Recovery


            The Mental Patients Liberation Alliance had a conference on recovery.  Somebody asked George Ebert, the director, why it was called a recovery conference.  He replied, “Because that’s what the Office of Mental Health [OMH] had money for.”  This tags one of the big problems:  we’re letting the system—which has all the money, which they have coerced from the taxpayer’s, i.e., our neighbors—set the agenda.  They are telling us what issues we should address.

            So, at the workshop, we talked about recovery and concluded that our major issue was recovering from the trauma and physical damage inflicted on us by the American psychiatric industry in the course of “treating” our diagnosed illnesses.  I’ll bet OMH didn’t see that one coming.

            So here’s a question:  Why are there walkathons to cure breast cancer and telethons to cure muscular dystrophy but nothing to cure mental illness?  All they want to do is give us drugs to treat the symptoms.  Why don’t they want to cure the illness? 

            So I’ve been thinking about recovery.  For example, there’s my friend who identifies herself as a recovering alcoholic.  She hasn’t had a drink in twenty-five years but she still identifies herself as a recovering alcoholic.  What’s up with that?  I used to be a psychiatric patient but I’m not anymore so I don’t identify myself that way.  She still carries the genetic predisposition for alcoholism just as I still carry the genetic predisposition for depression, but I’m not going to go through life identifying myself by my weakness.  Give it a rest.

            I had a neighbor who was active in the system-generated initiative of advocacy for people diagnosed with psychiatric illnesses.  He would—honest to God—meet a new person who had absolutely nothing to do with the psychiatric industry and within two minutes he would announce that he was a psychiatric patient.  “Psychiatric patient” is a label that even my psychiatrist hates.  There’s no shame in being diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder, however, there’s no great honor in it either.

            A human being’s identity is complex and multi-faceted.  You can either say, “Hi!  My name’s Pete and I’m a son, a brother and a tenant.  I’m Italian, Jewish, and a registered Republican.  I can cook great lasagna, replace an alternator, and talk you down off the ledge when you’re suicidal.  I like music by Guns ‘n Roses, books by Ed McBain, and cross-country skiing” or you can say, “Hi!  I’m Pete; I’m a psychiatric patient.”  Sheesh.

            The Syracuse Post-Standard published a story in which they repeatedly referred to a crime suspect as “a schizophrenic.”  I was offended, so I wrote a letter to the editor pointing out that the man had a disease but he was not the disease:  he was a person.  I asked, “If he had pneumonia, would you have referred to him as a pneumoniac?”  Of course not.

            So two of the things we need to recover from are identifying with our weaknesses, and clinging to the past.

            I had a friendly relationship with the First Deputy in the NYS Office of the Medicaid Inspector General.  One day I asked him if he was an attorney.  He laughed and said, “I’m a recovering lawyer.”  Then he quit the job and went on to enhanced recovery.  Recently I met a physician who has stopped prescribing drugs and let his license lapse:  he’s a recovering physician.

            When the medical industry talks about recovery—which, actually, they don’t talk about much—they mean “You had a diagnosed illness; we got rid of the symptoms.”  I think that when my friends and acquaintances talk about recovery, we mean something different.  What we mean is “I met social expectations, found them unpleasant, and have renounced them.”

            People get diagnosed with psychiatric disorders and are ordered, encouraged or pressured into “treatment,” which usually means taking drugs that are not really effective and do have really nasty side effects.  Then some of us say, “Screw this,” and move on to figuring out how to live well with our peculiarities without drugs.  What we are recovering from is acquiescing to society’s demands.

            American society has a long history of pushing alcohol on people.  The advertisement shows a guy in a tuxedo with a pretty lady on his arm and they’re both holding cocktail glasses.  Raise the lights, turn up the music and have a drink:  that’s the good life.  Except for a lot of people, it’s not.  What Alcoholics Anonymous basically does is support the individual in saying no to social pressure because it’s not healthy.

            The lawyer and the physician followed the way of society:  go to law school or medical school, enter into practice, get paid lots of money and enjoy enormous power and status.  The problem is that after they have arrived, some of these folks look around at how they have to treat to people to keep their practices going and they are revolted.  “Yech,” they say, “this sucks!”  Somewhere along the line, middle-of-the-road sort of people discover how badly they have to treat people in order to maintain status and power, and some of them walk away.  They recover from society’s expectations.

            Recovery is about developing your own value system and living by it, even if it means rejecting society’s value system and standing against it.

            Hooray for Recovery!

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About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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2 Responses to Recovery

  1. Thanks for your much needed essay. When patients of dissociation identify themselves as multiples. survivors, victims, etc, I cringe. Granted, I refer to patients by these labels because that is how they identify themselves.

    I particularly dislike some of the screen names people choose – again, identifying with illness, injury, and hurt. For example using scattered, broken, confused, abused – how can anyone heal?

    • annecwoodlen says:

      [I am having a hard time figuring out how to post comments and do replies. Please let me know if this does reach you.] Your comment reminded me of a story about reporter Frank McGee interviewing one of the first astronauts. He asked, “How do you deal with fear?” The astronaut replied, “We start by calling it apprehension.” What we name a thing helps shape what it is. One of my ID’s is Queen of Swords. LOL LOL LOL Anne

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