This post is a work in progress that develops some themes in the area of decision-making and agency from a survivor perspective.
Oppression and abuse have effects on a person’s sense of self and experience of agency, or lack thereof; on one’s ability to know one’s self in the world as actor, and not only acted-upon. Some (and maybe all) aspects of oppression and abuse specifically entail moral injury and violation of moral integrity. This is particularly interesting to explore because it links psychological trauma as a result of oppression and abuse with an aspect of decision-making difficulty that some of us experience as psychiatrically-labeled people, but that is not easily brought out in discussions of the right to legal capacity – a worrying over the correctness or authenticity of decisions that can result in actions or a life path that seem unintelligible to others, or cause us suffering, and that can be self-reinforcing.
It is dangerous to acknowledge this kind of difficulty because it can be used by psychiatrists and lawmakers to find new ways to take away our legal capacity to make decisions. Quite possibly it is better to leave our decision-making difficulties vague and private; if we don’t want support no one needs to know and if we want support we will work it out with those we trust. But there is something to be gained by reclaiming ownership of the truths of our own lives, and ownership over making decisions about where to take the discussion: in philosophy, psychology, law, politics, art or anywhere else.
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Over the course of my life, I have had trouble with decision-making in ways that at one time were so frightening to me that I felt I was in danger of being locked up in psychiatry, so that I took refuge with my mother who promptly had me locked up in psychiatry.
I have often struggled to articulate what was going on in those moments; the various ways I have framed it, as spiritual crisis, period of life transition, emerging consciousness of abuse that was difficult to name, are all true. I was alone in this struggle; there was no psychiatric label that ever captured my experience – which was to my benefit – nor was there any astrological, Meyers-Briggs or other kind of description that I could identify with, at least with respect to this anomalous experience.
Recently, in reading philosopher Claudia Card’s Lesbian Choices, I came across a discussion of moral corruption in the context of oppression, which triggered my thinking on this topic. I had come across the concept of moral injury, as described by a war veteran in Paula Caplan’s documentary shown at the 2014 NARPA Conference, and the right to respect for physical mental and moral integrity (in the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights, Article 5), and these concepts resonated with me. As I understand it, a violation of moral integrity involves coercion to act in violation of one’s own principles, beliefs or values or coercion that prevents the person from acting in accordance with her own principles, beliefs or values. Such violations inflict moral injuries and can disturb one’s sense of self and experience of oneself as an agent, which also distorts the experience of decision-making.
The primary moral injuries I identify in my own experience were in the context of forced psychiatry. They have to do with my cooperating with the abuse, in ways that made me experience myself as having no agency and no sense of the ground of my being, as lacking the ability to experience desire and will in a meaningful way. It reminds me of poet Barbara Ruth who wrote “Want was a country/ that wouldn’t give me a visa.” It is interesting that in writing this I see myself in an active role, “cooperating with the abuse,” while subjectively having lacked agency.
Of course I was not the agent of the injury or the abuse. The psychiatrists, nurses and other staff, the police, my mother and other family members, the legislators who created New York State’s civil commitment law (Article 9 of the Mental Hygiene Law, called the Mental Health Act), the judges who maintain that law, even society as a whole that tolerates the perpetuation of these abuses… which I am and am not part of… were responsible for the injury; some were directly responsible for having me locked up, keeping me locked up, prescribing the drug, and demonstrating that they would enforce this prescription by physical force if I did not comply. Yet the participatory nature of the compulsion and force, the fact that I took the pill and put it into my own mouth, that I did not test the threat that was made, the fear that they instilled in me and my inability to maintain a sense of self in the face of it, all made me feel ashamed, as if I were to blame for what they did to me – my participation blurred the violent character of what took place and the culpability of those who exercised power to take away my freedom and put poisons in my body.
Not testing the compulsion was both survival strategy and emotional self-protection; I refused to kill the illusion of some remnant of love (on the part of my parents) and acceptance as a human being and member of society (on the part of institutional staff and everyone else), despite all evidence to the contrary. At the same time I felt hatred for them and distance from them, and analytically understood the allocation of agency and responsibility as I do now. This simultaneous holding of dissonant perspectives is a doubling of self which entails the risk of moral corruption, as Card describes in the closeting of lesbians and gay men in the military.
Society treats the moral injury inflicted by forced psychiatry as so natural, so commonplace that it is seen as the simple truth of madness (itself naturalized as an attribute of those so labeled)* rather than as it is really is, a socially-inflicted wound. When we are locked up in psychiatry, even because we are locked up in psychiatry, we are believed to be mad, dangerous to set free; something similar happens with people who are imprisoned for a crime. The moral injury is then deliberate – as also with convicted criminals, it is a matter of social policy to make us feel ashamed of ourselves, diminished as human beings, as moral agents and as agents of any kind of meaningful self-determination. The evidence of deliberate social policy is found in the imprisonment and the supposition that we deserve to be imprisoned, with all its attendant degradations. These degradations persist no matter how much any particular institution makes itself up to look like a real hospital.
Is it any wonder then, that psychiatry is aggressively upheld as a social fix for violence, and for managing distressed people who are seen as a burden to anyone else?** Psychiatry, by virtue of its social and legal role in pronouncing verdicts of madness and acting on them, is part of the system of the hierarchical governance of a population. With the legal theory of disability non-discrimination, we now have the tools to expose this particular measure of hierarchical governance as lacking in democratic legitimacy because it is discriminatory. (See Affidavit and Rethinking Criminal Responsibility for exposition of the standards prohibiting forced psychiatry under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.) While this gives us the ability to challenge the entire system of forced psychiatry as a violation of international and domestic law, its role in the hierarchical governance of populations means that it is hard to eradicate at the level of both law and practice because of vested interests of states as well as those of the industries involved, and that its eradication may only be one step in the systemic social changes needed to end underlying and related oppressions and to end hierarchical governance itself. Implicit in the term hierarchical governance is the governance of people as a population for the primary benefit of elites. While non-elites benefit to a degree from the rule of law, their interests as individuals and as non-elite groups have little effect in shaping legal rules and their implementation, except insofar as elites deem it necessary to accommodate these interests from time to time to advance their continued governance of populations. (Cf. Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward, Regulating the Poor.***)
Moral injury is a tool of oppression as it keeps people from knowing and naming the oppressor without simultaneously feeling implicated themselves. In the lives of psychiatric abuse survivors, it may be one of the reasons why we find it hard to talk about psychiatric torture. To really describe the experience of this torture and its impact, we have to confront both the injuries it produced in us and the ways we have changed as a result. It’s difficult both to unravel the complexity and to confront aspects of ourselves that we would rather have not happened. The strange grammar of the last sentence expresses something that I want to leave intact: we are positioned as witnesses of and to our/selves as responses or behavior, whether outwardly expressed or inwardly experienced, and this positioning in relation to the moral injury itself is part of its complexity, reflecting a change in oneself as a moral agent that we might prefer never to have happened.****
That brings me to the issue of moral corruption, which Claudia Card suggested was a potential outcome of closeting. Corruption as described by Card may include what I am calling moral injury, but it also encompasses the potential of going against one’s principles beyond what is strictly required by force and coercion. (Cf. also Adrienne Rich, Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying.) If we experience ourselves as hopelessly or irremediably bad, due to forces beyond our control, we can lose our way and do other things that are against our principles, or on the other hand go out of our way to avoid doing wrong so that we might try to move through the world without leaving any mark at all (which might also result in doing wrong by omission, by failing to prevent injustice that one had the power to act against. Cf. Audre Lorde, Power.)
I have experienced both these polarities, which then requires self-confrontation, assessment, healing and reparation, as inescapably a moral agent after all. Assessment entails not only measuring oneself against principles but assessing the correctness and applicability of the principles. We can also be too hard on ourselves. Experience of oneself as bad due to forces beyond one’s control does not justify or excuse moral wrongs towards oneself or others (see Responsibility: Legal and Spiritual and Rethinking Criminal Responsibility); it is however a potentially useful explanation in a restorative justice context where we seek in a mutually reflective process to understand the root causes of harm from multiple perspectives so as to create the conditions for better relationships and prevent recurrences.
It also brings me to the question of what is happening prior to the encounter with psychiatry. In my childhood, I had experiences that required my cooperation with acts of humiliation, similarly to forced psychiatry. These experiences had already left me with a diminished sense of agency and a diminished ability to know my deep wishes, values and feelings, different from other people and without anywhere to turn for guidance or solidarity. The crisis of decision-making was overdetermined if not inevitable, and the outcome of forced psychiatry was in hindsight a predictable response to this crisis, given the history of abuse, ongoing conflict within the family, and our isolation from non-family close relationships except for psychotherapy. I could say that there may have legitimately been a no- win situation and nothing I did would have achieved what I wanted. But that too created a moral crisis, a crisis of principle as well as emotion. Resolving the crisis would have required me to face the truth about my attachment to people who abused me, and the fact of the abuse, which meant facing my own past and present failure to live up to principles I had adopted, and facing squarely the abusers’ lack of moral integrity.
I’ve been talking with a few other survivors about their experiences, and it seems that decision-making issues are more common than I imagined. Not in the ways that law and psychiatry configure us as needing help to make decisions about accepting or refusing psychiatric drugs and other interventions, or to sign contracts; those issues belong to psychiatry and law and their anxieties about treating us as equal persons before the law. And not from an externalized point of view about ourselves, such questions as: what will we do if we go mad, will we do something irrevocable or annoying that will need to be repaired? Those concerns may lead us prudently to engage in advance planning, but they are not subjectively experienced problems with decision-making; rather worries about the consequences of decisions as enforced by unsympathetic if not actively hostile authorities.
Our own worries and difficulties relate to decision-making per se – moral crises, crises about agency and self-knowledge, worrying about doing the right thing, fear of making any move, feeling stuck, believing that any move will be wrong. And these worries and difficulties always seem to be related to abuse and oppression, including moral injury.
For some of us the need for support and validation from others seems paramount in order to find our way to reconnecting with ourselves as moral agents, as self-causing beings who affirm the choices we make as being our own, and take responsibility for the unavoidable consequences. For others, the process is more clearly one of self-reflection and contemplation, although there can still be a need for connections, conversations, relations that create more space for a productive solitude. In the kinds of crises we are talking about, ultimately the resolution can only be self-validation, because the crisis is a crisis of the self. That is different from situations in which support is needed with decision-making for other reasons, like cognitive impairment or learning disability, and it is also not to deny the needs that we have for support in relation to crises that involve decision-making itself – including support for solitude, and the possibility that support for legal capacity is always in some sense a support for solitude, as well as practical and emotional support to deal with the distress and to take care of our bodies and souls while going through it: food, comfort, cleanliness, resources to get other things we need, and so on.
As a survivor friend commented, even in the new paradigm of legal capacity, it’s often talked about as if we are inevitably going to make mistakes, as if it’s ok to recognize our legal capacity as psychiatrically-labeled people because we will make mistakes and learn from them. But why is it assumed we are going to make mistakes? The formulation “dignity of risk” actually obscures a complexity that resolves into something much simpler: we often have to choose between things that contradict each other, we can’t get what we want when our wants are in conflict, sometimes there is a middle ground or win/win solution but not always, and this happens all the time, so that the failure to “have it all” is not something that makes us “mental patients”.
Acknowledging that moral injury, denial of moral agency and moral corruption can create situations of personal and interpersonal conflict that our society currently hands over to psychiatry, and that psychiatry re-creates and perpetuates these moral harms, leads us out of the “disabling” context altogether and, by making these situations intelligible, de-mystifies them and eliminates the category on which the discrimination is based. We can recognize a moral imperative to acknowledge one’s choices (Cf. Adrienne Rich: “Only she who says she does not choose, is the loser in the end”) and an imperative to heal moral injuries and redress violations of moral integrity. This is necessary for its own sake and in order to be fair in our moral judgments of self and others. For that we need social cooperation and solidarity, which can be expressed as comprehensive remedies and reparation.
Hege Orefellen outlined the elements of reparations for victims of forced psychiatry, in her speech to a side event of the World Network of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry dealing with torture and ill-treatment, at the 13th session of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
According to the Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Gross Violation of International Human Rights Law adopted by the General Assembly in resolution 60/147 (2005) redress includes five forms of reparation; restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition. All of which are of great importance for victims of ill- treatment in the mental health system.
Restitution, a form of redress designed to re-establish the victim’s situation before the violation was committed, should include restoration of liberty, freedom from forced treatment, enjoyment of family life and citizenship, return to one’s place of residence, and restoration of employment.
Compensation should be provided for any economically assessable damage, such as physical or mental harm; lost opportunities, including employment and education; material damages and loss of earnings; moral damage; and costs required for legal assistance, medical and social services.
Rehabilitation for victims of forced psychiatry should aim to restore, as far as possible, their independence, physical, mental, social and vocational ability; and their full inclusion and participation in society. Victims of forced psychiatry may be at risk of re-traumatization and have a valid fear of acts which remind them of the ill-treatment they have endured. Consequently, a high priority should be placed on the need to create a context of confidence and trust in which assistance can be provided. Needless to say, when the ill-treatment has been carried out by medical professionals, within the public health system, it will be difficult, if not impossible, for the same system to regain that trust from its victims.
Satisfaction should include effective measures aimed at the cessation of continuing violations; verification of the facts and public disclosure of the truth; an official declaration or judicial decision restoring the rights of the victim; sanctions against persons liable for the violations; investigation and criminal prosecution, public apologies, including acknowledgement of the facts and acceptance of responsibility.
The right to truth is especially important for victims of forced psychiatry, were ill-treatment for so long, and on such a large scale, has been carried out under the guise of medical treatment. We need truth about what happened to us, truth about the consequences, public recognition and apologies, as a first step in a process of social reintegration, justice and healing. Since coercive mental health practices represent patterns of violence against persons with psychosocial and other disabilities, we need reparation on a collective, as well as an individual level, and we hope the CRPD Committee will take this into account in its future work and recommendations. State parties should develop procedures for redress covering all victims of forced psychiatric interventions.
Guarantees of non-repetition should include taking measures to combat impunity, prevent future acts, as well as reviewing and reforming laws contributing to or allowing these violations.
State parties should now recognize the immediate obligation to stop ill-treatment from being carried out through forced psychiatric interventions, undertake necessary action to repeal legislation that authorizes forced psychiatric treatment and detention, and develop laws and policies that replaces coercive regimes with services that fully respect the autonomy, will and equal rights of persons with disabilities.
Decision-making by human beings involves moral choice and dilemmas as well as simple preferences. Dilemmas involving competing claims on one’s moral integrity can be crazy-making, as can conflict between moral integrity and survival or other needs. Some of us are acutely aware of the ways that our decision-making has been affected by abuse, which creates moral injury as well as physical and/or emotional injury. The moral dimension of choice and decision-making is related to the issue of responsibility, and is a significant theme that has been largely avoided in discussions of legal capacity centering on people with intellectual and cognitive disabilities but is central to the right of psychiatrically-labeled people to exercise legal capacity on an equal basis with others. (See Alternative to Functional Capacity and Responsibility: Legal and Spiritual.) If we talk more openly about decision-making difficulties that we actually experience, we may get better at creating the kinds of supports we need and also explaining to others how a legal framework for equal legal capacity plus support and accommodation can be designed to fit our circumstances.
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* The naming of someone as mad functions as a performative act. It is not merely making a description or stating an opinion, it has the effect of a pronouncement that sets certain processes into motion, which can range from social othering and ostracism to confinement and forced interventions on the person’s body and mind. What is considered to be mad seems to be virtually synonymous with that which is unintelligible to the person who affixes the label and judgment – even when a person affixes it to herself, it entails a judgment of the self from an externalized point of view. That is what I mean by saying that people are defined as mad simply because they are defined as mad. The kinds of things that we in any given society are defining as madness can be worthwhile to examine, for example to describe the kinds of deep anguish and distress that seek empathy and solidarity and transformation that can be healing to oneself and others. But madness itself, I think, is a category like gender and race that functions to establish hierarchy and enforce oppression. (I am not objecting to madness as a signifier of pride, and have to consider the name of this blog “Mad Law and Human Rights”; perhaps it has a dual or ironic function.)
** In addition, the infliction of suffering is big business from which the psychiatric profession and associated industries benefit. Ruling elites are indifferent to this suffering as the people on whom it is inflicted are thus politically powerless and are seen as socially and economically expendable.
*** Piven and Cloward also wrote about “disruptive power” and strategies that poor people’s movements can use to effect change, see this article about their work, which refers to the book Poor People’s Movements (note that this book is a free pdf). The distinction between “mobilizing” and “organizing” rings true to me from my work on the CRPD, which made significant changes in a short time with almost no funding and a relatively small number of active participants.
**** Tolstoy discusses free will and determinism in the Epilogue to War and Peace, which I also mentioned in my article on the alternative to functional capacity. It struck me as gendered and class privileged as well as mental/ableist that Tolstoy took for granted not only his legal capacity but his experience of himself as actually exercising free will at all times. A female abuse survivor said to me that she experienced herself rather as being subject to the will of others. It is likely that a majority of females of the world are abuse victims and survivors, and are further subjected to the gender-specific denial, suppression and repression of female agency through the enforcement of sex roles that position women as natural victims of male aggression, and that require women to adopt postures of deference to males, self-sacrifice, self-denial, deriving meaning from male choices and the will of a male god rather than from one’s own independent conscience and satisfaction. Both abuse and the gendered oppression of agency need to be studied further in connection with legal capacity in its intersection with disability – in particular, madness/psychosocial disability; dementia and related issues of older women; intellectual and learning disability; autism and developmental disabilities; and the status of childhood in relation to the (evolving?) legal capacities of girls.
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.
“the fact that I took the pill and put it into my own mouth, that I did not test the threat that was made, the fear that they instilled in me and my inability to maintain a sense of self in the face of it, all made me feel ashamed”
This is so true…
I still think that the only thing that saved me was my rebellious nature – even drugged up to my gills so that I could hardly remember what was going on I managed to fight back and resist. Even if that came at a risk of being stuck in the system. I still have a sense of pride about every little thing I did to resist and angry at myself about every decision to comply. But I’d never blame people who decide to go with the system out of fear. It’s not on the victims to take the responsibility for the crime, it’s on the abusers.
Thanks for that, B. I admire those who resisted. When I was locked up, my inspiration was a woman there who kept her own clothes, very hippie-looking, rather than put on the degrading “hospital gowns” that opened either in the back or the front. And she refused to take drugs. She wrote poetry in a notebook she kept, she was from Israel and I remembered her talking to her little father in Yiddish. Eventually they put her in a straitjacket and injected her. I was transferred from that place soon after so I don’t know how anything turned out for her. But a very brief connection with this woman, whose name was Shoshanna, was one of the things that helped keep me going.
“redress includes five forms of reparation; restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition. All of which are of great importance for victims of ill- treatment in the mental health system.”
I’m looking forward to the day these will be implemented, especially the last one…
yes! that is what I have been most focused on also. as a survivor I feel that I have been bearing witness with that aim ever since it happened over thirty years ago.
Thank you for this piece, Tina, as these are issues which are front and center for me at the moment.
Much food for thought and healing, here.
Thanks for your comment Kim, glad to hear it resonated.
Tina , Thank You for your comprehensive efforts in the struggle for human rights and your clear and deep thinking and your actions to gain justice for the oppressed and for the example of a person striving to use their considerable talents for the betterment of humanity.
It will take all of us to make our best full effort in this time of increased oppression where mental hospitals are harder to escape from , out patient clinics more draconian, drug cocktails more dangerous , the uses of electricity more “creative”, the attack upon the children so shocking , Murphy hanging over us like an accelerating epidemic, when even getting 6 people together for an action of civil disobedience seems so difficult, where even among ourselves we cannot believe enough to try harmless solutions we have self generated and instead seek for outside verifications and solutions from outsiders requiring double blind evidences we can not afford to produce. Of course there is much more.
As far as making decisions after being tortured for decades by the psychiatric compliance police and for now being out of their hands. My decision is anti-psychiatry and the demand for full civil rights, a government for of and by the people and a wish to see the “elite ” brought to justice . Then the people will start to have a reason to rejoice. Thank You , Fred
I think it may be relevant to look at the kinds of injuries I am describing, as well as the kind and severity of ongoing oppression, in relation to our inability to mobilize civil disobedience. Putting ourselves in a situation where we will be under the control of state authorities who might use their power to put us back in the same system of abuse and torture, is daunting. It can even be an act of self-affirmation to refuse to do that just to prove a point, to refuse to expose oneself to their violence.
Yet I think if a few people start it could be possible for more to join in, so long as there is a reason for the CD beyond the abstract idea of it. Aubrey Shomo’s acts of resistance are showing us that it’s possible to fight back using good strategy and to win. We can’t extrapolate exactly from anything to anything else, but that’s a start.
And I welcome your decision for anti-psychiatry and demand for full civil rights, government for and by the people and to see the “elites” brought to justice. We do have the power to speak out and to fight back, having a vision of what we want when we are doing that gives us a focus which is itself powerful.
A very thoughtful and insightful piece, Tina. And forced psychiatry is the absolute worse thing I ever experienced. Absolutely, it should be illegal, and those subjected to it do deserve proper amends, instead we are put on corporate steal from me lists. I think I’ve been party to about 13 class action suits so far due to corporate malfeasence, including having my place of residence and all money stolen from me while tranquilized. One of my former doctors has even been arrested for crimes, similar to what he did to me, against many patients. He was having patients medically unnecessarily shipped long distances to him, snowing patients, then performing unneeded surgeries for profit. Do you know of any lawyers who might take my case, by chance?
I wish you success in your lawsuits, my legal work is only on international human rights.
Lawsuits are one way to seek reparations, and can also help to educate judges and the public about human rights and about legal theories based on non-discrimination and full equality. If you find any good lawyers, and if they are interested in bringing in human rights standards and/or legal theories, I would love to talk with them.
Articles like these on MIA remind me of a girl a I knew of, a few years my junior, who apparently fell hard into the psychiatry trap some 40 years ago. This happened when she was only 13 and still in the parochial grade school I had already graduated from.
I had never really conversed with the girl, but I was acquainted with her brother, with whom I shared some mutual friends. All I basically remember of her is that she was strikingly pretty, and that other children often gossiped that she was “weird.”
When this girl reached 8th grade, rumors had it that she was “hearing voices” and had tried to commit suicide. She was abruptly removed from school and basically disappeared, banished into what I now know is the underworld of mental institutions.
Some children made callous jokes about the girl, while other children and adults spoke of her in hushed tones and whispers, as if what had happened to her was deeply shameful to her and her family. Sadly, she lost touch with the outside world and was eventually forgotten by most people.
I found her situation to be very upsetting and occasionally pondered her fate to this day. Now, from what I continue to learn about the horrors of psychiatry, I’m having the heartbreaking feeling that this girl’s life may have been ruined–all for naught! She may have merely been going through some transitory emotionally crisis!
Additionally, about 5 years ago, I ran into the girl’s brother on several occasions. He informed me that his sister had indeed remained institutionalized all these years (today she’s about 53 years of age). He said that her institutionalized care was very underfunded, and he and his aging parents contributed much of their own money to her.
Furthermore, it became apparent to me, and I had also heard from others, that he (her brother) had recently developed a serious problem with hard liquor. I also learned that he had suddenly developed pancreatitis. So it’s no stretch to wonder if he has now also been misdiagnosed with some “mental illness” as they are “often genetic” and been put on a neuroleptic or other drugs which are known to cause pancreatitis.
That is really sad to hear about. When I was locked up I was frightened of being put in a state institution and never getting out. There are many survivors in our movement who have survived the state institutions, and the worst kinds of abuse in isolation rooms and restraints, and I have learned that we can’t lose hope for anybody.
Do you know about the Hearing Voices Network? Their work is phenomenal both to support voice hearers and to educate the public that you don’t need to be afraid of hearing voices, there are many ways to understand this phenomenon and to work with the voices.
I hope that the woman who is still institutionalized can learn about our movement and see if it is useful to her somehow.
Yes, what happened to this girl is tragic, and there are so many more cases like hers I’m afraid. I’ve come to believe that everyone likely panicked at her hearing voices and attempting suicide. They rashly assumed she had some sort of “incurable brain disease” that required aggressive, radical, “life-saving” treatment, when just the opposite was true.
I’ve again lost contact with the girl’s brother, but I’ll try to get the information about the Hearing Voices Network to him or his parents. It seems it would be very helpful to her and others in her situation: http://www.hearing-voices.org/
I’ve concluded that biopsychiatry destroys lives in at least two ways. A person can either be forcibly kidnapped and incarcerated in it as many inpatients are; or, as in my case, as a voluntary outpatient, it can result from having toxic SSRIs, benzos, and neuroleptics foisted on you for routine emotional issues by legions of incompetent psychiatrists.
Thanks again for fighting the good fight for all of us.
About a year ago I thankfully was able to move out of government housing which was for me felt like a modified prison complex . There was a mix of families , single adults with children, single adults , couples , a few seniors mostly all with poverty in common and drugs overlaying most everything including the management.I believe I was the only one there I knew of for sure that was not drugged .
There was one child there exceptionally brilliant . Her mother was very attentive to all her 2 children had remarried to a man highly trained in martial arts and they had 2 more children. Her 6 year old little girl always asked questions using a vocabulary that seemed far beyond her years and was friendly to everyone, a happy inquisitive child . Her new dad drove a cab and the mother worked part time at McDonald’s. Their diet was compromised by poverty and one day the mother told me that her brilliant daughter was upsetting the teachers with all her questions and that they wanted her on medications, I loaned her my autographed copy of Robert Whitaker’s book Anatomy Of An Epidemic . She kept it for 2 months returned it and thanked me . Some few months later after they moved to a rented house I found out from the dad that at school one day a little boy in her class grabbed the little girl and wouldn’t let her go , she stuck him with the pencil she was holding in his arm to get away and the parents could no longer keep their daughter from being put on “meds” under threat of losing custody.
What a horrible thing to do to a girl, as well as just repressive of any child’s natural genius.
The incidents of abuse pile up and up, I suppose the useful thing to do would be to get serious about compiling them into a database and issuing periodic human rights reports. I hear some survivors may be doing this at local or national level in a few places, would love to see it happening in the US. (And for these initiatives to connect with each other, and to use the materials in UN reporting and related advocacy.)
Thanks so much, Tina. To this day, I get so little validation, and so many people doubt my word, even many in the “movement.” I cannot believe I have a master’s degree in writing that I cannot use since people only see me as a worthless nutcase. Again, this includes many in the “movement.” I feel I have some rather important and unique things to say that have not already been said, but no one’s listening nor will give me a chance. I have written eight books and two of them are published. The second was very good, as it was my creative master’s thesis. It didn’t sell cuz I had no friends nor family in 2012, and no one would even buy it. They kept saying, “It couldn’t possibly be a good book,” I asked them if they’d read it, and they said they hadn’t. So I asked them how they knew. I’ve never heard more excuse making in my life. I also realize that absolutely no one has any obligation to read nor purchase a book.
I was just offered a contract for my next book. So I am so scared to sign it for fear that the book won’t sell. I don’t think I can take another failure. I don’t think I can take another End of Year report filled with zeros, and asking myself, “Where have all my friends gone?” Also, I don’t think I can take another trip through my address book, looking at the lengthy list of people who now refuse to speak to me.
I just put rice on, breakfast for my dog, only to find out my hotplate is broken. None of the stores have hotplates for sale. I figured out another way to cook her breakfast this morning. This is an inconvenience, not a problem. To me, the big problems in life are the deep loneliness caused by psych abuse, loss of family, loss of reputation, total degradation, loss of personhood, complete loss of credibility, loss of voice, loss of confidence, repeatedly seen as a bunch of symptoms, refusal to be honored as ARTIST, loss of Freedom of Speech, trauma, and so on. These are problems. The rest I don’t give much thought to.
I resonate with the last thing you said about inconveniences vs the big problems in life. Keep trying, you will find the right audience for your work. Often that seems to be the key.
Thank you, Tina. I am sure I will read this article several times.
Two (2) things strike me as applicable to my own work and also of great importance to psychiatric/torture survivors, generally stated:
First, your statement about the difficulty of a Survivor representing his or her own experience AS a Survivor (i.e., of Torture) cannot be understated…and yet it is vital — and even imperative — that the World grow to RECOGNIZE the reality of psychiatric torture. I also appreciate the queer/feminist perspective you bring to the discussion/entreaty, although in my instance, while I was brutalized by both men and women during my abduction, I was repeatedly assaulted (and psychologically and sexually terrorized) by the same female psychiatric intern. She has never been brought to justice, despite my insistence to the contrary, and I often wonder if my complaint against her to the Maine Board of Osteopathic Licensure would have been handled differently had she been a man (in briefly imparting the reality of female-to-male mental and physical abuse, I take it as a foregone conclusion that the “true” “feminist” viewpoint recognizes psychiatric violence against either sex [or against any gender] as horrendous). As a side-note: It is hard for me to view torture as an extension of male power per se (just a statement — I am not claiming to synopsize your views on the feminist perspective here) when — even as a trafficking victim — the abuse I endure arises largely from female usurpation and hegemony (don’t get me wrong: male cops? = not so nice). Women abusing men can perhaps be viewed as a concern of “late feminism”; however, I feel that a new lexicon should emerge (i.e., other than one in which a male’s right to freedom does not receive protection simply as a derivation of women’s longstanding cultural/social needs). It specifically distresses me that men’s issue and male Survivorship does not seem to have a home, yet, at the United Nations and in other anti-torture fora, especially in light of what I — singled out as a male — also endured as a middle-class victim of Selective Service (an illegal form of the Draft) while at Amherst (unlike Israel and possibly France, U.S. women are not subjected to Selective Service, although many Americans now state that women should be able to fight on the front-lines alongside their male counterparts — that’s right: men should be forced to die but women should be able to choose); however, I suppose that the Day will come, as they say, for U.S. men’s issues and Survivorship.
Secondly, palpably absent from my own day-to-day life (and ability to work legally to PROTECT my rights) is the “guarantee of non-repetition” you cite (Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Gross Violation of International Human Rights Law adopted by the General Assembly in resolution 60/147 (2005)). As always, I appreciate your grasp on legal terminology that accurately pin-points problems I would otherwise attempt to describe in multiple paragraphs. “Lack of guarantee of non-repetition” sums up my current situation — which includes an unprosecuted kidnapping attempt led by a female “HealthReach” worker — quite nicely, and I will attempt to use that phraseology during my efforts to receive justice through the international courts.
What I appreciate most about your work/writing is two-fold: a) your powerful insistence against co-optation (SO palpably absence from anti-psychiatry…even in modern times); and, b) your grasp on who has said what at the UN (i.e., and your ability to extract indispensable legal interpretations). My frustration with regard to the manner in which the communication channels never seem to flow properly between Survivor NGOs (yours and mine), the UN, the White House, and member-nations will continue to motivate me — I am certain — to fight for change in this specific regard. The sharpest legal minds in the World appear to KNOW that torture is a problem; however, there are so few of US and so MANY governments that must be compelled to comply with human rights standards. I believe that the next step is compelling compliance with standards, which means developing a tracking and response system as well as the technological, communicative, and organizational capacity to implement “direct action” and “direct advocacy” (a term I have used in my Australia work) when and where it becomes necessary.
PS: (quoting from your article) * The naming of someone as mad functions as a performative act. It is not merely making a description or stating an opinion, it has the effect of a pronouncement that sets certain processes into motion, which can range from social othering and ostracism to confinement and forced interventions on the person’s body and mind.
— yup. Calling me “crazy” doesn’t just hurt my feelings. It’s true. And — as usual — nobody in Washington is talking about this yet. Rather, the “battle” against force continues to center on the chemical dimensions of “drugging.”
PPS: Speaking of “performative,” here are some Judith Butlers that I think are relevant to our work:
“Your Behavior Creates Your Gender.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bo7o2LYATDc. Mentions gender “performativity.” (under 4 mins. from “Big Think”). She does mention “psychiatric normalization” (in this), so her work has started to go in that (i.e., “our”) direction as well. The other “Big Think” is “How Discourse Creates Homosexuality,” which contains points applicable to U/S issues.
There is a lot to respond to here.
1. Feminism addresses the systemic oppression by men of women. What I am calling lesbian-feminism is not the same as queer/feminist theory. It is theory and practice grounded in the lives of lesbians in particular. In my thought and experience, and the way I understand some of the writers that I am familiar with also, lesbian existence is relevant for feminism as a whole because it centers the notion of female autonomy. This is captured in the slogan “A woman like a man is like a fish without a bicycle.” Patriarchy pays attention to women only as they might be serving, not serving, inconvenient to, etc., men. Female autonomy is central to achieving liberation from oppression for all women, but lesbian existence is both an affirmation (and inspiration) that such autonomy is possible, and a life that gives us relevant experiences and perspectives to develop what it means to live a life that can be centered as female. Lesbian-feminists are feminist lesbians who are conscious of this relevance.
2. Judith Butler takes an individualistic view that treats gender as equally oppressive of males and of females, and I disagree with that position. I place myself generally with gender-critical feminism and radical feminism, which defines gender as a system of oppression by males of females, an imposed construct, rather than a performance based on individual identities. The sense in which I use “performative” is social and legal, similar to the way a contract is performative – if I say, I offer to fix your bicycle for $20 and you say “it’s a deal” you are not just describing something, you create a legal relationship with your words.
3. I think the question of individual females abusing individual males needs to be addressed as intersectional oppression, with analysis of both the gender dimension and sources of institutional power in which individual women may partake. A female psychiatrist, or psychiatric nurse or case manager, is wielding institutional power over both males and females, and this can complicate the experience of female as well as male survivors, because we all expect men rather than women to be in those roles of power and we want to believe that women will do things differently. But we have to take care not to make the outrage be, “how dare she as a woman do this to me?” She is not exercising institutionalized women’s power but rather wielding it in a system that was created predominantly by men in a context that has a lot to do with men’s systemic oppression of women.
White survivors may face similar experiences when people of color are in the roles of psychiatrist and other wielders of institutional power. We have to separate our own racism and sexism from our outrage at having been abused.
4. A little clarity about my work, which you have mentioned supportively. It is not only that I play a role in conveying and keeping track of what UN actors have said; I have been a key figure myself in the development of the UN norms and their ongoing interpretation. It is important to claim this in part because, as a female as well as a grass-roots lawyer and survivor of psychiatric abuse, my contributions of that nature sometimes go unacknowledged.
All the best,
Ben, such a thing by all means is not uncommon and you are not alone. There was a very famous case that was quite close to home for me that happened I believe sometime in the 1990’s. I had a shrink who worked in the same office or nearby to another female shrink, an MD, who had an affair with one of her patients. The patient was a medical student but I might be remembering incorrectly on that. Sadly, it all ended in his suicide. The truth of the affair came out. She got nailed! I am sure I knew this female shrink, saw her in that office, maybe interacted with her, a brief nod of the head, a “hello” now and then, and maybe she picked up the phone if my own shrink was out. If I recall correctly they didn’t work together, they only had offices close to each other or adjacent. My shrink retired ages ago. I don’t know if she did prison time or got her licence pulled o r only a slap on the wrist. None of this will bring her patient back. It was a famous case. I myself had a female therapist who seduced me, or tried to over a long period. And I saw a therapist marry a client. I also saw a female client who was tormented over her past affair with her female therapist, way back around 1980. Why do these therapists do this to people? This ruins a person’s life for a good long time, since we put our trust in them and we even pay them. They have so much power, legally, medically, everything. And then, all they do is call us crazy. No one believes us even though we are telling the truth. There’s no recourse.
Yes, female as well as male therapists commit acts of abuse and violence. For women, being abused by another woman can feel even more intimate as a violation.
And an added point to what I said in response to Ben’s comment, talking about feminism as a source for my theory against psychiatric oppression does not mean that I have a reductionist view that psychiatric abuse is only done by men against women. Far from it.
“Moral injury is a tool of oppression as it keeps people from knowing and naming the oppressor without simultaneously feeling implicated themselves. ”
Oh how I recognize that one, how it traps , placing one in no mans land unable to move. How even today situations that trigger past abuse and opression activate the same mechanisms where decision making becomes insurmountable.
Reading your words filled me initially with such sadness, and only later did it awaken my never ending indignation which keeps the flames of my survivor mission eternal.
Thank you for sharing this powerful piece with us
Thank you Olga! It is a complex piece and I keep discovering more layers to it myself as I read the responses.
BTW, the biggest moral injury is the first one that happens nowadays since it has to in order for them to bill patients. Diagnosis. This instantly becomes the lens through which they see us. The stakes of that crime get higher as soon as the family starts seeing their designated sick one through that lens, and then, sadly, the small circle of friends, the school or college, or the workplace, and even worse, the entire community. This buildup can take decades. For me, since I am a writer and by OATH will not stop writing the truth (that’s why I have a degree in it) I ended up publicly known for my writing about madness. After that, I got threatened for my blogging by my shrinks and then, the witch hunt that frankly, I am still rather shocked over. I am 57 years old, I’ve seen the Middle East, I’ve been in mental wards over 50 times, I’ve nearly starved to death, I’ve been in a state institution, I’ve hitch-hiked across the country, but never ever in my life have I been through a witch-hunt like I endured in Watertown MA in 2012-2014 and the various Boston area medical corporate institutions, and I would never wish that on anyone. All this began, innocently enough, because I went to a therapist in 1981, told her I had a problem with my eating, and since no one had ever heard of eating disorders nor did anyone understand that they were incredibly serious, I was told, “If you want anyone to help you, we’ll give you our standard treatment for any of our assorted brain disorders. Otherwise, you’re a spoiled rich Jewish American Princess complaining about nothing. Go back to your rich parents.” I went to their therapy, where they hauled my parents in and told all of us we were defective because we were Jews. And took a lot of my parents money. For that, my brothers blame me and no longer speak to me, but of course, I didn’t mastermind all that nor want it to happen. I only wanted help with my eating back in 1981, which, after 30 years and all that, including the witch hunt, remained unsolved.
To demonstrate all this, I phoned up an ex-therapist two days ago. I knew her 20 years ago. Just to say hi. Her immediate assumption was that I was calling for “help.” I wasn’t. But then, after I explained to her where I was living, she assumed, “mania.” She can’t get it out of her head. She said, finally, “If you find that your thoughts are confusing or racing, go to an emergency room or call a therapist.” Does she have any clue that I have never been manic in my life? Yet, she had this lens that she never removed from her eyes. Me too, back then. I had put those glasses of bipolar on, and also rated my normal moods on a scale of one to ten. For years, everyone, my parents included, was obsessed with that one to ten scale. My parents enjoyed acting like cheerleaders, too. What a life. What a waste.
I have people in my life I cannot even speak to anymore because they don’t seem to be capable of seeing me as anything but “diagnosis.” Only to them, it’s some other diagnosis, many of the others that were given to me over the years. They refuse to see me as human. When it gets to the point everything I say is “only a symptom of mental illness” and ends up dismissed with eye-rolling or other rudeness, I give up and call it quits. I am very tired of feeling the need to qualify everything I say with, “Others feel the same way,” or, “I’m not the only one who has experienced this,” in desperate attempt to avoid yet another accusation of paranoia just for talking about human rights.
I agree about diagnosis. I think that there is a gender dimension in this as well; even for physical health problems it is common for doctors to ignore self-reported, self-described complaints of women and to channel everything we subjectively experience as a problem into a labeling that justifies them “fixing” us by changing us in some way. In other words they tell us we are the problem, and advertising and sexual harassment and invasions of privacy and put-downs of various kinds keep telling us there’s something wrong with us. Also the same things, plus direct gaslightling by abusers, tells us not to trust our own perceptions of danger and wrongness, and to appease everyone else rather than become aware of our own needs, our own power to meet our needs, and our own responsibilities from an internal rather than external standpoint.
Thanks again for sharing your reflections and experience.
I have done experiments, too, though quite by accident. I had the exact same knee injury twice, but the first time was at an extremely high weight (approximately twice what I should weigh) and the second time, when I was extremely thin. I also saw a doctor when I was at closer to “normal” weight. Each of the three doctors gave me three different diagnoses. I described the injury in exactly the same way. The first knew about my psych dx. I came in using a wheelchair and I was so heavy I barely fit into it. I couldn’t even stand up. They offered no solutions. They said that since I had no transportation to get to physical therapy, there was no hope for me, and they sent me home in a cab.
After I stopped Seroquel I lost quite a bit of weight and I saw another doctor. I didn’t tell him about my psych history. He didn’t notice I was on public insurance. He wanted to operate and called me once a month for the next few years reminding me of his offer. $$$$$. However, by then, I could walk okay.
A few years later, I was extremely underweight and the knee injury came back. I went to another orthopedist. He told me I would never walk nor run again.
I walked out of his office. I year later I was able to run again just fine, and now, I am 57 years old, I walk my dog daily, haven’t driven a car for decades, and can easily run 10k and more. Not one of those doctors was a runner. I’d like to kick them all in their Nortamericano behinds right now and give ’em a run for their money.