In July 2006, I wrote about Electroconvulsive Therapy and stated, “If I had the opportunity to have another series of treatments I would do...
Six months ago, I was just starting in a position called "Treatment Team Coordinator" at a secure residential treatment facility. In my home state,...
In contemporary U.S. culture, people who intentionally hurt their bodies are called “insane.” We may starve ourselves or carve ourselves, taking to the extreme culturally-embedded norms like thinness in an effort to fight against marginalization or cope with internalized shame. But instead of obtaining the voice or place in society we yearn for, we are further ostracized.
Everything was not okay, but how could I possibly explain? That I don’t belong here. That I am a phony, a fraud. That I am damaged beyond repair and unsuitable for this work. I felt it happening again: the pressure building in my chest and the tears burning my throat at the prospect of someone discovering my deepest, darkest secret. The precursor to my entire life falling apart.
When I was young I believed the world spoke to me. Lightning split across the sky to the pulse of my thoughts. Rings around...
The present-day mental health establishment focuses primarily on a ‘biological’ cause for despair and other so-called ‘aberrant’ mental manifestations in the world. But when we look at the news, it’s bursting with sad realities. Animals dying, people starving, rape everywhere. Climate change bringing more disasters, racist mortgage practices. Are we to grow a skin so thick that we don’t cry when we read about a government firing scud missiles on its people? How are we to process mass-murder in an elementary school? What is more aberrant: to be so hardened that we do not cry, or to cry constantly? Might the healthy response to depressing realities to become depressed? How do we create hope when so often our world seems so terrible? How much activism is enough?
Popular illness narratives tend to be of the restitution sort: I was living my life, I became sick, I got well and picked up where I left off. However, this idea that ill health is a journey to wellness doesn’t help someone with a chronic illness or disability to tell her own story, which may not have a (conventional) happy ending. The notion of ‘recovery’ can be damaging when a return to health may not be possible.
It took surviving all of the symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal, including derealization, gastritis, auditory hallucinations, wasting, dementia, panic attacks and profound depression, for me to come to understand that not only had I really been a cool person before all that shit, but also that nothing was wrong with me. I was smart and a little neurotic at times, but that was it. Drugs caused me to be mentally ill where I had not been before.
Last fall, I was invited by Psychiatric Times to write an article from a mother's perspective about what is needed to "fix a broken health system." As part of my essay, I told the story of my son Jake, who was robbed of all hope by the mental health system and died a homeless man. I also told the story of his cousin Kimmy, who escaped from the mental health system and is now doing well. Psychiatric Times declined to publish my essay.
In 20 years of inpatient hospitalization, the psychiatrists that I encountered focused almost exclusively on treating my diseased mind and had no concept or interest in the body. While the wheels of “progress” turn slowly in mental health, I hope that along with ongoing advocacy there will be a focus on responsible health counseling and supporting people in healthier eating and living.
For psychiatric ‘help’ to happen by force is a paradox and makes absolutely no sense. It can destroy people's personality and self-confidence. It can lead, in the long run, to physical and psychological disability. My dear daughter Luise got caught in this ‘helping system’ by mistake, but she didn't make it out alive. I'm sad to say I later discovered that the way Luise was treated was more the rule than the exception.
The childhood and psychiatric abuse altered my neurological, hormonal and other bodily functions and it was difficult to say which abuse left what mark. The doctors used medication to fix the changes and the taking of prescription pills became a habit. I took pills to calm me, pills to sleep, and pills to make me happy. A few months after stopping all medications, I was a bundle of nerves and I opened the cupboard for a pill. Living on autopilot as I had been doing for so long had to stop. I switched gears from absentmindedly resorting to pills, to purposefully calming myself without using drugs by breathing the way the psychologist had taught me.
I am The Invisible Woman. A woman with a nice enough bag, a calm demeanor, and well-put-together clothes (they are not “odd,” they attract no attention). You might see me walking my dog near where I live, smiling at my neighbors, making small talk. People make all sorts of comments to me about the crazies. It never occurs to them that I might be among this so-called population.
I am a survivor of severe psychiatric abuse. There was a year or so in the early 1980’s when I was in and out...
I am a female physician who survived my own suicide attempt. I had managed to fly under the radar as a very progressive family MD for twenty years. And when I stumbled and bled, the sharks were there ready to devour the carcass. Do I believe that racism and sexism influenced charges being filed against me? I certainly do.
Much of what we term “madness” is, in fact, the awakening of the "Self" to its own Wholeness/Divinity. We are born totally pure. Throughout our lives we are subject to projections, flung at us from a multitude of directions: from Mom and Dad, from schools, religious institutions, the media, and the medical model. We are all buried, to some degree, under projections, and interesting symptoms emerge: nightmares, stress and anxiety, fear, flashbacks, and so on. These are not "Madness," but symptoms of health; of a "Self" attempting to break free from lies.
I have written this story, a story of Exodus to Freedom, a thousand times. I retell it to myself late at night while I lie on my air mattress. In the mornings I may recall these amazing events while running along the beach straight into the sunrise. I walk my dog and tell the story again, hoping passers-by don’t think I’m talking to myself, lest I be called “loco.” But that has never happened. The one aim I had when coming to Uruguay has come true: Not one person here considers me crazy.
Editor's Note: To ensure the security of her job, the author has opted to use only her first name. My relationship with the mental health...
When I was twenty-eight, I had what is commonly referred to as a “psychotic break.” It was nothing like what I would’ve imagined, given the cultural stereotypes. It was not in the least nonsensical. There was an exacting inner logic and meaning. Twenty-two years later, I continue to believe in the harrowing greatness of what my younger self went through.
I have known altered states of consciousness since I was a child. I clearly remember staring into the mirror in my mother’s bathroom and...
In inpatient eating disorders care, we were required to step on the scale but were not allowed to know what we weighed. We were told it was “against recovery” to know our weight; that knowing it would surely cause a devastating relapse.
What if, in that moment, nothing happened? What if I was given a second to collect myself enough to engage in the conversation surrounding my future? No one asked me what I would like to do. I was never given the chance to regain my equilibrium before I was drugged and bagged for the next decade.
When I was born, everyone was expecting me to have arms. The doctor's mind raced; how am I going to tell this mother and the father that their son has hands but not arms? If he's missing so much in his extremities, mustn’t he also be missing a mind? My mom looked into my eyes and knew - in a way that only mothers know - that I had a mind, and spirit.
Yoga helped me explore and reconnect with the body I’d abandoned and abused for years. My pain and sadness had me living exclusively in my mind, my body nothing more than a battleground for my inner wars. Through yoga and meditation, I slowly began to love myself again, learning to treat myself with care and respect. I felt a greater sense of self-awareness, and a sense of connection to something greater. This was a drastic contrast to the days when I felt as if god had forgotten about me, or like I was a mistake not meant for this world.
Sometimes it's the simple things that keep us going, especially when the complicated ones seem so overwhelming; when there's too much chaos, too many emotions, too many possibilities and impending disasters. No one can give you a reason to live. You have to find it for yourself. Until you do, try simple things. For me, it was a turtle.