Thursday, January 20, 2022

Comments by Sean Donovan

Showing 30 of 30 comments.

  • Wyatt: I’m a little taken a back, out of breath reading this. I’ve heard so many pieces of these stories and insights but never read your writing on these experiences.

    I feel so honored to know you and to read this and to reflect on the many ways your words and reflections have often reminded me that I am a human whose life is worth living without shame or guilt or repressing my desires or gut impulses. I’d say I’m so proud of you for writing this, and I claim “pride” not to seem condescending nor in the vein of, well, gay pride : ), but simply from the pleasure in witnessing a comrade and friend so powerfully and beautifully claiming his reality!

    And, thank you for that!

  • Wow, Joanna, you capture so much in these thoughts! So much that my comrade and I in the States struggle with a lot–and often struggle with what words to use to describe these impulses, reactions and responses.

    I really appreciate you sharing your experiences and your reflections on these. I imagine my quest in life and how I want to work with others is in supporting each other as truth seekers and warriors of empowerment. I see a lot of that reflecting in your words too. So often many of our, ahem, “peers” even forget that to attack each other from positions of polemics that discard one and many realities doesn’t bring us any closer to liberation than those who uncritically follow their roles of authority in psychiatry. This sort of “horizontal oppression,” as I’ve learned to call it, is sometimes more infuriating to me than even the oppression done from roles of authority in the mental health system to those pegged as patients, consumers or some other euphemism for the dispossessed– because these folks should KNOW better and yet so often it seems they do not.

    But, I suppose our quest may award them our patience too and a chance to know better.

    Thanks for your words!

  • Thanks Faith!

    Yes, yes, yes–the smug smile is something that makes me want to “act out” so much in these sorts of situations. It gives me the feeling that these folks are listening, “consuming” the experiences I am recounting and the words I am trying to use to pry them out of habits of thinking and doing and instead of actually hearing me are remaining self-satisfied and, in the words of another post-er, attempting to make my “reality fit their desires.” When I sense this I want to scream or lash out or something else that might be justified but very, very (haha) “discrediting.” : )

    One such response of fitting my words, in which I *try* to speak both for myself and for multitudes, to fit their desires is–instead of engaging with my story AS a surrogate for the stories of others they are failing or unable to hear and to open up to these folks and their experiences–to praise me for being so smart and “high-functioning.” As if I alone deserve an exceptional degree of respect for this insight and intelligence (which I’ll take advantage of when I can) when in fact I lay these words in front of them to be an advocate for others as much as myself. To begin to *label* me as exceptional, intelligent, and ughh even, “high-functioning” might seem like simple praise but ACTUALLY so often it’s a failure to engage with and to be accountable to what I’m actually saying!

    And that is maddening.

    Thanks again, Faith!

  • Hey Mary,

    I appreciate your suggestions.

    I like the idea of proactively sending out a survey of a range of experiences in a psychiatric hospital instead of covertly having available a complaint process accessible for those who experience human rights violations. These complaints, when filed through a hospital or through DMH in MA, often go NOWHERE, however, because there are no clear channels of enforcement and accountability. In this vein, I have little faith for a survey process initiated and evaluated by the hospital itself.

    As per the training, I’ve talked with a lot of friends and comrades about a training to educate “professionals” about ideas of systemic oppression and to find ways of locating empathy in their roles and from their own life’s struggles and distress. But people would have to be willing to participate in this forum. I don’t think a training that doesn’t demand sincerity like this would be worth my time in the long term. I’ve seen many people in these roles evade sincerity and honesty so often, even in trainings that are supposed to engage with these things.


  • Congrats aria on the decade of psych free living! And thank you for sharing that story. As a couple of us have started doing a recovery and information group at another hospital we found the first day that although we were told we would be undisturbed to talk open and honestly between us and the folks currently held on the floor that didn’t include people NOT coming in periodically to stare and scribble on clipboards. We’ve since talked with the head of the floor and said this was unacceptable if we to continue coming. He prevented this from happening the next time BUT reminded us that there was still a video camera in the room although it was audio-free.

    I have a lot of respect for his willingness to work with us even at the expense of standard hospital procedures and at the same time there is SO MUCH more to be changed about the situation! We can offer our selves and our stories to people in as transparent a way and by constantly referencing the limits in the present environment. This seems, to me, like the best way for us to be advocates in this situation. And, I’m only so glad there are some humans behind positions of authority in mental health that are willing to accept criticism, hear our words and learn.

  • Thanks for the question. No, as far as we know, we haven’t received a specific invitation to come back yet. But, I’m hoping that if they ever extend the request they’ll have the above words ringing in their heads and approach us with humility.

  • Hey Steve,

    Thanks for for writing out these thoughts–especially the paragraph about these folks wielding their power because of their own FEARS of us. I do think to “get to the bottom of that” impulse is really part of the root of the hostility those in roles of mental health authorities often, unhelpfully, express towards those they claim to be “helping.” What ARE they so afraid of and WHY? The truth? The fact that their positions of authority, stability and salary are actually founded on unstable and violent myths?

    Possibly… ; )

  • Thanks P. H. for these words!

    I especially like the idea of authorities in mental health attempting “to make reality fit their desires,” because that’s such an accurate and useful way to understand a lot of the frustrating and downright oppressive experiences I’ve had with people in these roles. And, a fittingly ironic description of their actions because it’s often what these same authorities accuse US–as those diagnosed with psychiatric diagnoses–of doing when often it is so FAR from the reality of a given situation.

  • Thanks Dorothy!

    I’ve been trying to spin my words to clinician’s as a survivor of suicide, psychiatry and emotional distresses that THEY are the lucky ones for having me and other deeply insightful and powerful humans in their company to share our stories. And I’m trying to find ways to respectfully remind them that it is, indeed, THEM who are lucky that we bother to spend such efforts talking to them. I look forward to seeing you soon, sharing more stories, more laughter!
    Love, Sean

  • Thanks Judith for these statements!

    I was able to share how I escaped the clutches of psychiatry–and how IT almost killed me and NOT the so-called “biological” mental disorder–with a group of mostly clinicians. And, I was on a panel so I could not be silenced and so, instead, many of them actually listened… and maybe some of them actually HEARD.

  • Thanks Marian! I think this is pretty well said.

    My hope in throwing myself in these situations is to act as a representative of many others whose voices can’t, haven’t or won’t be heard by people in roles of power in the mental health system. And, I demand to be heard so that those humans who still exist with empathy, compassion and the willingness to be emancipated behind these professional positions may some day see that to uncritically assume these roles is to BE complicit with oppression. And, not, ironically, complicit with “helping” fellow humans that so many people are deluded to think they are actually doing in so authoritatively assuming such roles.

  • Hey Olga,

    Thank you so much for these powerful words. They reflect a lot of the thoughts that go through my head as I do this sort of work (alongside the less convoluted non-clinical “peer” support spaces I work within).

    I second your response to your own question, “So why am I bothering?” I KNOW that there are people sucked into the roles of power in the mental health system and people sucked into roles of dis-empowerment that are looking for “the start of their emancipation” but maybe haven’t known where to begin until being presented with some ideas of the subject. I know this because I meet people like this, emerging from these two opposing roles, weekly.

    I also try to remind myself, as a lot of other people I struggle for meaning with, that the World, and the world of good and evil, is far greater than the world of psychiatry–although psychiatry as a system may be largely steeped in the latter. And, remembering this I believe makes us better and non-judgmental advocates for humans and human rights.



  • Hello Ted,

    Thanks for your comments. I think I can, thankfully, counter much of what you say– which I largely agree with in general –by saying that specifically (1) we’re being careful, as Sera wrote, to be a presence in hospitals but NOT working trapped in the system in the way of being employed and restricted by the hospital and (2) that influencing these clinicians to any degree by respectfully and calmly pointing out the things they say or do that contradict their mission to support people to so-called “recovery” is hardly a waste of time.

    If we were working under the misapprehensions that clinicians are always well-intentioned (never something that I would think or say) and within their rules, as you seem to suggest we are, then YES I could imagine all this being a waste of time.

    I would challenge you to reread this article not as proof in itself that this is a waste of time but that it is an opening onto other possibilities on OUR terms and not those of the system.



  • Hello S.A.,

    I appreciate your thoughts and can’t say I disagree with any of them! Most of my work (and that of the comrades I work with) is spent tirelessly building “alternative social support networks”: we’ve been trying to create more peer support groups that exist outside of and against the oppressions of biological psychiatry, a peer respite that seeks the same in more of a home setting and community centers throughout western MA that seek to unite people touched by oppressions of all kinds (and especially psychiatric) to move towards a better kind of world.

    I have little faith of working on the terms of authoritarians to effect real change. That’s happening outside of these hospital meetings, on our own terms. But, most of the focused oppression happens not in our “peer” communities but in and among these institutions–to reach out to people currently kept there and share alternatives and spaces to move towards that are affirming and empowering rather than maintenance-based and infantilizing is, I think< pretty powerful and necessary. But, I also fully hear your hesitations and I share many of them as well! Thanks, Sean

  • Thank you Emily! I’m really gracious for these words of encouragement–sometimes I feel like it takes a really uncommon mixture of extreme patience and gall to feel OK being a “time traveler” communicating these things in a psych hospital as someone not confined there. …and I can’t claim I always have this ideal mixture in balance.



  • Jeffrey,

    I appreciate your comments above about professionals not denying the harm they’ve been complicit in–I totally agree. It reminds me of the idea of reparations– not necessarily even the financial restorations (which would be great for the legacies of incarceration, slavery and forced hospitalizations endemic to our nation) but at least the idea of respecting and revering the pain we’re been through and acting humbly in acknowledgement of it.

    That’s not so much to ask, it sometimes seems to me. And then, another part of me sees the same old oppressive bullshit (largely addressed in the blog and your other comments above) being repeated in slightly different ways that’s been going on for decades that just prove there’s not enough space away from the atrocities of the past for professionals to REALLY have any emotional space to act this way.

    Many state hospitals are dismantled, yes, but the modus operandi that allowed those places to exist in such squalor (that “the mentally ill” are a biological subhuman class of people) is very much still functioning.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!


  • Hello Mary,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    I know that a lot of us in western MA often have conversations (like Steve) where we would call for the need for psychiatrists to experience the “cocktails” they put into others themselves. The fact that this class of people can claim to be the experts (much like many people who egregiously take that title) have in most cases never even experienced these (often disorienting, painful and un-paralleled) chemical interventions themselves.



  • And yet among all this debate about gun control and the firearms industries…

    …my bigger concern is the violence done to those labelled as mentally ill (and especially those who are poor) in the name of psychiatric “treatment”. In addition to the legislation in CT, the state of New York passed the NY Safe Act this year in knee-jerk reaction in the months following Newtown. This legislation includes the introduction of Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT), or forced outpatient commitment, into NY state law, making it the 44th state to approve such a law. AOT expands the scope of forced treatment, which of course includes forced medication, and is directed at “increasing treatment compliance and promotes long-term voluntary compliance”. When people are forcibly committed on a regiment of Seroquel and other psychiatric meds with such numbing effects I can imagine people “voluntarily” complying to many things. And, the wide acceptance of chemically numbing is another type of violence (besides gun violence) that we need to talk more about AS violence.

  • Hey there,

    Thanks for reading and for your comments! (I hope I might read some of your writing some time too.)

    Yes, the idea of “strange bedfellows” comes to mind when enlisting the NRA but I see it as a possibility. I’ve also been directed to the Unions of law enforcement and security guards as possible, and yet uncommon, allies. Something to think about….


  • Hey dbunker,

    I can’t say I would disagree with many of the above statements — some of the language and info, however, I’m not immediately familiar with.

    Not quite sure what “statist MSM” is referring to — the only thing related online in my searching for ‘MSM’ is an epidemiology term for Men who have Sex with Men to talk about HIV/AIDS epidemics in Africa. But, I don’t think that’s necessarily what you’re invoking.

    I’ll have to check out these links when I have the time.


  • When I was 16 and off psycho-tropic drugs for the first time in four years I didn’t necessarily feel the weight of suicidal thoughts lessen but I did find my mind reaching out for more meaning in these experiences.

    I sought out a Tibetan Buddhist temple nearby in a rural NJ town (oddly enough: previously known to me only as a place with an active KKK group). My experiences of the rituals and ideas there by no means turned me into a devout follower–I was pretty staunchly agnostic at that age–but definitely guided me to see my struggles against self-annihilation as something to learn from in the struggle instead of something to be wholly burdened by.

    I’m curious about the ways standard treatment through biological psychiatric (or at least the kind I’ve been exposed to as a younger person in the US) straps so many people of any inborn capacity to seek out meaning in life. To angle people’s eyes and minds to the ground, focus them on maintenance of a dismal or limited present and even chemically drive many towards suicide.

    Thanks David for this thoughtful post–even though I may have read it months after the fact.

    I feel that suicide is less of a public health problem (i.e., a clearly “diagnosable” biological social ill) and more of an individual crisis of meaning and dignity brought on by other public health crises–among those poverty, malnutrition and the over-medication of people who seek support and guidance through painful experiences of emotional distress, which often only prolongs the focus in someone’s life of themselves as a sick, shiftless human being instead of as a resilient one.