Part 8 in multipartite post, The ‘Madwoman’ v. the Madness of the State.
While I disagree with Mr. Stanciu’s opinion that questioning authority is a mental illness, I nevertheless listened very closely to his advice.
At State Hospital South, even if the State of Idaho assigned me to a no-necked Cro-Magnon psychiatrist, I would not ask, as I would ask in the free world if I was freely seeking the help of a therapist, where he earned his degree, which theorists has he read, is he ready to get to work practicing intersubjective communication? I would not attempt to find commonality by asking if Shrink Behind Door #2 had originally gotten into this business to help people before she decided to sell her own babies to Big Pharma. I would remember that, even in our era of digital mobility, the guy with the clipboard and the pencil still controls my access to freedom, so flatter his. Enormously. Fragile. Ego.
Little was Mr. Stanciu aware, I had already decided to shift tactics after observing the hostility that a large percentage of mental health professionals direct toward their patients. If the mental health professionals could not explain why they had decided that my experiences were “delusional” with no attempt to fact-check my biography, then maybe I could persuade them to answer what behavior would they like me to change?
Further, after observing that Intermountain Hospital clipped into my chart some coloring sheets that I slipped under their fishbowl windows in the wee hours one morning after my sleep was disrupted by another patient, and I sat in the break room listening to more of her trauma narrative, filling the hole left by the staff’s lack of psychotherapeutic care, I also decided to try what wealthy education magnate Salman Khan describes as the “flipped classroom,” meaning to me simply setting the high but not unreasonable expectation that your students come prepared to class having read your assigned readings or watched your online videos teaching math by replacing a chalkboard with a digital screen: where Ms. Dalrymple had arrived unprepared for class and Meridian Police Department and Dr. Abbasi had refused to review the documents I brought with me describing my experiences of being trafficked by my own family, at state hospital I would insert those materials into my chart and request that my treatment team read them, before arriving at our interviews prepared to ask questions so we could work together to brainstorm a solution to the problem.
And while its private contractor profits from the drug companies’ experiments, surely the state does not have a direct, vested interest in canning tuna-safe dolphin?
My goddesses must have been smiling upon me, otherwise I would still be writing this letter with stubby pencils or short, rubber pens. Or given up on writing or any attempt to reconnect with Dr. Herman’s ordinary world from a world gone mad, if not apathetically content then compliantly medicated to waste away the rest of my life behind locked doors. After a shackled half-day’s ride across southern Idaho’s scenic desert almost due east into the rising sun, I lucked out and was assigned to Dr. Andrew Olnes, M.D. Rumored by the graduates cum laude of Idaho’s Skittles School to be the least slavishly devoted to writing needless and oftentimes harmful prescriptions, Dr. Olnes readily acknowledged that speech patterns vary between cultures, regions such as urban Seattle versus Ms. Dalrymple’s native Caldwell, Idaho, or even within families. Rapid speech is not de facto an indicator of mania.
Further, I explained to Dr. Olnes, I am more of an observer and a writer than a speaker. While I have successfully given oral presentations – at the University of Idaho, I once held an auditorium of incoming graduate students, predominantly male, in the palm of my hand, their eyes damp with unshed tears, as I described my collaborative teaching experiences from the previous semester – like many other folks, I need to prepare myself for public speaking. I am aware that I sometimes speak rapidly or that my tongue twists in getting words out, which I attribute to growing up as the youngest child in a large family, where I was continually interrupted, when I dared speak, to be jeered at or told that I was wrong.
He also acknowledged that, if local police departments fail to investigate crimes reported or the Department of Mental Health enforces the carceral threat of abusive family members, there is no apparatus for further investigation currently within Idaho’s mental juridical health system, imbuing mental health professionals – undereducated, sexist, or traumatized by their own family or work life experiences – with power far too easy for them to abuse. That explains the quantity of women patients who told me their stories of abusive childhoods followed by relationships with controlling men, spending their lives in and out of psychiatric facilities. But what a waste of taxpayer funds and human productivity. Or, as I queried of Dr. Olnes, “One hundred years after Freud, and we’re still labeling Dora the hysteric and locking her up in an institution? Are you kidding me??”
What about late 20th century and ongoing research in the field of human psychology? What about technology? What about social evolution?
To assess my level of paranoia, Dr. Olnes asked if I believed my situation to be the result of government conspiracy.
“I’m not one to put a lot of stock in conspiracy theories,” I responded, referencing a wisdom I no longer remember where I first heard the phrase, “Never attribute to malice aforethought what can more easily be explained by—“
There I paused, not wanting Dr. Olnes to feel personally maligned by the actions of his professional colleagues.
“—stupidity?” he finished for me.
“Yes, incompetence. Or narcissistic aggression. Or just lack of communication.”
Still inexplicable to Dr. Olnes were the differing diagnoses with the overall conclusion that my severely impoverished long-term unemployment chalked up to “grave disability” due to “mental illness” offered by so many mental health professionals thus meeting the state’s guidelines for involuntary commitment to the state mental hospital. He cautioned that a patient suffering bipolar disorder may not be aware of a manic episode, which could be the first of many spiraling ever out of control unless medicated until death. Thus he had to prescribe medication, he reasoned, because that is the treatment for bipolar disorder.
At least according to the State of Idaho.
Maybe by 2028, working at their current pace, the CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO) will finish collecting their scientific data and publish still more results affirming the results of my MFA thesis published and exhibited in Moscow and Chicago in 2008. How many more Sandy Hooks before those results are disseminated to our individual states or influence dramatic changes in national public health policy by legislators receiving hefty campaign contributions from pharmaceutical companies? When do we as individuals begin teaching and learning healthy communications in our families? On our campuses? In our public discourse?
To his credit, Dr. Olnes was willing to negotiate the lowest dosage on yet another med and agreed to discontinue all meds if I experienced unpleasant or detrimental side effects, rather like an auctioneer, we joked.
Bang, went his metaphoric gavel.
My state-assigned clinician initially impressed me with her snub-nosed, sharply assessing, down-to-earth pragmatism, and seemed, if anything, more attuned to familial relations and dynamics than the doctor, but still she struggled to grasp what sociologists describe as “the sociological imagination,” or how my experiences amplify in the larger social context, or what gendered relations of power in the home or on our campuses nationwide have to do with human psychology. How she proposed to excise gender from humanity she did not explain. Or, for that matter, why would you want to?
Vee la différence, as my father used to say.
Actually, it’s vive, long live those differences, and may we learn to celebrate instead of fear and oppress them?
Come see, come saw, he might have responded had I been educated enough to ask the critical questions while my father was still alive.
Art students learn the sociological imagination as the dichotomy between the personal and the universal. Solving systemic problems means understanding the relationships between the personal, the familial, the social, the global, and the historic. Situating my drawing and painting portfolio after one of my painting heroes, with other influences as diverse as Paula Rego and Richard Diebenkorn, my work explores that blur between self/other, figure/ground, or subject/object visually analogous to subject/object relations of psychoanalytic theory.
One example, this representation of the moments before history’s first live televised presidential assassination, titled after a line from a Jorge Luis Borges short story referencing the same event, working wet-into-wet limiting my palette to complementary blue and orange to arrive at the many shades of grey between, I learned the difference between our beloved former First Lady or Adolph Hitler or Bozo the Clown or any two human beings might be one wipe the wrong way, as the shadows under her nose or eyes could so easily blur into a fascist mustache or carnival makeup:
Paradoxically, while the clinician pleaded ignorance, the group counselors at both psychiatric facilities attempt to retrain their patients in both healthier communications and recovery from gendered experiences of trauma, albeit lacking knowledge in trauma recovery, gender theory, and following a pedagogy that tells me the schools for social work should be shuttered statewide. Violating copyright law, paycheck-earning “counselors” pass out worksheets photocopied from textbooks or printed from world wide web sources, from which patients take turns reading aloud. Would it surprise you to learn that many adult mental health patients do not read at what I would consider to be an elementary school level?
Would it further surprise you to learn that many paycheck-earning mental health professionals do not read or write at what I would consider to be a college level?
Experts on both sides of the education debate generally agree the mental health professionals’ pedagogical practice is ineffective for engaging kindergarten learners – who have some small hope, in a country where the child abuse statistics vary dramatically by source, as many as 1:5 girls are sexually abused, 1:6 boys are sexually abused, four-fifths of child abuse perpetrators are their own parents (PDF alert), and our post-Great Recession child poverty rate higher than any other industrialized nation – of arriving at school without suffering severe trauma in their home environments, so why, oh why, on god’s green earth would mental health professionals entertain the notion that rudimentary read/speak learning would repair internal and external communications of mental health patients, where the child abuse statistics, I wager, are more like 4:5, coming from family environments so adverse their behaviors are stopped up at whatever tender age they first began experiencing the absence of nurturing that every child needs and deserves, or the presence of abuse that no child earns or wants?
If my brother-in-law wanted to stomp his electrical engineering foot and insist on his “rightness” that I was oh so wrong about my post-graduate school job seeking experiences encountering the sheer quantity of Americans suffering from early childhood sexual abuse that leave them without healthy communication skills many decades into their adult lives prohibiting healthy communication in the business world and costing untold trillions of dollars in our global economy, boy oh boy was the state mental hospital ever the wrong place to send me.
That remaining one keeping the ratio under 100 percent, I suspect are likely adults in denial, with not yet enough education or psychotherapy to recognize their parents’ behaviors as adverse, and to make conscious choices to behave otherwise in their adult lives, in one anecdotal example citing conversation with my second husband, who finally recognized his mother’s behavior as so abusive, “I would prosecute for less than that now,” despite education that includes an undergraduate degree in Honors Biology from an institution globally renowned for its advances in human genetics, and postgraduate education from a second-tier law school, his self-awareness not dawning through six years of unholy marital hell almost without respite, marriage counseling sessions he attended only reluctantly, until finally engaging in self-motivated psychotherapy and ceramics workshops at a local arts facility.
Instead, while freely acknowledging she had not yet finished reading the material I submitted to be included in my chart, the state’s clinician concurred with Ms. Dalrymple’s assessment of “loose associations” between identity and psychoanalytic theories that deeply inform art, the design of our culture, and the foundation from which democracy builds, education.
Choosing not to follow that avenue further without receiving tenured faculty salary at an institution where I would be free to walk its grounds, I switched tactics, instead asking which of my behaviors would the mental health professionals like me to change?
From the clinician’s interpretation of NAMI’s list symptomatic of mania, I can see Ms. Dalrymple’s rationale for her cursory inspection of my ability to shower, given her inability to question my brother-in-law’s authority. But remember, as I explained to drop-in Mental Mobile Health Unit staff, his cluttered, filthy house was not mine. Cobwebs drooping all over the pots and pans. Aging food stick covering dishes, utensils, drawers, cupboards, where the old lady either was not capable of cleaning up after herself, or had stopped caring. Mouse droppings. No sealed containers available for storing leftover food. Freezer-burned and outdated food stored in a pantry off the kitchen, through a narrow door. Excessive steps for a designer like me who arranges my own space and time by economy of body movement, nearly insurmountable for an elderly lady struggling with a walker that barely fit through the pantry door. Those were the conditions in which my brother-in-law warehoused his own mother for seven years, but did not prioritize deep cleaning her living quarters until after shipping her to an elder care facility, as he readily acknowledged via email.
Meanwhile, minus actions that I do not perform, here are the behaviors that the State of Idaho wants me to change:
- energy in writing
- expressing new ideas
- very creative
- talking fast or rapid speech (already explained by my ability to set priorities, boundaries, my deadline schedule, and regional speech differences)
- racing thoughts
- not sleeping well (until disturbed by psych hospital staff or patients)
As I further explained to my “treatment team,” my experience of trauma recovery sounds quite similar to NAMI’s description for healing mental illness, minus the meds. From what I experienced and observed in their treatment of all their patients, Idaho’s psychiatric facilities actively work to prevent:
“Recovery [as] a holistic process that… also includes attaining, and maintaining, physical health as another cornerstone of wellness. The recovery journey is unique for each individual… some grounded in context of community and successful living. One of the most important principles of recovery is this: recovery is a process, not an event. The uniqueness and individual nature of recovery must be honored.” (emphases added)
One of my last glimpses of the real world before I was hauled ever deeper into the hinterlands of Idaho, from The New York Times via the Idaho Statesman print edition, psychologists worldwide confirmed what good type designers already know, and my experiences from my own graduate school note-taking. Testing my laptop as a tool for lecture notes for one semester before promptly returning to paper, I also observed my students struggling with learning retention in their lecture classes, knowledge they needed to be ready to apply in studio courses. Computers can be not simply a distraction from learning, but our brains actually learn better with handwriting. Psychologists worldwide ascribe that to the messiness of forming and later reading handwritten letters that “allows the student to process a lecture’s contents and reframe it – a process of reflection that can lead to better understanding and memory encoding.” Huge implications for the developing brains of the current and upcoming generations of schoolchildren with education administrators still panting breathlessly after technology products and standardized tests first inadequate for measuring and now maybe actively hampering the ability to learn:
Once those psychologists and neuroscientists think about moving the next step further beyond the messiness of handwriting from pencil to paintbrush, and communicate those results to bureaucrats employed at the state level, then maybe the mental health professionals will be ready to respect my expertise:
While she admitted she could think of no other way of communicating besides writing when family members are unable to be in the same room without interrupting and shouting over the top of each other, the state hospital clinician described my 57 pages of writing after verbal attempts had failed to resolve family conflict, limit household labor demands to reasonable hours per week, and restore their broken terms of our contract as “too much writing.” Writing as possible indicator of mania.
I wonder how the clinician would acquire access to toilet paper if she was doing the very best job she knew how to do to attract paying employers or clients throughout the Great Recession, even while her own passive aggressive family continued blaming her for the behavior of others? Would she just start stealing it from WalMart’s shelves?
Contrasting my writing against the ream of hospital rules and handouts that I lugged back across the desert for more detailed design analyses of Idaho’s vernacular graphic design, passive aggressive communications with their clients, and failed mental health services: another teeny, tiny example of the mental health professionals setting higher expectations for their patients than they hold for themselves.
Judged by the same standards that Idaho’s mental health professionals impose on their patients, it might surprise you, Professor McConnell, to learn that you and your co-author Nathan Chapman must be mentally ill, speaking about the government (!), expressing ideas (!) and writing over 136 pages (!) of single-spaced text in just one paper (!), to say nothing of the full oeuvre of your life’s work.
Speaking of the government, the U.S. House of Representatives, writing 205 pages to summarize its 50-Year War on Poverty, must be manic:
And at 500 pages abstracted from their 6,600-page report describing the alleged CIA spying on the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee and potentially imploding the balance of powers that our forefathers intended to protect, which of these parties is suffering severe anxiety, paranoia, or possibly full-blown psychosis?
Before we toss you in a mental hospital in California and throw away the key, leaving you drooling in your soup, bleeding from three of your orifices, and/or excreting involuntarily, may we first examine factual evidence and make our judgments and base our actions on knowledgable, rather than irrational, passive aggressive, or undereducated opinions?