What We Have Always Known but Psychiatry Forgot

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When I came off my last medication, my psychiatrist said to me, “You will get sick again.”

Psychiatry has always been sure of one thing about me: that I would never recover from bipolar disorder. I was asked to accept that I was sick for life and to act accordingly. This meant any thoughts I had away from this “fact” should be seen as a symptom and dangerous thoughts to allow myself to believe. I was also told to acquiesce my healing and recovery to the power of psychiatry. I could have no power to heal myself because I was no doctor. I was not capable of understanding how to move towards health, not only because my judgement could not be trusted, but because the only answer to a “broken brain” was what only they claimed to understand fully—psychiatric drugs.

I could find ways to manage, perhaps. But even the foundations of this approach were built to fail. This led my doctors to an inflexible pattern of believing themselves to be correct about me and my disease. When their models of coping failed, often directly because of the side effects of their treatments, as well as disrespect of my humanity, their point seemed to be proven. I had an insidious deformity of my brain’s structure which deviated from healthy brain structures and was stricken with an incurable disease. Even if no medical test would show me this. It was only my suffering, rooted partially in their invalidation of any meaning to my suffering beyond disease, that was meant to be proof of my deformity.

Illustration depicting a blue figure with three monkeys climbing on them
Illustration by Karin Jervert.

More and more, this arrangement strikes me as cruel, destructive, and strange, but also indicative of willful ignorance of what we have always known about human suffering. Ignorance of what we have always known about voice hearing, what they call psychosis and delusions, and shows what they have forgotten about how we can heal and recover when held in connection, belonging, compassion, and meaning. More than just recover: learn and grow into our most ideal selves.

A talk I encountered by Joseph Campbell on schizophrenia and mythology offered to me by a peer, along with quotes sent to me from Carl Jung and other great thinkers in psychology, placed what modern psychiatry understands as schizophrenia alongside what indigenous cultures understand, in their unique ways, as Shamanism.

While listening to the talk by Joseph Campbell, several thoughts occurred to me. One being how quickly we forget what not only great thinkers in the West have known, but what our species has known from the beginning. How quickly we forget connection, growth, recovery, and the importance of peers (or elders) serving as guides through the depths of our minds in times of crisis.

I also resonated with what both Jung and Campbell understood; that the mystic and the “insane” do swim in the same waters, and the difference between swimming and drowning is identifying the self with mythic narratives, rather than knowing that we all have those cultural, ancestral, archetypal energies flowing through us. Another important idea was that what they call psychosis may be a built-in human “realignment” system. As we live, we can lose knowledge of what matters to us, what is important to us as individuals and a society. These experiences of crisis may appear during times in our lives when we need to be drawn back into awareness of unmet needs and into alignment with our values.

Listen, I do not believe I am a Shaman, nor do I believe that my experiences with altered states give me some sort of supernatural powers. But, I do believe that what I have gained from them, few people who pretend to exist along the neurotypical path allow themselves to experience or understand. I know this as I sit with others and hear their concerns that mostly amount to what they have been taught—conditioned—to concern themselves with as a member of a capitalist society. All this while the world around us, the natural world, carries on interconnected, satisfied in its knowledge of itself as perfect. My words here may come across as veiled, vague to some. But, my beliefs have often left me misunderstood, alone and feeling apart from most.

How did psychiatry forget the potential of profound self-knowledge that comes from not aborting what they call psychosis? Of the value of creating a societal framework of meaning and purpose around it with peers (like elders) who sit in reverence with you of the potential for personal gain, of peace and self-knowledge on the other side of an experience such as “psychosis”?

The anti-capitalist within me knows the truth must be, in part, that this model of recovery was never seen as profitable. As soon as it was discovered that money could be made from others’ mental suffering, psychiatry willfully forgot that there was always another way through to recovery. It forgot our right to recover and replaced it with the more profitable chronicity model. But, be assured, the alternatives to the medical model have been with us since the beginning. Early humans, as they developed spirituality and culture, knew how to let these experiences transform a person. And no, it was not just because they didn’t have the “technology” (aka pharmaceuticals) to abort them, it’s because this approach worked.

Having come off the last bit of an antipsychotic, although reinstating a small bit to cope with physical withdrawal symptoms, I stepped into the exact experiences that would put me deep on a dangerous path towards being a psychiatrist’s next favorite case to prove their point of chronicity. In fact, my psychiatrist said to me as I came off the last medication, “You will get sick again, Karin.” We will put aside, for now, the heartbreak of this belief, so-called “backed by science,” which just amounts to lack of support, encouragement and confidence in a client who only wants wellness of their own definition. And in fact, I did get “sick” again.

My voices returned which lived with me on and off, whether I was on drugs or not, for 20 years. Similar ideas returned that were the state of mind which landed me on psychiatry’s front door at age 21. But, I did not forget what we have always known. I reached into the past, into myself, and into the future of the psychiatric survivor movement, which has not forgotten recovery, or the humanity of these experiences. And just in this act, I dropped the fear and stigma surrounding my experience and then created a journey of transformation and healing.

I learned from others, from peers and elders, about creating rules and structures of beliefs that create safety, peace, and harmony. And I became more aligned with my values and in full contact with myself and my life. In the end, it became increasingly clear that the idea of wellness that psychiatry set before me, in its amnesia of what we have always known of our species and our suffering, was not the wellness I was ever looking for. Nor would I agree with their definition of “sickness” ever again.

My answer was never to just abort this experience, and understand myself and my diversity of mind as brokenness—deserving of eradication, suppression, and imprisonment. I knew the alternatives now. I spoke with peers, my elders on this path in the Hearing Voices Network and people in the withdrawal community. What came of these experiences was an understanding of myself as whole, connected, and a part of the many manifestations of the natural world. I had a place, even if my greater society and culture may not think so. If the idea that I belonged could exist in the past, in myself, and in the future of a movement, it could be real and worthy of fighting for.

Why would psychiatry, and the individuals who study and practice it, forget such a thing? Forget that self-hatred, judgement, isolation, and stigma only leads to chronic suffering? That there is always the potential of growth and integration within the appearance of what they call psychosis? When you attempt to eradicate it, you are essentially attempting to eradicate the sufferer themselves by treating a part of them as disposable, as not a welcome part of a whole human. In doing this, you exponentially increase suffering and do sometimes accomplish eradication and chronicity, as it nearly did for me. I was indeed “sick” for 20 years and wished for my own complete annihilation for many of those years.

But, what felt to me like an impossibility under the medical model has become a reality in the model of recovery, connection, and healing. I found life, myself, peace, and wellness only in defying psychiatry and remembering what we have always known as humans. And what psychiatry has willfully forgotten in the quest for a “cure” for what instead, in many cases, only ever required a container of guidance, compassion, care, and understanding.

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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.

28 COMMENTS

  1. I am wary of the tempting romantization of ‘psychosis’. Making it akin to mystic ‘insight’ is dangerous.
    It may not be impossible, but it detracts from the dangerousness (for the sufferer) and the seriousness of the state.
    I dont think most ‘psychotic’ phases can be helped by religious/esoteric means.

    Having said that, I never cease to be amazed by the morbidity of the ‘medical’ grave model:
    If all you can come up with is declaring the case an eternal ‘deformity’ as the author puts it, for which there is nothing to do but prepare for a life of doom and take neurotoxins, then maybe its time to put your coat off and do something else for a living.

    Psychiatrists live in an alternate reality whose delusional character is quite dizzying.
    Not as much as its monumental destructive character though.

  2. Karin, what a lovely and well written article. I think this article could be a great inspiration to folks who aren’t familiar with the recovery movement and need an outline of what got us here. You mentioned that it might feel vague but here’s just another survivor saying – it all makes clear and perfect sense to me.

    • In contrast, I think we need to know our history. After my first experience with mania, the Dean, Francis Christie of Hendrix College where I had recently graduated from suggested a reading of Anton Boisen and Ruell Howell. See: https://www.jstor.org/stable/23328440 Boisen and Howell’s works to me are still relevant. Perhaps through the medicalization, the level at which Pastor’s are schooled in this domain may not be able to explain how Gideon would have been grinding the wheat in the winepress then and the manner by which beverage and health is distilled now.

      At about this time also, the Dean was exploring a better way into the pedagogy by which one can learn. And they were using Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance!
      To understand our history and how to reconcile a certain way of knowing and learning remains and will be important if we expect change to happen through our efforts.

      We learn how to write history as we become history can yield some turning points for hopefully anyone.

  3. I was deliriously happy with a new career and marriage after a not so great school experience. 5 years of bliss and then 4 pregnancies in 5 year : 2 full term and 2 early miscarriages. Then the depression started. I hid and masked and put on a good front. Somewhere in the next 10 years I was told I seemed angry and needed help. The next decade was full of pretending and occasional therapy/meds. At one point in the 4th decade a therapist suggested my husband join us. Turns out he had huge issues and was even better at pretending than I was. I remembering the therapist suggested we continue therapy but not as a couple. My next

    therapist asked “when are you going to do what makes you happy?” I said “after he dies”.
    And then he did. That shock was enough to jolt me into learning to be happy. Through this long trip I have been dismayed at the poor to mediocre therapist. I have shared some of my truth with family but find they have there out monkeys to deal with. Meds were a short term help and IMHO mostly placebo. I did find one therapist who was and is very good. I’m finding MAD in America very interesting.
    l

  4. Psychiatry is not science. Its objective is social control, secured mostly by preempting life prospects for “different” or “difficult” people. That’s why your quack was enraged at your decision to discontinue your drugs, while offering no reason why your life should be derailed by his feelings. The same thing happened to me when I quit psychiatry. And, though I’d like to believe my quack is still rotting in his musty office, waiting for me to “relapse” and come back to him, I’m sure he’s moved on. Mad liberation isn’t a “problem” for greedy and bigoted people. There is never a “collateral cost” to pursuing a standard of living enjoyed by most of America.

  5. Beautifully stated, Karen. And I completely agree, my “bipolar” drug withdrawal induced “super sensitivity manic psychoses” merely functioned as a continuation of a spiritual journey (I was initially misdiagnosed by a Lutheran DSM believing psychologist, because I believed in the Holy Spirit, and she wanted to cover up the abuse of my child, for her pastor. Which I eventually learned from her medical records, and my child’s medical records being handed over).

    And this is a systemic, and by DSM design, “dirty little secret of the two original educated professions” societal problem. Since my ELCA Lutheran Social Service workers are DSM “bible” billers, and “partners” with their ELCA employers.

    https://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2019/01/23/18820633.php?fbclid=IwAR2-cgZPcEvbz7yFqMuUwneIuaqGleGiOzackY4N2sPeVXolwmEga5iKxdo
    https://www.madinamerica.com/2016/04/heal-for-life/
    https://books.google.com/books?id=xI01AlxH1uAC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_
    r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false
    https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/your-child-does-not-have-bipolar-disorder/201402/dsm-5
    -and-child-neglect-and-abuse-1

    My 2006 and 2009 drug withdrawal induced “super sensitivity manic psychoses” also functioned as an awakening to my dreams. They were actually an amazingly serendipitous experience, and basically helped to equate my subconscious (dreaming) and conscious (awake) selves. And it ended with a 2009 ‘born again’ type experience. Which, as a Christian, was fine with me – but NOT fine with my 2006 and still, ELCA hospital employed, non-Christian psychiatrist, nor her non-Christian, 2016 FBI convicted, “partner.”

    https://www.justice.gov/usao-ndil/pr/oak-brook-doctor-convicted-kickback-scheme-sacred-heart-hospital

    But it was kind-of funny, too, since during my 2006 awakening many of my friends and neighbors kept telling me “we’re living the dream.” And that’s what my awakening felt like – “living the dream.” Plus an ethical pastor, of a different religion, even confessed to me in 2010 that “some people can’t pray in private.”

    “Russian Roulette is not the same without a gun,” (my ex-pastor is a Russian) and “The great escape” were playing on the radio, back during my escape. For some odd reason I can tell my entire life’s story in music lyrics, as if my subconscious self is a muse for musicians.

    And since I escaped, songs such as “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” and “You’re going to hear me roar” became popular. And I do so hope they some day hear us critical psychiatry / independent psychopharmacological researchers, roar. At least it appears that the UN, the WHO, the former head of the NIMH, and some others, have heard us.

    https://www.narpa.org/reference/un-forced-psychiatric-treatment-is-torture
    https://www.madinamerica.com/2021/06/calls-radical-change-global-mental-health/
    http://psychrights.org/2013/130429NIMHTransformingDiagnosis.htm

    But if – according to my 2009 Chicago awakening – “the tailor who sings with the Lord,” (I used to work retail next to a Lord and Taylor store in Chicago, that’s now an American Girl store) who in reality “is just an American girl,” can escape psychiatry’s iatrogenic bipolar epidemic, so can you.

    https://www.alternet.org/2010/04/are_prozac_and_other_psychiatric_drugs_causing_the_astonishing_
    rise_of_mental_illness_in_america/
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toxidrome
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neuroleptic-induced_deficit_syndrome

    God bless you on your healing journey, Karin.

    And I do so hope at some point the “mental health professionals” will some day garner insight into the fact that when artists are working on their portfolios, it may appear as if they’re “unemployed,” but we’re working on our history recording portfolios. Because it does seem that psychologists and psychiatrists attack a lot of us visual artists.

    And I know my childhood religion does NOT financially support their visual artists. They have empty walls in their 150 year old churches, while they fraudulently market themselves as a religion that supports the “arts.”

    And my childhood church even had a 2017 call for visual artists to create visual arts to describe the “Trinity.” Then they didn’t even purchase, and hang on their walls, any of the visual arts they had requested be created, to glorify their beautiful 150 year old church. At least not prior to the 2019 Covid crisis … I haven’t been back there since then.

    And I likely will not return, due to the ladies in my childhood church confessing to me their religion’s faustian “partnership,” with the systemic child abuse covering up DSM “bible” believers.

    But let’s hope and pray we may some day return to a society where “What We Have Always Known but Psychiatry Forgot,” is respected, revered, and reinstated, as important. And psychiatry’s undeserved “right” to play judge, jury, and executioner – to anyone who disagrees with their DSM “bible” theology – is ended.

  6. In the context of the work of Jung, Campbell and other similar explorers, this argument against the ways of psychiatry is well-expressed.

    To me, it gives psychiatry too much benefit of the doubt. To my mind, they have gone way beyond proving themselves simply ignorant and culturally arrogant. They have shown themselves over and over to be greedy, selfish liars, spewing fake theories on purpose simply to impress us and not because they really believe. They have shown themselves quite willing to be tools of the state, including cooperation with some of the most suppressive governments on Earth.

    It would be nice to think that a swift kick in the pants to remind them of their longer tradition as “mystic” healers and spiritual savants would be enough to awaken in them a more sincere desire to help others. I don’t see that ever happening. As healers, they are the most broken of the broken, the most insane of the craven. I don’t see that they deserve any respect at all from us as a profession. There are good individuals among them, yes. And thank goodness for them.

  7. A psychiatrist saying “You will get sick again.” ( you need me because you need legal drugs)
    Is like saying you are going to break your leg again, so you have to wear a cast for the rest of your life. It is bullsh$t. I will not break my leg, though I admit the possibility exists.
    In degrees of sickness, how sick will I get? There won’t only be good days ahead, but bad days? What makes me sick? How do psychiatric drugs help?
    The feeling of Fear make me sick and the fear of being hospitalized-jailed, and drugged-poisoned can be a feedback loop.
    As I now have no fear of being hospitalized-jailed, and drugged-poisoned there is no feedback loop.

  8. THAR’S A NEW DAY A-BLOWIN’ IN THE WIND

    By

    Philip A. Kumin

    Marjorie listened intently to what this homeless guy was saying.

    “You know, don’t you, that it’s not a coincidence nobody knows mental patients have been organizing politically for the past 50 years?” Try as she might, she couldn’t get a feel for where he stood with mental lucidity.

    She knew of a chronology of formative events which had taken place within the mental health system over the previous 40 years. First during the 1980’s, there had been the theorizing and design of Open Dialogue in Finland, a sacrilegious technique for curing schizophrenics without the use of medication. Then there had been the serendipitous discovery that there was another side to Prozac other than its propensity for weight loss. By then the electromagnetic technology existed to prove for the first time that Sigmund Freud was actually right about what he said about trauma. And by the time the mapping of the human genome was completed-sans any anticipated magic bullets for the cure of mental illness-the medical model of mental problems was hovering over its own funeral pyre.

    “What do you mean this isn’t just a coincidence?” she queried him perplexedly.

    “The news media has never had the moral backbone to disclose such a thing. Think of the bedlam which would arise if they did. Challenging the popular impression of mental patients being nothing but frightening derelicts too sick to know what’s good for them, would be a suicidal assault on orthodoxy. The drug companies would rise up in arms, and the opportunists would rise up in anarchy.”

    With that the homeless guy scurried away, needing to scare up some change. Marjorie came away from the discussion convinced there was a tremendous amount to contemplate and piece together. In light of the chronology of game changing developments, the biggest problem she felt she had on her hands was her perception of a mental patient such as the one she had just finished talking to.

    On one hand Margie felt there had been an unequivocal fact of impairment in play while she was talking to her homeless protégé, now gone elsewhere. But she knew the problem with concentrating on that was that this invoked a hated clinical nuance. How does one find a middle ground between two such opposing extremes?

    In her mind, Marjorie mulled over the fact that the true agency of patients is always obscured by relentless stigma. Accordingly, no new identity is ever permitted to emerge. And with that, intriguingly, her thinking began to hover over the chronology of the women’s movement in the 1970’s and ‘80’s. She actually began to wonder if it wouldn’t be appropriate for a similar kind of ideological campaign to be waged on behalf of mental patients, even if this were akin to bullying. Only after the tide of stigma had been stemmed might a recognizable and utilitarian presence for mental patients evidence itself.

  9. Great article! Psychiatry is not only useless, it is harmful because it creates another trauma. Appart from the damage done by the medication, there is the damage done to our soul by telling us (often at the moment when we are just starting our life) that we are broken people who will be sick forever.

      • Yes, if you damage the brain, you damage the soul and you break the spirit. This appears to be psychiatry’s nefarious experiment and goal. However, when you wean yourself from the psych drugs, the therapies, and even the psychology you do get your soul back and a chance to restore the spirit. Sadly, you must still endure various amounts and types of residual brain damage, which is highly individual depending on the person, the amount of years involved in this evil system, the drugs taken, amounts taken, maybe even how the person got off the drugs. I don’t think that it can entirely be predicted how one’s life will be after the drugs, but even at it’s worse, in my thinking, it is one million times better than taking the drugs, the therapies, etc. At the very least, that lifestyle is extremely demoralizing. And, yes there is that “what if” when it concerns the time we were embroiled in this evil system. Of course, almost everyone has a “what if ” about something if they live beyond their teens. But, this “what if” may be different as our lives during this time was truly stolen from us. And, why…It is has been said there are more casualties of war than that which occurs on the battlefield. But, which war? Thank you.

    • The most needed question, for these mind-lords, is:”HOW DO YOU KNOW That ?”. Show us your logic, produce evidence. Those under treatment are told not to be so negative. Who is negative again?

      Our lives tend to follow our expectations. Where we are looking becomes where we are going. This is not endorsing denial. It is taking control of futures. Look for more sick episodes, and we will find them. So look toward wellness even when it is derided as unrealistic. He who bills has a vested interest in making you sick.

      Psychiatric Fortune Tellers: listen. You can look toward “managing illness” and increase billing, or you can drop the fortune-telling and start helping.

  10. Beautifully written, Karin. And yes, having walked a similar path to you – albeit without the diagnosis/misdiagnosis, and alleluia for that – it’s such a very great win to understand what happened to you and to get your life back. Many things make me happy these days – one of them is reading or hearing a story by someone such as yrself who has managed to wrest their life back from psych misdiagnoses. Well done you, it’s a phenomenally hard but powerful thing to do. Welcome home.

  11. Please I am not a “living document.” I am not just someone who has “lived experience.” And, I am not a victim either. Once I said I was not a victim, but had been victimized. I am just me. I am a human being. There is no one like me in the whole wide world. We may share similar experiences and that may help in bringing the evils of psychiatry to light so others may not fall into their dark, dangerous pit and suffer from the damage and injury we have, most notably the brain damage. But, there is one important point here; since I was through the grace of God able to survive this horror, I shall fight for my right to be the unique individual I am with my unique gifts, talents and skills, etc. That is all I really wanted in the first place, but no no one really heard me. They just drugged me and said I had a severe and pervasive mental illness. They were wrong! And I have survived to prove it! And my prayer that many more will have very similar successes. Thank you.

    • I concur re: living document. Though to wonder if this socio-technical system is not living, then what is it? As I/We pass through to post something out in response to a creative endeavor? Once dead, I am not sure if I could still post or document much, though the records do show something or another! There are documents, volumes of documents held in silence that one can access if willing to ask for them. Interesting to see what is in the record and what is in one’s mind as a record.

  12. Hi Karin.

    A wonderfully written blog IMO.

    Who are these strangers who shoehorn themselves into ones spiritual journeys? What business do they have doing such things?

    Why do they claim expertise in others subjective experiences and why do they act like they’ve incontrovertibly proven the non existence of the human soul?

    To them we are but defective meat. Why should I pay any heed to such Godless creatures? People who are incapable of awe at the magnificence of the human experience.

    Why should I watch them 2 dimensionally map out, in crayon no less, the most complex, mysterious wondrous thing in all of creation?

    The mind.

    They really have no notion. They never forgot IMO. They just never thought to know…

    • Let’s see—according to the psychiatrists—if you deny that you are sick, then you must be sick. Psychiatrists seem to be always in denial of their condition; which is a sickness—projecting their sicknesses onto others (their “patients”) to absolve them of all responsiblity for them to get well, etc. I can’t spell, say or remember the “technical” term that describes this—thanks to the brain damage I received from the psych drugs; due to their sicknesses not mine. It really boils down to that old phrase; “It’s not you, it’s them.” And, sadly, it always is—in so many situations—so many—Thank you.

  13. Since going off mind altering drugs that cause mood swings and rejecting my “bipolar” label I am acting normally again. Learned normal social skills in my forties. Been in the system for 25 years.
    Psychiatry drove me crazy. Leaving restored my senses.
    “Mental health” exists solely to drive sane people crazy or prevent the crazy from ever returning to reality. Big profits in keeping people insane and helpless.

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