A Secret No Longer

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I have written my story before (“A Best Kept Secret,” 2016), and sharing it made a profound impact on my life; it allowed me to heal. It gave hope to others, set me free and was the beginning of my journey into finally getting accepted in a world that had once rejected me. As I have gone back and reread the story years later, I have come to realize how much of my story was left out, how much it has changed and how much richer it is now. So I wanted to revisit my story, but this time, I will focus more on the facts of my life and less on the description of my psychosis, the effects of medication and my job. I will begin this story in a very similar way as the last one, at the beginning.

When I was a child I was considered peculiar, I did terribly in school, felt disconnected from many of my classmates, hated my teachers and spent many days sitting in the principal’s office. As I got older I found a group of people who felt the same way I did. We spent most of our school days and afternoons “getting high” in the woods, skateboarding, listening to music and indulging in hallucinogenic substances. It was a subculture that brought me belonging, acceptance and a feeling of connectedness in what at the time I believe was a very ugly world.

As the years progressed my cannabis use turned slowly into cocaine and heroin use. And things started to unravel very quickly. I was arrested at seventeen for a possession of cocaine, where I was tried as an adult and faced jail time. I was let off with probation but I had lost my job as a result, along with my internship at the elementary school. My depression became painful, so I took solace in a recovery group and started a Suboxone program. Shortly into the recovery group I found out that the person running the group was taking an unhealthy interest in me and was in fact a child predator. This only reconfirmed my distrust and hatred of our world.

I continued to try and make a life for myself and was able to graduate high school despite losing my internship. I went to college but failed out after one semester. I started working and taking classes at a trade school but failed out of that as well. I was continuing to use hard drugs during these times. I sobered up but started to use cannabis heavily. I went back to college and then school for a fresh start. Into my first semester at this new school I had a violent psychotic break, resulting in several forced hospitalizations, prescribed medications that caused extreme side effects and a diagnosis of schizophrenia. I was told by many that I would never work again and I applied for Social Security Disability.

Everything leading up to this point left me feeling suicidal and as though I didn’t have a friend in the world. Things look a lot different when you walk out those hospital doors and into a different life. One day an outreach worker appeared at my door almost like an angel and taught me kindness and self-worth. She changed my belief that the only cure for schizophrenia was suicide. I re-enrolled in school for a third time but I almost failed out again due to the fact that I could not get an internship — a requirement for graduation — because of my previous drug charge. I felt defeated and as if the past would never leave me. This outreach worker set me up with an internship which then later employed me. She also helped me get out of my family house, which was tormenting me at the time, by putting me on a list for a Section 8 voucher. These altruistic acts changed my life forever. I still talk with this woman regularly and she has become one of my closest friends.

I graduated college and started working in the mental health field. I finally received my Section 8 voucher and got my own apartment; it truly was “A Golden Ticket.” I had stopped using drugs, was finally making a life for myself and even found myself smiling again. I started to work closely with another coworker helping others in similar situations to mine and fell “head over heels” in love with her. Our relationship developed over time and started to become the most meaningful and important thing in my life. She never left my side despite everything I had ever been through. She made me a better person, and this woman is now my wife.

I was lucky enough to be put on a Family Self Sufficiency Escrow fund through my housing authority which helped me get back on my feet and allowed my wife and me to buy our very first house. I have also been off of disability for many years and we are completely self-sufficient. My wife and I have never been happier. Now our plan is to start a family soon and enrich our lives even further.

I do feel as though I need to say that my life is still not always sunshine and daydreams. I suffer from PTSD after all of the trauma, drug use and the psychotic break. At times I still wake up at night sweating, dissociate, and have panic attacks and flashbacks. I struggle off and on with drinking as a way to cope with my past. I have, however, been able to manage my symptoms and a big reason for this is the treatment I had received through my psychiatrist/therapist who I have worked with for fifteen years. He taught me about using nature as a way to heal, exercise as a form of therapy, how to fight against heroin/cocaine urges, and the application of ACT (Acceptance and Commitment) therapy. He taught me how to set healthy and appropriate boundaries both at work and in my personal life. He was able to give me a true understanding into what addiction and psychosis really are and how they can be treated with little or no medication. I am still receiving treatment from him and it has improved my life immensely. He took a truly unorthodox approach to psychiatry and after meeting many other psychiatrists and therapists working in the field, I have come to understand just how life-altering my treatment was and is.

I am not sure if I am really able to give advice to anyone who is suffering, has suffered or has a loved one who is in the midst of suffering with a drug addiction or mental illness, but I will say that kindness, understanding and tenacity are all things that have helped me. Getting lost in hobbies, “forest bathing,” storytelling, cooking, ACT therapy, music and art are all things that have enriched my life and my wife’s. Keeping things in perspective, living a balanced life, trying new things and not being afraid to fail are all key factors to becoming more of what Abraham Maslow referred to as “self-actualized.” At times, I find myself judging others for what I believe is not living up to the same standards that I have set for myself. At times, I get frustrated working in the mental health field as I see the system failing so many people — so many lives lost to substance use and a general uncaring that I see within people who are “burned out.” I have had to search within myself to try and find goodness in people. As I stated before, my life is not all “sunshine and daydreams” but I am now able to feel a sense of peaceful fulfillment and contentment in my marriage and in my home. That is all anyone can really ask for.

Thanks for reading. Best wishes, Caleb.

mental health transformation
Photo by Caleb Chafe

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Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.

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19 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for sharing your story, Caleb. I, too, found healing from “depression caused by self,” which had to be changed to “bipolar” because I wasn’t depressed, but then turned into “schizophrenia” (actual antipsychotic induced anticholinergic toxidrome poisoning), then “adjustment disorder” (after getting off the psychiatric neurotoxins), via gardening in the woods of my yard, cooking for my family, journalling, regular moderate exercise, lots of volunteering, and art creation was successful.

    It’s truly shameful that our “mental health professionals” are fraudulently going around claiming their “invalid” DSM disorders are “lifelong, incurable, genetic” illnesses, with less than zero proof the DSM disorders are even valid disease entities at all. Especially since their drugs actually create the symptoms of their DSM disorders. Today’s “mental health” industry is really nothing but a gas light innocent people for profit industry, well, and also a multibillion dollar, primarily child abuse covering up, iatrogenic illness creating industry.

    Glad life is going well for you now, Caleb. Congratulations on your marriage and your new home. And thank you for pointing out to the “mental health professionals” that, even those stigmatized as “schizophrenic” can heal, when safely weaned off the psychosis, hallucination, and lethargy inducing neuroleptic drugs.

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  2. I’ve never the acronym you used here, “ACT”, used to mean “(Acceptance and Commitment) therapy”….
    I’ve gotten used to often seeing “ACT”, and just assuming it to be “Assertive Community Treatment”…
    The “ACT” I know is a scam and a joke. It’s actually designed to employ a lot of people, at big taxpayer expense, regardless of how “helpful” it is to people, or how poor the outcome.
    We have TOO MANY acronyms, and their use usually leads to confusion and classist elitism. They too often divide people, rather than bring them together. It’s not often here on MiA, that we see a personal story which actually says good things about a rare exception in psychiatry. Psychiatry is a pseudsoscience, a drug racket, and a means of social control. It’s 21st Century Phrenology, with potent neuro-toxins. Psychiatry has done, and continues to do, far more harm than good. Sometimes the rare exceptions prove the general rule. Thanks, Caleb.

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    • I agree that acronyms are very confusing. It might be just because I have worked in the system now for so many years it changed the way I speak. I did not like them when I started receiving treatment. I am fully on board with what you said about psychiatrists I have seen them do terrible things to people I care about. I feel that therapists, social workers and counclers can do the same. I myself was able to find a few good ones out there and I am very grateful for them because they saved my life. Thank you for your comment it was very helpful and I will remember it in my work.

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  3. Your story of overcoming your obstacles and finding happiness is very moving and inspiring, Caleb. Congratulations on your hard work and success in the world.

    I am one of the people whom the system failed miserably, and I started out committed to it professionally. However, my experience in grad school, training internship, and then in the system, playing a variety of roles from staff to client, without question pushed me in an entirely different direction, as far as life path and what I believed about the world, people, our society, and especially, myself. All of that changed drastically, and it was to my benefit to be more awake like this, and more clear about who I am and what my life is about. That’s how it happened to work for me.

    Long story of course, but when I chose to reject what was being projected onto me from not meeting a certain standard of norm, that world (the “mental health industry”), in turn, rejected me. Par for the course, I know that dynamic, and it would never interest me to challenge it, for the sake of being “accepted.” To me, there is something dysfunctional about that, and I would wonder where is the potentional for change where we most need it, at the core of this particular social paradigm?

    At the same time, I resonate fully with what you say at the end of your article, ” I am now able to feel a sense of peaceful fulfillment and contentment in my marriage and in my home.”

    Indeed, when life reflects back the love we inherently are, we feel, at least, hope. The problem is, to my mind, that often this is NOT what is reflected back to people, and that is an entirely different feeling than peace and fulfillment, and ultimately what should keep hope alive becomes chronic anxiety and despair.

    Is there authentic unconditional love in a world which rejects people for not “fitting in?” Seems contradictory to me. Sounds to me like a world based on scapegoating, and what kind of world is that? Well, all we have to do is look around, and we know what that looks like. Not at all a pretty picture, to say the least.

    What would a world without scapegoats look like, where people carry their own anxieties without shoving them off onto others with all kinds of overt and covert abuses (including social marginalization, which to me is systemic abuse) and other such extreme and oppressive personal boundary violations? Is it possible? I believe it would free up extraordinary amounts of creativity, talent, and general brilliance that tend to stay bottled up from social trauma, neurotoxins, etc. We need these resources now more than ever.

    The “mental health professional world” seems to thrive on scapegoating, by definition and practice. This is where I see irreconcilable paradox. Can the industry function at all without scapegoats?

    Your article inspired me to think about this, thank you.

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    • Alex, thank you so much for you comment. I guess when I say that I was “accepted” I was referring more towards being allowed to work, have a place to live, a wife, freedom ect. When I was using the word “rejected” I was referring more toward prison or institutionization and the certain lack of rights Herion users or people with Schizophrenia have. I will admit however I do still feel and extreme disconnect with most people. I am someone who is much more comfortable being alone. I always had and maybe always will fell as an outsider. It is however a very lonely life to live for me and I fight against it dispite the creativity it brings.

      I feel for you and would really like to hear your story further as it is very interesting to me. I agree the system and our culture is a very messed up place.

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      • Ok, I see the context in which you are saying this. These are loaded words because they are used as tools for social manipulation.

        I will say honestly at this point in my life, I no longer distinguish between being an insider or outsider. That, in and of itself, is a social hierarchy. If there is that division in place, then it is a dysfunctional system, so I reject it. In a system which functions to the benefit of all, there are no “outsiders” just as there are no “insiders.” There are individuals which make up a collective. That is my firm belief.

        And I never felt like that in the world at large, I always knew I had a place in the world. But the mental health world is what I found to be profoundly marginalizing, and they happened to marginalize me. But that is not the dominant world. I was an actor and well accepted in the theater world. And I’ve been a retail manager had no trouble there. I’ve always been grounded in my community. But I do rub the “mental health world” the wrong way, for whatever reason. In no way do I take it personally, but it has been consistent. That’s what is interesting to me.

        As far as my story goes, it’s quite long and complex, but it is on film along with a few other stories, in a film I made years ago when I was contracting with a peer-type “advocacy” agency in San Francisco as a public speaker, to talk about my healing after coming off of years of psych drugs, and also my legal action against the system due to discrimination, unlawful termination, and systemic abuse at a voc rehab agency. I was the one spearheading changes in favor of clients, and they did not like this one bit. I’ll post the film at the bottom of this comment.

        The aftermath from the film is that due to screenings to which I’d been invited, my partner and I ended up relocating to a small rural Redwoods town, and it made all the difference in both of our well-beings. I play piano, we have a band that’s played around town as community service, at assisted living centers and the like, I made a film about that, too.

        We are also “forest-bathers,” love that phrase 🙂 We have 200 acres of Redwoods behind our home. Big change from urban SF, which was becoming more and more insane by the minute. I get where you are coming from regarding nature and art and music. That is our life now.

        By defecting from the “mental health industry,” I am referering to the holistic energy healing and in depth training I did after coming off of 9 psych drugs after 20 years on one thing or others. I managed to make it through grad school, but before going further with internship, I knew I had to get off of these and back into balance. The side effects had become intolerable and I was in ER every other week until I realized this madness had to stop. I was in so much debt due to grad school, and rapidly becoming disabled due to what I would consider to be blatant malpractice, to start with, on multiple levels.

        What followed was what I call my “looking glass journey” through the so-called “mental health” system. Dark night of the soul without a doubt. My partner was no help at that time, he was triggered into his own shit. It was a surreal and extremely edgy, painful time, but we got through it.

        For me to be able to heal, however, I pretty much insisted he do his own healing, which he followed in my footsteps and we both have learned about energy and how all of this works, and it has transormed our lives and our relationship. I’m pretty much his teacher now, he knows what I learned going through all of this, from a first person perspective, and he repects it enormously. That is why the last line of your article stood out to me.

        So that’s my story in a nutshell. Here’s another layer of it, if you feel like watching this. Many have found it interesting and compelling, I hope you do, too. It’s 96 minutes, so grab some popcorn! 🙂

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AtDGxJWmj5w

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        • Alex, thanks for the link, I watched your Utube film. It is interesting and very striking in many ways as to the adversity we humans must sometimes endure while living our lives. You used the word “heart wounds” towards the end I believe and that is very fitting. Every story has meaning and is helpful to others on the path to healing. Thanks for sharing.

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          • Thank you so much, Rosalee, for watching Voices That Heal and for validating our stories as meaningful and helpful. That means the world to me and always my hope when I share this.

            I think that while we (in general) are all such unique individuals with our own personal nature and perspectives, at the core, we are all senstive, strong, and creative human beings, one way or another.

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  4. This is a touching and emotional sacred story, and I thank you for sharing. My heart sinks to think of the many people who have been lost to the tragedies of poverty, beauty bias, tribal hostility, ableism and political marginalization. We live in a society that celebrates sociopathy and stigmatizes difference, a society that lacks spiritual grounding and has lost its way.

    Although some with mental illnesses have biological brain disorders, many of us are midwives of Spirit, birthing new perspectives into the world. The wounds we have sustained from family, community and society represent shadow aspects of our culture that MUST be explored. We are powerful shamans, bearing witness to the secret fears of others, fears which imperil the body politic and must be addressed at all costs. The healing of society depends on our collective choice to make space for those who suffer.

    I’m happy to see that you’ve been able to recover to the extent that you have. I have not been nearly so lucky. I live in an inner-city area known for its ruthlessness and materialism. My appearance as a fat and ugly woman and my many disabilities have unfortunately resulted in lifelong singlehood. Bullying and marginalization have led to long-term unemployability.

    And yet I persevere. My voice is important. My story can heal. And I hope to someday live a life like yours.

    Thank you,
    Helen O’Neil
    Order of the Grey Mystic
    https://orderofthegreypriestess.yolasite.com

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  5. Thank you for sharing your story. I appreciate your honesty. It’s good to know that you’ve found healing and well-being in your life. You also have a very extraordinary psychiatrist. We all struggle in one way or another with life but we keep on keeping on, putting one foot in front of the other as we walk on down the road.

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  6. Thanks for sharing your story Caleb.
    It is more proof of the strength of the human spirit to overcome. It is wonderful you found an exceptional psychiatrist because what I have learned is the good ones are few and very far between. I had consulted with a psychiatrist approx. twenty years ago. He understood and validated the where and why of my stressors that had all occurred at the same time (excessively long work days, incl weekends, then a workplace accident and the sudden death of my younger brother while he was getting psychiatric treatment from a different psychiatrist for depression because his marriage ended) Although the psychiatrist I saw gave me prescriptions for AD’s he did not make me feel compelled to take them. When I quit them soon due to side effects he was totally fine with that and still willing to support me to overcome the adversities. I have nothing but praise and kind words for him. But when I was sent to see another psychiatrist for insomnia during cancer treatment it was a totally different experience. She was all about attacking, victim-blaming, shaming, character assassination, non-compliance, rapid-speech, etc, and every positive thing being turned into a negative (and she did so by twisting all my words). If she was the only psychiatrist I had ever seen I would find it very hard to believe there are actually any good ones.

    I am happy you have found a level of peace and healing and I wish you all the best.

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  7. Thank you for being so forthcoming. I enjoyed reading both your articles. I’m new; it seems common for people to respond with their own stories. As someone falsely accused of being delusional and hallucinatory, I am so thankful to read an engaging and compelling voice, yours, sharing your experience as one who has experienced psychosis, and best of all, recovered, survived and thrived (not without challenges, as you include). As you know, there is such a stigma preventing talk about one’s mental health. For one thing, because it can be dangerous to do so, so thank you again. Gina Fournier

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  8. Hi Caleb,
    I just started exploring the possibility that my ‘mental illness” is not some incurable physical ailment but indeed a spiritual malady that can be healed naturally without drugs. And I came across your story — thank you SO much for sharing, as you have helped add muster to my research! Now… does your psychiatrist have a book he/she recommends (on ACT or otherwise) and subscribe to certain healing principles you could share, to get me started? I’d give anything to find a p-doc like the one you have described. Thank you so much again for the hope you have engendered by your courageous story!!
    Tay

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