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Don't Lose Your Mind

The kind of hope that interests me is grounded in reality: not crossing one’s fingers and buying a lottery ticket, but noticing the signs and reminders that suggest possibility. One thing that gives me hope is the presence of fellow-travelers. More and more, I see people standing up to say, “Stop! In the name of love…,” questioning social arrangements and unfounded assumptions that harm while purporting to help. The meta-message of these movements is “Wake up! Open our eyes to the consequences of our actions, and change them before the harm is too great to fix!”

I love it that so many teachers and parents are speaking out against the corporate-driven test-obsessed approach to education, asserting the obvious truth that the whole child must be nurtured through the fully dimensional encounter of a skilled and caring teacher and a pupil encouraged to develop his or her own curiosity and unique gifts. I love it that more and more people, rooted in their own connection to beloved places, are speaking out against the corporations that treat the land as little more than raw material from which profit may be extracted.

This week, I was introduced to another such Wake-up! movement, this one comprising people who advocate loving, drug-free alternatives to the inhumane, narcotized warehousing practiced by official systems for treating psychosis.

Like other Wake-up! movements, this one was started by people whose awareness of urgent need was rooted in direct experience: they experienced a period of madness in youth, or saw their own children go through such a crisis, or served as psychotherapists in state hospitals, witnessing their own patients’ mistreatment. The details differ, but those moved to stand up were appalled by seeing torture meted out in the guise of care by those ignorant of or indifferent to the consequences of their actions. They dedicated themselves to creating alternatives: drop-in centers, places of respite, residential centers that eschew drugs and restraints.

As I’ve read testimonies from the members of this movement, I’ve been impressed at how solidly grounded their work is not only in their personal experience, but in careful study of outcomes in both conventional and alternative settings. For instance, read Michael Cornwall’s account in his blog on Mad in America (a site published by Robert Whitaker, an award-winning author of books and articles on the subject) of how pressure from big pharma and others who profited from the change led a California urban mental health system to purge therapy in favor of drug treatment alone.

As Michael is a leading light of this movement, I want to offer his bona fides to counter what might be an easy assumption that those opposing mainstream abuses lack standing to do so. This account is drawn from a post on theIcarus site recommending “An Integrative Approach To Transformative Madness”:

These suggestions are mainly gleaned from my own un-medicated, untreated experience of madness in my early twenties, and from working daily as a primary therapist for almost 30 years with actively psychotic clients using a Jungian/Transpersonal, Laingian approach.

During that time I worked for over 3 years at a 24/7, alternative, 20-bed, freestanding, transpersonally oriented, acute-care open-door program called I-ward in Martinez, California, where no medications or leather restraints were used or diagnoses given to consumers who were acutely psychotic.

I also helped develop a similar 5-bed program in Marin County, Passages In, that was short lived. I did several months of internship at St. George’s Homes in Berkeley where a similar Jungian/Transpersonal approach was used.

After that I worked for 25 years in public sector clinics and on a mobile crisis team as well as in private practice. Even in those settings, most of the psychotic clients I served were not on medication.

I also am drawing on my doctoral research follow-up study done on the San Francisco-based, medication-free Diabasis House for clients in acute psychosis and my 20-year relationship with its founder, Jungian psychiatrist John Weir Perry.

But my early experience of serving from age 18 as a medic in the Army Reserve for six years and then as a State Hospital attendant with severely developmentally delayed men and for 2 years as an orderly at a nursing home with brain-damaged, demented, and Alzheimer’s patients also informs my advice on how to relate to people in pain and suffering.

Michael introduced me to the Mother Bear Community Action Network, “an international community of families dedicated to supporting each other through recovery education, family-led support communities, and access to recovery resources that enable all family members to thrive—emotionally, physically and socially.” And toALT_mentalities, which is full of interesting and passionate analysis of official mental health pronouncements, such as this post on high death rates among those who are considered seriously mentally ill.

Back in the sixties, many people I knew read the early writers questioning dominant views of madness: R.D. Laing was huge, and also Thomas Szasz, Foucault, Goffman, and others. Szasz pointed out the way deviant behavior is packaged as illness, granting society license to “treat” those who are acting out: “If you talk to God, you are praying; If God talks to you, you have schizophrenia. If the dead talk to you, you are a spiritualist; If you talk to the dead, you are a schizophrenic.” During slavery times, the desire to flee was diagnosed as an illness call “drapetomania.” In our own times, we’ve seen homosexuality characterized as a disease and terrible treatments prescribed until outrage finally forced a revision of the diagnostic manual.

The early prophets of this movement were outsized characters, and some transgressed ethical codes in ways so often associated with charismatic leaders: Jung crossed sexual lines with analysands, Laing lost his license on account of alcohol, and for some erstwhile acolytes, that behavior contaminated their legacies beyond redemption. My perception is that along the spectrum of members of this Wake-up! movement today—some of whom are enraged at the mental health establishment, some much more nuanced in tone—people are taking care to avoid the same ethical pitfalls and consequences.

I have the sense of a movement gathering maturity. Evidently, they do too, because the most active leaders are coming together later this fall to together plan and develop “an alternative continuum of mental health services for those in madness processes…to transform traditional services that are already in place and to create new, holistic services that are now missing from a full spectrum of care….”

I wish these fellow-travelers well on their journey, and offer a theme song that is about as apt as any could be: Lukas Nelson’s (Willie’s son) “Don’t Lose Your Mind.”

Don’t lose your mind
Don’t let your thoughts control you
I tell myself this all the time
’cause you’re not real

Don’t lose control
I speak it like a mantra
Like lightning before thunder
You’re not real