Comments by Penni Kolpin

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  • Tom,

    You aren’t late in wishing me a happy birthday. The article was published early. Tomorrow (March 28) is my special day.

    To your question about insurance and “sick pay,” — we can come up with better models that don’t treat everything as pathology and “disorders.” Pregnant women who go to hospitals to deliver their babies are not “sick” or “ill” — and yet I am certain that insurance pays for that process. People experiencing injuries — car accidents, falls that break bones or cause other injuries are not deemed to have experienced “illness” and “disorder” and pathologized. And yet insurance pays for those procedures as well. So just because something has been called “sick pay” doesn’t mean that is what it really is and only what it is used for. The last company I worked for didn’t use the term “sick pay” — it was just part of “paid-time off.”

    Limiting support based on language (and incomplete language at that) is an exceptionally poor process. In addition, there are power dynamics related to language. I have a second master’s degree in Germanics, which ties to how difficult it can be to translate things, including experiences into language. It also addresses how we think language is fixed, and yet it isn’t.
    Language is constantly changing. The power dynamics of words is why the “disorder” garbage is just that — garbage. And “illness” is right there with it since there are no biomarkers for such experiences, no virus, bacteria, or even biological sources for such experiences. It is much easier to label that which “breaks” — the individual — than to address the forces and systems that cause or at least contribute significantly to a person breakdown down or open. If you haven’t read James Davies book, “Sedated: How Modern Capitalism Created Our Mental Health Crisis,” it’s an excellent read.

    Stan Grof said that when assisting someone through the spiritual emergency / awakening process, the mental health person is in the role of the midwife — primarily to aid and assist and support — and yes, to be there in cases where something happens that can lead to other forms of emergency. And he often worked with people diagnosed with schizophrenia, which is often an even more severe type of experiences than so-called bipolar. His work goes back to the 1960s and 1970s when he recognized how a person can end up in non-ordinary states of consciousness and how that is often a healing and beneficial transformational process. He coined the term “holotropic” to mean “moving toward wholeness.” So perhaps creating an approach that doesn’t limit pay to “sickness” (which it doesn’t anyway) and focuses rather on transformation would be a good way to go. And, thankfully, that process of reform is already underway.

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  • Tom, Thanks for your comment. I am glad this article was of interest to you. Yes, the mystics. I was lucky in that I had a glimpse of some of Jung’s work after having read M. Scott Peck’s books, “The Road Less Traveled” and “Further Along the Road Less Traveled.”

    In addition to the mystics you mentioned, in the 1960s and 70s, psychiatrists like Stanislav Grof and John Weir Perry recognized the imagery and depths of the psyche involved in the process of awakening (or breakdown / breakout).

    The problem is that too often, people trained in psychology or psychiatry are not trained in the spiritual aspect that can accompany (erupt — as Perry called it) during such a process. Also, many people trained in psychology or psychiatry don’t believe in that spiritual or mystical aspect at all — which leads to a toxic combination for someone seeking help.

    A few years ago, I came across the quote by Joseph Campbell, “The psychotic (person) drowns in the same water that a mystic revels in.” Campbell became good friends with Stan Grof. A year or so after I came across that quote, I came across a passage in one of Grof’s books where he said that the mystics don’t “revel” in that state of consciousness, but rather, they understand the value of such an experience (and both Grof and Campbell recognize that the mystics have mentors or people who help them prepare and train for experiencing such states of consciousness.

    I have come to say that my experience was “belly-flopping into mysticism” — and as I noted in my article, my passion growing up was synchronized swimming. Of course synchronized swimming ties to Carl Jung and synchronicity. I have one manuscript done of a collection of synchronicity stories and have more collections planned as I get a lot of them, which my friends enjoy.

    In addition, after college, I had a Rotary scholarship to study abroad for an academic year. I chose Basel, Switzerland. I knew that Jung was born in Kesswil, Switzerland, and lived outside of Zurich in his later years. I only learned a few years ago that he attended the University of Basel, was a professor there for a time, and even grew up just outside of Basel. I love having that connection to Jung. 🙂

    Thanks again for your comment and support.

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  • Ah, Birdsong, thanks for the well wishes on my Spiritual Birthday. You get it. When I tell people how I honor that day, very few people get that we usually wish people the best on our “birthdays.” And I totally agree that those injuries are made much worse — partially due to the difference in language, but also due to the exceptionally poor metaphor of “chronic illness” — that is, the diabetes analogy. You don’t treat a crushed pelvis like diabetes — and if you do, you shouldn’t expect that person to recover and heal. At least that’s my take.

    Thanks again, for the well wishes.

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  • Thanks for this article and especially the summary of studies in the Record of Research section. I haven’t looked through the various studies yet, but just having the summary you provided here is quite useful.

    To Dr. Harrow — thanks so much for your work with Dr. Jobe. I have referenced your work from time to time in the last few years. May we keep the legacy of your work alive to bring about change that is so desperately needed.

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  • It didn’t come across to me as negative. I do feel for you neighbor. I see her response as a type of trauma response. Overall, we don’t address trauma and stored trauma appropriately at all.

    Just a note that I get a lot of synchronicity and “signs” of connection. After I typed up my last response, I left to run some errands. I got in my car and as I pulled out on to the street, I flipped the radio station — just in time to catch the last lyric from John Cougar Mellencamp — “I fought authority, authority always wins.” I laughed out loud, because I recognize the power dynamics, and even abusive systems and how much damage they can cause. 🙂

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  • Katel, Thanks for taking the time to write out your comment. I think the whole concept of models and understanding of what happens to people can be quite complex. Add into that the power of the mind and belief systems of the person seeking help, it gets even more complicated. As a statistician, I look at multiple factors that should and probably do come into play, much more than dominantly focusing on the biochemistry.

    There are elements of trust involved by the person seeking treatment. There are also elements of anger by a person that could rise up in a person who has invested so much time and energy trying to work within that diagnosis and model. It sounds like your neighbor has been through quite a bit. And she has worked to get to a point where she has come to a sense of peace or balance with course of treatment. That leads to a place of paradox.

    It is certainly not my intent to upset people — and yet it is upsetting to learn that there are other resources and tools there that might very well have led to a different beneficial outcome. That is a hard thing to learn. Only last year, I learned that four years before my experiences, a diagnositic category called “Spiritual and/or Religious Problems” was added to the DSM. Considering my experiences did include feeling the souls of two friends help me at the lowest points and feeling significant spiritual energy, and considering that through the ordeal, I worked with more than 10 different degreed mental health professionals (some were member of the Employees Assistance Program at the company where I worked) — you might thing that SOMEONE might have said, “Gee, she is talking about her dead friends and spirit and energies. Maybe this ‘Spiritual and/or Religious Problem’ thing is something we should consider.” At the time, I didn’t even know what the DSM was nor why it was important in getting my insurance to kick in.

    So, yes, I understand why people can get angry. And in many cases, they should be angry. While it isn’t my intent to upset people, it is also upsetting to me when I get mislabeled and misdiagnosed due to the overemphasis on biochemistry.

    I do think that in the long run, it comes down to a question of ‘How do you identify?” If you identify has having a disorder or illness, then maybe you do. But that doesn’t mean I do. There are many other better ways to define and describe my type of experience.

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  • Lucie, Sorry that I am responding to this after so much time. I don’t know if you have read Anatomy of an Epidemic. If you haven’t, you probably should. Both Loren Mosher’s Soteria House and John Weir Perry’s Diabasis house are mentioned.

    With regard to your question about “delusional thinking,” I can only speak from my severe breakdown / spiritual awakening back in 1998. I finally “woke up” to my toxic codependence in the abusive systems all around me. While I thought I was letting major sources of stress roll off my back, I was actually stuffing that stress into a glass ball, and one event (a moral injury of sorts) put a kachink in that glass ball and all of that energy was released.

    The mental process I went through was very violent and painful, but I knew that it would lead me to a better place (and it did).

    I was misdiagnosed as bipolar and efforts by my employer to threaten and manipulate me to behave as they wanted me to only traumatized me much worse than the initial experience. I was breaking out of authoritarian dynamics, so to try and “treat” me in an authoritarian manner was absurd to me.

    I have recently been researching the relationships between what is labeled schizophrenia and bipolar. I came across this article which is quite interesting. (Ignore the German title, the rest of the article is in English.)

    Here is an excerpt:
    MICHAEL O’CALLAGHAN: Did Jung really see this (schizophrenia) as a healing process?

    JOHN WEIR PERRY: He did indeed! He believed that “schizophrenia” is a self-healing process – one in which, specifically, the pathological complexes dissolve themselves. The whole schizophrenic turmoil is really a self-organising, healing experience. It’s like a molten state. Everything seems to be made of free energy, an inner free play of imagery through which the alienated psyche spontaneously re-organises itself – in such a way that the conscious ego is brought back into communication with the unconscious again.
    Another concept that I wish I had come across years ago is that of the Hero’s Journey by Joseph Campbell. The hero is called to adventure, and though he / she may initially reject the call, they have to make that journey. The person goes from the known realm to an unknown realm (what you would call the “delusional thinking”) and goes through a series of events. Ultimately, the hero returns to the known realm with a greater understanding.

    Obviously, you want your son to come back to the “known world” as soon as possible. However, as Perry indicates, there is a process to go through and what you perceive to be helpful, may push him further into that unknown realm which is traumatizing.

    Tim Read, who is a psychiatrist in the UK has a book that also touches on archetypes (which Jung also did).

    I wanted to include a couple of references that might reframe your son’s experience so that the language involved can also be reframed to be less stigmatizing.

    The process is exceptionally complex. Hopefully, these resources can help you and your son through a very difficult period.

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  • For the record, I AM doing something positive with my life. From a quick search, “Social psychiatry is a branch of psychiatry that focuses on the interpersonal and cultural context of mental disorder and mental wellbeing.”

    During my experience, had I come across a psychiatrist like the author of this article, or someone like:

    Thomas Szasz,
    John Weir Perry,
    Loren Mosher,
    Stanislav Grof
    Joanna Moncrieff

    (all of whom are or were psychiatrists) or any of the other psychiatrists who don’t buy into the biomedical “illness” model, I might have actually been helped without the significant additional trauma after the fact.

    For that matter, the work of Stephen Porges (also a psychiatrist who is the founding director of the Traumatic Stress Research Consortium) has also been quite helpful to me. He is looking at how trauma affects the nervous system, most known for the polyvagal theorem.

    And then there is Bessel van der Kolk, yet another psychiatrist who wrote “The Body Keeps the Score” and is also focused on how trauma plays a major role in not only mental processes but how that also affects the physical body.

    I couldn’t care less if a provider is a psychiatrist, psychologist, counselor, or whatever else, so long as they don’t reduce everything down to the biomedical model of brain chemicals and stuff me into the labels of the DSM.

    And that is where the crap shoot is. How do you find the professionals (psychiatrists or otherwise) who don’t have a knee-jerk reaction to reach for the DSM (although they pretty much have to reach for the DSM if they want the insurance to kick in — and that goes for LCPCs, LCSWs, psychologists, and psychotherapists as well).

    Granted, as a group, I would say a higher percentage of psychiatrists are are likely to buy into the “illness” and “brain chemical imbalance” theories. That doesn’t mean there aren’t psychiatrists who recognize the disaster that is the DSM and biomedical model.

    The real problem is the biomedical model and it being way too restrictive.

    I for one am thankful that there are psychiatrists out there like this author. At this stage of the game, being able to reference these “dissident” psychiatrists is quite helpful.

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  • My reaction was much like yours — how can they be serious? And how can this be considered science? And yes, that low-tech approach you recommend of actually asking and engaging the person going through something might actually work.

    The approach in the article reminds me that people in the industry are subject to their own addictions — addictions to biochemistry minutiae, addictions to appearing “objective” (rather than really engaging with someone and understanding their experiences and surrounding), and also the role of projection from the provider of their model onto the customer with the assumption that the provider’s model is correct to begin with.

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  • I think it could be an improvement, but the physicians would also need to be trained better in these situations as well. In my case, I worked with my physician for two years trying to figure out why I was more lethargic. This was back in 1996. I wasn’t depressed but I was sleeping a bit more and didn’t have my usual energy level. We tested my thyroid and stuff like that.

    We discussed if I could be dealing with a “mental illness” and bipolar came up. When I laid out my personal history and relationships, she said, “I don’t think you have an illness. You are under a lot of stress.” The part she didn’t say was “And you could be heading towards a stress breakdown.”

    The following summer, I did seek counseling, which alleviating some grief issues, but didn’t address any of my codependent behavior in some significantly dysfunctional systems. Through work, I did take stress management classes, changed jobs to a different division (which was going from the frying pan into the fire).

    In my opinion, part of the problem is that the professionals too often don’t really know what they are dealing with. The behavior of someone going through a “manic” period or “psychosis” or whatever you want to call it is disturbing and even frightening to the provider. As a result, the natural reaction is to try to shove, manipulate and coerce the person back into the role they were in — the same role that led them to the “manic” or “psychotic” state. And that reaction is actually exceptionally traumatizing to an already traumatized person. In my case, that made absolutely no sense.

    Ultimately, no diagnosis should be made without some kind of evaluation and understanding or what is going on in the person’s life, specifically stress, including past trauma and tragedy, including the dynamics that a person is in with regard to family, friends, work and society, financial means, cultural beliefs, and also things like the role of religion, philosophy, education, and worldview beliefs.

    I wouldn’t care if that assessment were done by a physician or a mental services provider, but in my opinion, no diagnosis of “illness” should ever be made without full consideration of those other contributing factors.

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  • Over the summer, I began researching more into the different models and theories related to mental “illness” and trauma. I endured a severe stress breakdown (breakthrough) back in 1998, which Stanislav and Christina Grof would call a spiritual emergency. Prior to this summer, I had never heard of the Grofs or Loren Mosher or John Weir Perry, and I only learned of Thomas Szasz and RD Laing last summer. Like so many other people, I was traumatized worse by the mental health industry and what I didn’t realize was the biomedical model than by the breakdown / breakthrough.

    As I read about their work from decades ago, I realized that if all of the collective models and theories related to psychology and psychiatry were depicted as a tree with a variety of branches, then it was as though, the major limb involving their work was lopped off back in the 1980s (primarily with the release of the DSM-III).

    And all these years later, that really ticked me off. Because their work and their approach would have helped me significantly to come through that crisis in a fraction of the time.

    I didn’t realize that the branch that got lopped off was called “social psychiatry.” A few weeks ago, I read Anatomy of an Epidemic and came across Robert Whitaker’s description on page 271 that, “Loren Mosher and his band of social psychiatrists also had been roundly defeated and sent packing.”

    It is horrific to think that the very industry that is supposed to help can instead cause so much trauma and damage to so many people. And all because a group of people are so obsessed with biology and chemistry that they would ignore their client’s individual experiences.

    The problem for the biomedical model is that it is way too narrow. And I say that as a statistician who understands modelling. The biomedical model is absurd in that it totally ignores the history, experiences, trauma, social dynamics, and individual passions and skills of a person experiencing difficulties.

    Thankfully, that branch of social psychiatry that got lopped off is growing back — as it should. I have taken on the personal mission to help ensure that that branch grows back fully and completely and hopefully with even more helpful tools to truly help people. Thankfully, there are many other people who recognize the problems of how we got here. Hopefully, together we can ensure that as a minimum, the social model will grow back. Just my thoughts.

    (And of course, as I finished this up, I happened to notice the ad on TV was for a psychiatric drug…)

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  • To jdhak, I would say that it is more than “perceived authority”. It is about “assumed authority” and the psychiatric industry breeding the role of authoritarians. And too often, authoritarians are abusive. It also leads to exceptional condescension, which I would agree is related to the “pride in credentials” you mentioned.

    By “assumed” authority, I mean that the professional places themselves in that authoritative role of telling and even manipulating or worse of what the client “needs” to do.

    I was traumatized worse by the mental health industry than by the stress breakthrough / spiritual awakening that I went through.

    My experience, like those of many others, was a lot like what Joseph Campbell described in the Hero’s Journey where the hero goes from their “known” world into an “unknown” world, the hero experiences various trials and tribulations, and then returns to the “known” world.

    I find it interesting because in that scenario, most of the professionals have never experienced that “unknown” world, and yet too often they like to believe they are the experts at navigating the unknown. Then the approach is to figure out how to coerce, shove, manipulate, and threaten a person back into that so-called “known” realm. Which of course is ridiculous. At least in my opinion — and from my experience.

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  • Patrick, thanks for this article.

    With regard to “harsh discipline”, I would say that is euphemistic, and especially at that time, physical discipline was fairly normal, i.e. spankings. At what point are those abuse? And of course, just where is that threshold?

    Even if the “harsh discipline” didn’t cross that threshold, it seems that it could / would certainly create an environment of fear, of tiptoeing around their mother, trying not to trigger the next round of discipline.

    I pulled up the book on Amazon and read the first several pages. It mentioned that she was prone to morning sickness with all of the pregnancies. So on top of everything else, not only was she pregnant much of the time, overwhelmed by the chaos of the family, but also not even feeling well much of the time. It certainly seems that those kids grew up in a certain amount of chaos with “harsh discipline” to have to tiptoe around or at least try to.

    Having read the preview material available on Amazon, I wondered how differently the story would have been told had you been the author — and I wonder how the siblings would have reacted to your approach.

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  • Steve, I love that analogy. In that analogy, there are so many other possible variables related to why people could end up with broken bones — where was the person standing (or was the person moving also), which way was the person facing, what speed was the vehicle going, what type of vehicle was involved (which goes to the weight, size and perhaps shape of the vehicle.).

    To me, those variables are quite similar to the possible combinations of a person’s background, past traumas, their coping mechanisms, their support / social dynamics, etc, etc, etc. Does it show I’m a statistician? 🙂

    Thanks for the analogy.

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  • Annette, I love that phrase “follow the road to Meaning” rather than medication. I’m going to have to remember that. It goes to the saying, “Go where there is no path and leave a trail.”

    A couple months ago, I re-read M. Scott Peck’s “A Road Less Traveled”. A few weeks after that, I was in a thrift store. I was perusing the book section and my eye caught the binder to that book. Then my gaze changed direction and went directly to the binder of a book entitled, “The Road to Armageddon”. That made me chuckle because there were certainly times where my journey felt like that second book.

    Congratulations on your journey. It sounds like your path led you to a good place. Penni

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  • I love when the topic of “reality” comes up. When I was in high school, a young woman and her young children lived with my family for several months due to lack of mental health resources in her rural community. She was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. That was something that no one in my family was familiar with. It came out later that the woman had been sexually abused as a young girl and in addition was teased and tormented a lot in school.

    My mom told me the phase “split from reality” as it related to schizophrenia and psychotic experiences. Frankly, I think both of those words need to be retired.

    It was through my 1998 awakening 15 years later that I again thought of the phrase “split from reality” and the years of resulting trauma that I witnessed as the woman’s family fell apart with young children involved.

    In addition, my mom also read and studied the Course in Miracles. One of the tenets of that is that this realm is the illusion.

    And in that 1998 experience, I came across the Einstein’s quote – “Reality is an illusion, albeit a persistent one.”

    And that got me to thinking — We call this realm “reality” yet others (including Einstein) call this realm “illusion”, if a person splits from this “reality”, what does that person split towards? That is, they are splitting away from this realm, but what are they splitting to?

    Earlier this year, I was talking with a relatively new friend I met via social media. She is a mental health counselor. She mentioned someone she was working with who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. He told her that what he was experiencing is “more real than real”.

    This also reminds me of a question I asked Neale Donald Walsch when I heard him speak in late 2000. He (and presumably God) wrote the book “Conversations with God” which became a best-seller. During his talk, he made the somewhat common anecdote “If you talk to God, you are religious. If God talks to you, you are schizophrenic.”

    During the question session, I asked him, “You mentioned that if God talks to you, you are schizophrenic.” As you know, many people dealing with mental health crises talk about God talking to them, what do you make of that?”

    He said that though he didn’t know for sure, he thought that they were trying to tell us something. He respected that there was something of potential value that people going through such experiences have something to say.

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  • Great article, Sinead. A third of the way through the article, I thought, “This is an awakening.” And then I read of your coming across Sean’s work. I only recently heard of his work. I too was misdiagnosed as bipolar when it was much more of a spiritual awakening. In my case, it was waking up to my toxic codependency in abusive systems.

    In addition to the concept of awakening, the concept of becoming a mystic also comes into play — which is probably why Eckart Tolle’s book had such resonance with you. Earlier this year, I re-read M. Scott Peck’s “The Road Less Traveled” and also “God” by Reza Aslan, both of which touch on mysticism.

    I commented earlier today in a private group this content:

    One thing that would have helped me quite a bit was an exposure to Joseph Campbell’s concept of the Hero’s Journey. I don’t look at all of the different “gates” he mentioned, but the idea that a “hero” goes from the known world into the unknown world and faces a series of trials and tribulations and then returns to the known world — from what I can tell, that describes at a high level many peoples journeys with mental and spiritual crises.

    Another quote by Campbell that I found interesting is the one “The psychotic drowns in the same waters in which the mystic swims with delight.”

    Note that I don’t care for the word “psychotic” — but that quote goes to the idea that people with mental and spiritual crises — often brought on by a compilation of various traumas — reach similar levels of consciousness that a mystic seeks.

    So my question to the mystics are “Hey — where are the flippin’ life vests???”

    Ironically, my passion growing up was synchronized swimming. It sounds like you learned to swim through those difficult currents as well. Best wishes to you for your future.

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  • Hi Bill, After my last comment, I did some searching and came across his site and the red and white bead experiment. That certainly gets to the heart of why so many corporations are toxic.

    It’s funny you mentioned the + / – effort. I had been showing significant signs of stress for two years prior to the breakdown I had in 1998. I did everything a person is supposed to — was working with my medical doctor, ruled out thyroid, saw a psychotherapist, took some stress management classes, all to no avail.

    Knowing the bit about SPC and stable processes, I took it a bit further, each night in my calendar, I entered more variable data as to how my morning, day, and evening went, ranking each from 1 to 10. I didn’t go so far as to actually chart it (I am not quite that nerdy), but I couldn’t see anything too interesting.

    For me, what the psychotherapist missed was not just the toxic work environment I was in, but also I was an assistant synchronized swimming coach in the area. I coached the novices. The head coach had become more and more mentally and verbally abusive to the older girls on the team (ages 14-16). When the swim team blew up, it made me look at my role in that overall abusive system. It wasn’t until December 2017, that I realized it was a moral injury which triggered all the stress that I thought was letting roll off my back flood my system.

    I got a chuckle out of reading Deming’s background. For awhile he grew up outside of Powell, Wyoming. That’s only 90 miles from where I grew up in Montana. My brother married a woman who grew up in Powell. I’ve been through there a few times. 🙂

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  • Hi Bill,

    Your comment made me laugh out loud. My first “real” job was in a large manufacturing environment where part of my job to introduce and implement Statistical Process Control (SPC). I have a master’s degree in statistics, but I never heard of him until I hired into that manufacturing environment.

    I never read his work specifically. His name came up in a few areas. I just now looked Deming up again. I didn’t realize he was attributed with the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle. On one project, the company I worked for was a sub-contractor to another large firm which had all their bureaucratic processes.

    The company I worked for had a habit of embracing the latest acronym, trying it, and then slicing it a different way, and trying the “new” acronym. That of course resulted in acronym soup. I said that company was in the “Plan-Do, Plan-Do, Plan-Do” model. They never truly “checked” their implementation of the programs to tweak and act on them.

    The company we were subcontracted to was in the “Plan, Plan, Plan, Plan” model.

    I ended up having a severe stress breakdown working for them back in 1998. The bulk of the stress came from all the inconsistencies in their processes AND in them telling me all the buzzwords, but never truly giving me the resources to actually do my job. There were other major sources of stress in my life, which all culminated to the crisis that I endured. I ended up traumatized worse by their Employee’s Assistance Program (EAP) than by the breakdown.

    Just as I opened the email that notified me of your comment, I was calling a statistician friend of mine that I worked with back in the 1998 time frame. He was much better versed in Deming.

    I told him a month or so ago that we as a society and a culture don’t begin to address how to evaluate “healthy” culture and environment. We have this growth economic model that is based on manipulation (marketing) even to the extent of promoting addiction to items or entertainment. Talk about adversely affecting both the psychology of the individuals and the sociology of our culture. And then we wonder why we are so unhealthy as a society. (And don’t forget Big Pharma to the rescue!)

    I think we could benefit by looking at our economic systems with regard to SPC. A good process is one that is “stable” and “capable” within defined limits. We don’t come anywhere close to even talking about things like that when it comes to our human processes.

    Let me know if you have any specific references related to Deming that you recommend.

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  • Thanks, Steve, for pointing out limitations with even quality therapy. To me, this goes to the relationship between psychology and sociology.

    At this point, because the DSM “billing codes” only address behavior, there is no data collection related to summary statistics involving why people truly seek help.

    What percentage of people seek help due to physical violence in their lives? Is that physical violence in a person’s history (i.e. a violent parent or family member or previous assault)? Or is that violence a threat due to a neighbor or more generally the neighborhood a person lives in?

    What percentage seek help due to poor or even toxic work environments? At what point is a threshold crossed from a “challenging” work environment into a “toxic” one? (And that doesn’t even address the conditioning aspects of supporting a “team” environment.)

    In the current system, the summary data isn’t even collected with regard to the sources of pain and stress in people who seek assistance or as in my case, actually break from crutching some significantly toxic and abusive systems, whether that system is a person’s family, or a business or corporation or a community.

    At this point, we don’t even assess the relative health of those systems. Granted, that wouldn’t be an easy undertaking, but at least capturing some data as part of the current process would shed some light on things.

    Shortly after I started my first “real” job in corporate America as a statistician, I came across this quote, “Too often people use statistics the way a drunk uses a lamp post — for support rather than for light.” When listened to, the data will try to tell the story. But in this case, we aren’t even capturing enough of the “right” data to gain some very important illumination.

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  • Actually, madmother13, I thought of this further. I think much of the problem is the transference from the mental health professionals who labeled you in such a way. You call them “liars” but from their model, they think they are speaking the truth — according to their eff-ed up models. That certainly seems like transference to me. They are totally disregarding your model and your version of describing whatever you endured.

    That of course is a guess on my part, but I recall years ago, it was jarring to see how I was labeled. I was fired from my job as a result of a severe stress breakdown (and there were four termination dates floating around). I filed for unemployment — and actually won, though I had to go through multiple rounds of appeals, which damn near killed me due to having to read through all the crap my former employer claimed about me. Then I had to clearly and rationally refute their claims. (And it was a large Fortune 100 company with hundreds of thousands of employees.)

    Be easy on yourself and try not to get mired in their model of things. Too often the psychiatric model is devoid of human compassion and empathy, which is so so tragic.

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  • Thank you, Leah, for the article. In the opening paragraph, you use the phrase “control the narrative”. I often use the phrase “control the dialogue”. The role of linguistics in this psychiatric mess is horrific in that it results in so much extra and unnecessary suffering by those already struggling.

    I saw Bedlam a couple weeks ago and pulled up the web page on PBS. I noticed a comment from Ron Thompson who mentioned that he had a “severe nervous breakdown” back in the 1960s. And he provided his email address. I emailed him and told him that I endured what I call a “severe stress breakdown” back in the late 90s. I of course ended up labeled “bipolar” which I rejected because I was aware of mislabeling already and knew the multiple sources of stress that I was crutching — hence why i label it a “stress breakdown”.

    We both questioned the filmmaker’s sister’s diagnosis of schizophrenia. As I recall from the film, she was 20 years old and going through a divorce in 1970, which of course would have been a VERY stigmatizing experience to go through. Depending on the relationships and pressures of being a young wife, certainly going through a divorce at such a young age would likely cause significant stress in a person.

    It was a disturbing film, that’s for sure.

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  • anomie — As I read this, I was thinking of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. If the most basic needs and a sense of safety and security are not present, the bottom two elements, it certainly seems that whatever issues with a person’s mental health would be significantly exacerbated. It isn’t rocket science. I tend to believe that much of what is labeled as “mental illness” is more likely related to severe stress breakdowns. And, gee, having so much stress added by being homeless and having no sense of security in the future would certainly worsen any issues a person has.

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  • In my opinion, the simple answer is because in your words, they are “liars” and at this point, they have gotten away with it. Seeing it in print on a page is different than hearing and having to deflect things that way.

    At a deeper level, it must retraumatize some areas of what you have worked on to overcome and move forward with your life. It has to. It has scratched at that trauma that you have worked so hard to put behind you.

    It is so easy for someone to say, “Don’t let it get to you.” Well it is just as easy to say (to a professional), “Try to understand this from my perspective and don’t throw labels at me that don’t help. Labels that actually make my life worse.”

    It seems that as a human right, a person should have the right to refute a diagnosis. That is, each person should be able to include in their report “I disagree with this.”, so that at least your refutation is also part of your record.

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  • Thank you, Mr. McNeill, for sharing this eulogy for your son. I am so sorry for your loss and for all that you and he went through for such an extended period of time.

    As I read this, I realized that at some point my hand had moved to cover my mouth as a subtle expression of sadness and concern as I continued to read each successive difficulty encountered and endured. Your son was so much stronger than most people could ever begin to understand.

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  • Wow, Erin. What an incredible article. I love that the little girl’s laughter was in a sense the key piece to your “awakening” from that overmedicated desperate state. Something so pure and innocent broke through that mess to awaken your desire again. In my own experiences, I made up many alternate types of therapy to help me work through to a healthier place, including children, dogs, music and diagramming.

    And I LOVED the part about you collecting diagnoses.

    The voice with which you write certainly seems to come from a place of healing and strength. While your style is gentle, the story itself has so much power behind it as to the dangers of the medication model. Especially that labeling people with a permanent diagnoses (of an incurable illness) for a temporary situation has the potential to cause serious, serious damage. Thanks for sharing this — so that I can share it as well.

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  • Hi Krista — sorry that in my attempt to be brief, I didn’t expound enough. And no need to apologize for your last post about “going on” because there is a lot of useful information that you have referenced for me to look into as well. It helps arm me with more material as I continue with discussions wherever I can. It has only been in the last couple of years that I have moved into the realm of public speaking. I too am supposedly “mentally ill” for the rest of my life. Was diagnosed bipolar. But at the same time, I knew that their models were seriously wrong. Or if I want to be euphemistic, “their models are missing some key elements”. And I knew that I was part of the model that was missing.

    The key word in my statement was “should”. My comment was directed at how dysfunctional and even abusive systems create painful mental health reactions / responses / conditions in individuals. Systems can be anything, large or small — families, schools, religions, and even economic systems such as capitalism that don’t adequately address poverty and promote addiction to buy more material things. Systems can be dysfunctional systems such as toxic work environments, unhealthy living conditions and such.

    In short, the world is “crazy”. The world is “bipolar” (which literally is true with its north and south poles). The world is “schizophrenic” or whatever other description that you want to put on an individual.

    From what I can tell, too often when a person acts out against such dysfunction and abuse, and act out in a way that isn’t linguistically or behaviorally acceptable because it causes pain at a very core level of the individual (you mentioned your ‘lizard’ brain). Some might call that the unconscious, the soul or other things.

    Instead, that individual ends up labeled with who knows what. Yes, often bipolar or schizophrenic — or oppositional defiance order or, or, or. The point I was trying to make is that often (and I might even say “usually” people act and react against such dysfunctions which are often authoritarian structures.

    If the mental health systems really functioned as they should, and yes, that is a HUGE, non-existent “if” at this point, the professionals would first assess what situations and stresses and environments a person is caught up in and help individuals understand what they are reacting against. In that sense the individual is the canary in the coal mine.

    In my opinion, if the mental health system worked as it should, those who seek help would gain an even better understanding of weaknesses or even outright failures in the systems around them. And that is what would breed the activism to bring about changes or open up discussion around the unhealthy dynamics.

    So instead of breeding activists to help improve our surroundings and systems, the mental health industry too often stomps on and “punishes” those who act out, rebel, or even collapse while crutching that dysfunction. Talk about authoritarianism and abuse! And yes, people should be winning MAJOR lawsuits against those who abuse and traumatize people so badly.

    Your comment of “lizard brain” ties me to a recent podcast by Will Hall where he interviewed Sean Blackwell who wrote a book entitled “Bipolar or Awakening” — It doesn’t mention “lizard brain”, but does talk to the elements of our psyche that are not linguistic and at the true core of things. I added a lengthy comment to that about my experiences and how it relates to the awakening concept. I didn’t know it at the time, but my experience was very much an “awakening”.

    So thanks again for your post and references and thanks also for letting me clarify the intent of my comment above. Some may say that I am too “idealistic”. That’s OK. I look around and see so much system abuse and conditioning that these are major undertakings, major shifts that I see are needed. The world needs to “wake up” as well. The systems we currently have cause serious trauma. And as Carl Jung would say, “We can only change that which we accept.” (Just my take.)

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  • JanCarol, I agree with your comment that “it’s not the final answer, but a step in the right direction”.

    I have a background in statistics and the current model is that everything or virtually everything is an “illness” and in most cases there is no “cure”.

    For the last year or so, I have told several lay people and also people somewhat familiar with the system that a big problem is with the model.

    If you look at the physical health model, if you say someone is physically healthy, the lack having an illness — and they lack having physical injury.

    That is, if someone is in a car accident and has a shattered leg and a collapsed lung, you wouldn’t say they were “ill”, but you wouldn’t say they were “healthy”.

    If someone came up and beat you with a bat and caused severe bruising or broken bones, medical personnel would recognize the person has significant injuries. There may be several ways (treatments) for dealing with the situation, but at least there is not just the possibility of recovery, but even the probability of a full recovery.

    My experience of a severe stress breakdown (or breakthrough) fits much better as an “injury” than an “illness”. I have even used the phrase “ego collapse” and “fracturing” to talk about my type of experience.

    People don’t talk about “curing” an injury, we talk about how to “heal” an injury which leads to recovery and a decent quality of life (which is totally missing from the biomedical model).

    From what I have read of other people’s experiences from comments on the MIA articles, many of those experiences don’t seem to fit the description of “injury” either. So as an assessment, a person shouldn’t be shoved into one of those categories either of “illness” or an “injury”.

    But at least pointing out that the current model doesn’t even begin to address injuries, it blows a pretty big hole in the current model. And with a wide, gaping hole in the model, there can be tremendous opportunity for improvement and redefining things.

    And again, as a statistician, I am all for blowing holes in the current model.

    Of course, that’s just my take.

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  • Hi Will and Sean, Thanks for the great interview. I just came across it yesterday.

    In response to the initial question “Do bipolar and psychosis have a healing potential (that is) blocked by suppression, medications, and avoidance?”, I would say “most definitely”. Though I don’t care for either of those words — bipolar and psychosis — because they trigger so much fear.

    I came across Sean’s book last week and downloaded it. I haven’t read it yet. I went through an ego collapse / ego death / spiritual awakening / severe stress breakdown / breakout / breakthrough back in 1998.

    I was misdiagnosed as “bipolar” — which I knew would happen because I knew multiple people who had had similar experiences and were also diagnosed that way — which they also rejected.

    In fact, as I understand it, Sean is initially from Canada. My breakout happened while on a short vacation in Banff, Alberta, from the US. And while I was up there, as I realized that the Canadians call their one and two-dollar coins “loonies” and “toonies”, I thought, “Who is writing this?” At the time, I loved polar bears and I remember sitting in my motel room asking myself, “What is this?” (referring to what I was going through). Was this bipolar? Was this schizophrenia? I looked at a toonie and noticed a polar bear on the coin. I thought, “No. This coin is bipolar (a two-dollar coin with a polar bear on it), the planet is bipolar, magnets are bipolar. What I am experiencing is not bipolar. This is a breakdown due to all the stress that has built up by my crutching unhealthy systems around me.

    I made it through that process not with the help of the mental health industry, but rather despite their initial efforts, which was basically to shove, coerce and threaten me back into the very role that broke me.

    A year later, I found a counselor who helped me embrace the journey that I made and even laughed with me about the several synchronistic and mystical experiences I had. She actually listened to me and read some of my notes. It was that, along with the laughter, that truly helped me to heal.

    I noticed in the interview that there was discussion around resolving issues from a person’s birth experience. I consider the process that I went through a type of “spiritual birth”. One analogy I use is that what I experienced at the hands of the Employee’s Assistance Program and the mental health professionals was like a woman going into labor and the baby is crowning, but then the doctor tries to shove the baby back in.

    I have never been pregnant, but as I understand it, the process itself is messy, frightening (some women have even said terrifying), exhilarating, painful and miraculous. And if the process goes well, you end up with something truly beautiful and your life is changed forever.

    I also relate my type of experience to Joseph Campbell’s monomyth about the Hero’s Journey where the hero transitions from the known realm to the unknown realm. From what I can tell, the current mental health model is to try to shove and coerce a person back into the known world from the same path that they came. For some people, that might work. But for me, that never would have worked. There was no going back to the person I was. And in that attempt, they can actually push a person on a much more traumatic path through that unknown realm. A realm that they most likely don’t understand or in many cases don’t even acknowledge exists.

    I am so glad that I came across the interview. I hadn’t heard much of the breathing technique, but from what you guys described, I think there are probably many parallels between what a person experiences during that type of exercise and my type of unexpected Hero’s Journey.

    It has only been recently as I have started writing and speaking publicly about my experiences. I have spoken privately about it since 1998. It has only been in the last few months that I have truly come to embrace the mystical aspect of my type of experience. I have come to call it “A Journey to Mysticism: The Harder Path” (or something like that). 🙂

    Thanks and all the best to you!

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  • Krista, glad to hear the future is (finally) bright. It sounds like a dark journey for so long.

    your comment that experiences such as yours are not rare is what is so troubling to me. People seek / need help and the very system (industry) that is supposed to help actually worsens things so much more than anyone could ever expect.

    And those in favor of the biomedical model have so much influence in largely controlling the dialogue about mental health. The other day I pulled up the statistic that 1 in 6 Americans are on some type of psychiatric drug — most common was of course antidepressants. And most people take those drugs long-term or indefinitely.

    And in that case, I was very lucky because i have a master’s degree in statistics and I knew that those drugs were not initially designed for nor tested for such long-term use. In addition, I knew that there were probably very few, if any, tests on the combinations and interactions of multiple drugs taken together.

    To me, a significant percentage of the people expressing mental health issues and seeking help are the canaries in the coal mines — that our systems (institutions) are often destructive to people. To me, it seems that the mental health industry should be a breeding ground for activists for social change because I would guess a very high percentage of people who seek help in the mental health industry are those often traumatized even worse — as you described.

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  • Thanks, Aerial Ballet, for your comment. Since I am not a professional in the industry, I didn’t realize how hamstrung the professionals are in even acknowledging their disdain for the current system. Talk about “oppressive”.

    In my case, it was through trial and error that I worked better people who were licensed clinical social workers and professional counselors. I found they they actually listened to me and helped reframe and even embrace my experiences.

    A week or so ago, I listened to a MIA podcast with Ian Parker who pointed out that it is typically the LCSWs and counselors who are more likely to look a the social elements and systems around a person to determine causality.

    In general, I would say that if a person “breaking out” of their unhealthy life and exhibiting high emotion and “psychotic” behavior, they or their family members are more likely to seek out a psychiatrist over other types of mental health practitioners due to the change in behavior. And that of course just leads a person right into that mess (excluding some of the psychiatrists who advocate for change like those involved with MIA).

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  • oldhead — I guess it reinforces that I really was lucky. At the time it felt like falling into a crevasse of a glacier and just sliding further and further downward.

    What was funny was several years later, I was talking with a guy I used to work with who was very kind and helpful to me through my experiences. He knew what a bureaucratic mess the company was that we worked for. I didn’t realize that he didn’t know just how many system failures there were.

    At one point he said, “Gee, it almost sounds like it was a conspiracy by the Employee’s Assistance Program to get you out of the company.”

    I told him, “I find that funny because you can say that. If I say that, I’m paranoid.”

    He then said, “Well, you know they aren’t that smart to pull of something like that in a coordinated manner.”

    I agreed and told him, “Yes. That’s why I never said it was a conspiracy on their part.”

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  • JA — thank you for bringing in the phrase “master enabler” in here. I have used phrases like “chronic enabler” and “toxic enablers” with regard to senators and representatives falling in line with Trump. I also consider that a failure to do their job. Using the word “enabler” brings focus to the system elements, not just the individual.

    With Trump, I consider him an “abuser”. Some people call it bullying or counter punching, but I consider his behavior too often to be outright abusive. And those who tolerate it are enablers and complicit.

    At some level, we are involved in abusive systems somehow, some are personal relationships such as family members, others are positional such as corporate abuse (which I feel America is rife with — and then we wonder why we don’t have healthy culture.)

    I believe that if more people put our society and culture under the lens of abusive systems, then things might become more clear.

    For example, why would evangelicals support Trump when he has violated something like 7 of the 10 commandments?

    Because evangelicals largely worship an authoritarian (or as I would call an “abusive” God). That is the God that in effect says, “Love me and worship me, or I will send you to hell and eternal damnation.” That’s not love, that’s coercion. And living under that type of fear definitely effects a person’s psyche and their psychology.

    In another example, a friend of mine commented on one of my FB posts that people should just leave Trump alone. I don’t agree with that because at some point, you shouldn’t just be silent about abuse.

    Her comment, though, caught me off guard and I wondered what in her life and most likely in her childhood would teach her that behavior — to just leave someone like that alone. About a month later, she mentioned in a different conversation that her dad was an alcoholic. And then her comment made some more sense. She grew up tiptoeing around the authority in her family — not making waves. And apparently that approach worked well enough for her so she uses it still.

    Just my take.

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  • I shared your article with comments that within the psychiatric community there is an attempt to control the dialogue regarding psychiatric diagnoses and treatments which is very similar to how politicians attempt to control the dialogue around issues as well.

    Personally, I get a kick out of how only trained mental health professionals are supposed to use the DSM to diagnose people (which right there is their way of controlling the dialogue with an immediate means to disregard anyone from outside the system). And then they bandy the terms around however they want.

    Thanks for the article.

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  • Krista, Wow. First, I am so sorry that you endured all of that incompetence, abuse and trauma. I hadn’t really heard the phrase “psychiatric survivor” until I came across the MIA site. Your account certainly demonstrates that phrase.

    Last week I was talking with a man who had what he called a “severe nervous breakdown” back in the 1960s. We compared our stories and I shared my story of how I “fell through the cracks of the mental health system” (my phrasing). At one point as I shared my story, he said, “Penni, please don’t take this the wrong way, but to me, it sounds like you were incredibly lucky to have fallen through the cracks.” I told him that I didn’t take offense at his statement and that ultimately, I agree that I was very lucky — though of course it worsened my condition and traumatized me even more.

    It is when I hear accounts such as your that I realize truly how much worse and hellish such an experience could have been. I have told friends for years that on a scale of 1 to 10, I would rate my experience a 38. Experiences such as yours seem to be up in the 150 to 200 range. Of course I am being somewhat facetious in the concept of rating such things, but it is so off the charts, it is simply not relatable.

    I wish you health as you move forward.

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  • Thanks for your comment, Oldhead about the “out of whack” part of my initial post. It helps me clarify my phrasing in the future.

    By “out of whack” I relate that to being in significant pain. That is neurons firing in a different pattern. In the case of the collapsed knees, that would be the equivalent of a person writhing in pain. In my case, I could feel my brain working in VERY different patterns than usual. So even in my case, I would have said, ‘Yes, sure, my biochemistry is probably ‘out of whack’ — my mind just exploded.”

    If all you do is put a person on pain killers, you aren’t addressing the actual condition and injury. And you are doing nothing to help that person heal. And there is a high probability that the person might end up limping for the rest of their life.

    Thanks for your comment so that I can work to tie that together better — at least for my own situation.

    So in the analogy, the point that I need to bring in better is that by biochemist

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  • Steve, I was talking to someone earlier today and said that it seems that a huge problem in the mental health industry is that too often people seeking help are not give OPTIONS of what may or may not work for them.

    I also told him that what I found in my efforts to find professional help is that there is no real “process” for finding someone who would be a good match in terms of types of treatment approaches. That is, how could I find a “dissident mental health professional”.

    The process used to find a professional from what I could tell was like drawing names out of a hat.

    In my situation, I ended up coming up with every type of alternate treatment that I could as I fell through the cracks of the mental health system. I knew that drugs were an option, but I also felt that I wanted them to be a last resort. I found that the speed with which one psychiatrist reached for his prescription pad was way too fast. (I used to refer to him as a “professional drug pusher”.) And of course then I got accused of “rejecting treatment”.

    In my case, I ended up getting cut off twice on the phone with mental health professionals, I got misinformation about my medical leave benefits, I got two sets of medical leave paperwork filled out incorrectly and then threatened with termination for “rejecting treatment” because the Employees Assistance Program counselor determined that I hadn’t sought treatment even though I had begun working with a different professional. They were threatening to fire me from a job that contributed significantly to me having a severe stress breakdown. There is a HUGE logic problem in there.

    All of that of course only traumatized me worse.

    When I was finally fired, there were four termination dates floating around (and of course, I thought, “And you guys think I need help…”)

    Ultimately, you don’t abuse people like that and make no mistake, that type of treatment is ABUSE. Call the spade a spade. At least that is my take.

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  • Thank you, Dr. Hickey, for this article. I really appreciate learing the evolution from DSM-1 using the term “reaction” to morphing into everything becoming “illnesses” and now “disorders”.

    Last year, I went through a PTS period in my life. Note that I don’t include the “D” because I consider it more of a response, condition, or reaction.

    Since then as I have shared my own story (involving a severe stress breakdown back in 1998 and how I was traumatized worse by both failures in the mental health system and also by their efforts to shove me back into the very role that broke me), I have explicitly stated that what I endured was no more an illness than a fractured leg.

    In fact, for years I have used this analogy. If I sit on a couch and put my feet up on a coffee table and add a half pound of stress each day, as that weight accumulates, at some point my knees will buckle. It has nothing to do with illness or even genetics. It has to do with stress and abuse. And when those knees collapse, will the person’s biochemistry be out of whack? Of course. But only looking at the biochemistry not only is a very flat observation of what happened, it does not even address the true condition that caused the injury.

    If focusing only on the biochemistry truly helps someone, then fabulous. There are way too many people, though, for whom those cocktails of drugs do not work.

    Having this history to include in my own speaking (and writing) efforts is very helpful. Thank you for the brief history lesson!

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  • So true. I have long said that it is the people who make these journeys that touch on realms beyond this one who will lay out the landscape of what those journeys are like.

    Of course everyone’s experiences are unique and yet in some cases, there are possible overlaps. I have learned that when people talk about something being “more real than real” that they are most likely having a spiritual mystical experience rather than a “mental illness”.

    That is why I love the quote from Albert Einstein, “Reality is an illusion, albeit a persistent one.” If what we call reality is illusion, then that raises significant questions as to that experience that is “more real than real”.

    Thanks again for your voice.

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  • Thank you for your article and account. It is the people who experience such injustice and cruelty whose voices are so very important.

    I love the paragraph about depression, bipolar and schizophrenia and the “real spirit world”.

    In 1998, I endured what I call a severe stress breakdown and ended up traumatized worse by the Employees Assistance Program at the Fortune 100 company I was working for and by the mental health industry.

    Mine was a very spiritual experience — which of course the psychiatrists took no stock in. Fortunately, I recognized the additional trauma that was added after the initial breakdown. I was finally fired from the company (after twice meeting their medical leave requirements). There were four termination dates floating around. For the following year, I concentrated myself on healing and recovery. It took a lot longer to heal than I would have thought, but I did it. A year after the initial break, I found a counselor who actually listened to me and helped me embrace my experiences. She didn’t like me calling it a breakdown. She preferred “breakout” or “breakthrough”.

    I have long thought that if the professionals merely treated the trauma that a person may be feeling through a major break, they would probably be more successful in treatment.

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  • Your account is so so horrifying and, of course, tragic. The content of your comment here could easily become an article itself. Thank you for your account.

    This sentence stood out to me: “Our villages have been destroyed by capitalism, greed, and oppression.”

    I use the phrase “abusive systems”. Or as Bruce Levine would say “authoritarians”. In my opinion, at some level, we are all involved in some type of abusive system — whether it is personal interactions, professional (such as a job or corporation), religion or other structural, societal institution. We all develop coping mechanisms for such things as best we can, though if the abuse keeps growing, people pay the price.

    And then we label the person who “wakes up” to those abuses (or breaks under the weight) as “mentally ill”.

    We act as though that greed and oppression has no adverse effect. Who is really delusional?

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