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Diagnose Not Lest Ye Be Diagnosed

There are few people more in need of mental health treatment today than mental health professionals, unless perhaps we think about treating the relatives of people with “mental illness” labels. Yes, the very people who lock people up should be locked up on account of their proclivity to lock people up. We should give it a “disease” label and treatment. Fair is only fair as foul is awfully foul. It’s just plain un-American.

My reason for going there? I’m seeing all these well intentioned people interested in doing something about “mental health issues”, and that something amounts to, in effect, throwing a flammable liquid on the fire in an effort to put it out. We have an epidemic of “mental illness” labeling in this country, and the method we’ve come up with for dealing with it is by doing everything within our powers to increase the amount of labeling going on.

Our schools, deathly afraid of producing psycho-killers, are training teachers to screen their classes for any indication of “mental illness”.  Isolating and treating the labeled student is supposed to be a violence prevention measure. If the kid is just a little weird and not violent in the slightest. It doesn’t matter. The weird student must bear a psychiatric label, and be scrutinized for his or her potential to do harm, however speculative.

It was rumored when I was a kid that we’d driven a teacher to distraction, or insane, for lack of a better term. No more. Now schools have got the conduct problem licked as conduct is no longer a grade on a report card. Bad conduct, misbehaving, is now, according to our pediatric psychiatrists, a bona fide “mental health disorder”. Given this circumstance, class clown is no longer bound for the circus, but rather for the loony bin. That’s right, clowning is a certifiable “disease”.

I had this friend with the “borderline” label who was going on to me about how important it is to take “mental disorders” seriously. I fell automatically into disagreement with this person. I think taking “mental disorder” seriously is the most direct way to developing a more “serious mental disorder” that I can imagine. Maintaining a sense of humor is the best medicine for this sort of thing. Whatever sort of “disorder” you might have developed, as long as you take it lightly, it can’t be serious.

Of course, if you don’t take your “mental disorder” seriously you are in danger of being nabbed for conduct disorder. Everybody has a “mental disorder”, even if the “mental disorder” a person has hasn’t been invented yet. Some of us just haven’t been caught. Were your “mental disorder” actually an order, that wouldn’t be so bad, unless, of course, it involved orders from the planet Xylon. Disorders from Xylon, that’s okay.

My point? Well, judging from the news, everyday of the week, we are locking up the wrong people. The people least responsible for greenhouse warming, mass extinction, corporate imperialism, poverty and international conflict are often the people who we have selected to endure our psychiatric institutions as patient-prisoners.  I’d like to point out that this is more an instance of ruining the world rather than it is  of saving it. Have we made a mistake? Yes, I think so, and many mistakes at that.

Beyond The Mental Health Community

I’m not part of the mental health movement. I don’t beg for money from the state. I don’t think the state should subsidize “mental illness”. This is an awkward position to take because I am also a psychiatric survivor, and the psychiatric survivor movement has, in a sense, become absorbed into the broader c/s/x or consumer survivor ex-patient movement.

Let me explain. Many people who call themselves psychiatric survivors are part of the mental health movement. When our movement began we were a separatist movement, that is, knowing how badly the state treated people in the psychiatric institutions it ran, we were intent on creating our own separate places where we could truly care for people who were suffering, for people who were being abused by the state. There was, in this, a call for what became known as drop-in centers.

Fast forward 20 or 30 years. These drop-in centers have evolved, in some cases, into peer support centers. What has taken place couldn’t take place without collusion or collaboration with the government at one level or another. This collaboration has essentially turned a great many former mental patients into mental health paraprofessionals. It has also made many of these places that were once alternatives to force and abuse alternatives in name only.

Many of us got into the movement, not because we wanted treatment, but because we didn’t want treatment. We received treatment regardless. It was thrust upon us against our will and wishes. We felt compelled by this force to do two things; one was look to creating the alternatives I just alluded to, and the other was to support the abolition of all forced and harmful mental health treatment.

The question then becomes, when a former mental patient becomes a mental health worker, must he or she of necessity resort to the same wrongs he or she was initially protesting. In other words, does this position have a tendency to turn psychiatric survivor former patients into turncoats, and oppressive turncoats at that, even  if this oppression is now more subtle and cleverly disguised.

Psychiatrists may be the most powerful people in the mental health profession, but corruption in the mental health field is by no means restricted to psychiatrists. The mental health system is growing, it is not stabilizing, nor is it contracting. Either “mental illness” is contagious, doctors are better at detecting it, or personal failure as a business, as other people’s success, is thriving.

Federal and state money, tax payer money, has made the mental health system even harder to escape from than it was in years past. Calling the mental patient by another name doesn’t change the mental patient role. Part of the problem is economic damage and financial dependency, and there are forces at work now that are more intent on maintaining the problem than they are at ever coming up with any solutions.

The mental health community is somehow separate from the community at large, even if it is contained within it. When we talk about the mental health community, we are mainly talking about the community that has evolved around the business of outpatient treatment, or so called community care. Perhaps a better way to refer to outpatient treatment would be to refer to it as limbo. Perhaps not.

Outpatient treatment aside, my guess is that a mental patient who was integrated into the community he or she came from would no longer be a mental patient. This seamless integration business seems to have hit a few major snags of late. This doesn’t mean that getting people back into the non-mental health community isn’t something we should be striving for. There, I think we have something we can  work on together now.

The Three Babbles of Mind Brain Research

Back in 1973, the late Dr. Thomas S. Szasz published a slim volume of aphorisms and sayings under the title The Second Sin. The title of this book referred a parable found in the Old Testament. This parable dealt with the sin of clear and decisive language, back at a time when only one language ruled the world, for which God punished man through the tower of Babel with a confusion of languages. This confusion of languages, according to Dr. Szasz, has become a means the authorities use to deceive and manipulate a gullible public. Among the authorities, of which Dr. Szasz was acutely concerned, were the mental health authorities.

I’d say that the use of babble has evolved much since the publication of The Second Sin. A metaphoric second tower of Babel, you could say, is expanding skyward. Recently I’ve come to identify three primary forms of babble used by the psychiatric profession’s hacks to achieve it’s ends, and to facilitate social control. These three languages, three jargons, three pig-Latins, if you will, are psycho-babble,  bio-babble, and the newest arrival on the block, neuro-babble. Given these three specialist technological languages, I think it can be safe to say that nonsense has a great future in the realm of psychiatry.

Perhaps you’ve heard about psychobabble, a popular book was published under that title a few decades back. Wikipedia defines psychobabble “as “(a portmanteau of” “psychology” or “psychoanalysis” and “babblle”) is a form of speech or writing that uses psychological jargon, buzzwords, and esoteric language to create an impression of truth or plausibility. The term implies that the speaker or writer lacks the experience and understanding necessary for the proper use of psychological terms. Additionally, it may imply that the content of speech deviates markedly from common sense and good judgement.”

Psycho-babble has it’s antithetical complement in bio-babble, or nonsense, in lieu of credible convincing evidence,  asserting the primary role of biology in the development of psychiatric disorders. The bio-psychiatrists seem to think that if we continually make the same assertions, over and over again, regarding the primacy of biology over other factors involved in the development of psychiatric disorders, that this effort will give those assertions the ring of authenticity. Science and logic, on the other hand, insist that we must dig a little deeper, and be a little more fastidious in our investigations.. Bio-psychiatry has been supremely effective in having this bias taint much of it’s research attempts with shoddy methodology.

More recently, we have seen the arrival of neuro-babble. Neuro-babble is a sort of hybridized bio-babble with a blur of epiphenomenon thrown into the mix. As the dawn of the second decade of the brain fades into artificial sunlight, neuro is here to stay. Neuro is the new fad, trendy prefix, and buzzword.  Everything is neuro these days. I tried to count the number of neuro-words I’d encountered not long ago, but as would be expected, I lost count eventually. Neuro-babble would resolve the Cartesian mind body duality by declaring mind body. Neuro-scientists, mostly neuro-psychiatrists, are intent on making the “substance” of mind, the substance of body, or brain. Getting that thought under a microscope lens though has proven more elusive than I care to elaborate on.

Do Not Feed The Monster

The difference between a mental patient and a mental health consumer is identical to the difference between a garbage person and a sanitation engineer, that is, it is a matter of words, of jargon. I say this because we have had what we call the psychiatric survivor, in former times also referred to as the mental patients’ liberation, movement. This movement has been instrumental in working to free people from the oppressive constraints of psychiatric intervention and the patient role.

Much confusion has been stirred up, of more recent date, due to the merging of that movement with what has come to be called the consumer movement, a movement that could be said to be lead by, or colluding with, the federal government. The consumer movement is not so much about liberating a person from the role of patient as it is about accommodating him or her in that role.

In part, the consumer movement has been a more or less successful attempt to subvert or co-opt the psychiatric survivor movement. It is something that can’t be completely successful, for if it was, you’d no longer have psychiatric survivors, you’d just have people stuck in the mental patient role. Funny thing, huh, when some people try to suggest that the mental patient role is an inescapable lifelong or chronic matter of “pathology”?

Colluding with the federal government is a matter of begging money from the feds, gained through taxation, to continue in the mental patient, alternately called mental health consumer, role. To further elaborate, the rallying cry of the consumer is more apt to be the right to treatment while the rallying cry of the survivor is more apt to be the right to refuse treatment.

This is a matter of accent. To further elaborate, psychiatric survivors are people who see themselves as more harmed by the mental health system  than “helped” while mental health consumers are more likely to see themselves as “helped” by the mental health system. It doesn’t end there though, there is overlap, there are survivors who feel they need “help” or “support”, and there are consumers who feel they have been harmed and oppressed by the system as well as “helped”.

I bring this up because there  are a number of rallies and marches “for mental health and dignity” in the planning stages right now. The idea behind these events is to accent mental health as a positive thing and, additionally, to focus attention on “stigma”. I imagine that the ulterior motive of these rallies and marches is a matter of rattling that tin cup before the federal government and the working public, and crying, “Nickels for your pity.”

This “positive slant” also involves ignoring the twin proverbial elephants of forced and harmful treatments in the room. Joseph Rogers and Daniel Fisher have expressed interest in getting the word out about these events. It’s–the smiley masks, this ignorance and deception–a lie that I really can’t endorse. Needless to say, I have no interest in attending such events. I would encourage others, unless they want to launch a disruption, or to conduct a counter march and rally, to do the same.

Is “mental illness” underfunded?

One way to deal with a problem is not to pay for it . In fact, it could be a solution to all sorts of problems. Problems that are subsidized tend to thrive.

The man who probably did the most to end forced psychiatric treatment in the USA in recent history was a Republican politician by the name of Ronald Reagan. I think you’ve probably all heard of him. He helped deinstitutionalize institutions, first in California, and second in the rest of the nation, by defunding them.

 A little refresher 101 might come in handy at this point. We have had a mental health movement for some time in this country. This movement is actually a “mental illness” movement. (Review the first paragraph.)

First you have moral management with the introduction of asylums, then here comes Dorothea Dix contributing her part to the asylum building boom that immediately followed. At the beginning of the 20th century, there’s Clifford Beers doing his part for mental hygiene, supporting treatment, bashing illness, if entirely theoretical illness at that.

 The mental health movement wants the government to pay for mental health treatment. The mental health movement hit pay dirt with the Kennedy administration. The Kennedy administration came up with the community mental health system idea, and passed an act to get it started.

Depopulate state mental hospitals, and what do you do with all the inhabitants then? No Clue? Well, one thing you could do is create little mini-hospitals in communities throughout the country. Another thing you could do is treat the prodigal son or daughter returning from one of these institutions like everybody else. The Kennedy admin legislation decided on the first option.

I read once that a person is “mentally ill” until the insurance runs out, and I think this statement is relatively true. If necessity is the mother of invention, as the saying goes, when one is subsidized by the tax payer, working ceases to become a necessity.

 Today there is a movement directed towards hiring patients in the mental health system as para-professional mental health workers. I have a few issues with this approach. Namely, what is the difference between a disabled person and a non-disabled person in the mental health field? Stumped. Well, I will tell you then. Employment.

Employing people in mental health is not getting them jobs in other fields, nor is it getting them very far from the problem, that problem being the mental health system. If a person enters the system against his or her will and wishes, does working for that system really represent a significant improvement?

Unfortunately, mental health insurance parity is on the horizon for which I suggest holding your nose. What was I saying about necessity? I know, There are those people with jobs in mental health care. Maybe some of them might be able to do a little bit of good.  All I can say to  them is, “When are you going to get a real job?”

The Coming Plague

I have a friend who spends much of his time traveling in Asia. He is a psychiatric survivor, and he says he prefers Asia to the USA precisely because people are not going on and on about “mental health”, “mental health treatment”, and “mental disorders” all the time there.

In the USA, on the other hand, it is thought right and proper to air “mental health” laundry. It is thought by some, not yours truly, that bringing “mental illness” out of the shadows so-to-speak is a way of attacking the “stigma” associated with psychiatric labels.  The problem with this way of thinking is that it doesn’t acknowledge that the “stigma” comes with the label, in fact, you could say they are identical.

I’m sick of hearing about “mental health” myself. I’m sick of hearing about “mental health treatment”, and I’m sick of hearing about “mental disorders”. In some quarters of the nation this medico-literary emphasis is truly obsessive, and what comes of obsessing? Well, often it is excess.

There is a demand for “mental illness” because without  “mental illness” “mental health” wouldn’t have a market. Perhaps, for the sake of clarity, I need to rephrase the last sentence. A rich supply of “mental illness” fuels the market for “mental health treatment” which in turn creates a further demand for “mental illness”, a demand all too easily met.

The “mental illness” rates have been soaring for years. The World Health Organization tells us “mental illness” is set to distance physical illness as the number one cause of disability in the world. This means the number one reason for “disability payments” by the government, supplied by labor of  tax payers, in the future is going to be “mental illness”.

Right away we’ve got a problem. For all the efforts psychiatry has made to claim psychiatric problems somatic, this supposition remains devoid of solid proof.  Psychiatry has been notoriously unsuccessful, not as a business, but as a branch of medical science. The proof is in the pudding, and in this instance, the pudding is more and more rather than less and less “mental illness”.

In those instances where it is claimed a person has a “mental illness”, recovery, or a cure, if you will, is seen as out of the question. Of course, this is a relative statement. So called minor “mental disorders” lending themselves to effective treatment much more readily than major “mental disorders”. It work’s the other way, too. It is not unheard of for minor “disorders” to develop into major “disorders”, and then, well, we’ve once again hit the snag of poor prognoses.

I would say that this obsession is not a very healthy one. Were we to talk less about “mental health”, I feel certain that we as a nation would be less beset with what are sometimes referred to as “mental health issues”.  Were we to diagnose less of it, well, there you go. Already a cure is at hand. Problems demand solutions. When “mental health issues” are communication and situational problems, no amount of “medical treatment” nonsense is going to solve them.

“Mental Illness” The Industry

It’s an awkward position to be in. If you say one thing you offend one set of people, and if you say another thing you offend another set. Things are definitely not as simple as they were 20 years ago, and yet, at the same time, they are more simple.

Were I ambitious I’d be kissing the asses that would get me somewhere, but I’m not interested in advancing myself in the disability field. It is a field that I think, in itself, reflects much of the corruption in psychiatry, and psychiatry is corrupt through and through.

You’ve got people putting in as many hours, if not more, in the disability field than you do outside of the disability field, and when somebody puts in that kind of time and effort, that person isn’t disabled, literally.

The problem concerns what often tends to be the result of putting in all those hours. If it is more people calling themselves “disabled”, is that really a progressive and positive outcome? If it is a rapidly expanding “mental illness” industry, who needs it?

When we talk about mental health, usually we are talking about mental health treatment, and the people being treated are those labeled “mentally ill”. This makes mental health all about mental health treatment, and not about the absence of “mental illness”.

There are, for example, multiple strategies for prevention on the horizon, but only some of these strategies are actually preventative, some are causative. The thing folks like to downplay is the fact that before the psychiatrist enters the picture disease is conjecture.

Even when a diagnosis has been made, you’ve got psychiatrists calling diagnosis an art. Why is it an art? Simple. It’s not science. We haven’t got any bacteria, we haven’t got any viruses, we haven’t even got any lesions of the brain, but we have got diagnostic labels.

A symptom in psychiatry is an unwanted behavior. Check off enough unwanted behaviors from a list, and you can call the patterns of behavior you are looking at in a person a “Mental disorder”. Psychiatrists do so everyday of the week.

Diagnoses are fluid and subject to change. Normalcy, non-deviance, or mental health, is outside of the doctors domain of expertise and, therefore, outside of the doctors office. Doctors have labels, not cures. Medications manage, they don’t alleviate symptoms. entirely, and it is quite probable that they exasperate symptoms, that is, unwanted behaviors.

The mental health community is not synonymous with the community as a whole. It is this artificial barrier, this insular cushion, this parenthetic netherworld, this nouveau ghetto, borne of coercion, intolerance, prejudice and dependency, that is my locus of concern. I would like to see it shrink rather than expand.

I feel that this turning ill health into a growth industry is criminal and, as such, it should be prosecuted, not encouraged. Problem. The care and management of ‘lunatics’ began as a growth industry, and so it remains to this day. I suggest that perhaps a change in priorities would make much more sense.

The Adult Baby Sitting AKA Mental Health Treatment Business

Adult baby sitting is big business. It is a business that goes by the name of mental health treatment. For adult baby sitting to thrive there are  three requirements: 1. that some adults are assumed to be incapable of making decisions for themselves, 2. that this pseudo-child status is legislated into law, and 3. that other people are paid for assuming the role of responsible adult.

Oh, by the way, adult baby sitting is thriving. The adult baby sitting business is booming big time. The numbers of adult babies are growing very fast, as is, correspondingly, the numbers of adult baby sitters. Adult baby sitting is assured a great future. Looking at Number 2. above, for this pseudo-child status to be legislated into law, law that is actually in opposition to law,  you need another explanation for immaturity. Voila! Now we’ve got medicine, medical science, calling irresponsibility and deviance “disease”.

Medical expertise, where maturity is concerned, has been given  quasi-judicial powers. In fact, it is an alliance of medicine and law that allows for the practice of adult baby sitting on a wide scale basis. The letter of the law can be circumvented, when it comes to incarcerating a person in the adult baby pen, because a determination has been made by medical experts, upheld by judges, that adult behavioral immaturity is a matter of physical disease, and we have a law for containing people with said disease.

This confinement represents a quarantine without true contagion. There is a contagion, truly, but this contagion is a matter of 1. selling adult baby sitting, 2. job security, and 3.. manufacturing adult babies. What is really at work here is supply side economics. First you’ve got the demand for adult babies sitters to handle the supply of adult babies. This in turn generates a demand for more adult babies to fill the growing supply of adult baby sitters. They are out there, we just can’t let them slip through the cracks so to speak, can we?

This business is actually about, and always was about, prejudice, intolerance, and segregation. The old mental asylum represents a sort of nigger town for the mad. I know you’ve heard the slogan, “separate but equal”, well, separate by its nature usually means unequal, and if anything our treatment of the dementedly deviant segment of the population has been very inferior to that of our treatment of the non-deviant majority. The new community mental health system would change this equation ever so slightly by introducing the mental hospital/prison without walls.

Children are under pressure to grow up. Weaning a child from dependency on mama and daddy is what child-rearing is all about. If the child is slow (i.e. immature for its age), now we’ve got the attention deficit hyperactivity disorder tag to lay on the child. ADHD allows for more intensive child rearing. We’ve got baby baby sitting for those babies that are more stubborn in their babyishness than other babies. If only it was as simple as saying, “babies will be babies”. Well, actually, it is that simple.

The issue at hand concerns the adult babies who have not been caught, or, 75 % of the population. Arriving at 75 % involves, more or less, coupling the psychosis tags with the neurosis tags, that is, deviance as necessity with deviance as luxury. If we are honest with ourselves, we have to credit the psychiatric field, the drug industry, and the insurance business with a great deal of deception. This deception involves pushing bias as if it were proven fact. We don’t have illnesses here. We have adults treated like children. Change the expectation, and you change everything. Were we to treat adults like adults again, I think you’d begin to see a big improvement.

Selling Mental Hellth

The issue is mental illness, and it’s an abstraction rather than a reality. Physical diseases are real. Mental diseases are in the head, just like leprechauns and dragons. The idea presented by the mental health movement is that we need to take it out of the shadows, that is, talk about it, as if talking about it were more healing than silence. Actually, this talking is a matter of positioning that tin cup for a government handout. When it comes to any funds drummed up in this fashion,  maybe we should call it dragon protection money.

The mental health movement is all about mental illness. As this is the case, I think it would be better to change the spelling of mental health from mental health to mental hellth. You can’t talk about mental illness, in excess, without selling it. The Center for Disease Control has already got it, mental illness, spreading to epidemic proportions. Why? People want money so they can treat mental illness. Treating mental illness is what we call mental hellth.

Alright, first premise of mental hellth:  Mental illness is real illness. We’ve got an abstraction here, sure, and it’s a real abstraction. The mental hellth movement wants this abstraction to have a physical presence, and so they are calling it physical. In fact, they wouldn’t have it be an abstraction at all, they’d have it be a medical condition. This leads directly to The Thousand Diseases project, or the DSM; in other words, the labeling of ordinary behaviors as diseased because it puts bread and butter on the plates of mental hellth professionals.

Second premise of mental hellth: People possessed by mental diseases are not able nor capable of mature actions. They are beyond, so-to-speak, the practice of self-control. These people possessed of the mental illness bug have thus been rendered, by this bug, incapable of making mature decisions and, therefore, their position as free moral agents is considered forfeit. Other people, or the state, must make their decisions for them. This forfeiture means essentially that such people are not to be covered by the bill of rights to the US constitution.

If  wisdom were health then this sort of misperception would transform folly into illness. There is no need to correct fools when if you can hospitalize/imprison them, is there? The big issue is whether this implied wisdom doesn’t actually represent the compounding of folly with further folly. The problem we’ve got here is that wise people can be sick, just like the mentally hellthy, and foolish people can be healthy, just like the mentally sick.

Selling mental hellth is not, make no mistake about it, selling health. Selling mental hellth is selling mental illness. As most mental hellth treatment involves harming the patient, it is often thought, falsely, that there is a relationship between mental illness and physical disease. There isn’t. The relationship is between mental hellth treatment and physical injury because that is what mental hellth treatment actually is, physical injury.

Of course, there is no way mental hellth could sell injury as a curative agent without a sleight of hand, without deception. This deception involves implying that the injury was actually caused by the impugned disease, and not by it’s treatment. Mental hellth is big business. The more “sickness” perceived, the more injury inflicted,, the more severe the perception of the typical cases, the more job security, and the more the industry is a growth industry.

Injury as a growth industry presents us with a pretty perplexing conundrum. Generally messes are things we’d want cleaned up rather than exacerbated. This is not true where injury is thought to produce mental hellth. The mental hellth the injury produces is coupled and confused with mental illness. Getting people out of the treatment program , out of the system, is not the major concern of mental hellth professionals. Providing for families and lifestyles at the expense of mental patients, that is the major concern of mental hellth professionals.

Frank Blankenship: Personal Story

The MindFreedom Personal Story Project

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Frank T. Blankenship

“I’ve talked to a great many people devastated about friends and associates debilitated by schizophrenia. This always elicits a smile and amusement on my part. They don’t seem to realize that they are talking with someone who was once diagnosed ‘chronic schizophrenic’.”

Born: 07 December 1952

Contact Info: Gainesville, Florida, http://www.lunatickfringe.wordpress.com

Currently doing: Community organizing, specifically a Florida affiliate of MindFreedom International, blogging, writing, and when he can, traveling.

Mental health experience: Inpatient, Outpatient, Forced Treatment, Psychiatric Drugs, Commitment, Solitary Confinement, Torture

Psychiatric labels: Chronic Episodic Psychotic Disorder, Schizoaffective Disorder, Schizotypal Personality Disorder,  Schizophrenic Paranoid Type, Schizophrenic Chronic Undifferentiated Type, Schizotypal Disorder With Major Depressive Features, Chronic Schizophrenia Possibly Paranoid with Sleep Deprivation

Psychiatric drugs taken in the past: Thorazine, Stelazine, Navane, Mellaril, Haldol, Moban, Olanzapine, Loxitane, Lithium, Propranolol, Cogentin, Artane, Tofranil

Off psychiatric drugs since: 1997

Recovery methods: Social Activism, Friends and Family, Maintaining a Distance From the Mental Health System, Philosophical Detachment

Greatest obstacle: Biological Medical Model Psychiatry

Brief history:

I wasn’t a good student in primary and secondary school. Homework was something I just didn’t do. My parents were desperate to see my grades improve. At one point they were so desperate that it was suggested I be psychiatrically evaluated. I was actually sent to some building, a very cold and clinical environment, where I was interviewed by all these psychiatrists. It was horrible. They were asking me all these very personal questions. I was their specimen. In tears I told my parents I wasn’t going back to that place, and I didn’t go back. Pulling out of that program is the reason I didn’t have a psychiatric label in grade school.

In college my lack of good study habits caught up with me. I finished high school without graduating, due to a lack of credits, but went on to take my GED (high school equivalency test) that summer. I was majoring in pre-teacher education because I didn’t have the credits to take liberal arts, talk about a lousy reason for becoming a teacher. Anyway, during my second year it became a problem. I was falling behind in class, that is one reason, bad study habits, but there was more to it than that, I was at a point in that transition from adolescence to adulthood when things should have been happening in my life and they just weren’t happening.

I stopped going to class. I kept up the pretense with people who knew me that I was still attending class. I broke  down before a professor and it was decided I should see a mental health professional. Over that weekend I discovered the secret of the universe. Apocalypse was coming with the mating of absolute good to absolute evil and this apocalypse would be followed by a second genesis. It all made sense at the time. An episode of marijuana smoking with friends probably didn’t help much. The next thing I know I’m being driven from Charlottesville where I resided over the mountain to DeJarnette Sanatorium, the private wing of Western State Hospital, in Staunton Virginia.

Admission to DeJarnette was like landing on another planet. First you’ve got the imposing Victorian look of a traditional asylum, and then you’ve got the actual crazy folk within it. I was disoriented and the experience was anything but grounding. The nursing staff at this time saw their job as mostly one of observation until the patient began to show some signs of improvement. This meant little interaction, with rational people anyway, except for that which was punitive, therefore, I spent a great deal of time in seclusion in the quiet room.

Pacing the halls at night in a thorazine daze I fantasized being rescued by extraterrestrials. There were these eerie lights to be seen through the window at the end of the hall, and a railroad track over which we heard the occasion train whistle on its way elsewhere. When eventually I was taken out for my first walk around the grounds, feeling I was a part of some strange kind of experiment, and that I was expected to escape, I took off running down the road. A car lit out after me, and I was returned to the hospital. I learned eventually to play the game, and to give the staff what it wanted, thereby, after a time, gaining my discharge.

After my first institutionalization I had a crummy job, custodial, with UVA hospital housekeeping. Six months of that while taking regular doses of thorazine and I said, “No more.” I felt pretty, well, I think depressed is the conventional way to describe my feelings at the time. I quit the job and threw out the thorazine. I vowed never to take neuroleptic drugs of my own volition again, and I have been generally true to that oath. I felt much better. I don’t know if quitting the menial labor had anything to do with it, but I have absolutely no regrets about not taking psychiatric drugs. I fancied myself something of a poet at the time, and the drugs affected my creativity, as users will tell you, in a very negative way. I feel that this vow has more or less prevented me from suffering the fate of so many of my contemporaries, some of whom are no longer with us.

This was only the beginning of my experiences in the mental health world. After inpatient treatment, there comes outpatient treatment. I  became something of a “revolving door patient”, that is, I was back in the hospital on an inpatient basis pretty regularly. Funny thing, most of the times when I was institutionalized there was nothing “mentally” wrong with me.

There was, when I first got discharged from the state hospital, what was then called the Day Hospital for outpatient treatment. It was kind of like what I would describe as nursery school for adults. I will never forgive myself for opening up to the director of this Day Hospital. He said he was good at listening, and he encouraged people to talk to him in his office. He also had a way of dismissing everything a person would say to him as symptomatic of underlying illness. I, on the other hand, liked to think my thoughts, hopes, visions, feelings, wishes, plans, ontological being, etc. were not reducible to the outward manifestation of a pathological condition. He eventually learned about Fountain House in New York, and soon after the Day Hospital was converted into a clubhouse. He had a sailboat, and he would take sailing vacations to, what most clubhouse members could only dream about, the Bahamas. Eventually he got a job in south Florida doing what he had in Virginia, and then, much to the good fortune of his clientele, fired for who knows what.

I had moved to California at one point. I had this idea that either I was going to fashion myself into a success, with a super model clone clinging to an arm, or I was going to commit suicide. Well, as things were going rather slowly at the time I began making plans for my exit from the world. I hitchhiked north, ended up in an institution in Oregon, got out, made my way to Takoma in Washington state, turned around, and came back to the town in California where I was staying. Suicide, as it turned out, wasn’t such a simple undertaking. I thought about doing it, and eventually I took a swipe at it, or something approaching that. I had, as you might imagine, mixed feelings about ending it all. Ultimately I turned the matter into something of a public spectacle. I didn’t want to just make a silent exit, and then offer proof that nobody gave a shit, as they wouldn’t care anyway. I awkwardly cut my arms with a razor blade thinking about working my way up to the wrists. I then walked bleeding out and down main street where was I was shortly picked up by the police. This little episode, which lead to stitches, of course, made me revise my ideas about suicide. I decided I really didn’t want to off myself, and maybe life wasn’t so insufferable as it might have seemed after all.

My last hospitalization was one of the worst experiences in the psychiatric system I had ever had. I had at that time been out of the institution for ten years straight. A police detective came to my door and told me that if I didn’t volunteer myself into the hospital criminal charges would be lodged against me. I went to the emergency room. Big mistake on my part. Any lawyer will tell you that the police, in order to get what they want, will lie. A campus police officer in the ER had had some kind of encounter with me, and so I was put under a temporary detention order, a 72 hour hold. I was beside myself. I knew where this process was headed, and that is exactly where it went, to a civil commitment hearing. I spent nearly a month on the university hospital psych unit, until the insurance ran out, and then it was over the mountain to Western  State Hospital.

Western State at this time had fewer patients than on any of my previous visits due to deinstitutionalization. It was also more restrictive. In the university hospital I’d been spitting out pills in the toilet. This was no longer possible at Western as they checked to make sure nobody was cheeking his or her pills. The patients were seldom released from the closed wards to walk the grounds and visit the main recreational building. Eventually I became one of the few allowed out accompanied by staff. The weekends were murder, murder by boredom that is. This was due to the reduced staff. I considered myself lucky to have had a mother who would visit me almost every weekend.  I was in the hospital longer than any time previously, too. Soon after I left the department of justice was called in to investigate conditions at the hospital. I think this was due to some patients deaths there. Given budget cuts, last I heard, the hospital is in danger of reverting back to the way it was when I was a patient.

Social Security sent me a letter stating that I would need to be in treatment if I were to continue to receive benefits. This sent me back to the clubhouse. I agreed to a treatment plan that involved going about a half a day twice a week. Anything more was just too depressive. This meant orientation as a new member, and then service in the cafe unit. They had these work units, you see, in which people pretended to work and they called this pretense rehabilitation. Although not up to the standards of a regular Fountain House model clubhouse, I guess you could say it was their way of trying.

Eventually I wound up in the clerical unit. This meant that I was the person who entered the names of the people in attendance from a sign-in sheet to a computer record. The average daily attendance was somewhere between seventy to eighty members while on a good day ninety something people might show up. I made note one year that we had ten members die. I felt these deaths were due to the prescription drugs the members were ingesting. Witness that the death rate that year was better than 10 % of the attendance on a good day. Obviously the mortality rates of people who went to this clubhouse were way too high. At one point during the year in question, when three members died in succession over a couple of months, hospice was called in to help members deal with their grief. When I left the clubhouse, I who never wanted to go there in the first place, there were staff members trying to dissuade me from leaving. Thankfully, they had no further hold over me.

Since then I’ve moved to another state, but I continue to receive the clubhouse newsletter. A recent edition reported that the clubhouse had had a memorial service for three members who had died within a short space of time. Hospice counselors were there to help members deal with their grief.I guess this means that, following my departure, things haven’t changed all that much.

Year told:

2013