Recovery from psychosis, psychiatric treatment and “mental illness” has always been a reality for me, regardless of what the system said in the way of diagnoses, labels and lifelong prognoses. I’ve been fortunate. To benefit from what my mother went through. Seeing at first hand her resistance to the treatment and her dignity in living with a label of schizophrenia that she didn’t deserve.
She would have times in her life when the pain of living became too intense and her distress resulted in an altered mind state which psychiatry calls psychosis. It led to a few months locked away, in Murray Royal Hospital, Perth, being subject to forced ECT and other abuses. As a child and young person I didn’t know what she had to put up with in the name of psychiatry, from the 1950’s onwards. She didn’t speak of it when she was well and just got on with her life as usual. Taking care of me and my two younger sisters. Being a good wife and mother.
I can’t speak too highly enough of my mother. The fact that she was subject to a Depixol injection for many of her later years up to her death at age 68 in 1998 makes me sad and causes me pain. Yet she didn’t complain and accepted the constraints that were put upon her by the system. But she deserved far better treatment than what she got. It wasn’t good enough for my mother.
And it was after I became a mother myself that I experienced my first psychosis, following the painful, chemically-induced birth of my second son in 1978, and ended up, voluntarily, in Hartwoodhill psychiatric ward, being forcibly injected with Chlorpromazine until swallowing the 4x100mgs orally. Coerced, separated from my baby and young son. I was 26yrs old and finally understood something of what my mother had been through although I was able to avoid the ECT despite being put under pressure to have it. Escaping from the ward in my pyjamas, aided and abetted by my husband. Having to come back in again because of drug withdrawal side effects.
I remember my mother came to stay after my discharge from the psychiatric ward in 1978, to give me support. It was always in my mind to get off the drugs and to recover. That was a given. A year and no more. In the Spring of 1979 I began to see light at the end of the tunnel and was able to get off the, by that time, 100mgs daily Chlorpromazine, within the year. Told the psychiatrist who wasn’t pleased but I wasn’t bothered because I had recovered my strength and positive attitude. They had no power over me when I was well.
The same thing happened following a painful, induced childbirth with my 3rd son in 1984. A day or so after being discharged from the maternity hospital I was taken in an ambulance to Hartwoodhill and injected with Chlorpromazine, given an internal examination by a doctor, held down by 3 nurses, my husband present. I resisted all the way. Again it took a year to get off the drugs and recover. No more babies for me, said my husband, because I would have wanted a fourth child.
Here are extracts from an Email I sent this morning to a fellow campaigner in mental health matters, remembering my mother:
Strapline: …. my mother – the mental illness mantra – healing and forgiveness – anger – Rights for Life
“I was thinking how my mother did not fight physical ill health. Rather she accepted it and died early at 68. Death is not everything and she believed this, as I do. And she did not have, or did not seem to have, much pain before dying. Wasn’t on many painkillers. Maybe it was easier to accept the lung cancer and die gracefully. Which she did and for which I’m thankful. Although I miss her. She was one in a million.”
“My mother wasn’t overweight with the Depixol but it did affect her walking from her 50’s and she used a stick that had a seat on it so she could rest, it was fashionably red, and she always wore comfortable Echo shoes (bought a new pair every year, different colours, I gave boxes of them away to charity shops after her death). But maybe the smoking also had an effect on this. Hardening of the arteries. Not sure. She had a tremor but it didn’t affect her drinking tea/coffee. I do know other older women on antipsychotics who use a straw to drink liquids. This has to be a witness to the medical profession as to the disabling effects of psychotropic drugs.”
“However as long as the mental illness mantra is chanted then the disabling effects of drugs will be seen as a necessary evil. I think. I didn’t believe it and got off the drugs, escaped with a broken fibula and have the scars to show for it. Plus the cramp, the occasional pain, but on the whole I am very fortunate and I know this. Because of what my mother went through. Her treatment benefitted me. In terms of resisting the drugs, the labels and the scapegoating. It means I have been able to help family members by leading the way, to recovery. Setting an example. (I may be glamorising my role and it’s more about my pigheaded stubborness, bloodymindedness and non-conformist attitude)”
“…… And that’s where healing and forgiveness come in.
I will be of no use to anyone else if I do let healing occur in my own psyche, letting go of the negative stuff so as to have a positive affect. That’s what talking therapies should be doing I contend. Helping people to remember the past while not letting it bring us down. A balancing act. Not mindfulness which I think wants us to forget the past, forget the future, and only concentrate on the here and now. Which may be OK in terms of short term survival but in the longer term won’t help us deal with the unfairness and injustice which has to be faced.”
“It’s where the anger comes in. …… and I spoke of anger. I have it. He has it. You have it. Others have it. Inside. We control it. It drives us to work for justice and fairness, in human rights and in mental health matters.
And finally forgiveness. I have to practice it on a daily basis so as to not let the anger consume me. Eight of us in my family (through 3 generations) who have experienced mental distress, externalised it, and then had to engage with psychiatry, be subject to forced treatment, against our will, our agency taken away. Psychiatric abuse. Causing unnecessary damage. I am so glad to have my Christian faith which helps me to cope with the injustice and the unfairness. Without it I don’t know how I would have survived psychiatry. Or the pain of life.
Yet I am very fortunate and I know this. Others have had it far worse. Abused in society, in their families, as children, their agency taken away. In war zones. In poverty. Suffering on a daily basis. For many people the psychiatric treatment and patriarchy are welcome interventions. A salvation of sorts. And these are the people who will be speaking out on the panel, and stage, at the Rights for Life event. ….. I understand this but I don’t approve. Because it’s not balanced. The dissenting voices are in the gallery or out in the cold. Unwelcome at the feast. …..“