I’ve been working for a warm line for nearly 3 months, since it began. We have a group of about a dozen (or more) regular callers who call several times a week, daily, or even several times a day. These regular callers sometimes call because they have something specific to talk about, or sometimes just to check in and update us on their day. Some of them are relatively isolated, or even home-bound; for some of them, we are a lifeline.
Since we are a new line, we don’t always get flooded with calls, in fact there are days when we get very few calls and hours when we get none at all (on rare occasion). We come to know our callers, being one of the few warms lines that allows people to call back numerous times per day and talk for more than 20 minutes per call. On slow days we’ve allowed individuals to talk for an hour or more.
Though few, if any, of our regular callers know each other, we know them all and begin to feel like we have some kind of “community” of callers, or a “cast of characters” at the very least. Our callers are our lifeline too and when we don’t get any callers us warm line counselors can start to feel down, or even depressed and useless. Being of use is such a huge human need that it is no wonder people who don’t feel a sense of usefulness or purpose tend to feel despairing or even suicidal. There’s nothing sadder than feeling like our presence in the world doesn’t matter to anyone.
To be honest, I’ve felt a hair of that lately. After starting a new full-time job in a new location and moving (AGAIN) for the dozenth time in the past year or so, I’ve felt estranged from family, friends, locale, routines, and even myself, which seems to be constructed of all these things. I realized I’m 33 and don’t have a community I feel rooted in anywhere (though I have in the past and have “old communities” I can go back to, but they are ever evolving and changing themselves, and so am I, so I can feel as if there is no place for me anywhere). Except for where I am.
So, little do they know, these warm line callers who call in day after day, sometimes just to tell us what they ate for breakfast or where they bought their Halloween costume, are my lifeline too. Some callers also feel desperately suicidal, and our calls make a larger difference in their life. After getting call after call for months, some the more serious, some the more chatty, and everything in between, we come to know our callers, at least a little. We wonder about them when they don’t call for a few days. I find myself wondering about one caller whom we haven’t heard from in over a week as she was in a pretty severe situation and completely isolated. Nothing I said to her ever helped, but knowing I was one of a few people that ever listened to her was enough.
Listening to people is such a big thing; something I’m coming to appreciate on a new level. It’s not something I’ve always been naturally good at, and there are some people I still have a hard time listening to. But all this writing I do is my way of practicing listening to myself, listening to whatever voices want to come through me, and from there having some capacity to listen to others. If I’m not listening to someone, being heard, or listening to myself, I get bored, empty, anxious, depressed, and even worse from there if it gets to that point.
I think listening may actually be the key to living.
It’s harder and harder to do nowadays. Who really has the time for it? A question that arises out of all this is whether psychiatric diagnosis came out of the loss of the art of listening. If we are diagnosing, we aren’t listening. Is psychiatry, as it has developed, a way to bypass listening and instead give a pill? When I was 16 and my therapist started to suggest Prozac week after week, was she failing at listening to me? Did it deeply upset me because I realized I was no longer being listened to? And what can professional listeners do to restore themselves so this “outsourcing” is not so automatic?
Listening all day is romantic, but it’s also stressful. I’ve had many days where I’ve come home to ask, “Who will listen to me?” (Thank you to my one friend who has). Sometimes, like tonight, my pen and paper are my answer. We need artistic and expressive outlets. If I didn’t have them, I’d be so stressed I’d want to call everyone I talk to crazy, tell them to take some pills to fix their problems and charge them $300 per hour for the diagnosis and recommendation. (Sound familiar?)
Psychiatry has grown rampant not only out of greed, but out of imbalance s in our lifestyles, the loss of the arts of listening, both to ourselves and others, which are two sides of the same coin (not two sides of the same pill).
A pill or drug does the opposite of what listening does. It instead silences the voices that want to speak, or mutes them somehow. As someone who felt most at home writing, I couldn’t fathom taking drugs on a daily basis that would alter my perceptions of myself and the world and change my feeling states. My thoughts, perceptions and feelings were my ground. How would I have any ground at all if they were consistently altered? This grounding has saved me from believing in certain fables and psychiatric mythology consistently throughout my life. I feel lucky. Despite being often lonely, stressed, overwhelmed, and sometimes despairing and lost, I am married to my perceptions. I’m loyal to them and that is what being an artist and a listener means to me. I love them no matter how screwed up they are, no matter how traumatized, frozen, hypocritical, selfish, cruel, vengeful, you name it – I’m sticking with being me. I’m going to listen to myself until the end, for as long as I can.
I’m never bored or tired with what I have to say when I’m writing, which is my listening practice. It’s true I’ve never been even close to married to another person, but I won’t cheat on myself with a doctor who has lost the capacity to listen. And it’s the best thing I can imagine being able to say for myself. It’s my self-definition of success, another thing we all need, to escape and stay free of psychiatry.
In light of recent research on psychiatry increasing suicide risk, I would conclude psychiatric “care” increases suicides because it decreases listening, or the kind of listening that can give one a sense of meaning and a reason to live. Being lied to and told you have an incurable brain disease and will need to ingest toxic, brain disabling and health compromising drugs every day for the rest of your life, would lead the average intelligent person to feel paranoid, suspicious and unhappy—as if someone is messing with their head.
If the structures we have set up to comfort and relieve people in their darkest hour are drug pushers disguised as experts on neurobiology, but can’t even explain or justify their own theories when questioned further, what are we left with? And more importantly, how could these structures not lead a clear thinking, clear seeing, breathing, feeling, sensing and intuiting human being to paranoia and upset as their breath rises and falls?
Psychiatry is like the parent who says, “I’ll give you something to cry about,” and abuses a child who is already feeling powerless. Hitting a child while she’s crying will either make her cry worse, or silence her. In either case, the parent has “given the child something to cry about” when perhaps the initial apparent reason for tears was a fallen cracker.
Similarly, whatever one is upset about when seeking psychiatric “care” (the loss of a loved one, loneliness, abuse, injustice, or a bad mood or hard set of days feeling ‘off’), psychiatry will clearly give that person something to more justifiably cry about: that in the darkest hour of human loss and misery, our fellow humans are motivated by one thing: profit, in an industry that is already overstuffing the pockets of wealthy CEOs to the point of having a larger share of the economic pie than any industry or person deserves.
This reality, that some men are getting filthy rich off of lying to people about the cause of their suffering, and paying groups of people in all sections of life (government, politics, law, medicine, education, activism, housing, beauty, entertainment, news, insurance, etc.) to call these lies science, is something worse than anything I can think of anyone bringing to a psychiatrist.
These interventions can be likened to being sold on any other theory to sell any other product, but with Pharma money corrupting public opinion in so many facets of life by paying for a place in science, we must also ask ourselves whether we believe science is something that can be bought with money. Are the basic things you believe about yourself and what you call reality, actually being bid on by men in suits?
We love the safety of “seek medical advice” and “ask your doctor,” but would we be so confident if we brought to mind the fact that this so-called medical advice won its title as science by being bought? First being hit with this truth, a psychiatric patient is bound to become more paranoid, “delusional” and “schizophrenic,” as anyone would, after hearing such stark news about a system they expected they could trust. The good news is many people go on to recover from psychiatrically-induced delusions. Many people move from, “Psychiatry gave me something to cry about” to “Psychiatry gave me something to yell about,” and then on to, “Fighting this propaganda connected me to other human beings who also sought authentic human love and gave us a shared purpose in the mystery of life.”
By considering or falling prey to psychiatric bubble theories that pop as soon as you look at them rising, we are afforded the opportunity to examine our human condition and that of our fellows, and perhaps appreciate that we were initially upset by something. I’ve come to find meaning in all states: panic, anxiety, despair, and even “delusional thinking,” for in having these human experiences without imposing any bid-upon pseudo-science onto my reality, I am expressing my fight. I am expressing social resistance. And instead of being alone with this expression, lost in taglines of “I am mentally ill/mentally challenged/have a chemical imbalance or a brain disease,” I am rooted in the community and collective healing that comes with an alternative perspective that no one paid anyone to lobby: we have a society in need of repair.
We have silenced voices that need to speak. An epidemic of pill-pushing over the past 40 years has not repaired us, brought us closer together or happier and it certainly hasn’t cured us of any mass delusions. In fact it’s given us all new delusions to contend with, ones that are easy to spot if our minds and hearts are set on progress.
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.