Caty Simon Speakout

Submitted by admin on Fri, 02/23/2007 - 04:29

Caty Simon

Well that little qualifier was inserted before I started talking because even within the Freedom Center, one of the wonderful things about this group of people is that we are able to tolerate many differences of opinion among one another. Which makes us a model that is markedly different from the medical establishment and the psychiatric establishment, which can only tolerate one model of interpretation.

I have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder. That's another sort of exhibition of the huge variety of scopes / lenses through which we see these things in the consumer-patient-survivor movement, I believe in the existence of something like bipolar disorder. I certainly understand that I have been either manic or depressive throughout my life. However I don't believe that there is only one method of dealing with that, and I certainly don't believe that only a psychiatric drug regimen is the only way to deal with that.

There is a lot of talking in this movement about medication, and about forced consent to medication because of misinformation, and the way the drug companies obfuscate the information that we do have about these drugs. And there is a lot of talk within the consumer-survivor-expatient movement about spirituality within recovery. But I'd like to talk about two things that are less mentioned, and that is the fact that not only did psychiatry feed me bad medicine and and bad science, as Robert Whitaker so famously puts it in Mad In America (or if not so famous quite yet he should be), but they also fed me bad ideology.

When I was in the mental hospital I learned two things about myself. The first was that I was a problem. When a person is pathologized, any of their earlier idiosyncracies, what were once just oddities of their behavior, become part of their sickness, to the extent that -- I was only 15 when I was hospitalized. I remember I had a medical student if there was any particular reason I was painting my nails different colors. Because what was once just a tiny little oddity of youth subculture, was now one of my array of symptons. And of course, a more politically charged little example, this medical student asked me whether I thought my bisexuality had anything to do with my illness. So all of my behavior was sucked into this vortex of interpretation, where it all became part of my illness.

The second thing that I learned in the locked ward was, paradoxically, that even though all of my behavior was a problem and I was by definition a bad person, a problematic person, none of it was actually my fault, that is, none of it was my responsibility. I had no control. That was the definition of mental illness. The thing that learned in the mental hospital, which has taken me many years to unlearn, was that my behaviors were symptoms -- they were not choices. The entire system was built around precluding such a possibility. I would come in to my therapist's office, to my psychiatrist's office, and they would ask me how my mood was. And when they ask me what my mood was, the basic format of the response was to tell them how your life was going, because as if your life was merely a function of your mood disorder.

For years I was kept on a medication that made it impossible for me to get out of bed most mornings. But I stayed on that medication because it reflected the fear that the medical establishment had of the choices I had made beforehand. Beforehand I was a slut. The religious community that I was a part of really couldn't accept my teenage sexuality. Before that I was precocious and had problems with authority, which was another thing that my community couldn't really accept at the time. And seemingly these problems were eliminated with the medication that elminated my mania. Now there were no problems because there were no actions, there were merely reactions, and that's how I learned to behave.

I was diagnosed with borderline personality disoder. A personality disorder, just the concept of it -- one should think about it. These are a series of behaviors within interpersonal life that become by definition pathological. A series of behaviors that become no longer how one responds to one's loved ones, but merely functions of a disease, again. The only way that I recovered was by changing the model upon which I acted altogether. It was by realizing once again that things were my responsibility. And therefore my recovery was not a spiritual one, it was an ethical one. It was when I realized I was an independent agent responsible for my own actions that I began to recover. That meant accepting the unconventional choices that I made.

And here's where the qualifier comes in, for example. I am a sex worker and a drug user, and I consider both of those identities to be part of my recovery. When I figured out that in order for me to have my version of recovery, for me to have my version of success, for me to act unconventionally and for me to take responsibility for those actions, that I would have to take on these marginalized identities -- that's when I started to recover. For me to have a job that takes into account the volatility of my moods and gives me, no matter its legality and no matter its stigma, for example, and for me to be able to have the hours in my day despite the fact that I still am somewhat handicapped by a volatility of mood that perhaps other people don't have, and for me to have the rest of my day to devote to the intellectual and political activities that I enjoy, and to have a fulfilling life that way, is really important to me. For me to take responsibility for the coping mechanisms that I choose, which are perhaps very different from many of the coping mechanisms that other people, even within the Freedom Center choose, is really important to me.

For once in my life over these past two years, since I stopped taking medication, and since I started getting the fuck out of bed, I have to say, things are a lot more frightening these days. I can't just use this concept of illness as a crutch. When I hurt my friends' feelings, I used to be able to say, "Well, I was just feeling so depressed that day, and I don't know..." Which is a way I've seen many other young people diagnosed with mental illnesses behave, and it is an understandable way to behave when that's the program that the industry that is supposed to treat us feeds us. Now I have to take responsibility for my actions and say, Yes I did that, and not the illness, not the syndrome, I did that. And actually through a more difficult course has led to a more fulfilling life. Thank you.
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