All morning long yesterday, I was taking a stand against the mistreatment I received for 30 years from the psychiatric profession. I was quoted twice on NPR’s wonderful national radio call-in show, 1A (the1a.org).
I had heard on that show on Friday that on Monday they would be doing the first audience-chosen topic for the year – “mental health”. I got excited about this news: “Wow! I have got a helluva story for them￼!”
Later that evening, I taped for 1A this 19-minute video – introducing myself to them and giving a summary of my story of 30 years in the clutches of the psychiatric industry￼.
Over the course of the weekend, I also sent off to the 1A folks this “funky, candid, very informal bio” of myself:
By Monday morning, I had coached myself to “curb my enthusiasm”. This was public radio’s flagship call-in show. For a topic that had been most popular in voting by listeners, my input would be a spec￼k.
I knew that there also would be options for sending in comments during the show. The first hour, 10-11 AM on Asheville’s NPR affiliate (bpr.org) gave exciting updates on the mob action in DC.
When the “mental health” segment began at 11 AM, I had windows open in my phone to send tweets and emails to 1A, real-time.
Audio for that segment is now posted on the 1A website:
10 minutes into the show, I exclaimed to myself at my kitchen table, “They’re missing the whole point! This whole paradigm is wrong!”
I fired off this email:
“The very term ‘mental health’ is a root of the problem. The opposite of health is disease. When we call human pain a health issue, we automatically suggest that doctors are the people to handle it. Human pain is a fundamental existential issue that all people need to wrestle with.”
Five minutes later, I heard my comment on the air!￼￼￼
As soon as I caught my breath and my heartbeat slowed down, I noticed that my “fabulous comment” had almost no impact on the conversation. One of the panelists agreed, but the trajectory of the conversation was unchanged.
My comment had been completely outside the paradigm of the conversation. They were there to talk about “mental health”, by God! I had challenged the very use of the “health versus illness” model.
Frustrated, I started to write a text message to challenge the trajectory of the conversation more directly. I knew it would not reach them before the hour was up.
Here is what I wrote:
“The psychiatry industry in America is a huge, powerful, deep-pockets lobby that props up big Pharma and university Institutes around the country.
“There will be tremendous resistance to going back to a fundamental human understanding that pain is everybody’s problem￼￼ – and that labeling some people as having a mental illness only takes our eye off the ball of the issue we all must wrestle with.”
I was feeling all pleased and proud with my more confrontive intervention, when I heard a familiar voice come through the radio. Jennifer White, the host, introduced the audio input by saying, “John from Spruce Pine called this in.”
They were playing a 45 second voice message I had left on their answering machine Friday night! Here it is:￼
It was thrilling to hear myself making such a strong, clear statement – way better than the text I had just written. I felt excited and proud. But again the conversation proceeded blithely past my comment.￼
As a management consultant, I once worked for a company where guys liked to say, “Doing a good job around here is like peeing yourself in a dark blue suit. It gives you a nice warm feeling, but nobody notices.”
One of the guests said, “Of course we don’t want people to feel like damaged goods. Mental illness affects so many people a recent study showed that 50% of us has a diagnosable psychiatric condition.”
No! No! No! Not a psychiatric condition – human pain!
William James – the “father of American psychology”, who invented many of these psychiatric labels – said, near the end of his career (around 1900):
“When all is said and done, we are all much more human than anything else.”
Spiritual teachers from so many different traditions tell us that the purpose of human life is to discover that we are all one – not to get clear what our diagnostic label is.
Or, maybe even worse, to fall into the dualistic fallacy that some people are “sick” and some are not.
When the show is over, I certainly did not feel like I had been very well heard by any of the panelists, but I did not blame them￼￼. They came to talk about “mental health” – and I was saying that that was the wrong conversation to be having. I was just way too out of the box for them.
So I did not win the war, or even really the battle – but I had fired off an opening salvo. At least within me – and maybe for a listener or two – I had put the psychiatric industry on notice that I’m coming for them.
I felt really happy – triumphant.
I celebrated what felt like a real breakthrough by placing a call that I have been putting off for months, until I could get enough supporting material online￼￼: I called a lawyer to consult about suing our big local hospital for my recent misdiagnosis there.
I had been punched very violently full in the face by quite a powerful guy. The one witness said to me,
“That was a hell of a punch you just took. I think you might have a concussion – maybe a broken nose. You might even have internal bleeding. You need to go to the ER.￼”
I had been hit so unexpectedly that I literally never saw the punch – and never felt it. Never had any pain, until that afternoon when I got a little headache.
￼I had, in fact, sustained a concussion and – had my friend not urged me so strongly to go to the ER – was prepared to just go about my business.
I presented in the ER saying,
“I’ve been punched in the face. I think I may have a concussion – and may be a broken nose. And I noticed that I’m feeling kind of delirious.”
The ER staff saw that I was kind of delirious – and found in my record that I had a history of psych hospitalizations there￼￼. They put me on the psychiatry side of the ER, without telling me that that’s what they were doing. And they made no attempt to assess any medical problems.￼
When, only an hour later, I realized that I was being treated as a psych patient, I did not filter my discontent about this. They actually had just bitten off more than they could chew.
I was very nice to all the front line staff and other patients, several whom I helped quite a bit – because the overworked and understaffed team in the ER (in this very traumatized, newly-bought-out-hospital) were handling too many patients – even before a big Covid onslaught in Asheville.
The overstretched nursing staff had no time to do anything but try to keep up with charting. Any time that I or another patient asked for something – even to send off my release of information so my last psychiatrist could “clear me” and get me the hell out of there – their response ranged from irritated to extremely angry.
I have many stories to tell about the next 48 hours – all of which I feel very proud of – but it was, on one level, 48 hours of pure hell.
I have been patiently gathering data about various law firm possibilities and had recently narrowed my field down to one in particular. Monday afternoon I called that firm, had a terrific conversation with the woman at the other end of the phone – and came away super happy and excited.
I celebrated that breakthrough by creating a new Spotify playlist, which I titled “Payback time”.
Brene Brown says that real emotional health comes from the right dialectic between open-heartedness and solid boundaries. ￼
Every time I added a new “get the hell out of my life” song to the playlist, I ecstatically danced to it.
It was only later in the afternoon that I realized it’s also a great playlist for dancing our celebration about a certain politician who we are in the process of throwing out of our lives.
I think you may have fun with this playlist – especially if you let yourself surrender to enthusiastically dancing to it.
It is definitely a work in progress, at only 10 songs so far. After you have had fun with these songs – enough to get the feel of where I’m going with this thing – I would welcome any suggestions for additional songs.
I think there’s the potential that many of us could use this dancing as an opportunity to transcend our anxieties about the last six days of our tyrant prince – and start to lean into the thrill of having him gone in another six days.
When I let the reality of the shift that’s about to happen wash over me the other day, I wept with relief and celebration.
Try this wonderful, high-attitude, fun song by the brilliant Sarah Barreiles for starters￼￼:
The “Payback time” playlist is now up to ten songs. I think we need to party longer than that! I would welcome any suggestions for other songs that fit the mood – and the amazing, historical time￼.
For me, a real bonus is the YouTube video of the song “Done” by The Band Perry￼. I discovered that video on the TV in the day room when I was wrongfully hospitalized on a psych unit back in the summer￼. Dancing to that song helped me get through that particular nightmare.￼
At that time, I really thought that this song – with all their wonderful black and white actors – ￼was the band’s message about being over with systemic racism and the killing of unarmed Black people. I still think they have that on their mind.￼
But, in today’s context, there is a certain politician that we are pretty much all done with. Kimberly Perry, the lead singer of the band, has disgust down to an art form.￼
When, near the end of the song, she leans on the microphone and simply grunts her disgust, that one gesture will forever – for me – encapsulate this moment in time￼.