All in Commentary

In Defense of Villainy

The villains in the movies are usually right. Often, they make important - and accurate - points about society, the context of the story, and the other characters. I would even go so far as to say that they are the voice of reason.

Blank Space, Taylor Swift, and Borderline

Taylor Swift is a superb songwriter, but I believe her success is fundamentally dependent on her ability to cultivate a deeper and more nuanced persona than most. It’s an incredibly powerful tool, but it only works if she is in control of her own narrative. This is why the song Blank Space, the second single from 1989 released in 2014, is key to understanding Taylor. The rest of 1989 is excellent, sure, but this song is Important with a capital I. Blank Space is an acknowledgement of the separation between her public persona and her private self, the beginnings of an epic power struggle, and a glimpse into the gender politics of pop music.

All Gods Are Bastards

Lessons from various extreme states over the last few years, and from various migraine visions over the last year: 

1) The laws of thermodynamics apply to literally everything, including oppressive systems and social change. 
2) Insects are better than people.
3) Mushrooms are better than people and will save the planet.
4) The state is trying to killing us.
5a) All social constructs are gods 
5b) All gods are bastards

The Violence of Likeness Stigma

As psychiatric survivors, it is easy to see just how violent and oppressive unlikeness stigma can be. The notion that we are fundamentally different from everyone else and that our behavior is controlled by a distinct biological entity that needs to be cured or treated for our and others’ safety has been used to justify overt, state-sanctioned acts of violence against us - and to silence us from speaking out about these forms of violence - for decades. Unlikeness stigma is what leads to us being locked up, forcibly drugged, electroshocked, restrained, secluded, etc. A great deal of critical psychiatry work revolves around challenging unlikeness stigma whenever possible, and I wholeheartedly support those efforts.

But too often, I have seen the psychiatric survivors community fall into arguments based on likeness stigma. And that is completely understandable. After hearing that one is “mentally ill” and needs to be “fixed” via drugs or ECT, it is comforting to hear that one can instead alter their behavior without medicalization, by just taking responsibility and thinking differently.

Victimhood as Expertise

Every so often, I am told that I am "harping on my trauma" or "wallowing in self-pity" for speaking at length about the times I've been victimized.

Much more often, and more benevolently, I am told that I am so "brave" or "bold" or "strong" for my willingness to be vulnerable and share personal details about my life.

But it is very rarely, if ever, that I am treated as an expert.

Bootstraps Baby

What happens when your therapist takes the side of people who traumatized you?

Therapy sessions can be a blur of words and reactions. Many times, I’ll be conscious of the clock and try to fit in everything I want to discuss within the 50 minutes allotted.

With my mind and memory being somewhat faulty, I can miss things said in the moment that only sink in later.

This is one of those times and now I have lost any desire to see this therapist anymore.

This Is Mad Culture

Mad culture is trading stories of psych wards, therapies, drugs, and discrimination. It is the shared sentiment of horror and disillusionment that arises from these stories, and the pervasive recognition of the painful impact of sanism.

Mad culture is recounting Mad legends: telling and retelling the tales of those who have rebelled in both small and grand ways against structural sanism. It is the chronicles of Judi Chamberlin, who dedicated her life to fighting for the human rights of Mad people, and the adventures of George Badillo, who helped his fellow psychiatric inmates escape so they could be with their families on Christmas Eve, and the epic of Judene Shelley, who was declared crazy after leaving the Mormon Church and ended up rebelling against both the Church of Latter Day Saints and the mental health system. 

A Transformation Story

In our culture, we are often inundated with recovery stories - narratives of individuals who have overcome mental health challenges or disabilities. These stories usually frame distress or disability as located within an individual, and something that the individual needs to overcome by taking responsibility and choosing to get well. The focus is on individual transformation and is often closely tied to bootstrap theory - the idea that if an individual just works hard enough, they can overcome any obstacle.

Rarely do we hear stories about contextual transformation - about the impact that addressing issues within our environmental and social contexts can have on our well-being and quality of life. 

My Preliminary, Highly Complicated Thoughts on the Notion of "Vicarious Trauma"

As an editor, one topic that crosses my mind a great deal is the notion of "vicarious trauma," i.e. the negative emotional effects that can result from bearing witness to or being exposed in some way to another person's trauma. Much of my job involves being inundated by the stories of individuals who have been horrifically and brutally traumatized both inside and outside the mental health system. 

What if, For Some, Mad Pride is a Celebration of Reactions to Pain, Not Necessarily Pain Itself?

One of the most common objections to Mad Pride is the notion that it is not helpful or beneficial to find pride in one's pain or suffering. "I understand LGBTQ pride or Black pride because those identities don't inherently cause suffering apart from societal oppression," I often hear. "But pride in madness? Pride in something like depression? How can I be proud of something whose definition literally includes the experience of suffering?"

Everybody Wants to Stop School Shootings, But...

No one wants to stop the control and ownership parents hold over their children's minds and bodies.

No one wants to stop the constant judgment, scrutiny, evaluation, and surveillance children are subjected to in schools.

No one wants to stop the pervasive and ruthless invalidation, discreditation, and mockery of children's feelings and emotions within their family, school, and peer contexts.

A Dialogue on Why the Phrase “Families Belong Together” Can Be Triggering (unrelated to its actual intention, which we support)

Chaya Grossberg and Emily S. Cutler

Over the past few weeks, numerous human rights activists have rallied against the forcible separation of immigrant families, using the slogan "Families Belong Together." While we 100% could not agree more with this cause and strongly oppose the ongoing abuses against immigrants, we found the phrase "Families Belong Together" to be triggering for a variety of reasons. In the below dialogue, we critique the family system and its effects on our society.

"Delusions" of Grandeur and Persecution: Power and Marginalization

I have this very rich and fantastical reality in which I (whoever or whatever I am) sometimes reside. I am a super hero. I am god-slayer. I have the power to destroy whole worlds and tear apart the very fabric of reality. I have a dragon that eats fascists alive. If I were to share too much of my internal reality with a psychiatrist, I would likely be labeled as having "delusions of grandeur." People have been thus psychiatrized for less.

Reconciling "Mental Illness" with Mad Pride?

A few weeks ago I was told I needed surgery. 

The surgery was for a physical health concern - a legitimate medical problem that showed up as a discrete entity on scans and diagnostic tests. It caused me severe pain that prevented me from working, sleeping, or socializing for short periods of time every couple weeks. 

"The Angry Consumer": Embracing Difficult Conversations

Nev Jones, PhD and Emily S. Cutler

Nearly all of us who have been involved with mental health policy, practice, or research for any length of time have participated in multi-stakeholder meetings, collaborations, or relationships of one kind or another gone awry. And while there are many reasons that interpersonal dynamics can (and do) deteriorate, when it comes to mental health, by far the most common scenario is an interpersonal break-down across clear identarian lines. And these divisions occur both in terms of the issues—of what is being discussed, proposed, or reviewed—and the emotions involved (and, by extension, the style or mode of interaction).

Pride. Together.

Summer is Pride time for me. LGBTQIA in June, Disability in July. Banners and t-shirts, flags and beads. These celebrations often focus on pride as a celebration of those characteristics in ourselves that, though worthy of celebration, are often presented by dominant groups as shameful. And these joyous festivals have their place.  

But they are, at the same time, somewhat alien to me. They are at the end of a range of expressions, and my place is some distance away.

To me, Pride is celebrated at 4 am, walking friends who are likelier bashing targets, women in pearls and five o'clock shadow, men in heels and gowns, young couples too in love to pretend they are just friends, home from the clubs, miles put of your way, tired and laughing and keeping a wary eye on the straights you pass and still more than a little drunk.

My Complicated Thoughts on Neurodiversity

I want to start off by stating that I fully agree with the neurodiversity movement's basic premise: that no cognitive, emotional, or mental state, trait, characteristic, or way of being should be pathologized or stigmatized. I wholeheartedly support the notion that the experiences currently categorized as "mental illness" or "mental disorder" should instead be accepted as part of the spectrum of human mental, emotional, and cognitive diversity. And I honestly could not be more appreciative of neurodiversity activists, researchers, and scholars for standing behind this idea in some incredibly brilliant, innovative ways. I think in a lot of ways, the neurodiversity movement has begun to accomplish the de-pathologization and de-stigmatization of the states, traits, and characteristics commonly categorized as "mental disorder" in ways that the psychiatric survivors movement has been unable to. 

"But Isn't It Easier to Change the Individual than to Change Society?"

When arguing for the social model of disability, or for the acceptance of madness/neurodivergence instead of the cure, I am often met with the rebuttal, "But isn't it easier to change an individual than to change all of society?"

This argument often comes from (seemingly) the most well-intentioned people in the world. They agree, of course, that in theory, mad, autistic, and disabled people should be accepted and accommodated by society. These individuals will be among the first to express their wholehearted and enthusiastic support for this premise.

Toward a Trauma-Informed Approach to Accountability

I saw this post today and in a lot of ways, I could not agree more with it. 

I am so tired of and disgusted by the line of thinking pointed out by the post. It is painful to see how often marginalized groups are told to be nicer to potential allies, as if it is their responsibility  to convince others not to oppress them. I am horrified by how many times marginalized people are told to be more understanding of their oppressors, while their oppressors remain free from consequences. 

In Defense of Echo Chambers

I always try to make it as clear as possible that the goal of my activism is not to persuade others to agree with me or to convert them to my beliefs, but to validate and legitimize those who do share my beliefs but who do not yet have the tools or language to fully stand behind them.