A Norwegian psychiatrist has written a book for children with the title «Pappa’n min er syk i tankene sine», which translates into «My daddy is ill in his thoughts».
I applaud her wish to help children understand what is going on when a parent is having mental problems.
I also disagree with the belief system she writes within, the idea that depression and anxiety and psychosis are illnesses of the thoughts or brain.
And before I continue, I want to underscore that I do not completely reject the idea that there are real «mental illnesses» with real somatic causes. M’kay?
And I do not completely reject the use of drugs. What Philip Hickey, PH.D wrote in «The Disease-Centered Model Vs. The Drug-Centered Model» makes sense to me.
Yet I think it would be constructive if mental health care systems – all of them – had the same default start to helping people in need: Accept their stories (which does not have to mean “believe their stories”), ask what they need, and if they are so alienated from themselves that they do not know what they need, be with them in searching for it.
In my belief system, which is a network of ideas from all over the psychoverse, a synergy of alienation, isolation and bullshit is the main cause of mental health problems. Problems. Not illnesses. The short-short version is that the collective stories of our surroundings drown out the stories of individuals. Some people, the so-called normal ones, are able to adapt to the collective stories, and the so-called mentally ill ones are incapable of it, for many different reasons. And “mental illness” is in itself a powerful story of alienation, isolation, bullshit, disempowerment and hopelessness.
My mother could not adapt. Here is a link to a fragment of her story: http://freudfri.blogspot.no/2013/08/honouring-my-strong-and-broken-mother.html
She was unpredictable, often aggressive, psychotic or so heavily medicated that she acted like a zombie. And my sister and I were told that she was ill. That certainly did not make our situation easier, and it left us with a huge fear that we could become “ill” in the same horrible way.
When my children were growing up, I told them an alternative story I had made for myself as a teenager:
«We don’t know what, but bad things happened to Granny when she was young, and she shut them away because they were too scary to deal with alone, and there was no one to look at them with her.
«Because of these shut-off memories, she can’t remember what it is like to be a child, which makes her act weirdly around children.
«And the hidden memories build up a lot of pressure, and sometimes the lid bursts open and so much gunk comes exploding out at once that she gets lost in a frightening dream world.
Looking back at the fragments of her life that I know about, I think that she was broken many times, not least by the so-called science of psychiatry.
And the direction I chose in my late 30s was very much based on what I learned from her life. I rejected “What’s wrong with you?” in favor of “What has happened to you?”
MY ROAD TO RECOVERY
In 1988 the local psychiatric area supervisor asked me an unanswerable question: “What do you want me to do for you?”
After a couple of failed attempts, I said that I had to separate this into three questions before I could answer:
What do I want to do for me?
I want to give me who I am.
What do I want you to do for me?
Show me that I can trust you. Listen creatively, maybe show me new doors that I can open in the direction I am going. Help me win over my fear of violations by expecting respect and giving respect. Never tell me that I am going in the wrong direction; I need you to trust that my direction is right for me. Give me lots of room to grow and let me build on a base of my own strength. Never try to force me into anything. Do not violate my right to be miserable with dignity, to be helpless and pathetic with dignity.
But I cannot program you into giving me what I need. Neither can you. You are not a flawless healer robot, you are a human being who works as a therapist. Therefore the third part of the question is yours:
What CAN you give me?
That part is yours, and only yours.
The psychiatrist offered to help me see “reality”, and when I rejected that help, he covertly borderlined me, teaching my GP how to manipulate more alienation, isolation and bullshit into the wounds that were there already.
And until I read their notes 3 years later, I kept telling myself that “They think I’m crazy” was a paranoid fantasy.
My road has been longer and thornier and much more tangled than it would have been if my choice – to give me who I am – had been seen by the health services as an autonomous decision.
That proved to be impossible, and looking back though those 25 years, I see that what happened was inevitable. Might even be inevitable today. Because …
“Psychiatry” was on the same road that I was on, just heading in the opposite direction.
And from within psychiatry’s belief system/body of scientific knowledge, the direction I took was Just Plain Wrong. Sick.
I was “A chaotic woman who has had a sexual relationship with a priest while growing up”.
Someone who insisted instead that she had been “sexually violated by a priest as a child”, proving that she “does not want help to see if there is a connection between her emotions, fantasies and reality”.
Someone who evaluated the psychiatric area supervisor’s authority and perceptions of reality:
Willingly entering chaos
In 1988 I wrote this:
I am living in Chaos right now. I have anxiety, headaches, insomnia; loose bits of my life whirl threateningly around me. I want to hide in the old defenses: Sort, understand, pull myself together, lose myself in work, put a thick layer of calories over what I do not want to think about.
I know that this will pass. Chaos is now a familiar landscape, and I am not afraid of dying in here, as I used to be. I know that the best thing to do, is to accept it.
Being in chaos was not comfortable, but it was right for me at the time, in the same way that running a marathon is right for some people, so it was good to read this, from “The Wounded Sky”, a Star Trek novel by Diane Duane:
“Well, isn’t it the Vulcans who say that the doors of truth are guarded by Paradox and Confusion . . . and that if you attempt to handle them by turning your back on them, the truth will remain closed behind you?”
“If we did not say it,” Spock said soberly, but without that glint leaving his eye, “I will see to it that we do from now on.”
We all have chaos in us, I think, and it is natural to fear chaos in others if we are scared of our own inner chaos.
And fear of chaos is so common that it can be called normal.
But is it healthy? ***
Recently I asked on Twitter if mental health professionals had a good Norwegian word for “recovery”. A psychiatrist wrote “tilfriskning” – “recovery, remission”.
Which makes sense within a frame of “mental illness”, but the word “recovery” has many definitions.
There are many different recovery models of mental health care:
And they seem to have in common another definition of recovery: “the regaining of something lost or taken away”
Which brings me back to what I wanted in 1988: “To give me who I am”. It has been a long journey in the direction I chose, millimeter by millimeter. Often uncomfortable and painful, but it belongs to me.
When the borderlining psychiatrist asked me where I thought I was going, I said that I had no idea. “But I know that I’ll recognize it when I get there”.
Now, in my 65th year, I am getting “there”, and I like where I am. I like who I am, after finally beginning to regain what was lost and taken away from me.
And I realize that, in addition to people in my chosen and biological family and one helper who helped, the most important helpers in my life were adult friends of my childhood, people who themselves were outside the glaring streetlights of collective stories, who could see the small flickering light of my individuality, the contours of my self. They made it possible for me to see myself, many years later.
Soldier was one of them. And the story of Soldier and his friends is here:
© 2013, Ingrid Johanne Vaalund
More about me here: http://freudfri.blogspot.no/p/about-me.html