Assorted psychiatric distortions.


When I spoke about having been locked up and how awful it was, people would be very sympathetic and say a mistake had been made in my case, as I obviously wasn’t mentally ill. Even though I would explain that I had been as crazy as anyone had ever been, with all the classic signs of what is called schizophrenia, I don’t think people believed me. They didn’t understand. Yes, I had been mistreated as an individual, but what had happened to me was still happening to thousands of others.

Irit Shimrat is a Canadian activist in the mad movement, who wrote the book Call Me Crazy from which that quote is taken.

Prior to being locked up, she had believed that there was a massive worldwide conflict in which she could tell the good guys and the bad guys at a glance. She wore sunglasses because she believed that looking someone directly in the eye could kill them, and she believed she was invisible when she stole the sunglasses to use for this. God talked to her through an alarm clock. When she was locked up and put in an isolation room, she stuck her finger up her butt and wrote symbols in the wall in crap to try to unlock the door and free herself. She finally agreed to take the drugs they wanted, which didn’t stop her from being crazy at all, but did get her out of seclusion.

She eventually started thinking straight again, but it took months. Much later, when she was doing a lot of work against psychiatry, she went crazy again. As she put it:

I thought it was interesting that the first and second time I went mad, I got professional help — hospitalization and drugs — and stayed crazy for months, and the third time I got help from a friend who wasn’t scared because she’d been there herself — and it was over in a few hours.

There is something very interesting in all this that is not supposed to be mentioned, somehow: That a lot of people do better without psychiatric drugs than with them.

The classic response, so classic that it is to me a cliché, is to say, “But there are severe mental illnesses for which medication is necessary,” or else “These people did not have the real version of these illnesses.”

Note that I do not believe that “mental illness” is even an appropriate term for these experiences, because it is loaded with assumptions about the causes and nature of the experiences, that are simply not proven or true. For instance, as I am reading the text on this screen, I am sure that if you scanned my brain, you would see certain regions lighting up that are not normally lit up. Yet you would not say “These brain regions lighting up cause the text to appear on the screen.” Saying “These brain regions lighting up cause the text to appear on the screen” is exactly equivalent to what people are doing with terms like “depression” and brain scan studies. They are saying the brain spontaneously causes a disease called depression, therefore treating neurotransmitters will cause the brain to stop causing this disease, basically.

This is not to say that neurological variation doesn’t exist, but that the assumption that all things classified as “mental illness” are true diseases and truly caused by neurological variation, is incredibly suspect in many areas, including in terms of the so-called “treatments”.

But one of the most damaging aspects of this model is this:

When I say that I handle life without psychiatric drugs, it is assumed that:

  1. I do not share certain experiences with people who “need” psychiatric drugs.
  2. I do not share as extreme experiences as people who “need” psychiatric drugs.

Just like Irit Shimrat and the nebulous concept of “schizophrenia”, I have experienced every recorded aspect of what psychiatry calls depression.

I have not just “gotten sad,” I have felt that life has no hope and that every instant was taking a century and that soon I would find it unbearable. I have felt too bad to even cry. I have been unable to move, not because of the difficulty I have with movement ordinarily, but because I could not muster the will to move an inch. I have made serious, but fortunately clueless, attempts at suicide. I have felt like I had no mood at all, no interest in doing anything. I have felt like I am the most horrible person on the planet and deserve death to rid everyone of my presence.

I experienced those things for many years of my life. I do not now experience any of those things.

Here is the part where I am supposed to tell you about the wonderful drugs, or the wonderful electroshock that would help me. In fact, I would have made a good candidate for electroshock by psychiatric standards, because I was totally unresponsive to anti-depressants of any kind. They screwed me up several ways at a time, and did nothing to alleviate my overall mood.

And that is the part where everyone says “Well misdiagnosis occurs and that is really horrible and all but it doesn’t have anything to do with people who have real, severe depression. You did not have a real mood disorder.”

Well… no, that really sounds like a cop-out to me, a quick and easy but wrong explanation. I experienced those things because of a combination of circumstances and learned reactions to circumstances. When I changed both the circumstances and the reactions, suddenly I began to be genuinely happy (not just a mood, but an overall sense of things) for longer and longer.

This did not happen overnight, and it was not an easy “snapping my fingers and it’s gone” thing, it took years of concentrated effort, and the effort had to be in the right areas. I had made an effort in the past, but trying really hard to run north, east, or west doesn’t help when your destination is to the south. It’s not just a matter of how much effort is put in, but of whether you know where to direct that effort. Otherwise you end up exhausted and feeling just as bad as when you started.

But I’m not supposed to say any of this, because saying this supposedly relegates “depression” to “a matter of willpower” and therefore “the fault of the person”, or that “only weak people take psych drugs”. No, not really, that’s not where I’m coming from. At all.

I don’t blame anyone for being, or staying, within the experience that some people call “depression,” because I don’t think that anyone would willingly subject themselves to that. I also think there are external factors that can make such an experience far more likely, and patterns of thinking that perpetuated it are not something to be hand-waved lightly away, or else they would not cause so much suffering, the person would just wave them away themselves.

But what do I know? I couldn’t really have been “mentally ill”, or else I would have taken my drugs like a good little girl, talked all about my “debilitating mood disorder” that was a “neurobiological disease”, gone to NAMI meetings and shut up about what really made me feel better. But my experience, and the experience of Irit Shimrat, are not isolated, random experiences, but incredibly common ones. The main uniqueness in any of our stories is that we have managed to stay away from the system long enough for this to happen, not the sort of people we are intrinsically.

(To be clear: I don’t care what anyone puts into their bodies, I’m pro-choice on that matter. But I do think that there is massive persuasion going on, that tells people they “have to” put certain things in their bodies in order to feel better, and thus “informed consent” often is neither informed nor consent. Telling someone that if they do not take something, they are likely to die, is not choice, especially when it is not true and the opposite may be true.)

So if you see someone talking about how a drug made them feel worse, or talking about how they stopped being a certain way without drugs, or talking about how they accept the way they are, please don’t say, “Oh, here comes another misdiagnosis” or “This person clearly doesn’t understand the suffering involved in severe insert-psych-label-here.”

It may be that they have had all the experiences that traditionally are a part of that psych label, but bad experiences with drugs or good experiences with things that are not drugs. As far as I know, human experience is not defined by whether people having that experience respond a certain way to drugs thrown at them by a profession that really has much less clue what it’s doing than it claims to have, and that is not even a true branch of medicine to begin with.

I am tired of, on the one hand, having my life experiences categorized as a form of illness, and on the other hand, being told that I don’t actually have those experiences just because neither my mind nor body toe the line in response to pseudoscientific “treatments” of said experiences. (Oh, and please don’t call me a $cientologist for saying this, they’re just as bad as psychiatry, thanks.)


About Mel Baggs

Hufflepuff. Came from the redwoods, which tell me who I am and where I belong in the world. I relate to objects as if they are alive, but as things with identities and properties all of their own, not as something human-like. Culturally I'm from a California Okie background. Crochet or otherwise create constantly, write poetry and paint when I can. Proud member of the developmental disability self-advocacy movement. I care a lot more about being a human being than I care about what categories I fit into.

30 responses »

  1. I suspect that the real problem is that when we talk about “depression” or “schizophrenia” or “bipolar” or “autism” or “adhd” or whatever, we’re usually making the mistake of reification: treating an abstract concept as if it were a concrete thing. If I said that 5 people had “dermatitis,” nobody in their right mind would automatically assume that all their itchy skin rashes had the same cause or merited the same treatments; “dermatitis” is just a label that categorizes their experiences. It’s not a thing; it’s an abstract category. No physician would reify it.

    But in psychiatry and to a lesser extent neurology, there’s a strong tendency to treat patterns of experience that are no more well-defined than “dermatitis” as if they were actual diseases such that all people in a certain category have the same things going on in their brains. Mostly this reflects the fact that the scientific understanding of the brain lags behind the understanding of the rest of the body, and therefore the scientific basis for psychiatry/neurology is a lot more tentative than it is for most areas of medicine. But part of it is almost certainly unconscious prejudice resulting from the tendency to divide people into “like me” and “unlike me.”

    The result is that two people with the same “condition” will very often respond in completely opposite ways to the same “treatment.” Now Occam’s Razor suggests that if you respond badly to, say, a medication that someone else responds well to, the first thing that should come to mind is not “your condition is more severe than theirs” but rather “your condition isn’t the same as theirs, even though they look similar.” But the usual approach is just to do more of the same.

  2. Oh, I could write chapter and verse on this issue.

    Ironically, I had actually been trying to write about this same thing for about two days when I saw this post. Specifically the assumption that if a person found they could cure their problems without psychiatric drugs, or did better without the drugs, they must not have been ‘truly mentally ill’ or had the ‘real’ versions of those illnesses, and have not shared the same experiences as people who are ‘really sick.’ And that by promoting themselves as having experienced these things, they trivialize the plight of those who are ‘really sick’ and undermine them, etc, etc.

    I don’t really know where to start here– I should talk about it more than I do. I can only say that we have had many experiences popularly claimed to be only treatable with medication, from OCD to depression to ‘psychotic’ episodes, and we are not now experiencing any of the symptoms of those, nor are we taking medication to control them. None of this is to say we ‘never really suffered’; we did, a great deal in some cases. None of this is to say that we “got better because we wanted to.” Wanting to is certainly always a factor, but it required physical removal from the situations which had induced certain kind of behavior and thinking, and un-learning the attitudes we had been taught to hold towards ourselves (the latter being more difficult than the former, by far).

    And still, even still, all we have to do is say “we recovered and we don’t take drugs any more” and get met with “Oh, yeah, right– that means you never had the “real” versions of any of those disorders in the first place.” And if you were officially so labeled by a doctor, the doctor was an incompetent quack out for money (some of ours certainly were, but that doesn’t mean that we lacked the ‘symptoms’ of the diagnoses they gave us). And get told how we are undermining the lives of those who are “really sick, not mildly afflicted like you were.” And that we are increasing stigma by “putting responsibility for the illness onto the person.”

    And then we have to hear the stories. Stories of what happens to the people who are “really sick.” The people who “really need meds.” The people who sound just like us. Stories of things we’ve done. Things we’ve felt. Places we’ve spent long dark nights at the bottom of, becoming intimately familiar with. Told “This is what would happen to you if you had really had those problems.” Even if we have had all of those things happen to us, felt them or done them or had to fight tooth and nail to resist doing them.

    I don’t believe we are better than anyone else because we got out of it. We were lucky in being able to remove ourselves from the situation.

    My response to the ‘increasing stigma’ remark is that you will increase stigma by perpetuating the idea that a person’s humanity and morality are dependent upon their having access to a particular kind of drug– that a lack of that drug places a person beyond any hope of rational and moral redemption.

  3. I was able to get out of a hideous depression without medication. I realized that FOR ME, I had some choice in how deep the depression was, and so I started to fight it, and very slowly came out of it. Later I tried some antidepressants (years later) and I liked Prozac, it wasn’t a miracle for me, but it made a small difference that helped. Then I started having what seemed to be myoclonic seizures (muscle jerks) and what I think of as the beginnings of serotonin syndrome, but I’m not sure that’s what it was, and anyway, I had to stop.

    So, I’m agnostic when it comes to antidepressants, they probably save some people’s lives, but I also think that some people like to be depressed, they sort of feed it… maybe they are the minority, but it’s fair to say that we have some kind of control over how we feel, up to a point. There are very psychotic people who manage to live apparently normal looking lives and not be on medication. They have their delusions, but they don’t interfere with their jobs, not sure if they interfere with relationships…

    Psychoses can be dangerous, though. My friend from Montana who has a schizophrenia dx, ended up in a frozen river in Wisconsin, or maybe Michigan, when he was found and taken to a hospital. He was driving across the country to get away from the mafia, if I remember correctly. Still, the worst thing for any mentally ill person is stress, and what could be more stressful than a mental hospital? Talking to a real friend and knowing that you have a friend who cares, is the most “healing” thing, I think, and you can’t get that from a psychiatrist/psychologist/counselor, they are never really your “friend,” not so long as someone is paying them.

  4. ebohlman:

    Yes, exactly. There’s a sense in which these things are all treated like they’re… well… things, and they’re not really things at all. They’re experiences, and they have a number of causes, some of which are not even slightly acknowledged by psychiatry.

    It’s also not clear that finding psych drugs ‘helpful’ would mean that other things could not be equally helpful. I find there’s often a dividing line drawn between “endogenous” and “exogenous” that depends on whether you respond to drugs and a number of other things, but I doubt that it’s really that clear-cut.

    Julian and Riel:

    Oh yes, those stories. I get those too. (“Depression” isn’t the only thing I’ve had experiences that correspond to a psych label, either, BTW.)

    With regard to OCD, I’ve found it really interesting that several people I know, and I, went through a particular time period in our lives where we seemed to “have OCD really bad,” and then it mostly (not entirely) let up, also around the same ages. Which made one person say something like, “Makes you really wonder about this ‘absolutely needing medication’ stuff, doesn’t it, that we all ‘recovered’ on our own very naturally at a certain age. These days we’d be taken to a child psychiatrist who would put us on drugs for the rest of our lives.”

    But those stories… yeah. I hear them about being autistic, too, of course. “If you were really autistic you’d… [insert story of something I was doing right then or earlier that day, in some cases].” But I’ve heard them about a lot of ‘things’ that psychiatry could have said I’ve ‘had’. (Sometimes I will have had whatever experiences, more so than the people they are describing, too, which always gets annoying.)

  5. This is very interesting and useful stuff – my personal experiences lead me to agree with you. I frequently get depressed, and I’m absolutely certain it’s got nothing to do with some neurological ‘disorder’ I have. Incidentally, I would see the view you put forward as leading, not to blaming the individual for their own suffering, but blaming the way the wider world operates. Here in Derry, in Northern Ireland, where I live, research shows that a *very* high proportion of people, compared with the norm, are ‘mentally ill’. And in Derry there is a also a very high level of poverty, and unemployment. I would postulate that the two things are very closely linked. So we’re back to a critique of capitalism.

  6. Of course, the “Irish prevalence of mental illness” is simply used in assorted disturbing and frequently racist ways, at least in American psychiatry. (Here is an article in which E. Fuller Torrey, who’s the Bernie Rimland of “schizophrenia”, uses it to trace “schizophrenia” to housecats, and someone else says “Well the Irish could just have bad genes…” Warning: The article also discusses Torrey lying to get people committed and forcing people onto psych drugs.)

  7. An interesting article – I took careful note of the phrase that “schizophrenia is most prevalent in poor, urban areas in cold climates”. In other words, if you’re poor and live in a depressing urban wasteland where the weather’s bad, you’re more likely to get ‘crazy’. What a big surprise! To postulate instead a link with infection rates or genes is laughable.

    BTW on a totally unrelated point, do you mind if I advertise my brand new blog? It is: and it is billed as a journal of disability and autism rights, left-wing politics, and occasional Doctor Who fanwankery.

    I hope you don’t mind – I’m trying to spread the word a bit so I don’t have an empty comment box all the time.

  8. I’ve just read your last few posts; they are so very good.
    You are giving me, and others I’m sure, an insight into a world I know nothing about. I cannot see any kind of institution on a film or TV show now without thinking about what you wrote about that type of place.
    I don’t know what people who are in a state of bleak depression should do, how they can best help themselves without getting shunted into psychiatric hospitals or needing to take drugs. I know of loads of young men in particular who are depressed and are taking anti-depressants. Suicide is rife among these men. I know too many families who have lost sons this way.
    And hello to the Derry man rocobley, from a Strabane woman.

  9. Interesting you mention anti-depressants and suicide. One of the side-effects I noticed of anti-depressants, was they made it much easier for me to connect thought and action, in a mental state where normally it was very difficult for me to connect thought and action. But they didn’t change my overall mood. That’s a recipe for violence, self-injury, and suicide attempts (and for me, often was).

    Similarly, “anti-psychotic” drugs make me hallucinate, especially in the evening, and they made me very restless to the point of explosion, as well as more compulsive and ticcy than usual, not less (they are often give “to stop Tourette’s tics”), and this is true even at minute dosages. In other words, the drugs often worked backwards from how they were advertised, and I’ve heard these reactions are not uncommon.

    I can’t imagine hallucinating already and taking a neuroleptic only to hallucinate more, but I’ve heard of it happening. I’ve definitely experienced having “compulsions” or “tics” amplified by neuroleptic drugs, and also by anti-depressants, both of which are sometimes used “against” these things. And I’ve experienced anti-depressants making it easier to act on the nasty “depressive” mental state I was already in.

    A lot of times, the real solutions to these things aren’t easy, or possible. Psych “hospitals” (they’re not true hospitals) definitely make me more likely to want to kill myself, not less. Sometimes what is needed are real friends, or removal from a bad living situation, or other things that are not always possible. Sometimes what is needed is a change in the state of mind, which is very difficult even if you know what you’re doing, and it’s really hard even to know what you’re doing when you’re in that state of mind. (This “change of state of mind” is generally different than what’s marketed as “therapy,” too.)

    Sometimes what’s needed is very political, which of course flies in the face of psychiatry, and is one of the reasons that psychiatry often hampers political change (they prefer to focus on a problem as solely within a particular person experiencing it and to be solved by modifying only the particular person experiencing it, whereas political changes are broader). For instance, I suspect many disabled people experience what is known as depression, because of daily systematic oppression (which can include institutionalization, or things that seem “little” but build up, and many other things). The answer to this is not mass drugging, but a genuine disability rights movement.

    So, a lot of the solutions are not as simple as “throw them in a so-called hospital” or “drug them” or “send them to therapy”, but that’s the conventional wisdom, and people who acquiesce to this willingly are applauded for “helping themselves”, whereas the rest of us… ugh.  And the very last time I “voluntarily” made use of the psych system, I was talked into “voluntarily” checking myself in, and the cops and the hospital people were all telling me how wonderful I was for being so “cooperative” and “taking the responsibility to help myself”, and then, bang, once I was checked in, they slapped an involuntary hold on me and told me I was an awful person for discussing the exact manner in which I was considered suicide (exactly what I had been praised for just hours before), and that surely I knew what a horrible effect this had on people.  I have never gotten near the system since that day.

    Even the whole experience of the variety of “choice” the psych system sells can be enough to depress a person. So can being told that you have a lifelong disease called depression that will never go away, that can become a self-fulfilling prophecy… and the degree of despair that sets in once you realize the drugs don’t help, and the “hospitals” don’t help, and the “therapy” doesn’t help, is immense, when those are marketed to you as “the only ways out”. I mean think about it, you’re already despairing, you’re told “Here’s the answer to your despair, the only possible answer,” and then “the only possible answer” doesn’t actually work, and may make things worse. How is that going to feel? (I know how it feels, it feels horrible.)

  10. I don’t understand the distinction between real vs. fake (?) psychological problem either. There’s clearly no way to make the distinction medically. It’s only when someone overcomes the psychological problem that it’s called “not real”. Persons with depression, by the nature of the condition, tend to believe that their problem is worse than anyone else’s possible problems – the worst problem ever – and that even though others have overcome similar problems, theirs is beyond hope.

    And the pharmaceutical industry is largely responsible for the push of drugs as the preferred/best treatment choice. They completely discount the role of human experience as a causal factor in psychological problems. They speak of ‘chemical imbalances’ as if level of neurotransmitters in the brain get out of whack just for the heck of it.

  11. Well I have come to believe that the current descriptions and nosology of so called pysciatric disorders are an entire fiction.

    I do not believe that scizophrenia is a real entity any more than bi polar is.

    The trouble is that there are many pysciatrists who intuitively know that when they criticise the diagnostics of others, but it seems they fail to apply the same distintion to there own possiblity of error.

    Well we all know what Cromwell said to the general assembly of the Church of Scotland on the 3rd of August 1650 don’t we?

    You don’t ? never mind it has nothing to do with trees falling in far off places for once. It is a gutsy (literally) profanity to the effect of “hey guys, you might be wrong here”

    These days I resolutely refuse to take pyscotropic medications, even though drs try and persuade me that it would be a good idea. Well I recently decided not to take a new antibiotic either (must be a new mental illness akin to Christian science disorder) because it seemed the side effects would be more of a problem than the risk in not taking them. And do you know what I didn’t need the antibiotics, I am healing without them so there you go.

  12. I do not believe that scizophrenia is a real entity any more than bi polar is.

    Whenever I say that, people say something like:

    “But I know someone who experiences [insert experience here]…” and/or “But I experience [insert experience here]…” “…therefore there really is a disease called [insert diagnosis here].”

    It gets very circular.

    To quote a review by Cal Montgomery (“Medicine, social control and disability rights”, from Ragged Edge # 2 and 3,  2002):

    He’s the guy saying there’s no such thing as mental illness, right?

    And so people drag out their friends, their relatives, and their acquaintances — and their friends’ relatives’ acquaintances — to refute him.

    The people among us who attempt suicide, the people who commit incomprehensible crimes, the people who hold bizarre beliefs — if the existence of these people doesn’t prove the reality of mental illness, then what possibly could?

    But this isn’t so much a refutation of Szasz as a way to make his point: when we identify certain actions and beliefs with illness, when the criterion is incomprehensibility, we use the word illness in a different way than when we use it to talk about biology.

  13. I’ve battled depression several times in the past – been clinically depressed but not diagnosed because (wonder of wonders) I never went to get assessed for depression by a professional. And I’ve been suicidal.

    In fact, I strongly suspect dysthymia. Which would probably explain a lot about which ADHD meds actually work for me (as Strattera – SNRI – is so closely related to SSRI).

    But I “overcame” depression each time without the use of medication or therapy. So I suppose I wasn’t “really” depressed, according to the people you discuss in this post. Of course, as both a student of psychology and the person who actually experienced the condition, I know that I fit the diagnostic criteria for clinical depression each and every time. (Actually, double depression, what with dysthymia as the undercurrent of my life.)

    Though, Joseph, when you say that in your second paragraph, you sound a heckuvalot like my brother, who is the family member I wrote about two weeks ago – who lit into myself and another brother about how “ADHD is a conspiracy” and “medication for ADHD is all about making money” and so on and so forth.

  14. This post addresses too much in our life right now, and not only regarding Charlie. I really appreciate your comment about the effects on you of taking neuroleptics and other medications. And about how we treat, diagnose, define, understand, stereotype those with “psychiatric” “disorders,” with depression. I am very uncomfortable with the term “mental illness” whose connotations, at least by some I know, do not take into account anything neurological.

    Like I said, you have a book in you, one at least.

  15. About the “having OCD really bad”– yes, had several phases of that, and actually, we can point to the exact time in our lives when it began to let up. It was during the year when we finally told ourselves it was all right to be plural instead of forcing ourselves to think and act as one person all the time. I don’t want to speculate about what exactly the ‘connection’ was there since there were probably several factors at work; it could be something as simple as the fact that the stress of holding a single identity together was removed, and we’ve recognized a tendency towards “OCD behavior” in ourselves when under certain kinds of stress.

    What we really find, though– looking back in retrospect, we can’t alwaus easily separate all the sensations of distress we were feeling and parcel them away and catalogue them as a series of ‘co-morbidities’; we can’t say “This was the anxiety component, this was the depression component, this was the ‘delusional’ component, etc.” Seen in memory, they all form a general picture of being in a lot of distress, and can’t be picked apart as separate ‘illnesses’ to be treated individually.

    We actually stayed on antidepressants for some time not because we needed them, but because of what you mentioned about them making it easier to connect thought to action. The downside– besides impulsiveness, which a lot of our older writings testify to– was that they seemed to turn off or, more commonly, ‘muffle’ other abilities we needed, including in-system communication. (And hallucinations/impulsiveness/violent behavior on minute doses of neuroleptics, I can testify to that also– some doctors will actually warn you of hallucinations as known side effects, if they’re given for non-‘antipsychotic’ reasns.)

    Being told at every step of the way that it wasn’t possible for us to overcome our problems on our own without drugs– not just by doctors, but by patient “support groups”– was definitely a contributing factor to depression for us. Once you’ve had that stamp put on you of being broken and defective, being damaged goods, it’s hard to break free of the nagging doubt “but what if they actually are right about me?”

    My experience is that if you fall into the trap of believing earnestly that if something goes wrong it’s always because you didn’t take your medication, that can be… a difficult hole to climb out of. I had been talked into believing at one point that I *couldn’t* stop taking it, even if I wanted to, because I would have a nervous breakdown and lose control; I didn’t want to believe it, even suspected it might not be true, but I didn’t want to ‘take the chance.’ Likewise, if you’re told that your perceptions of reality are inevitably wrong and untrustworthy, that they’re the products of pathology, that everything you think you hear others say is influenced by paranoia, that all your spiritual beliefs are hallucinations and delusions… for me, anyway, it was difficult to get myself back to the point of being able to believe my judgements could ever be accurate, if they weren’t supported by everyone around me.

  16. Yes that is what happens when I say there is no this or that, people will say I know it does because I know x.y and z with it.

    Well people knew that there were witches in Salem didn’t they and that autistic boy who died was possesed by demons.

    To deny the current clinical definers of “mental illness” is not to go back to pre enlightenment times at all but is to realise the fallacy of the enlightenment in setting up an alternative to religion that is no less dogmatic and holds equally to faith to explain so much without people realising just how much of it they do take on faith, when an expert pronounces an opinion on some matter. Diagnosis is an opinion no more.

    What really bothers me though is when people get so tied up in this medical speak themselves, start attributing characterisics to an “illness” simply because some clinician has pronounced it is so, then they go seeking every new nostrum and chemical cosh to beat it to death. That is the internalisation of a false consciosness as I see it.

    I know what depression is, it is merely a negative style of thinking that becomes somewhat recursive. Like any other style of thinking it affects chemically what is happening elsewhere in the body. I do not hold that it always starts out as a chemical imbalance, though it may become one. The danger to me is that the antidepressants actually suppress the bodies own ability to rectify that over time, rather in the way one grows tolerant to opiates, or bacteria become antibiotic resistant.

    If your life is going nowhere, happy pills don’t help if there is something else that needs to be done to put the external circumstances right. A prisoner on death row has every right to feel depressed. True madness is when a suicide is revived only so they can be properly judicially killed.

  17. Julian: Oh yes, the impulsiveness on anti-depressants, that’s one reason I can’t take them. Last time I did take them, I ended up some 30-odd miles from home because I’d read a newspaper ad for something happening there. Then I was too exhausted to get back.

    Of course, doing things like that in reaction to anti-depressants used to give doctors an excuse to “diagnose” me with “mania”, and give me Lithium. Not kidding.

    Those patient “support groups” can be awful. I went to one once, where people were saying “Don’t trust yourself on what medications are doing to you. Trust your doctor.”

    There were two of us there who were clearly of the psych survivor bent, rather than the “psych consumer” bent, and the other one stormed out of the room halfway through, going “B-A-A-A-A-A-A-A-A, B-A-A-A-A-A-A-A-A-A-A,” her whole way to the car.

    They basically went, “Poor woman, she’s delusional,” and proceeded to rip apart her observations in her absence. She’d lost her home and all her belongings in the 1989 earthquake, understandably been freaked out and upset about this, and gotten locked up and given repeated shock treatments that (the combination of the two) wiped out a bunch of her memory and left her pretty much permanently jumpy. Nobody listened to this story though, they just called her paranoid and urged her to seek medication.

    I stopped going back after the people there started talking about how great it was to have involuntary commitment laws, and how great it was that they could commit people right from that room, and I jumped up and ran behind something (knocking something over in the process), at which point they all still in my presence decided it was okay to sit around and discuss how “unsafe” I made them feel and how all my behavior was clearly the result of “my illness,” rather than a reasonable reaction, and that I was just maybe too “low functioning” to be there. There was only one woman in the room who said “I understand why she did that.”

    I was also once forcibly restrained when I was there, in a way that made it impossible for me to communicate, when I had just slapped my head a few times. Meanwhile, there was a guy who “explained” to everyone what I was supposedly trying to say by doing that (in a way that pitted me against someone else that I did not want to be pitted against). When I tried to struggle out of the guy’s grasp, that was treated as evidence I needed my arms held tighter, or something. I was later told, basically (once I got my hand free enough to type an objection), “It doesn’t matter whether you view this as assault, we were right to do this.” I was then treated as “disruptive” for not liking having my hands immobilized against my will.

    And this was a place run entirely by “consumers”, of course. In this case, “consumers” who were heavily brainwashed by psychiatry to the point where they would reinforce each other’s brainwashing without need of professionals. They called this “empowerment”.

    The front room of that place looked exactly like a dayroom, there was no real difference. It was basically an extension of a distributed institution. You couldn’t even go in there unless they had your psychiatrist’s name on file. Most of the people who went there lived in “mental health housing,” which basically meant apartment complexes run like mental institutions, where your every move was watched, they had psych nurses on duty to make sure everyone took their drugs, and if there was a hint of “non-compliance” they’d send you to a psych ward.

    Of course, nearly everyone there viewed me as disruptive, delusional, low-functioning, and probably in need of Haldol or something.

    The “if something goes wrong it’s the medication” thing is of course reinforced by those around you, where if you even get angry it’s “Did you take your medication today? Are you sure?”

    And you wrote:

    Likewise, if you’re told that your perceptions of reality are inevitably wrong and untrustworthy, that they’re the products of pathology, that everything you think you hear others say is influenced by paranoia, that all your spiritual beliefs are hallucinations and delusions… for me, anyway, it was difficult to get myself back to the point of being able to believe my judgements could ever be accurate, if they weren’t supported by everyone around me.

    That entire paragraph applies to me. I had the fortunate experience of meeting someone who gently but insistently made me repeat the words, “I am allowed to think my own thoughts.” When she first said it, I thought she was trying to kill me, because my chief brainwasher had been very explicit that I’d die if I thought for myself, and that none of my perceptions of reality were to be trusted. I did repeat it, though, and it started to sink in.

    I was lucky to meet, at that point in my life, someone who was not going to take advantage of me, because things could have been very different, and very bad, if someone had taken that moment to screw with my mind. (I would probably have become an adult “revolving door schizophrenic” even with the autism diagnosis. And then I’d probably have died of a drug reaction eventually.)

    But it’s taken me a long time, and I still sometimes slip back into the habit of obedience to professionals, not because I want to but because there’s this overriding drive to do so, which of course I will be fighting and the fight itself tends to generate explosiveness, etc. It can be hard to say “Yes, I perceive this, and what I perceive is real, dammit,” and of course the energy it takes do so so can easily be mistaken for “being angry”… etc.

  18. Thanks, Amanda. you have a knack of articulating what i need articulated – right down to the stupid compulsion to obey ‘Professionals’, and how even that turns one into a ‘patient’ (as if, once so defined, one ever escapes).

    Laurentius: i can go with a lot of what you say – i may plagiarise the witches comparison -, but i take issue with you here: “I know what depression is, it is merely a negative style of thinking that becomes somewhat recursive. Like any other style of thinking it affects chemically what is happening elsewhere in the body.”

    no, that isn’t what it /is/. it’s how a certain reductionist school of thought would have us see it. It’s even what it can be – it may be how depression works for you. but that’s only one of its heads. and it’s a deeply dangerous idea that that head is the whole beast. just as dangerous as seeing only the biochemical head.

    both – like everything else coming from psychiatry and associated forms of mumbo-jumbo – locate the problem within the ‘patient’. which is a half-truth at very best.

    divide and rule. your problems are within you, nothing to do with the rest of us (unless we can turn them into our money and our prestige). bleat after me…

    apparently i’m pissed off. ;-)

  19. I knew someone would misunderstand what I wrote about depression, read on and you will see I am not arguing the biochemical machine view I am talking about depressing situations that need to be fixed first, like ones living conditions, lack of work whatever.

    What you think does effect your body though, the one drug I do permit myself to take, a beta blocker, interupts one mechanism by which anxiety gives rise to unpleasant physical symptoms, because my thinking is not powerful enough to do that on its own, so basic is the fight of flight responce.

    If I thought about green cabbage every day (something I swore never to eat after an episode where my parents left my dinner to go cold and would not let me out of the room till I had eaten the cabbage)

    Anyway if I thought about green cabbage every day that would leave its track upon my brain pretty much the way that playing the flute has left a track upon my brain. Yes the flute playing does reside in me not externally and its only your problem if you don’t like the tune.

  20. Though, Joseph, when you say that in your second paragraph, you sound a heckuvalot like my brother, who is the family member I wrote about two weeks ago – who lit into myself and another brother about how “ADHD is a conspiracy” and “medication for ADHD is all about making money” and so on and so forth.

    I definitely think ADHD and most disorders arbitrarily classified by psychiatry are cultural constructs. Strangely as it may seem, this does not mean they don’t have a genetic basis, that they don’t have causes, or that therapy and medication can’t help you. I do not subscribe to the silly conspiracy theories you mention, of course. But I am not a fan of the pharmaceutical industry (when it comes to psychiatric medicine) and Ritalin, in fact, is one drug I’m concerned about.

  21. Of course, doing things like that in reaction to anti-depressants used to give doctors an excuse to “diagnose” me with “mania”, and give me Lithium.

    One of us (Ruka) was once speculated to have ‘severe mania’ by a psychologist because when being given an IQ test, he got up and paced the room very rapidly and repeated the questions to himself after they had been asked (because it helped him remember– and the pacing because it helped him to concentrate). He was definitely agitated, but I don’t see why agitation isn’t understandable when someone else’s opinion of your intelligence is at stake. Then he proceeded to put a bunch of things in his report about us that had little to no relation to anything we actually said to him. We later found out that he had a track record of diagnoses of this sort; specifically he diagnosed all females with depression or bipolar disorder and all males with ADD.

    (I would probably have become an adult “revolving door schizophrenic” even with the autism diagnosis. And then I’d probably have died of a drug reaction eventually.)

    We have a relative who’s done the chronic schizophrenic route. Her parents have had her declared gravely disabled and cut her off from the rest of the family; she lives in something like the ‘mental health housing’ you described, and the last time we even talked to her on the phone was eight years ago. Her mother is a big NAMI activist now. I try to do the smile-and-nod thing whenever she brings it up; it’s a bit like how we respond when our partner&’s oldest uncle keeps sending political propaganda.

    The funny thing is that several of her ‘symptoms’ as described to us didn’t sound very different from things we had felt or experienced at various times in our life. We tried to tell this to a few people, all of whom denied it and fervently insisted that things had never been ‘that bad’ for us, that we couldn’t *possibly* ever have been ‘as bad as her,’ that we only *thought* things had ever been that bad for us because we were too young and were supposed to have something wrong with us whereby we supposedly couldn’t tell how bad an incident had actually been and thought everything that had happened to us was much worse and more extreme than it really was. (This seems to have been idea our mother came up with, but other family members bought into it too.) Of course, they ‘knew’ that the reason our experience had been different from hers was because we hadn’t gotten the same diagnosis.

    It can be hard to say “Yes, I perceive this, and what I perceive is real, dammit,” and of course the energy it takes do so so can easily be mistaken for “being angry”… etc.

    Yeah– there have been a few times when we’ve been asked why we were ‘being so defensive’ and ‘attacking others,’ etc. We weren’t attacking specific people, so much as the attitude that the things we saw, felt and perceived were not real or reliable.

    We’re also pro-choice about drugs, which can be difficult sometimes if we end up trying to explain to someone with the authority to prescribe them for us– even a M.D.– that we just want a temporary course of a mild tranquilizer or something, because ‘temporary course’ doesn’t seem to be in anyone’s vocabulary any more when it comes to psychiatric drugs. In the past, anyway, we’ve run into several people who liked handing us lectures on how bad and irresponsible and foolish we are for having not ‘stayed with’ earlier prescriptions and having not ‘sought help earlier,’ how the fact that we ‘waited so long’ is indicative of a problem in and of itself because it meant we were too sick to realize how sick we were. Even mentioning that we had difficulty finding doctors we can work with can be twisted into something negative.

    …I sometimes wonder if it’s just us, or a general constant that the psychiatrists’ offices with the most ‘beautiful and relaxing’ environments, the ones with the dimmed lights and wall hangings and fancy furniture and potted plants and little waterfall machines, are also the ones where you’re most likely to be yelled at and lectured and told how sick and irresponsible you are if you don’t want to take drugs, or at least not the ones they give you, and how you won’t be able to get along without them, and treated like you’re sub-human. It seems like it’s designed to lure you into a false sense of security, to believe that you’re in a place of love and humanity where there is actually neither, so that you’ll be open and vulnerable to those accusations and find them harder to shake off than if they had taken place in a more office-like environment. We’ve gotten to the point where our first instinct, if we walk into a clinic and see that kind of decor, is to turn right around and walk back out again.

  22. Great post.

    I’ve been treated for Bipolar and PTSD for the past eight or so years. I had tried to live without meds, and it was a nightmare for me. Doctors have given me the wrong meds time after time with differing results both physical and mental. But once I was put on Prozac and Seroquel, things started really turning around for me. Meds ended up being the right choice for me.

  23. Whereas, I can’t exactly receive “treatment” for “PTSD” since even when PTSD is noted in my records (as I have conceded it can be, to give people a shorthand to keep them from doing certain things to me, but I do note here that it is a shorthand and that I do not believe in it the way psychiatry does), it’s noted as iatrogenic — as a friend put it, “treating” me psychiatrically for the kind of “PTSD” I have would be essentially like sending an Israeli hostage to the Hezbollah for “treatment” of trauma related to being a hostage.

    And even when I’ve found those particular experiences an unbearable nightmare (and for a long time, my whole life was a combination of quite literal nightmares while asleep and nightmares while awake, basically, it never stopped), the drugs psychiatry has to offer (whether neuroleptic, minor tranquilizer, beta blocker, or anti-depressant) have not been an option for me. They are either counterproductive or ineffective, usually both. And a few (neuroleptics and beta blockers especially) I can have directly life-threatening reactions to.

    So whether I’ve enjoyed it or not, I’ve had to muddle through that stuff without psychiatric drugs or to fall back on. There hasn’t been much of a choice in that regard, they do not work as advertised on me, even when I have all the so-called “symptoms” of the so-called “illnesses” they are used to treat.

  24. (oh, in that last post, “he proceeded to put a bunch of things into his report….” refers to the psychologist, not Ruka. sorry about the abrupt change of subject.)

    Regarding ‘consumer-run’ support groups, we’ve been fortunate to have been mostly involved in online ones, which you can at least walk away from, but the attitude you described, of “trust your doctor, not yourself!” was something we definitely saw.

    We’ve occasionally had the feeling about lj-multiplicity, which we co-moderate, that people are dragging the support group attitude in there; we’ve had to explain several times that it is not a support group. You still see a lot of people with blind faith in psychologists. Not that it’s as bad as it first was when we got online, of course: it was considered unthinkable by almost everyone, then, that it was possible to be plural and simply decide to stay that way, without basically committing yourself to years of therapy. Even after the whole empowerment movement had started, there were still a lot of people hanging on to the idea that the only ‘responsible’ thing to do was to basically give control of your life up to a psychiatrist; only then could you be trusted to ever have a possibility of running your life in a sane and reasonable manner.

    The ‘support groups’ that used to exist online (and still do) for multiples were really dreadful. It was very obvious to me, at least, that even if these people really all had become plural as a result of childhood trauma, their therapists were traumatizing them all over again. People talked about how functional they had been before their diagnosis and how their life had degenerated into a living hell afterwards, yet this was all somehow acceptable because their “T” (therapist) said they had to get worse before they got better and that this was the ‘road to healing,’ and their T said that they had to recover and re-live all their buried memories of trauma (whether or not they were memories of real events) before they would get better.

    If you questioned ANY of this, in ANY way, you were in denial. If someone really did have a particularly bad therapist, people would sympathize but tell them to find another one.

    We tried not to get heavily involved in anything like that, but I remember one particular forum we dropped off of, that promoted itself as being for people who “strive to deal positively” with multiplicity (wording that invites assumptions in itself: it implies that the default is to deal negatively with it). From initial talk about being for empowered systems, it ended up being a hangout from people who believed that thinking plurality was “a gift, not a disorder” was empowerment, despite the fact that many of them seemed to run their systems in a pretty disorderly way. (And people who thought ’empowerment’ meant ‘having psychic powers,’ but there always tend to be a few of those hanging around.)

    Many of them seemed to operate under the assumption that any emotional conflict, in-system, was necessarily bad, and a ‘symptom of the disorder’ that would lead to an enormous struggle for dominance. (For a lot of them, it seemed to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.)

    It was partly because of them that we left, and partly because of a lot of other ‘minor’ things going unchallenged, like the woman who kept talking about how her four-year-old daughter needed to be put on medication since she could tell that the child was “suicidally depressed,” because “she inherited my depression gene.” (Not because she was modeling herself off others in the family, of course– only genes could be blamed. She also insisted her daughter was plural and, despite being plural herself, took her to group therapy to have her “corrected.”) Or the time one poster declared that anyone who didn’t see their own plurality as a disorder caused by trauma was basically a loser in denial, and people who got irate at him were later compared to Nazis by the forum moderator. (She later backtracked and claimed she hadn’t actually been reading the threads in question and had no idea what was going on there– she had just received a complaint from that one poster, claiming he was being “attacked.”)

    It wasn’t nearly as bad as it used to be (possibly still is, but I don’t want to check) on some of the Usenet groups like, where there was stuff like people talking about how wonderful electroconvulsive therapy was because “it makes the voices go away.” (Destroys communication, in other words.)

    It was funny that while most of these people saw plurality as a disorder, they saw it as a disorder caused by life circumstances, having nothing to do with one’s brain being different (other than the usual ‘it takes a person who is exceptionally creative and intelligent’ crap), and yet a lot of them still talked about medication as if it were the only thing standing between them and complete loss of control.

  25. Laurentius: ugh. I was responding precisely to /part/ of what you said – “it is merely” is a strong formulation, especially in a world where a lot of people actually believe it, more or less unqualified, and I’m underwhelmed by those. I began intending to balance my comment by mentioning the following para, but comment turned into the barest beginning of a slightly different rant, and it slipped my mind. Sorry about that.

  26. “If your life is going nowhere, happy pills don’t help if there is something else that needs to be done to put the external circumstances right.”

    It’s not either/or. If you are depressed and not getting out of bed because the real conditions of your live objectively suck, then how are you supposed to change the conditions of your life to something you can live with?

    Happy pills can help a great deal indeed, if they work as advertised. If taking the pills enables you to take action and fix the problem when otherwise you would be trying to slow down your breathing until you didn’t exist any more, then they work.

    I’m pro-choice — there are lots of ways to get out of bed, and lots of reasons not to take meds — but I like to be accurate. The process I summarised here is what happened for me. I was very very very depressed but that didn’t mean I needed lots and lots and lots of medication. Just a little. Just enough to block a little of the pain enough that I could do things I wanted to do, which resulted in feeling like less of an asshole, which resulted in doing more things, and so on. While I happen to think I have an inborn talent for depression — Irish, dontcha know — the life I was leading was horribly depressing too. It’s all circular.

    Oh, and while I enjoy labels and analysing what gets covered by them and how they function to draw attention to things I might not otherwise have noticed and dismiss things that might be important — organise knowledge, in other words — in this sense, astrological labels can work as well as DSM labels — I’m not attached to the illness model. I figure, if it’s neither useful nor pleasurable then it’s not good. That applies to depression, for instance; schizophrenia; poverty; mind games your shrink plays with you; side effects from meds; abusive relationships of all kinds; hunger; loneliness; lots of other things all of us are much too familiar with.

    By extension, anything that is either useful or pleasurable is good. If meds are useful, then they’re good. If hanging out with your friends is pleasurable, then that’s good too. If your happy little doggie is fun to be with and also facilitates communication with NTs, cool, you’ve got a twofer! The illness model doesn’t really add anything to this picture.

  27. Starting at around 10 and getting steadily worse until age 12, I had a “mental illness” characterized by low self esteem, anxiety, meltdowns, inattentiveness (which doesn’t seem to mean not paying attention, but rather not paying attention to what teachers or whoever want you to pay attention to), stomachaches and headaches and frequently claiming to be “sick”, and so on that could probably be diagnosed as some sort of agitated depression. Now, was that a “chemical imbalance”?
    No. It was the expected reaction to being bullied. I felt like garbage because they were constantly insulting me. I was anxious because I had no way of predicting what or when the next attack would be. I had meltdowns when I reached my limit of what I could put up with. I was inattentive because I coped by pretending I was elsewhere, usually with the help of a book or some people made from twist tyes. I got stomachaches and headaches and said I was sick because if you’re sick you stay home from school and therefore sickness=safety to me (unless it’s severe, like the time I had an asthma attack and panicked because I felt like I couldn’t breathe).
    I did get antidepressants, and they helped, but they’d have been useless if it weren’t for my parents pulling me from school. They simply helped me get back to feeling safe quicker. And they seem to have had a price, in that I didn’t deal with a lot of those issues and still need to work on them now. But at the time they made a big difference in terms of safety, since I was frequently trying to run away, which as a socially vulnerable, attractive 12 year old girl was very dangerous (and now that I’m 17, I’d still be in a lot of danger if I ran away, but I still try to sometimes because I get this feeling of trappedness and have to escape). I doubt antidepressants would’ve helped much if I stayed in school, because they’d have been fighting a losing battle against the constant bullying.
    Ironically, one reason not to take (illegal) drugs is claimed as being that they don’t solve problems, just make you forget about them (if they actually work). And in fact they tend to make many of those problems worse, such as poverty. And it’s a similar sort of thing as happens if psych meds are used to treat environmental problems instead of addressing the problem.

  28. Alison: My problem with the “drugs to get out of bed” route was that, the drugs gave me enough energy to get out of bed, but they did not change my mood one bit. That is a very dangerous combination (for possibly obvious reasons). I’ve often thought that the reflex of staying in bed while depressed, was adaptive and not to be messed with lightly.

  29. Excerpt from:
    There Are No “Chemical Imbalances”

    The hypothetical disturbances of neurochemical function that are said to underlie “mental illness” are just that: hypothetical. No experiment has ever show that anyone has an “imbalance” of any neurotransmitters or any other brain chemicals. Nor could any conceivable experiment demonstrate the existence of a “chemical imbalance,” simply because no one, least of all the biopsychiatrists, has the slightest idea what a proper and healthy chemical “balance” would look like.

  30. It reminds me of how people often assume that if an autistic person has gained skills in whatever area, it HAD to have been due to some intervention or snake oil or treatment, and not just due to a natural albeit atypical development. It MUST have been ABA or chelation or what-have-you.

    At least one person, when I wrote that although I spoke when younger often had difficulty, that the person (who is the parent of an autistic kid) asked what therapy/intervention I had used to improve my ability to speak when needed, that autistic kids don’t just up and improve talking. Truth is I didn’t enter speech therapy until grade 10 I think it was, and really haven’t worked on anything useful up until last week (though I wish I had worked on some stuff earlier; interviews are something REALLY tough for me).

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