Against the Odds: ‘Unimproved Schizophrenic’ to Yale PhD

Annita Sawyer, PhD
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I’m a clinical psychologist in my seventies. I’ve worked as a therapist with children, adults, and families for close to forty years. I earned a BA from Yale in 1971, its first graduating class with women, and a PhD ten years after that. As a member of the clinical faculty at Yale Medical School, I supervised Yale predoctoral psychology fellows for fifteen years. In 2008, I won a Distinguished Faculty Award for my supervision. You might not guess that as an adolescent I spent most of the time from my seventeenth to my twenty-third birthday in psychiatric hospitals, diagnosed with schizophrenia and treated with shock treatment. Or, that after three years, doctors at the first hospital gave up and transferred me to another hospital, “unimproved.”

You would likely sympathize with my keeping this part of my history secret—we all know about stigma. I was proud of what I accomplished after I connected with a gifted psychiatrist and finally left the hospital. I was grateful to become a psychologist myself, so I could pass on the healing psychotherapy that saved my life. I knew I owed much of my clinical skill to my early experience, but because of stigma I didn’t speak about that. My psychiatric history remained hidden.

After practicing full time for twenty years, feeling satisfied personally and professionally, I sent for my hospital records. Shock treatment had erased almost all memory of my life before twenty, and I wanted to see what I could find out. I was stunned: all of the symptoms from my youth returned full force. I vowed that, if I recovered, I would share what I learned. Here is my story.

* * *

In May 1960, I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital for the first time. My mother had read in my diary that I was going to drown myself during a Memorial Day weekend at the beach with my high school friends. I had just turned seventeen.

I had been active in my high school. I had had leading roles in school plays, was an editor of the literary journal, worked on the yearbook, was active in the Honor Society, etc. Yet for several months prior to the admission I had been shrinking: my handwriting got smaller and smaller; gradually the differentiation between lower case and capital letters disappeared. My voice volume diminished until I was almost inaudible. I stopped speaking in the first person—I couldnt say the word “I.”

In the hospital I admitted I wanted to die, but I was unable to articulate my reasons for this beyond saying that I was crummy and bad. My thinking and ability to express myself had shrunk along with my voice and my handwriting. All I wanted was to disappear. The hospitals psychological testing report referred to my slipping into a quicksand-like illness… deeply depressed with suicidal preoccupations and fantasies.

Along with suicidal ideation, my symptoms included insomnia, depersonalization, and de-realization—I understand now that I was very dissociated. I was described as shy, fearful, obsequious, dependent and infantile emotionally, while my inability to express myself was identified as stubborn resistance and withholding. My inaccessibility annoyed and frustrated the psychiatrist treating me. Less than two weeks after being admitted, I was started on a course of twenty-five ECTs. I began to experience hallucinations. My nightmares increased. During the day I remained passive and withdrawn.

In the 1950s and 60s schizophrenia was a very frequently applied diagnosis. It was used for out of control, rebellious, dope smoking teenagers whose parents didnt know what to do with them, and it was used for withdrawn, socially isolated youngsters who were depressed and suicidal. Some—like myself, although I didnt know it consciously at the time—were fleeing abusive situations in their homes. Treatment for schizophrenia included medication, often electroshock treatment, and sometimes psychotherapy. Overmedicated teenagers were one consequence. For many of us, it was also shock treatment, which affected our brains and destroyed short-term memory. And, for me, the shock treatment itself was traumatic. I understood that ECT induced a seizure by sending electrical impulses into the brain. I figured that all it took was a slight miscalculation to end up electrocuted. As a consequence, I approached every treatment terrified; I was sure that I was about to be killed.

After several dismal months, I was assigned to a new, young psychiatrist who was lively and liked me. Slowly I began to get better. I had been admitted in May, and I returned to school to complete my junior year the following April, commuting from the hospital. I returned to live at home on an extended visit—a six month pass—in June, just over a year after my admission. That fall, I was elected President of my high school National Honor Society; I had a leading role in the school play; I was an illustrator for the yearbook; I took Honors classes. Then, less than two months into my senior year, I began to have seizures and dissociative episodes in school. I began to slip.

After about seven months at home, in January 1962, I was readmitted to the hospital intensely suicidal. My condition had deteriorated significantly. All my apparent gains from the prior year had been lost. I was given more shock treatments and deteriorated further. I began to act out in increasingly blatant, self-destructive ways.

Eventually, after three more courses of ECT—adding up to an overall total of eighty-nine shock treatments before I was twenty—I continued to lose ground. The hospital decided that they could do nothing more for me. I was identified as “unimproved.” Luckily for me, my mothers best friend from grade school was now married to the Lt Governor of the State of New York, so I was transferred to the New York State Psychiatric Institute (PI, for short), a state hospital and Columbias teaching hospital. The Director of PI made clear in a letter that he was accepting me because he was required to do so, and not to hold him or PI accountable if I failed to improve—which he anticipated, given my dangerously suicidal condition and my extremely poor prognosis. By this time, I had lost almost all memory of my life prior to hospitalization. When I arrived at PI, I was twenty years old, and I could not answer the question of how many weeks were in a year.

At PI I was not given shock treatment, which was a relief. But I was assigned to a psychiatry resident with whom I couldnt connect. We didnt respect one another. I continued to act out—alternating between passive withdrawal and episodes of smashing my head against the wall. I swallowed glass, burned myself with cigarettes, scratched my face, bit my hands and pressed them against radiators to burn them. I held my breath until I passed out. I had nightmares and screamed in my sleep. I had lost pretty much all memory of my early years; what remained was only a global sense of fear. I was seriously dissociated, dominated by feeling completely unreal myself and experiencing the world around me as unreal as well. I thought I was evil: I hated myself and assumed everyone else did, too. Im sure at times the staff experienced me as impossible—I was often beyond reach.

Therapy offered no help: I had nothing to say, and neither did he. The length and frequency of my sessions were soon reduced. At the same time, I was given significant medication. I’d been overwhelmingly anxious when I was admitted, and at times I was profoundly depressed. The first hospital had prescribed an early antidepressant, but discontinued everything during the last several months before my transfer. At PI I was given high doses of Thorazine—400 mg of Thorazine three times a day for years, if I remember correctly. I received extra doses prn when my anxiety was out of control.

After I had been at PI for about six months, I made a significant suicide attempt while I was home on a weekend pass. After that, I didnt go home—even to visit—for close to a year.

In July 1964, after almost a year at PI, I was assigned to a new psychiatry resident. Stanley Heller was someone I liked and respected. I thought he was handsome and smart, and he talked to me. I felt that he took me seriously; he didnt talk down to me or lecture me. His sense of humor matched mine. When I made stupid puns, he laughed. When I told him that evil garbage stank and should be eliminated, he told me he knew someone who looked for treasures in garbage. One persons stink is another’s perfume,” Dr. Heller noted, astonishing me. Humiliation and shame could be interrupted, if only briefly, by my admiration for his cleverness.

I continued to act out in self-destructive ways, but his response to me was direct and real. What a pain in the neck!he said once, after I had battered my head yet again. I had to laugh at myself. In the spark of a good joke, we were peers; we connected.

I had been unlucky in that I was misdiagnosed, and the treatment traumatized me, but I was lucky in that in the 1960s along with medication and shock treatment, in the teaching hospitals there was an enormous investment in psychotherapy as treatment, so eventually I was able to connect with Dr. Stanley Heller and begin to find myself.

A colleague asked me if I could explain how as a patient I differentiated the psychiatric residents I respected from those I did not. I think I can safely speak for most of us at the time when I say that I could sense which residents were afraid of patients and which were comfortable with themselves and with patients as fellow humans. The finest therapists understood their work to be a collaboration with each patient; they werent afraid to journey together through an unknown and possibly dangerous land. Subjectively, when I felt understood and respected, that is, taken seriously—which was infrequent—I was grateful. In return I gave that person—doctor or nurse—enormous respect. They also got my loyalty. I gave them room to be imperfect in subsequent interactions, as long as they were honest and real. Feeling understood is the essence of connection, and it is this connection that carries healing.

An example of this ability to connect comes from a set of interviews I had with Harold Searles in late 1964. Harold Searles was an internationally recognized psychiatrist, considered a master clinician, who pioneered countertransference in treating psychotic and borderline patients. At the time he was the clinical supervisor for my psychiatrist, Dr. Heller. In the first interview Searles made references to my shrinking, self-effacing demeanor and behavior on the ward and told me I acted like I wanted to be a saint. I dont remember that interview beyond my thinking he was an uncomprehending jerk. But there was a second interview, and that one Ive always remembered and credited—even at the time—with changing my life.

In this second interview, Harold Searles referred to my interest in being perfect—the saint thing—and then he remarked that I appeared to him like a frightened young fawn. My frozen innocence and fear made him feel like a dirty old man, he told me, and this made him feel so bad that he wanted to kill himself. One remarkable feature of this exchange, as I would later understand, is that unconsciously I had communicated, and he had received, the essence of the truth that was unknown to me at the time: my paralyzing fear was indeed connected with a dirty old man, and was driving my own obsession with suicide.

A transcript of this interaction might appear bizarre or quite inappropriate. However, for me, although I couldnt explain it with words, Dr. Searles made contact. I felt connected and understood. The life-changing aspect was the idea that I could affect the feelings of someone else, especially a respected authority. I had caused him to feel something. For someone who felt as if she floated alone in the universe, unreal and completely without influence, this was a new concept.

I think my awareness that I had an effect on other people began my healing. I experienced myself differently. I observed myself interacting. I developed an interest in what I was doing and why. It was the beginning of insight. Working with Dr. Heller, who had laid the groundwork and whom I trusted as my guide, I was on my way.

Toward the end of that second year at PI, when the July rotations were approaching, I realized that I might possibly remain Dr. Hellers patient if I got my behavior under control. I managed to succeed well enough, and I remained his patient through the rest of his residency. A year later, I knew I had to be well enough to be discharged in order to continue to work with him after he left PI and opened his private practice. I moved out of PI the day before my twenty-third birthday, about six weeks before July 1. Dr. Heller and I continued to work together for the next five years.

As a patient in a state mental hospital in New York in the 1960s, I was eligible for state services, and through the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation I was sent for psych testing. Although still diagnosed as schizophrenic, I was considered bright enough for college, so they financed my schooling. The next year I began college at the School of General Studies, Columbia’s adult education program.

At General Studies I met the man who was to become my husband. We fell in love after a courtship developed from our intellectual kinship: we reveled in discussions about our sociology class and the concepts and theories we were learning there. Two years later I married him and moved to New Haven, where he was going to attend graduate school at Yale in Sociology. Yale College was accepting transfer students for the upper classes as part of its first year as a coeducational college. Of course, I was rejected as a transfer student. However, as a Yale spouse, I was allowed to attend classes as a special student. I spent most of my junior year walking around with a giant chip on my shoulder. I should have been grateful, and in many ways I was, but all I saw were beautiful women whose applications had not been rejected, and I was envious.

Yale’s transition to coeducation was difficult, and many women left. A year later, Yale reopened admissions for transfer students. I applied again, and this time I was accepted. In 1971, I graduated with the first class of Yale women, Summa Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa, with Highest Honors in Sociology. This, in turn, opened further doors for me, by encouraging people to give me a chance, when other aspects of my history might have made them wary of investing in me.

I was determined to become a psychologist myself, and my journey to achieve that goal also involved serendipity, good fortune in having those who believed in me, and sheer grit and determination on my part—stubbornness, actually. I applied and was initially rejected for a graduate psychology program and then for a clinical psychology internship. Essentially, I proved absolutely determined. I refused to stop trying until directors in various programs said, Okay, if she wants this so much, why not let her do it?Then I did it.

For the first two years after I was married and living in New Haven, I commuted to New York City to see Dr. Heller. Then I knew it was time for me to learn more about how to be a woman, and, with his blessing, I transferred to a female psychiatrist in New Haven. She and I worked together for the next ten years, while I attended graduate school, did my internship, had my babies, and carried out my dissertation. In 1981, after twenty-one years of therapy—seventeen years of good therapy—I stopped. Three months prior to my last appointment I had a transformative experience while on the way to my session: I suddenly found myself intensely, vividly, alive and present. The depersonalization had vanished; I felt real. It was as if the world suddenly took on color when before that Id known only shades of gray. When I terminated three months later, for the first time in my life I felt I was truly on my own. At the same time, I knew my therapist was still there for me if I needed her.

That fall, I finished my dissertation, and was hired by a child psychiatrist expanding his clinic. I joined him and his partner, the psychologist Daniel Miller, who became my supervisor and mentor. I’ve worked full time ever since, first with that practice and since 1990 in my own. Ive spent those years learning from my patients, always trying to understand what it is that leads to people getting well.

In 2001—forty years after I had first been admitted to the hospital—I seemed to be successful personally and professionally. I had proven to myself that I had made it. But I continued to live with what felt like the shameful secret of my hospital experience and the reality that I still had no memories of my childhood—most of my first twenty years. I avoided talking about my youth, generalizing and confabulating when necessary from facts I had been told or read about myself. Only a few people knew about my history in psychiatric hospitals or my extensive psychotherapy after that. My children were grown and on their own. I decided it was time to find out about my lost life—I was ready to confront my past. So, I sent for my hospital records, and I read them.

As an experienced clinician, I recognized immediately what the doctors hadnt been able to see in 1960: my problem wasnt ‘schizophrenia’ but PTSD, connected with incest. Once I encountered the clinical reality of my early situation, I started to remember what I had assumed had been lost forever. My memory had not been destroyed by the shock treatment after all, but had been repressed or dissociated even before I was hospitalized.

Confronting the truth of my circumstances via the records profoundly re-traumatized me. I had trouble sleeping and eating, I developed flashbacks and nightmares, was beset with intrusive images, and became very anxious, subject to emotional flash floods of grief and despair. I lost interest in the world around me: I was focused only on finding out who I was and what had happened to me.

When my therapist recommended medication I reacted with rage and deep shame—of course! It reminded me of being in hospitals. After a nightmare in which I saw myself as a toddler with a noose around my neck, I was frightened enough to agree to consult with my earlier psychiatrist, who prescribed generic Celexa and Xanax prn. My gratitude for the relief I experienced was humbling. Five months later, I was able to discontinue the antidepressant. I used Xanax to help manage my anxiety for several more years, but I revealed this to no one.

My various perspectives all came together when I read my hospital records and discovered the trauma in myself in the present. I had known myself as a mature, seasoned therapist who listened to her patients with an informed, compassionate understanding of the whole organic process, accepting the painful ups and downs in the short term by holding onto the big picture. Now I also knew the immediate, pristine, existential perspective of the same woman who couldnt believe what was happening to her in her own present life.

Today we know about body memory and could have predicted my dramatic reaction, but at the time I had no idea I could be so unsettled. I had thought that I was well analyzed and prepared to deal with anything life might bring me. In fact, I was pretty naive.

Throughout this time I continued to work full time in my psychology practice. I had my own individual therapy, and the psychologist part of me was observing and aware of what was happening to me. But the need to pull myself together in order to be present and true to my professional commitment in my office was an important part of how I survived as well as I did. Each day, no matter how dismayed I felt, I had to summon my adult strength so that I could be present for the people who needed me. I listened to patients plead with me using the same words I’d used with my therapist. At times their courage enabled me to keep going: if they were brave enough to confront their terrors, how could I not face mine?

I continued working with my skilled and experienced therapist, and gradually, over time, I emerged from the other side. My symptoms receded, and I regained an interest in the world outside myself. Some of the emotional intensity of my experience, even though it was relatively recent, disappeared, and, as with childbirth or a terrible nightmare, only the intellectual awareness that I had experienced some feelings beyond ordinary comprehension remained.

I had promised myself that if I survived, I would write about what I learned. To do this on my own terms, I had to became a credible writer. I attended my first writers conference in 2003, a gift to myself for my 60th birthday. National writers conferences, an excellent local writers group, and generous artists in impressive residencies followed, serving as my literary education.

Almost twenty years have passed since the records arrived. I continue to grow, and my world continues to expand in ways I never imagined. My writing has appeared in both professional and literary journals and in three anthologies. Essays have won prizes and been included among Notables in the Best American Essays. Seeking to diminish the stigma of mental illness, I speak to clinical audiences around the country, using myself as a case study. My talks, essays, and stories illuminate lifetime consequences of childhood trauma, harmful effects of fads in psychiatric diagnosis and treatment, the enduring impact of stigma and shame, and the power of human connection to heal. My first book, Smoking Cigarettes, Eating Glass: A Psychologist’s Memoir, won the 2013 Santa Fe Writers Project Literary Awards Nonfiction Grand Prize, selected by Lee Gutkind. It was published by SFWP in 2015.

I have found my voice.

54 COMMENTS

  1. That Yale University has programs in Psychiatry and Clinical Psychology is not part of the solution, it is a central component of the problem. We must resist this, until we are able to put an end to it.

    And the same goes for their Autism-Asperger’s testing lab, founded by a major supporter of the Eugenics Movement.

  2. Annita, the spelling of your name unusual but very interesting personal story. You were in the “Splendor in the Grass” or “Sybil” white female in crisis who lucked out as so many many do not.
    Your economic class ensured a sense of buoyancy but the pain of abuse and the treatment cannot be dismissed nor should anyone’s trauma.
    I knew what your story was as soon as a started reading. Past professional knowledge base.
    Your reading of medical records without support why?

    When I went to ask the medical records department of a certain local hospital the female clerk said quote unquote you are not going to like what is in there.
    Talk about malpractice in all its forms!
    That was the worst part of trying to piece together a seemingly unsolvable puzzle. The gall of that woman!!!!!!!!!

    So as Mary Oliver has written what are you going to do with your one wild truthful life now?

    How are you going to help? What you and others experienced so many have not. Not happy ending.What do you see for yourself? How did you treat your patients? Did social justice ever become a concern or cause?
    Did you stay in that bubble and practice there?
    It would be helpful to know. I am glad you survived. Your voice is needed!

  3. Annita, thank you so much for sharing your amazing and profound journey. All that you’ve accomplished and learned are a testament to your strength and resilience. You were clearly meant to survive all of the awful experiences so that you could be a light for others. Thank you so much!

  4. Annita, your recovery and achievements are extraordinary and much-deserved. For anyone who reads your story, the takeaway will be a new or renewed trust in the healing power of patience, respect, and purpose. Any of your readers can heal exactly as you have. They understand that we can counsel, educate, and employ *any* Mad person. Whether or not they’re in “treatment”, they’ll attempt to save their lives, in the same way that yours was saved – with loyal, reciprocal, and comprehensive support. You didn’t “need” a “better” Dx, in order to build your life. Neither does anyone else. And, I hope you’re cognizant of those facts, while you’re caring for your clients. Despite your apparent faith in the #FAKESCIENCE “schizophrenia” label, it remains a useless, biased, and hateful slur, and as potent an agent of atrocity as it was in decades past. For your client’s sake, if not for your own, please don’t ever forget that.

  5. I’m sorry to hear of your abuse before and in psychiatric care.

    I am wary of stories of traumatized people who end up working in mental health care. Many are less profound as yours, but i often get the feeling that there is never escaping its damage to you. Folks stay in therapy for decades. They become therapists themselves and have supervisors and clients. Is it not a little messed up to find your career and academic passion as the same kind of people that terrorized you with electric shock and have similar kinds of power over others?

  6. I’m glad you have found your voice, Annita, and thank you for sharing your story. I’m still working on “finding my voice,” do you have a writers conference you recommend? My talents lie more in the math, science, and art realm, than the writing realm. Although, I’m also a researcher into the spiritual realm as well. And I’ve been given a rather fascinating, and I now know societally important, story. I have a father and a son who are both Phi Beta Kappa. My son achieved that, also despite being abused when he was 3/4 years of age.

    But he survived and thrived also because I was able to get him away from the child molesters fairly quickly. And keep him away from the psychiatrists who wanted to drug him, once they learned the medical evidence of the abuse was handed over. Plus I was able to keep him away from the school social workers who wanted to get their hands on him, after he had largely healed, and surprised them by going from remedial reading, after the abuse, to getting 100% on his state standardized tests in eighth grade.

    Next to none of the mandatory reporters in this country report child abuse. I never met one who did. And if you report that the medical evidence of the abuse of your child was handed over to the police, rather than the police taking a report and investigating, as would be appropriate. You get told to “go talk to a psychiatrist.” And when you tell the police that arresting the pedophiles is not the job of the psychiatrists, it’s the job of the police. You get hung up on. CPS is also a hot mess.

    I’m here because I learned my religion and the psychological and psychiatric industries entered into a “dirty little secret of the two original educated professions,” child abuse covering up, faustian deal, apparently over a century ago.

    https://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2019/01/23/18820633.php?fbclid=IwAR2-cgZPcEvbz7yFqMuUwneIuaqGleGiOzackY4N2sPeVXolwmEga5iKxdo

    Although, these child abuse covering up crimes are built right into the psychiatric DSM “bible,” and have resulted in most the DSM “bible” believers covering up child abuse on a massive societal scale. They can’t bill to help child abuse survivors, so they misdiagnose them for profit instead.

    https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/your-child-does-not-have-bipolar-disorder/201402/dsm-5-and-child-neglect-and-abuse-1

    https://www.madinamerica.com/2016/04/heal-for-life/

    And the psychologists and psychiatrists proactively attack the mothers of child abuse survivors, prior to them mentally comprehending the heinous crime occurred, not just the victims of abuse. It seems you also got caught up in this “dirty little secret,” deny and cover up child abuse at all costs, for profit, “mental health” system as well, initially. Glad you escaped, and eventually healed.

    Keep telling your story, because we need our ‘mental health’ workers to get out of the child abuse covering up business. In part, because these child abuse covering up crimes, also function to aid, abet, and empower the pedophiles and child sex traffickers. So our society now has huge pedophilia and child sex trafficking run amok problems.

    https://www.amazon.com/Pedophilia-Empire-Chapter-Introduction-Disorder-ebook/dp/B0773QHGPT

  7. This article reinforces my observation that what people need to “heal,” if that is the proper word for it (a bit medical for my taste), is for someone to connect with them on a real and personal level. There is no technique, training, school of therapy, medical intervention, or special approach that will create this kind of connection. It requires a person being human and being willing to experience with another person what is happening in their lives.

    When therapy works, it’s because such a connection is formed. Most of the time, it appears to me, such a connection is not formed. And having a degree or a license is no guarantee of better odds that a person will be helpful.

    You are blessed and fortunate to have found such people, and others are no doubt very fortunate to have found you so you can pass it on. I wish there were some way to teach people how this works, but I don’t know that such a thing is really possible. Everyone follows their own path, even therapists. I guess a person who wants such an experience needs to know what they’re looking for and spend a lot of time shopping around.

    • Annita, I am so impressed by your recovery of your life and your vivid writing about it. Dr Searles and your therapists were real enough to enable you to be real. It is like the Velveteen Rabbit. I too went through similar experiences including being diagnosed with schizophrenia when it was due to sexual abuse. I also wrote a book, “heartbeats of hope” about it and about ways I would like to humanize the systems. I look forward to meeting you one day.
      I am part of a team of persons with lived experience who have been developing a “training experience” called Emotional CPR which calls forth the soul of each person in society to heal and grow. You might find it resonates: http://www.emotional-cpr.org

  8. What an honest, well-written account of your journey. It perfectly illustrates that childhood trauma is far too often mis-labeled as ‘schizophrenia’, and that as a result, people do not receive the healing that they need. It is fortunate that you had some caring therapists, and I hope that your work again shows the need to assess for psychological injuries first and foremost, and to provide supportive human connection to help people heal from them.

    • A multitude of classical farces if you ask me.

      It is my view that the “sickest” people around, and thus the most in need of “services”, are those doing the “treatments”. The problem is the business end of “mental health treatment”, and the solution (or cure) is not engaging in it.

      I have to congratulate the author on her escape from one trap, however, we could do the same thing on a more massive scale simply by restaging the circumstances differently of a percentage of the lives of the population. The wrong people, all too often, seem to be in power (I wonder how that happened?), and, at the same time, the wrong people seem to be relieved of power (Ditto!).

  9. Thank you for your candor and courage. I have read many of your articles, and was moved and personally motivated many years ago by an article you published in a mainstream journal speaking to much of what you write here. That article was one of several main sources that led to my dissertation and, eventually, to the book I published last year. It motivated me to show that your story prior to finding help and finding a career is ubiquitous among those who carry the “schizophrenia” label. I have long wished that you could see that you were not misdiagnosed- the diagnosis itself (and all, for that matter) are based on an extraordinary set of false assumptions and biased perceptions (people see what they want to see, as you state above) while the role of childhood trauma and less overt life circumstances go ignored and unseen despite mountains of evidence. It is often the privileged white (and, usually, female) individuals who get acknowledged for trauma and “misdiagnosis”, while the poor and minorities are reinforced in their narratives of defectiveness. I encourage you to read some of this research- perhaps my own, or that of John Read, Richard Bentall, or the 100s of persons with lived experience who have spoken to this before you. Thank you again for your courage and beautifully written story.

    • YES!!! You won the comments section, Noel! That’s yet another reason to dump the BS “schizophrenia” Dx. Basically, it assaults trauma survivors a second time. On top of enduring the real-world trauma that drove you Mad in the first place, you’re expected to contend with even more trauma, under the guise of “help” for your initial injustice or loss. While you’re desperate for care and totally defenseless, you’re hastily shuttled into an epic bio-scam, which depletes the last of your agency on a perp-apologists’ concept of trauma. Specifically, it dictates a “threshold” of trauma that can only be set by a network of authority structures, none of which are duty-bound to you, the survivor. Antagonize those goons, and they’ll designate you as “sick”, not “wounded” and “victimized”. If you become too “needy”, too “unruly”, or too “strident” about your rights, you’ll get quacked instead of healed. Or, perhaps, if you exist in dark or female flesh, you’ll be quacked on sight, and bypass an phony debate over how you hurt and what you need. And, your best-case scenario? The Annita special, where a quack can see value your full potential? That puts you where she is now – successful in every possible way, yet constantly forced to qualify her worth with her “Dx upgrade”. No thanks!

  10. Thanks Anita – you tell your story very well, and I’m happy to hear of your work to bring more understanding to others!

    My only reservation about the way you frame your story is that by saying you were “misdiagnosed” with schizophrenia, this suggests that there are others who fully deserve this diagnosis! And it’s also true that, according to the DSM, if you did have enough of certain “symptoms” to match the checklist, then you did qualify for the diagnosis – the DSM doesn’t actually say it’s a misdiagnosis if the cause is trauma.

    I think it’s better to bring attention to how labeling something “schizophrenia” is just a way of not trying to understand what is really going on. Not everyone who gets this label is responding to a distinct trauma, but they still have a story and deserve to have people try to understand it rather than just have it all attributed to an imagined “psychiatric illness.”

  11. Don Weitz has an ancient computer and was unable to open the link to this article, so I sent him the text, and this is his response:
    “WOW. What a horrific nightmare of suicide attempts and shocks (89) Annita Sawyer endured in NY psychoprisons, and helpful psychotherapy from psychiatrists Heller and Searles that helped her heal. Very glad she recovered her memories shock apparently destroyed. Her deciaion to write, go public and find her voice is awesome and inspiring.The shrinks once labeled me ‘schizophrenia reaction, improved.’ If you find her emaii address, please send her the MIA Library link to my book.* Thanks so much for sending me her gripping personal story of survival, professional success, courage.”
    Don Weitz
    [email protected]

    * https://www.madinamerica.com/mad-america-library/

  12. You have had an incredible journey Annita! It really was against ALL odds. Thanks for sharing your inspiring story and using your voice to advocate and speak out on the harmful consequences of trauma, psychiatric labels and harmful treatment and the lasting impact of stigma.

    I think your story also gives hope to others who endured ECT or have taken anti-psychotic drugs.

  13. Annita

    Your experiences remind me very much of a book titled Dante’s Cure which describes the experiences of a young woman labeled as “schizophrenic”. Have you read the book. It’s the true story of a young woman who became totally silent and would seldom eat. They eventually assigned her to a young psychiatrist who would spend an hour a day with her, whether she talked or not. He cared about her and this caring created the space for her to find herself once again. She later went on to be a psychiatric nurse and she started an organization for people with lived experience. I’m sure that you’re familiar with it already.

    You are a shining example for everyone and I truly appreciate your willingness to share your experiences with us.

  14. Hi, Annita,
    My last comment disappeared. Maybe this one will too.
    I have a lot of respect for what you’ve overcome and that you tell the truth about the harms you suffered.
    As someone who has not overcome, I wish my voice would also be heard. I filed a complaint regarding some of the things I experienced as a psych patient. It was ignored.