As someone who has Complex Trauma and Dissociative Identity from childhood abuse, it is perhaps surprising that I’ve come so far on my healing journey without having had anything to do with psychiatry. It is only now that I moved from the UK to Germany and am in need of support due to homelessness, that I’m becoming fully aware of just how toxic the mental health system of the western world is.
For some reason, our culture has come to see emotions as illnesses. What if we called “clinical depression” grief instead? Or hopelessness? Or emotional numbness? What if we called “anxiety disorder” fear instead? Would people still take their psychiatric drugs (medication) or would they maybe be more likely to wonder why they feel so often feel hopeless or scared?
The truth is, drugs don’t make feelings go away. Nor do they take away the cause for whatever you’re feeling. They just numb out your feelings, and muffle them, a bit like dissociation. To dissociate means to disconnect from your emotions and sensations; it’s a natural trauma response to protect you. Of course, having a Dissociative Identity, I struggle with dissociation a lot. So I find it hard to understand why anyone would willingly take the chemical version of dissociation. I’m well acquainted with just how unbearable intense emotions can be. Abused children never learn how to regulate their emotions. But as I know, dissociating from them only makes them more unbearable when they finally come back (which they inevitably do, sooner or later).
A lot of people advertise psychiatric drugs as a temporary solution, calling it “a bit of soothing” or “calming” until things get better. What gentle descriptions for taking drugs. With the same logic, one might propose giving a sedative to a screaming baby. That’s exactly what people’s emotions are. A dysregulated nervous system that’s begging for help (either due to an acute trigger or trauma in the past). As with the baby, that actual soothing would be kind attention…obviously…so how did our society end up so fundamentally disconnected from human nature?
That’s a question too big for this short article, but of course, the (simplified) answer is capitalism. Psychiatry, health insurance, and the pharmaceutical industry came up with the whole disorder concept and the idea that “disorders” (extreme emotions) were caused by “chemical imbalances” in the brain. And coincidentally, these “chemical imbalances” can be fixed by taking what is referred to as ‘medication’, or so they say. In other words, it’s just another way in which capitalism managed to make even more money by harming people.
I am shocked, almost every day when I read people’s accounts of having been abused by psychiatry on the “A Disorder For Everyone” Facebook group. Even with all of that awareness, I was further shocked by how often and casually people have recommended or tried to persuade me to go to the hospital and take psychiatric drugs here in Germany. I told my social worker (who’s not my social worker any more) that I’ve been feeling suicidal, and she proposed the hospital (what’s more, she was present at least two times when I firmly told another person that I won’t have anything to do with that!). “Why, will the people there make me feel loved?” I would have liked to reply to her.
Worst was a “social” worker at a psychiatric service, who was a fully-fledged abuser on the narcissistic spectrum (they are more common than anyone thinks). She was clearly triggered by the extent of my desperate situation and told me off for being in need as forcefully as any abusive parent. When I reacted to that abuse by nearly fainting, of course, it was clear to her that I needed to go to emergency straight away, because I was extremely unstable and “was just waltzing around town”, like a dangerous mad woman.
This is the classical gaslighting of abusers that I know so well from my narcissistic family – they think you are wrong in all the ways in which they are wrong. Just like Alice in Wonderland, I’m really sick of these mad people that I never wanted to associate with, and I wish I could just find a path that leads home.
But the madness never seems to stop. When I vented about this re-traumatising experience on a Facebook group for people with “DID”, one of the commenters said: “You should really reconsider your attitude towards medication”. Dear reader, I hope you feel like screaming as much as me.
And now I feel like it again, as – after months of repressing the trauma of that experience – I have dared to reach out to a victims’ support service, telling the story of my emotional abuse via email, only to have another “social” worker tell me that “She’s sorry to hear that I wasn’t content with the behaviour of her colleague in the psychiatric service”. I wrote back at once that her belittling of my experience was insolent and disrespectful. But once again I am left with that horrid feeling of not being taken seriously, which is so re-traumatising for victims.
So what is one to do in the face of this huge conspiracy? I wish I had a vast network of like-minded people with whom I could talk and engage in anti-psychiatric activism. But like so many survivors, I suffer from social isolation. So far, talking to my therapist and writing poetry and articles have been my only outlets for this. I’m well aware of how important gaining a sense of agency and thereby power is for victims, which is why I feel the need to do more. I’ve just embarked on a new project with a YouTube channel called “DI Without The Disorder”, which hopefully will help me to reach more people and build a network. There is something tremendously empowering about using your voice – literally – especially when it’s to raise awareness about the sickness and injustice of the system, and to express your emotions.
Let me finish by saying that I’m a big fan of the ERNI declaration. It stands for “Emotions aRe Not Illnesses” and it’s a human rights declaration, making a clear statement against the current concept of pathologising emotions and suffering. Anyone can sign it, anonymously if wished, and I’m proud that I could help a tiny bit by translating it into two more languages (any multilinguals: there are still a lot more languages that can be added to the list!)
By the way, the title of this article is a reference to a song by Green Day, which, I think, describes the mess we’re in quite well, except that they sing “You’re your own worst enemy”, where I beg to differ and think that the worst enemy is clearly the external system.
Thank you for writing this. I have discovered that most psychiatrists are only able to pick a medication for a symptom. We were extremely lucky, when no meds worked, that our psychiatrist was knowledgeable regarding Omega 3 supplementation. That started us on our healing journey and it culminated with the low carb/good fat eating plan being instrumental in helping to deal with anxiety/trauma so much better.
Dr. Chris Palmer, Harvard psychiatrist, is seeing great results with the keto eating plan reducing his patient’s symptoms.
I hope you continue to do well!
I am really pleased that you have something that worked for you, I genuinely am and yay that it didn’t involve medication.
But this doesn’t negate the benefits for other people. The emotions you mention can and do coexist in people alongside mental illnesses but the two can be entirely separate too.
Of course, there are good and bad practitioners within mental health services. There are good and bad practitioners in every area of healthcare. Everywhere.
Also, agreed that appropriate care for either mental health conditions ,or overwhelming effects of life on a person should not b beating dealt with by social workers. Because that isn’t what they are trained to do.
And there shouldn’t a) be such a stigma around having therapy, regardless of the reasons why and b) there should not be such a huge disparity in what is accessible to people in different areas of the country.
The issue for me is that sometimes you get a diagnosis and boom, you’re on your own to try and navigate your way round it, with absolutely no tools to do so. That’s the problem. The diagnosis should never be a goal, it should serve as a map to navigate these things. And navigating it with medication may or may not be PART of the answer. And “Hey, you feel terrible because terrible things have happened to you” holds as much weight as “Hey, we think you have this condition” But they should both be followed by at a minimum: “These things will probably help you, come back if they don’t.”
But one of these things doesn’t negate the other.