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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 psychiatrized.

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 born.

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.

Copyright© Sasha Claire McInnes, 1999, Reprinted with permission from the author
Copying or reproduction (in whole or in part) on any medium (such as in print or on the web) is expressly forbidden without written permission from HBI

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