I Am You
"And if ever, by some unlucky chance, anything unpleasant should somehow
happen, why, there's always soma to give you a holiday from the facts.
And there's always soma to calm your anger, to reconcile you to your
enemies, to make you patient and long suffering...[S]wallow two or three
half-gramme tablets and there you are."
-- Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
1999 was a very good year for the legal drug pushers and others who profit
from women's reality:
Are you shy? While you may have considered shyness to be just another
element of your personality, medical "science" has decided that it is the
expression of a chronic mental illness. In May, SmithKlineBeecham
received permission from the FDA to market Paxil as the cure.
Do you experience PMS? On November 3rd, an FDA advisory committee
unanimously voted to recommend approving Eli Lilly's Prozac for PMS -
despite the fact that a large percentage of the participants dropped out
due to the effects of the drug and that a placebo effect accounted for
half of the benefits. Hamilton, Ontario psychiatrist Meir Steiner, who
supervised the trials, guffawed to the press that "this is the first time
the clinic got flowers from husbands".
Have you been raped, battered, incested and as a result experience Post
Traumatic Stress Response? On December 7th, the FDA approved Pfizer's
Zoloft for 'Post Traumatic Stress Disorder'. (How long before
psychiatrists, with their prescription pads, will be a common sight in
rape crisis centres and battered women's shelters? Will these resources
for women survive at all in the brave new world of psychopharmacology?).
Ever feel anxious? Also in 1999, Pfizer received approval to market
Effexor for 'generalized anxiety', the garden-variety free-floating
anxiety that has plagued humanity since the beginning of time. And for
those who thought Valium was history, a "kinder, friendlier" version will
be on the market shortly, according to a group of Swiss scientists.
Depressed? On December 13th, the Surgeon General assured us, in his
report on Mental Health, that no other treatment has shown to be as
effective for depression as electrocution of the brain.
Shop too much? Lonely? Sad? Worried? In grief? Too happy? Do you
FEEL? "Take this," Says the Doctor, "you'll soon feel better." "They do
'feel' better, because little by little, they cease to feel at all."
-- Jeanette Winterston, Art and Lies
The normal responses of women to the violence and stresses we face under
patriarchy are being characterized as debilitating "mental illnesses" in
order to receive FDA approval for chemical treatment. This move to
pathologize and medicalize every human emotion and behaviour is succeeding
if one believes IMS America, which tracks the pharmaceutical companies.
It reports that in 1997, doctors in the US wrote 51 million prescriptions
for serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), the most common antidepressant
family, which includes Prozac, Zoloft and Paxil. Sales of the top six
SSRIs topped $3.6 billion. Prozac, Eli Lilly's best-selling drug and the
world's top selling antidepressant, had sales of $690.2 million in one
quarter alone. Big business.
Insidious big business: two Eli Lilly staff are sitting on the 5 member
organizing committee of the "women and psychosis" conference being
developed, for March of this year, by the Centre for Addiction and Mental
Health in Toronto. Rumour has it the the CAMH will be calling it's new
training centre, The Eli Lilly Training Centre. An apt name, given the
millions of dollars in drug money being poured into it's coffers.
The MOOD FAIR, travelling to major Canadian centres, sponsored by the
Canadian Network for Mood and Anxiety Treatments and funded, in large part
by the drug giants, includes in it's Symposiums a workshop, "Assessing and
treating depression: making the most of 15 minutes."
Welcome to the brave new millenium.
WOMEN'SPACE asked that I write about me, where I've been and what I've
been doing since my heady days as an uppity, radical feminist
artist/activist in London, Ontario. To write about 'me' is a challenge,
because I lost 'me' for a number of years. I stopped feeling, I stopped
caring and for all intents and purposes, I stopped being: I was
Having been psychiatrized and a survivor of the experience, I hold close
the thousands of women in-patients on locked wards in psychiatric
facilities or in chemical straight-jackets across Canada who have not been
as lucky as I, to escape what some consider "help". I am them. Although
white, middle class with many privileges and a feminist long before I lost
my grip, I am one with these women. My experience of the system taught me
that there is no "other" under patriarchy, there is only "us".
I've huddled alone and very frightened in the locked ward of my own home,
longing for death to embrace me. I lived this out in a drug-induced
delirium and psychosis in a desperate attempt to convince myself that I
belonged somewhere, had worth, was loved and would be missed. I had no
idea, when I reached out for help, that this is where putting myself into
the hands of a psychiatrist would take me.
There is a long and difficult story about my personal breakdown, one not
much different from other women. A childhood full of misery, a devastating
personal trauma as an adult and a move to a small, isolated community
where social exclusion, scape-goating and alienation were the order of the
day from those I would, in most circumstances, have considered my
community. Some of us handle these challenges with ease but for others,
myself included, it's a different story. Scape-goating and social
exclusion are the fuel of madness in women. Compound this with a trauma
history never dealt with and no safe/confidential access to community
supports, a broken-hearted woman can fall over the edge of reality. I
didn't die. Instead, I committed social suicide.
Re-emerging from the fog of psychotropics was a slow process. What
helped? Re-connecting with my feelings/emotions, my voice and my mind and
with the people and activities that bring joy and light into my life.
Re-discovering my body through exercise, laughter, singing and dance, have
all been key. And books! For many years I had read nothing.
I continue to re-discover my Self, in community with other MadWomen-
unruly, disorderly and feminist. We are re-discovering our voices and
together are making sense of what happened to us when we put ourselves
into the hands of the mental health system. Technology has brought us
together and provided us with a powerful medium through which our
community, UnrulyWomen, could be developed. We are not all the same and
the details of our lives are rich in diversity. What we have in common is
a commitment to mutual respect, to validating our individual truths and to
bringing the principles of women's liberation to mental health policy. In
many ways, UnrulyWomen is one example of a re-birth of the Consciousness
Raising groups of the 1960s and 1970s where our passionate politics were
Over a period of eighteen months I was under the "care" (how that word has
changed for me!) of a psychiatrist, was given a number of psychiatric
labels and prescribed a pharmacology of 36 brain-mind-mood altering drugs,
many of them to "counteract" the "side-effects" of another, some of which
will be with me for the rest of my life. She asked nothing about my
personal history, evidently having taken the '15 minute workshop'. When I
de-toxed from ALL the drugs and began to reclaim my Self, I wanted to
understand how a system that promised to help me "feel better", left me
feeling nothing at all. Research into mental health policy and practice
has engaged me for the past several years and has helped me to understand
that, as with all patriarchal institutions, greed and a pathological
thirst for power and control, is what the mental health system in today's
world is all about. If anyone is in need of forced treatment, sisters, is
it not us.
Today, as I recover my Self, I am elated (Manic), shy, introverted and
reflective (Social Phobia), irritable and frustrated (PMS), whelmed and
stressed (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), sad and melancholic
(Depression), passionate, joyful, extroverted (Mania) and fearful (Anxiety
Disorder). All of these feelings and others are now so precious to me. I
want these feelings. I want them all. It's the "messiness" of my
humanity and of being alive that I choose and cherish, rather than the
half-life offered by brain, mind and heart- numbing legal drugs.
The feminist movement has not yet embraced 'madwomen', homeless women,
women in psychiatric facilities - those among us most often considered
"other". This was brought home recently, when an organized plea to
feminist individuals, agencies and organizations across the country, to
support efforts to defeat legislative attempts to legalize forced mental
health treatment in Ontario, went largely ignored. To a situation, which
clearly threatens our human rights, a muted and often dismissive response
was received - 'this is not a feminist issue', 'how does this affect me?,
'I support you privately but can't publicly, my job would be threatened',
and thundering silence from most others. Remember, sisters, our slogan
"Keep Your Laws Off My Body"? I'd add to this "AND Out of My Mind".
Today, I'm for ethical, responsive, choice-oriented, label-free mental
health supports. I also continue to hope for much more feminist thinking
and action in the context of the emotional lives of women, mental health
policy and practice. The label-oriented, isolating, drug-the-feelings
approach of Patriarchy will never replace the mental health, which came
through women working together in community, across differences. We must
go there again. On behalf of UnrulyWomen, I invite you to join us.
psychiatrized = abused, violated, re-traumatized and used for profit Return to article
Sasha Claire McInnes, an artist living and working in Hamilton, Ontario is
one of three co-owners of UnrulyWomen. She is developing a panel for IWD
in March and writing additional articles about issues touched on in this
one. She is also developing a website - disorderlywoman.org, a series of
tapestries based on her experiences of the mental health system, called
"The Pills Series: After You, Doctor Ingram" and an edited book about
women and mental health.