It is with some fondness that I look at my book “Songs of the Captive Unchained” which is featured on this website. This is a book that emerged from small articles I wrote which were published here and there in small literary magazines. They include sentences pulled together in the dark hours of the night, and anguished thoughts I wrote in my journal when I couldn’t share my ideas out loud.
The book began as little notebooks I put together at Staples and sold for $4.00 each at Alternatives Conferences and NARPA Conferences. I can recall how I first approached the sales person at Create Space with trepidation because I thought that as a representative of Create Space he would never agree to publish work written by a former psychiatric patient. As it turned out, he did agree to publish the book, even when I didn’t yet have the manuscript completed.
Yes, it’s true. My work was all over the place! I had essays spread around in the three second hand computers I owned, and I had some on floppy disks (yes that ancient), and some on flash drives, but it would take me a few weeks to get them collected. I know you might think that my work was all over the place simply because I was disorganized. That is, in fact, not the real reason. The real reason was that I despaired of having my voice heard.
As it stands now, two years after its publication, I am very proud of this book. From its stunning cover design to its simple, direct, essays spoken from the heart, this book tells the truth about what I lived, and how I think and feel more than any of the books I have published subsequently. And it is an outrageous book, but not as some people might think because I lack the insight to know it is outrageous. I do know it, because I deliberately wrote it to be outrageous.
In doing so, I took a big risk, because when you complain as a C/S/X/LP (consumer or survivor or ex-patient or labeled person) about the mental health system that abused you, particularly in a tone of outrage, readers are likely to respond with immediate condescension. The poor woman, they say to themselves, she is so severely mentally ill she has no idea how the system is reaching out to help her. She has no idea how compassionate mental health professionals are and what a good job they’d do of fixing her, if only she allowed them to do it.
This is why so much of literature written by C/S/X/LP individuals strains to be reasonable and sensible, strains to be calm and measured, strains to be factual and objective. Because they are so afraid that if they cut loose and speak outrageously, they will lose their audience. And they are right–outrageousness can really backfire, as you can see.
The unfortunate truth of the matter is that many people think of C/S/X/LP persons as children and believe that we should, like children, know and accept our inferior, subservient place. People like me who outrageously challenge that subservience, well, I’ve just got to be crazy. This is an awkward position that, at least in the present day, racial minorities do not have to face. Their rebellion in the face of bigotry and oppression Society views as appropriate and inevitable. Our rebellion in the face of bigotry and oppression gets the reaction of: What? Don’t they know what’s good for them?
If not, we will show them what’s good for them by force. That is the standard response Society has when folks like me protest the brutal and inhumane conditions associated with much psychiatric treatment.
This spirit of paternalism, this presumption that we know what is best for you and you don’t, is the spirit behind involuntary outpatient commitment laws (AOT), it is the spirit behind the Murphy Bill H.B. 2646, and it is the spirit behind the baseless assumption that anyone who perpetrates violence or does something perverse and evil must be crazy. Why? Because that’s what people often think about those who have mental illness–that they are horrible, disgusting human beings.
Truly, I ask you, all of them? No sane people ever committed crimes? I’ll leave you to answer that question on your own.
Digging deeper, I ask what do I mean when I say the essays in “Songs of the Captive” are outrageous. Are they outrageous in the sense that I outrageously fail to recognize how the mental health system and its vendors have tried to help me and others labeled mentally ill, or are they outrageous because I am describing the system as it exists in reality, not the fake one people like to imagine?
As I see it, the mental health system is outrageous with its cruelty, its brutality, its mendacity, and its fundamental disregard for human dignity and integrity. The conditions this book describes such as strip searches, fabricated diagnoses, widespread factual errors in medical records, all combined with the excessive use of restraints and seclusion, the improper use of psychiatric medications, and the institutional emphasis on power and control, is wholly outrageous, and no decent human being should be willing to tolerate it.
Thus, in response to my question, I am exposing conditions that are outrageous in the mental health system and that I would hope would trigger outrage in the people who read the book and lead them to fight for reforms.
This means that those of you who thought I tumbled into a revolutionary mode by accident can reassure yourselves that this isn’t true. Indeed, this book is outrageous, and as its author, I am outrageous, and proud to be so, because any decent human being would be in the face of the injustices which I describe. Therefore, if you become outrageous because you’ve read “Songs of the Captive Unchained” and now wish to work for reform, I will have achieved my goal.