As a psychotherapist who works with other Mad individuals, it seems to me that the wider Mad community is not always aware of the diversity that exists within.
Many of us who have survived may fail to see the privileges that we have that have enabled us not to get sucked into the institutions. We may think our way of making it is the only way. We may take for granted what we have used to survive. And, we may not always learn the diversity lessons that we need in order to be there for our brethren.
Historically we are divided by DSM labels and social inequality and we may easily reinforce those divisions without knowing it.
Some may consider themselves members of a spiritual emergence narrative rather than a schizophrenic episode.
Others in recovery are okay with being part of the bipolar community rather than among individuals who are genetically impaired with schizophrenia eugenics.
Some want to divide up into individuals who hear voices versus those who are just delusional.
And, then there are individuals who evade intrusion by coding up their words. Of course differences in heritage, class, gender and relation to historical trauma are likewise things that many survivors may not completely acknowledge.
Those who are wrapped up in the current debate in the Mad community over the use of medication run the risk of dividing us further without acknowledging the diversity of people’s experience and trauma.
The claim that I really object to is: “This works for me, therefore it must be what everyone else needs.”
Demands for Inclusion in the Movement
I experience the social order in the local survivor movement to be cutthroat. The demands for inclusion make many in it seem intolerant. From my vantage point, to really become promoted in the survivor community, you have to be off your medication, able to afford the conference circuit, able to volunteer, bearing of a prestigious university experience or open to using stigmatic discernment in terms of with whom you do or do not associate.
When I interact with both the “chronically normal” and survivor communities, it is easy to feel invisible and irrelevant.
I admit that I was given fair warning when I heard local African American people say, “The thing about the recovery movement is that it is clearly a white movement.”
Still, among the very repressed individuals with whom I work, I’ve promoted recovery and inclusion with success. I have pointed individuals in the direction of the survivor community and then bound like a puppy into its arms only to face dominance.
To my relief, some people I’ve helped may have fared better, but I also understand why a large concentration of brilliant people do not want to change what they are doing and embrace the movement.
Fitting in with the Misfits
To be fair to local movement leaders, not fitting into community is something with which I have a lot of experience. It’s easy for me to sniff out familiar things that have alienated me in the past, go flat and withdraw.
Although in my group work with “psychosis,” I teach Mad people that social skills are extremely important to counteract our retaliating and reacting to our Mad experiences. I still do not always use them.
I am known to get off popping in some ghetto references amid stodgy and insulated contexts. Walking like an Egyptian in Rome is a hard habit to stop. No doubt, these times are when I need to take my own advice. But maybe being excluded is part of what make me who I am.
A Little on my Vision of Learning from Mad Diversity
But I have seen in Mad groups that Mad learning can come from Mad people connecting with Mad diversity. Higher levels of flexibility, humility, social functioning, and social justice can result.
I believe an individual can gain a bigger cultural sense of who they are when:
- Those who have spiritual experiences mix with those who have more paranoid conspiracy focused ones (or any mix thereof);
- I see more irritated mania Madness mix with the more dysphoric numbed out or catatonic type; or
- I see those who hear voices and see visuals mix with the people who code words and get magical intuition from interpersonal information.
- I see those who are underprivileged mix with those who are provided for; and
- Finally, when I see those who can go without medication mix with those who have come to a self-determined acceptance that they need it.
They can become more aware of what advantages and strengths they have. I believe diversity can be very healing. I see participants learn how they might use the differing perspectives of others to become less stuck with the current situations that limit them.
What I have come to believe is that although Madness made me grow happier and healthier (through a lot of pain and suffering) which fits the narrative of spiritual emergence, I relate very strongly to those still experiencing the pain and suffering.
I believe that if I believe in them it is more likely to help them.
Indeed, some message receivers may be more the victim of trauma, some may be more spiritually endowed and still others may be more afflicted with being scientifically different than others. When one voice rules the Mad nation and imposes its views on others, there is potential for so much learning and cultural exploration to be lost.
Just Saving the Privileged?
I resist the general sense that treatment must skim the useful and talented from the top of the Mad pile to save them from going into the meat grinder and having horrific experiences.
Once you have experienced the meat grinder or try to honor that experience, you may feel like those who haven’t see you as damaged goods. You may be seen as not worthy of promoting the true virtues of health.
On days that I feel highly alienated from the movement, I feel that I’m seen this way.
From where I sit on a swivel chair, being horrified and appalled by repressive environments, unilaterally attacking them with generalizations that alienate and dehumanize individuals who can use them to heal, is not helpful.
I’d argue that these kinds of stigma views divide Mad people. Much as happened with the civil rights movement in the U.S., it can be easy for the oppressor to turn us against each other, keep us attacking each other and recapitulate the pain and hatred we experienced on each other.
Many of our early intervention programs are built in this manner with this mentality. The root of cognitive therapy comes from a culture of privilege and may not be functional for those dealing with generational trauma and without financial support, those buried in oppression.
What if the institutional qualities of the mental health corridors fit the familiar experiences you experienced in an institutional high school? The familiarity of the ghetto community may speak to you and help you heal.
What’s worse is the imposed fidelity measures that denies the role of culture in such kinds of diverse contexts. While I do agree that cognitive therapy can be vitally important when people are in the stage of trying to socially rehabilitate and facing stigma, knowing when and how to use it in the process of therapy is important.
Diversity Lessons That Can Eradicate Stigma
The thing that makes the Mad community great in my mind is the opportunity to culturally grow and eradicate the role of Stigma in society.
However, we can’t do this if we are so focused on our own experience that we clique into power coalitions and impose our will on others. If we spend our time creating research to prove that the lessons from our recovery can be replicated and applied to all of our people, we may not be envisioning the extreme diversity of our people.
In fact, our understanding of ourselves may be more limited as a result of us not learning from people who have had vastly different experience. This is the very way our own hurts and biases can hurt others.
Learning to Work Together
Having persisted in the meat grinder, I now try to have a different relationship with it. I honor people who use it to improve their lives. I hope that the next time I need it, that I can do it with more sense of dignity. I know I won’t get that externally. It will have to be internal. And yet, I am faced time and time again when I reach out to the Mad community that people like myself get hurt and excluded when confronted with others who are different and who don’t fit their vision.
I do one thing and they do another. We hurt. Many times, I’ve had to remind myself that I am not going to let a bunch of people who care nothing about what I’ve learned in my journey bully me into not taking my medications or judge the people who use therapy to grow.
For the most part, I find myself warding off pain and persisting with relationships. I find myself ignoring the bruises and trying to learn from them instead of bruising back. Perhaps more of this is what the Mad community needs to overcome being so divided.
Disagreement photo available from Shutterstock