We Are Not Behavior Alone
In 1994, I was labeled with bipolar disorder. I always hated to divulge this juicy nugget of info to doctors or budding friends, and I never revealed it to employers. By sharing this label I was submitting to society’s stigma and thwarted conclusion of what everyone felt this “illness” actually was—an abnormal state, a deformity within a flawed set of genes. After years of therapy and self-loathing, and then waking up to an acceptance of myself, I knew this was ridiculous. But I was ahead of my time. The medical world, along with the rest of the masses whom the establishment had successfully brainwashed over the years, thought otherwise
After I had just returned from India where I suffered from a life-threatening illness, I was permanently stamped with the most heinous label of mental illness stereotypes because I almost died and got upset. For ongoing years, I wasn’t sure if I was cracked or they were. There was no sure way to tell. I was sure I wasn’t nuts. But there are very few ways to prove that one is not crazy. Especially when the psychiatric institution bases their entire model of determining one’s craziness through observations of behavior alone.
I began to see early on that the mental health industry bases much of their approach to identifying mental illnesses on the outdated scientific philosophy of Radical Behaviorism by B.F. Skinner from long ago. Skinner rejected theorizing about private events of the mind and emotions, disregarding the inner experience, ignoring all that was observable by method, but excluding a great deal of what makes us human beings. Experiences of mental illness begin in the privacy of our minds and the emotions associated with them are keys to unlock the roots of the mental illness. Mental illness is most linked to the context from which it derives. In my experience, the scientific “theory” the hospital brought forth to explain my mental breakdown was not based on the context of my story, but rather on all these well-attained observations about how I behaved. But I am made up of more than behaviors alone. I am not a lab rat in a cage to be looked at.
First-hand stories that provided real-life context as to why people exhibit strange behavior are disregarded when a diagnosis is being made. In the spirit of non-bias and objectivity, doctors instead base their labels for life on the abstract and inventive psychiatric story of symptomatic markers. I didn’t know then that as early as 1980, the American Psychiatric Association eliminated “context” as a necessary factor in determining psychiatric disorders. A doctor has to simply refer to his bible, the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (or DSM) and decide which diagnosis fits the patient best based on the number of behavioral criteria met. The formation of the DSM was influenced by Emil Kraepelin’s work (1856-1926), which leaned toward a more generalized approach to diagnosing symptoms in psychosis. Rather than looking at the contents of individual experiences, Kraepelin was interested in finding patterns in psychotic behavior that could be used for a therapy plan. In my psychosis, or rather my shamanic episode, no one was hurt or wronged. Yet, in their DSM, I was ill because I had met a certain number of characteristics and behaviors that they deemed abnormal in human beings. And that was that. No negotiations on this one.
Now that I was labeled bipolar, I knew it was going to be goddamn impossible to convince anyone I was normal. Renowned psychiatrist and academic, Thomas Szasz—whose 1960 controversial, groundbreaking article “The Myth of Mental Illness” critiqued the very heart of psychiatry in its moral and scientific foundations—claims that what we call mental illnesses are really “problems in human living,” which is largely the result of making poor choices motivated by unsuitable values, or responding negatively to the unexpected disappointments that are naturally a part of life. Szasz poses the question, “Who defines the norms and hence the deviation?” A general compass in society for “normal” behaviors is dangerous, for the definition of normal is precarious and subject to change. Quite often biases are usually in accord only with the values and norms of society at that fixed point in time before more progressive ideas are introduced. The most obvious example of this is the categorization of homosexuality as one of the “sexual deviations” in the DSM-II published in 1968. In time, homosexuals demanded social acceptance, and in 1973, the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its official diagnostic list.
I knew the institution would never see me behind that label. They only saw the pharma code and description—296.41 Bipolar I Disorder, Most Recent Episode Manic. Throughout the 22 years I was under the scope of the psychiatric institution, they never saw my potential, they ignored it. Instead, they effectively used their jargon to remind me of my limits. If felt like a sort of mind control, because although I had psychotic experiences, I was not crazy. I was just a regular person who was different from other people. But the psychiatric institution made it almost impossible for me to realize that.
Like the natural history museum scientists pinning beetles to cardboard with fancy genus and species names, the psychiatric institution is categorizing people with fancy labels, and then keeping them indefinitely sitting labeled for no good use. While diagnosing they say: ‘What is that behavior? I don’t know what that is. Let’s call it something and give it a label.’ Like we’re beetles. The prophets, the artists, and the warriors of this world are now part of the latest Classification of the Living Things and are made to keep their traps shut.
In our recent past, mental illness labels were not nearly as popular as today. In the first edition of the DSM in 1952, only 60 were listed. By the early 90s, the DSM IV carried approximately 280 disorders, which is excessive enough. But with the recent 2013 release of the latest DSM V, psychiatrists have managed to fabricate a whole boatload more in their collective psychiatric imagination. A growing number of medical professionals are critical of the latest DSM-V, as it now contains up to 374 mental illness labels. Psychiatrist and author, Allen Frances, who was chairman of the DSM-IV Task Force, stated, “This is not just an academic debate. It’s not just inside psychiatry. It has a huge impact on how lives are lived, how mental health dollars are spent and on the public health of the country.” Says Frances, “The reason there is so much controversy about DSM-V is that psychiatric diagnosis has become, if anything, too important …”.
Almost every facet of human behavior can now be viewed as a symptom of mental illness—from lethargy to shyness, from fastidiousness to inattentiveness, or from fatness to dishonesty. And they are conjured up by a panel of people (not all of whom are “doctors”) behind closed doors. Furthermore, among this last DSM-V Taskforce, 69% reported having ties to the pharmaceutical industry. It seems as though Big Pharma is in the business of making us all crazy. I can almost guarantee that everyone I know can be labeled with at least one mental disorder from the DSM bible.
Big Pharma is the headmaster of lies in this complex scheme of psychiatric labeling because in the 1980s, they took the field over. They needed to label everyone so that they could give them the right meds and code the proper insurance for the mental patients. But they couldn’t say it “like it is.” It would sound too discriminatory against what they perceived to be the lower life-forms. So, they made up different names for everyone with no truly descriptive words allowed except those that described outer behaviors.
Throughout my 22 years of being a psychiatrically labeled mental case, I needed to always inform the hospital of my plans because ultimately, the doctors were in charge of my life. I had lost my freedom to do as I wished long ago. In 1998, I told my doctor I wanted to relocate to Colorado to look into facilities that offered healing through a more natural, holistic means unassisted by pharmaceuticals. She did not take my new reasoning seriously. She turned to my mother who had accompanied me that day, and as if I weren’t there said, “Well, you do have some things to fear. She isn’t dealing with reality and may eventually lose it. She might act out in a brazen manner, begin to get rashly angry, and even damage the house with lighting fires and such.”
Offering my paranoid mom the absolute worst and unlikely of scenarios was not only ridiculous, but extraordinarily manipulative and unprofessional. Thanks to this so-called wisdom from my doctor, on each day of my countdown to my departure to Colorado my poor mother anxiously and irrationally begged me in panic not to light any incense or candles in my room for sheer terror of the house burning to the ground. This doctor believed she was able to surmise these possible future states of “acting out” because the label told her such. She never saw me as a person who was unique outside of the label and would never have the urge even in shamanic states to light fires.
The Crime of Unlawful Detainment
In 2012, I was committed to a mental institution again because I couldn’t sleep through Hurricane Sandy, and I was in and out of a shamanic state. I knew I had fallen to my inspiration, but that was no sin. For any New Yorker alive not being able to sleep was completely reasonable during Hurricane Sandy’s roar—I was no social deviant this time around. Sadly, I was alone on this journey because the hospital couldn’t get in touch with my private psychiatrist for the last six years (who poetically, was traveling in his homeland of India of all places), so they couldn’t simply get a script from him for sleeping medication; and further, he couldn’t act as my personal advocate. So at this point they saw a visit to the mental hospital as my only good option for “recovery” because I was labeled as having bipolar disorder, and I was a top priority mental case. And, of course, I complied. I had no choice because I knew this drama was in full bloom because of my label.
Within one day of them dispensing to me sleeping pills, I was fine to return back to my life at home. But my label affected my world in a huge way as I knew it would someday. I began to notice that suicidal inpatients that came in after me were free to leave the hospital before me. Gentle, coherent, even-tempered and compliant in all aspects of the program was I. My husband, my son, and my parents visited every day, which demonstrated that I had a strong support system to which I could return. So I appealed to the resident psychiatrist who had taken my case, “When am I going to be released to go home?”
He answered with the smuggest, most insincere, and authoritarian tone after staring at me with a pregnant pause. “Well, we’re still watching you to make sure you’re OK to go home. You just try to get better, and I’ll let you know when we decide what’s best for your recovery plan, shall we?”
Wow. She’s bipolar, watch her. Psychiatry has really advanced in the last twenty years since I first heard such a thing.
He thought it was appropriate to speak to me like I was a three year old asking for candy before dinner. I finally saw it. I looked straight into the pupils of his eyes, and I knew it. He was judging me wrongly. It was my label he saw, not me. He thought because of the description of possible behaviors that might be exhibited in those with the DSM label of bipolar disorder, that psychotic images must be dancing inside my head. Because that’s what the label told him.
In The Crucible, when the religious fanatics of Salem pressed John Proctor to sign his name to confess the crime of witchcraft he had not committed, he cried out in despair:
Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another
in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lies! Because
I am not worth the dust on the feet of them that hang! How
may I live without my name? I have given you my soul;
leave me my name!
Much like these mad brethren of yesterday, this modern day assemblage of psychiatric fanatics had permanently sullied my name by attaching it to a label years ago. I would have been better off having committed a high felony. At least before you incriminate yourself you are reminded of your Miranda rights, assigned a personal legal counselor, and presumed innocent until proven guilty.
During this particular stay I became dreadfully aware that these labels have silenced our voices forever in our own country. We weren’t free because there was no other way for us to be seen or heard except through our labels. For so many years leading up to this stay, I knew I had to prove that a label could affect me for the rest of my life. And it wasn’t only in the here and now that my freedom was being compromised. If I should not have the courage to fight it, it would one day again present a problem for me. In this lifetime, if I was to remain in America, I could never truly be free. My entire identity had been stolen from me. They never saw me for who I was—a smart, talented and gifted individual, but as an abnormal bipolar mental case with a history of psychosis.
I began to realize with each passing day that what was taking place was a negation of my freedom, as if I was the perfect example of a person who should be locked up. If such actions were taken place under the laws of criminal proceedings—if someone, for instance, was not released promptly after making bail—no one would stand for it. But such laws did not protect the so-called “mentally ill.” Whether or not we showed ourselves to be dangerous, our labels suggested the possibility of us acting out, and that was enough for them.
My good insurance was clearly part of the equation for keeping me locked up. But it was more than that. They could only get away with it because of the severity of the bipolar label they tagged me with decades ago—one of the most severe mental illnesses that is classified in the DSM—that was as linked up to every aspect of my life as my social security number.
No matter what I said, the institution saw me as an illness. I had a number attached to my name. Bipolar I Disorder, Most Recent Episode Manic, DSM pharma code: 296.41. I became a numbered person to watch. I became a Jew.
The Limitations of a Label
During this 2012 visit many complex characters populated the home, and I took to Alicia right away. She was a brilliant young girl of about 20 years, whose light shone so bright when she walked into a room it could wake up the most comatose of inpatients. She was classified as having Borderline Personality Disorder (DSM pharma code: 301.83). These types were pinned with exhibiting intense, unstable moods, under-regulated emotions, and basic rebellious behaviors like impulsivity and promiscuity. It seemed to me that many people in this group of the mentally ill at earlier periods of history might have made terrific, political and social protestors who had interest in trying to make real change in disrupting the low status quo of society. But as the diagnosis entered the DSM in 1980, the powers-that-be had surely squelched those tendencies by determining them as pathological. Somehow people have learned to believe that there is scientific progress in classifying people. And they are just simply wrong.
Alicia revealed to me that she felt relieved they had finally figured out what was wrong with her having identified it with a label. I loved the girl’s vibrancy and sharp wit and worried one day those traits might be nullified, for she had officially bought a ticket on the psychiatric railroad to lead her quest in becoming a normal human being. I grabbed her hand and said to her slowly straight into her eyes, “You are not a label. It might serve you now to help you get on your feet. But you are more than a label. You are Alicia. No matter what they tell you in the future, never forget that.”
She sighed and held her breath looking as though she might tear up. “Thanks. I’ll remember that.” She was released to go home with her label later that afternoon.
Beyond just the few that find themselves in a mental hospital, people should care about psychiatric labeling because it affects everyone. Especially our children. They have labels and codes for each and every one of us. Don’t believe me? Well, then open the damn DSM book, and read it. Find out what colorful label you are. These eloquent labels they have so creatively compiled apply the duct tape neatly across our traps for anyone who should challenge the establishment’s way of thinking. The religion of psychology does not even need to impose watchdogs. We are doing it to each other, observing each other’s every move, ready to report something strange, something suspicious in one another’s behaviors. From teachers to parents to friends to neighbors, we are all on guard labeling everyone into categories without ever being asked to do so. Being comfortable with one’s own idiosyncratic traits is becoming a thing of the past, and over-analysis runs rampant like the Black Plague.
The labeling process has sped up within the last few decades, and one must consider what things looked like in our history with no labels. When at one time we were making strides in the civil rights movement, today there is a reason the dissent has quieted down. Now social rebellion can be judged as pathological and diagnosed as Oppositional Defiant Disorder (DSM pharma code: 313.81).
When I became a teacher it broke my heart to see how a decade later after I was first slapped with a psychiatric label, the process of labeling kids in schools was now relentless. I worked in the Bronx and saw how the ethnics were the ones who suffered most because their behaviors and cultural ways did not measure up to what the white man, who came up with all these labels, deemed as normal. In schools at every level our children are being systematically labeled and organized so that they can successfully conform to the dumb-ass white-man system. If you don’t fit, you get a label, which one day might limit your freedoms as an American citizen as it did to me. That’s what we’re signing our kids up for.
Our kids are under dangerous influences artfully crafted from long ago, and we are allowing them to do it. Education initiatives since the 1950s by the World Health Organization were firmly put in place to separate children as early as possible from their family traditions and systematically organize them into psychological groupings based on behaviors and skills for jobs. The goal was to create a world citizen, but instead, the plan pulled kids away from their own people—their language, their spiritual beliefs, their family customs—replacing these foundations with a new coded scheme of citizen organization. And the mental illness industry is blooming into a full-blown Baron Munchausen fiesta from it.
Moms, take it from me. Do NOT get your kids labeled in schools. It never goes away. It is a permanent mark forever. It does not wash away with tears or with anger. It means you can’t lose it. Ever. Like how you can beat cancer? Nope. In their clinical world of lies you will never beat a mental illness. It is held to your identity until the day you die. It becomes part of you. It is identified in your DNA. It determines your future—your future relationships, your future self-esteem, your future opportunities, your future rights. No one hears your voice as a citizen behind a label. The labeled are deemed unfit and unable to make decisions with good judgment. It’s practically impossible for anyone to feel important under that label. Giving a personality a permanent psychiatric label is a sure way to control the behavior of the population. Which forces people to shut their mouths. “This is your kind,” they say. A barrel of the mentally ill. The permanently ill. It’s happening for real. Quietly and efficiently. They have our children, and the time is ticking.
The fact is this stupid label had colored my life for years, and the only way I was able to see my world was by looking through its lens—that I was ill, that safety came first, and that I needed caretaking in my life in order for me to stand on my own two feet. It took me most of my life to realize that nothing can be further from the truth. In this battle, I am not alone. I am many other people with assigned labels. I am misunderstood children in the education system. I am people of color who are misjudged by ethnic differences from the established norm. I am people of dissent and rebellion who find the pathetically low status quo unacceptable. I am all the emotional creatives who are losing their breath and their thrust in the race to stay alive, to thrive in wellness through their creativity, which to them is the stuff that makes an authentic life.
Over the last two decades I lost everything to that label. My dignity, my identity, my pride, and even my marriage. Most of all, I lost my certainty that my son would be safe and free under the American legal system. But I had a name before a label. I’m Jen Gaita.