Subject: A Rant from Pat on Spirituality and Madness

Spirituality and Madness

I've written before, albeit some time ago about a concept known as micro-oppression. Simply put, it's small little insults to our spirit which build and accumulate into a larger loss of a sense of self. For example, no therapist in their right mind (sorry, no pun intended) would walk up to a client and proclaim, "I'm the expert and you're JUST the patient so, "I" know what's best for you!" However, in many little subtle, smaller and almost imperceptible ways, this and similar attitudes bombard mental patients hundreds, perhaps thousands of times a day. These little micro-oppressors do not attack in visible ways. They are not gross enough to leave bruises or visible wounds. However, the cumulative effect is an attack on our human spirit which leaves us feeling exhausted and with a diminished feeling of self-esteem and self-worth.

The first step to battle back against this sort of spiritual oppression is to first acknowledge or become aware that it's happening. This awareness has to happen on different levels. First, one must be aware of the oppression that is directed at you from those outside of yourself. You must become aware that others are oppressive even if they are not aware of their own sense of superiority with which they batter you. You must also overcome the strictly biological notions of psychiatry and acknowledge your spiritual self in order to know the level within yourself upon which these attacks are being waged. The awareness of these notions is what I think of as consciousness-raising. Consciousness raising has been a part of the battle for human rights and dignity in all of the visible rights movements of recent history including women's rights, civil rights and disability rights.

Once you've gained this awareness, you can then fight back. With a heightened sensitivity to the oppressions you can move them to the realm of substance by confronting them as they occur in the present. It creates a heightened sense of self to recognize and confront oppression. It strengthens the spiritual self to counteract this constant battering.

The danger of not fighting this oppression or acknowledging it is that one's self may be lost. This is seen often in institutionalized patients. I used to think that the system was the problem and that if we could only tear down the bars and the walls of the institutions we could free folks from oppression. I watched folks who'd been in day treatment for many years. They sat around drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes. To counteract this, I started drop-in programs and folks came to the drop-ins and guess what they did? They sat around and drank coffee and smoked cigarettes. It was then that I realized that the bars and walls which need to be broken down are not with the institutions or the system but rather, within people's minds.

A few years ago, on CNN (Cable News Network) they showed some scenes from the war in Bosnia. The shelling was advancing on a mental institution and all the staff had fled. There were no locks and the doors and windows stood wide open. There was no heat and no food or water yet, the patients mulled around not quite knowing what to do. The institution had become their life and their identity and without the institution and its' direction of their lives, the patients had no more sense than a horse running back into a burning barn. Quite simply, the patients had been brainwashed into a sense of helplessness, hopelessness and dependency.

In Oakland, California, a locked facility to help transition folks to the community from a state hospital was in operation for six months with all the expertise of the staff aimed at helping folks be able to eventually live in the community. After six months, staff agreed that several of the patients were ready to move to the community and asked those patients where they'd like to go. Much to the exasperation of the staff, the patients responded that they'd like to return to the state hospital. In one blinding flash of insight, one of the staff suggested that they contact the Alameda County network of mental health clients (the local self-help organization). Folks from the client network took the patients out of the hospital and showed them different possibilities including living in one's own apartment. Finally, the patients "got it." Up until then, they'd been so oppressed that it was like they had been brainwashed. They couldn't even imagine the possibilities other than a state hospital institution. Individual freedom was tragically unimaginable prior to the intercession of self-help, peer-support folks.

To facilitate the freedom of folks who have been under the oppressive influence of the system, reveal the world of possibility to them. Show them the DSM and reveal the lies of it's labels. Show folks how to confront by example. Show folks the lies of the drug companies and gather up the research which demonstrates the placebo effect and shows the strength of alternatives to the drugs. Allow folks the freedom to feel their feelings including anger and help the consciousness raising process. Help folks to connect with self-help peer networks and to join with others and to know that there's hope. Help folks to join with others and to celebrate where ever they are on life's journey and to choose their own path. Help folks to again be able to find within them our innate human ability to dream and then help them to believe in their dreams and to pursue them with hope and vigor. Help folks to know that there are other and better ways of living life to it's fullest and that they need not be limited by any diagnosis or perceived handicap. Give the gift of freedom and life by getting involved with others and you'll find yourself in a richer and better place in your own life. Free your own and others spirits and know true freedom from madness.


"Here's Edward Bear coming down stairs now, thump, thump, thump, on the back of his head behind Christopher Robin. It is, as far as he knows, the only way of coming down stairs but, sometimes he feels that there really is another way; if only he could stop thumping for a moment and think of it."

This message brought to you by Pat Risser ( who reads "Winnie the Pooh" by A.A. Milne *#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#*#