EM: Can you tell us a little about your own journey from “chronic patient” to mental health advocate?
Becoming a chronic mental patient was an insidious process. I was so tired and so discouraged. In hospital settings, I got messages like you know you need to be here, it’s for your own good etc. It was tempting to buy into the diagnostic system; then having something wrong with me would somehow justify what I had been feeling. And it just happens so fast. Before you know it, they’ve defined your life, your “goals,” and your friends. They’ve told you what to expect, and they’ve taught you to comply.
Compliance is one of the most dangerous words in mental health language, it speaks to giving over one’s knowledge of what is right, what works, to someone who only knows generalities, not your life. I think this was pointed out to me one dreary afternoon when a psychiatric nurse I knew from a unit I frequented took me in her office and said, “Ok, Shery, are you going to be a chronic mental patient or a social worker, you have 10 minutes to decide.” (I had been in and out of social work school). It was at that moment that I knew I had a choice. Up to that point I just assumed that stuff happened to me – that I had no control over it.