicide for the state of Utah, and have come to a few meetings -far more as a person who has experienced suicidal thoughts than as a therapist. In fact, I have been clear about my intention to de-pathologize suicidal thinking, and thankfully there are others on board with this idea. There is such a long way to go, but progress is being made and I felt hope with the attention given to personal stories. I am not able to express it as you have, but this part of your post most clearly emphasizes the message I hope to convey when I discuss this with others:
. . . I’ve come to believe that suicide is an open-ended question to be explored with trust, and with open ears and hearts. When we as a human family choose to see the urge to die as a human response to a world — which is full of trauma, isolation, discrimination, and dehumanization, whether resulting from Psychiatry or from some other oppressive form of social power — I truly believe that life will begin to glisten more brightly with the potential for meaning, connection, purpose, and peace. Life will increasingly become more worth living, and more worth believing in. At least, this has been my experience.
Thank you for your courage in sharing your story so candidly – there is no other way to get to the bottom of these issues than passionate honesty and openness combined with genuine concern for others.
I’ve noticed that people with this “mental illness” label lose friends faster than others. I recall in 1984 being at a “treatment center” (Gould Farm) and asking around, and indeed, it was universal: as soon as a person landed in the hospital, and especially following a suicide attempt, boom! all their friends left them. We became hated. Even in 2013, those of us who have gone to bed at night not knowing if we will wake up in the morning, that is, if we face death on a daily basis, become incredible experts at recycling our friends and all our relationships. When I first tried to get help for my eating disorder (in 1981, after I’d had it for a year) I was told it was trivial and I that I was a spoiled, rich Jewish girl. Then much later it got medically scary. Either way, I remember suicide hotlines would hang up on me and tell me I didn’t qualify and wasn’t worthy of their time. When I wrote to their administration to complain of their incompetence, I got no reply. I think the one and only answer to all this is to find others who have been abused in such a fashion and to empower ourselves. To band together to support each other. So we can tell each other, “Yes, this happened to me, too.” So we can speak out. So we can write articles like this one here, and have our voices heard. It is a joy and comfort to me to find people like you, Laura, and the others that have commented here. Thank you.
I read this piece many months ago when it was introduced to me by a friend. I came to it today just to get the title of it, but decided to read it again. I barely got to the end of the seventh paragraph when I became tearful. I love my tears and feeling all my feelings so this is not a sad thing it is beautiful and joyous to be alive, I felt that.
The first time I read it, it gave me validation, connection and that I am not alone, getting off the psychiatric drugs and it helped me to raise my voice about it. I remember placing a copy in the staff room of the behavioral health clinic where I worked, but I didn’t cry, I felt courage, empowerment and strength.
I could only explain this two different frame of emotions by telling you about when I watched the Titanic movie years ago three times within the month it came out. The first time I didn’t cry, the second time I cried a lot and the third time it all made sense. Who are what I connected to at each time and the human mind to learn and grow and choose. Thank you for sharing your story Laura, truly inspiring. Namaste
Hello, I just want to say that it’s been over a year since I found this article and found MIA. When I read this article by Laura, I felt hope, because I had found a whole community that saw the truth just as I did. I thought that in some ways, Laura’s life was like mine. I read this article and thought, “Wow, I am doing the right thing by rejecting mental health care. Now, I will have a great life just like Laura’s.”
Sadly, what Laura describes as her experience is not what happens to most of us. I didn’t get an instant job at MIA. I didn’t win friends, in fact, I lost friends. I was called a criminal or danger to society over and over, these accusations being completely unfounded. My family, who had rejected me decades ago, never came back to me. I am no less isolated than before.
I finally met Laura in January, 2014, at a protest for Justina Pelletier. True to form, she had a bunch of admirers around her. I told myself, “Wow, in a little while, I will have friends just like Laura. I’ll even be turning them away! Imagine that.”
It never came true. I came home from the protest only to find that my church now considered me a danger to society. I became more angry than ever that there were more false accusations. After that, I was more fearful of being forced into unwanted “treatment” than I had been previously. Instead of that crowd of admirers that Laura promised, I was losing friends very quickly. Very few people even spoke to me, and those that did were usually unkind.
I am glad I left mental health care, because once you see the reality of their lies, you cannot go back. If you do, you will only laugh at the stupidity of it all.
I feel caught in limbo right now. MH care, for me, was living life in brainwashed delusion for over three decades. I also feel that I don’t want to believe any more false promises, nor follow any gurus.
I keep hoping my life will change for the better. I guess that hope, that realization of the slim possibility that tomorrow may be a sunnier day is what keeps me going.
Take care you guys, Julie and Puzzle
Thanks for this comment. I really appreciate you expressing how you’re feeling—I think it’s brave to do so. We’ve missed you in the group since you left the area; it’s not the same without you.
I can relate very much to feeling lonely and isolated. I’ve found that out of all the obstacles I’ve had to move through in getting out of The System, learning how to be in relationship with other human beings has been, by far, the most difficult. I think this has been true for a number of reasons, but two in particular: the shame and all the secrets I’d carried for so many years about who I “really” was (i.e. a mental patient) had led me to compartmentalize myself to such a degree that I didn’t know how to feel integrated and whole again. And secondly, being labeled and put on psychiatric drugs beginning as a fourteen-year old completely impacted the way I saw myself in relationship to others, and the more I believed in the story Psychiatry was telling me about myself, the harder it became to maintain sustainable relationships, to establish boundaries, and to be present with myself and others. So, putting my life back together post-Psychiatry has also meant letting go of all of this, and learning how to interrelate with my fellows.
I share this to say that it really is hard to find meaningful, sustainable relationships in life post-Psychiatry. I’ve had to learn through practice, and through making mistakes, about how to find the balance between using my voice and listening; how to establish boundaries; how to sort out who is nourishing and enriching for me and who isn’t; etc. It is hard work. And when one has come from near-total isolation, it makes it even harder to learn these “skills”, so to speak. (I put that word in quotes because it feels kinda funny to use, though I believe that all of these are, in fact, skills that one can learn through practice.)
While I’ve never made the promises you’ve said here that I made—that becoming an ex-patient will guarantee you friends and a “great life”, I can understand how you’ve drawn that conclusion. Through a lot of determination, commitment to myself, and energy, I’ve been lucky enough to have established some really meaningful relationships in my life today. It is something I view as sacred, this gift of friends. And being given the chance to write my story at MIA back in 2010 was HUGE for me—I literally and symbolically took my life story back from Psychiatry through the experience. It gave me a space to express myself. It led me to many of the meaningful connections I have in my life today. And it was all through luck and circumstance—I happened to connect with Bob at a time when he was looking for a “person with lived experience” to write their story for the website. Becoming a part of MIA has been instrumental to my process of knowing myself and then expressing myself to others. Not a day goes by in which I don’t feel gratitude for the opportunity Bob offered me. But all of that said, establishing the relationships I have in my life today has happened solely through commitment to myself to unlearn all those lessons I was taught by Psychiatry, and re-learn how to be in authentic, balanced, meaningful, sustainable relationships with others. It has been a lot of work, and it’s something I’m still learning about each and every day, despite what you may think.
I must say that it hurts me to read some of what you’ve shared here—that I “had a bunch of admirers around me”, that you see me as someone who “makes false promises” or is a “guru” (while you didn’t directly call me that, I’m assuming it’s what you’re insinuating.) I am acutely aware of power today as the result of spending the most formative years of my life entirely disempowered, and it is incredibly important to me that I live each day with intention, and with an awareness of how each and every one of us has power, and how the power I have as a human being in this world should be used justly and in the spirit of equality and dignity for all. So, as I said, it hurts to hear you suggest that I might somehow be using my power unjustly, though I respect the hurt you feel and like I said at the start, I think it’s brave of you to express it here.
All of this said, I want to acknowledge how difficult it is to navigate the world post-Psychiatry. What I’ve found, Julie, is that it’s not about making a “great life” for myself that is happy and sunny and joyous and care-free every day. My life is far from that, nor would I want it to look like that. What I’ve found is that, for me, it’s about building a meaningful life for myself, one in which I see each day as an opportunity to learn something new about myself, to practice being in the world so that I feel more settled in it and a part of it, to live my life to the best of my abilities with the utmost of intention, and to immerse myself in whatever I’m feeling, even if it’s painful (which it is, a lot of the time.) If I’ve somehow conveyed to you that life is about being rosy and happy and free from pain, please let me know when and where I did that, so that I can learn from that miscommunication.
I want you to know that when you told me you were leaving Boston, I was incredibly sad. I also thought it was very courageous of you, and I felt a lot of respect for you in making that decision. Having you as a part of our group was very meaningful to me, and I always appreciated your voice, your strength, and your unwillingness to stay silent. It certainly inspired me, as it continues to. I’ve followed your blog, and read the posts you’ve written about me, and they’ve hurt me—hurt me a lot, actually—but I’ve done my best to not take them personally, because I know that it is really damn hard to be in this world, and that we’re all doing our best every day given our life circumstances.
If you ever make it back to Boston, please let me know. I’d love to get together and hear about how your adventures have been going.
With love and in solidarity,
Hello Laura, Thank you, first of all, for responding, and thanks also for your honesty. I realize that I met you at the tail end of my life, as it was, in the Boston area. I was raised there and went to high school in Lexington. I lived nine years in Vermont and then came back to Massachusetts.
It only got worse and worse until I had no in-person contact with anyone, ever. Going to your group was my once-a-month chance to actually sit in a room with people. Just doing that had been denied to me by the unfounded societal prejudices I had to face. I felt like every time I went I had to get on my knees and explain PLEASE, please, can someone just love me? It would all be over so fast and I’d go home and cry, knowing I was going to be alone, neglected, and bullied for another month.
I felt no connection at all to Boston anymore. Even as EX-patient, it didn’t work for me. That meant I’d been a patient. I couldn’t erase my past and others continued to judge me on that basis. This included, and still includes, my own family. I wanted to believe somehow that something was left, but the truth was so clear to me. I was dying to leave since April 2013, desperate to find someplace to move to.
I guess some are luckier than others. That was all I wanted to say. Luck is random. The American Dream was discredited long ago. Hard work might make you tired, and if you get rich as a result, you were among the lucky. I hope to be very lucky too someday. Julie
Thank you so much for taking time to write your essay. It is extremely informative with a perspective few people have been able to articulate because they were broken by the systemic psychiatric message that some brains are flawed and a need life time meds and therapy to achieve even moderate normalcy. That you broke free from the ‘you are disordered’ directive is remarkable. I admire you for trying to help others inside the same situation.
Psychiatry does the same exact thing they did to you to children on the so called autism spectrum.They say, Joey, you are flawed. Your brain has a disorder. You will need psychological, social, and occupational therapy your whole life. You will possibly need drugs. And you will never be as functional as your peers. But if you work hard your whole life to overcome your brain flaws, you CAN come CLOSE to normalcy. And, Joey, DO NOT perceive any of this as a stigma. You ARE NOT to be stigmatized by a psychiatric diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder. It is up to you to have the RIGHT attitude about your disorder. Don’t let ‘other people’ make you feel bad about your disorder…[email protected]#$%&#$….
I am writing a book about a new theory of personality that would replace the current non-theories of personality psychiatry claims but does not use as a guideline for its research or practices. Psychiatrists do not work with a basic understanding for how each individual brain coordinates with it’s own unique nervous, sensory and motor system in its own particular body. Each brain customizes how each person will sense, assess, and make predictions about their interactions with their environment because there is no other way it is able to function. Comparing one brain to another is, in a word, nuts.
With a theoretical underpinning that is biological, there can be no such thing as a disordered brain. No matter how unusual a person’s thinking and behavior seems to an observer, each individual is always making sense of the world in a way that makes sense to him or her.
Finally, is it OK to quote you? I do a lot of writing and would love to pull from your essay. It has been an honor to read it. Thank you.
I cannot thank you enough for your article! I have been having suicidal thoughts on and off for the last 20 years. For the last 5 I have merely been waiting for my DIY termination. After reading your piece I had the sudden realisation that I am absolutely terrified of mentioning my suicide to anybody. Firstly, it would make the people close to me pretty much crack, and secondly, as you pointed out in a most articulate and interesting way, I would be punished for it.
I have just read the RW pdf and find it highly compelling evidence. Problem is, not only are my anti-depressants SSRI but so are my anti-psychotics. I am now planning to get off the ADs, but as a schizophrenic feel I might still need help from the APs. I react badly to other kinds of APs.
Despite this drawback yours are the first words of wisdom that have given me any hope whatsoever that I will not eventually kill myself, and that I may be capable of living in a way where I am not just waiting to die. You have given me, for the first time in 5 years, something which actually feels worth while DOING!
I will now talk about my feelings. If they incarcerate me for it I will not keep quiet. If they’re upset that’s fair enough, but it hurts me more than it hurts them!
Many thanks and more. I think you are border-lining on genius, not madness!