“If you don’t know the history of the author than you don’t know what you are reading”

I am a Caucasian Quaker male with a history of an eating disorder and complex trauma who grew up in a prestigious Philadelphia suburb, for whom the standard of care—police harassment, handcuffs that bruise, long-term hospitalizations, forced feeding, nurses you don’t know who come up and cut on you, a schizophrenia diagnosis, seclusion, underemployment, extorted therapy, cognitive therapy and social skills training—didn’t fit. I even found the style of therapy that I found least offensive was not all that helpful to me. However, in my journey, I have found that medication does help me as it was not forced on me. Some of the other standard of care experiences I have been able to put to use, but only after I healed from the trauma of them.

What has emerged for me is a broad historical perspective on concentration-camp realities.  After all, for me it was working amid the needle-and-pipe politics a last resort section 8 housing project that triggered my “psychosis.”  By the time I knew enough about the place to feel it was a concentration camp, I was getting threats that I would end up living in the project as a result of my non-corrupted advocacy.  Indeed I had engaged in some meddlesome activities in the name of advocacy, arguing that they would only be considered meddlesome if I was in fact, like my therapist maintained, paranoid.  Indeed, if I wasn’t defining myself as paranoid, I would have seen my behavior as meddlesome and likely not taken those risks.  But I allowed myself to be bullied on multiple levels.  I may have threatened people from a different culture who I liked and wanted to help.  When I received a pointed threat from an ex-drug dealing friend on the east coast, who I explained my situation to, I got scared and tried to flee. It took me a long time to be mindful and heal from what transpired: it is documented in my first book, a memoir.

Fifteen years down the road, in order to have a sense of belonging in the world, I need to understand how the legacy of my life gets seen through the differing arms of my family. The wealthy sides of my family financially supported hermitic artists that were talked about in a hush; they collaborated with the members of more modest to clearly not discuss the invisible relative who had been lobotomized and institutionalized in past generations. Now I write under a pen name to shield my family from the enduring shame associated with my existence. While to some extent I still am invisible and devoid of recognition in the folklore of family Christmas reports, things are getting better. As my own family is healing from my exploits, I hope to help them transition bit by bit into a new era.

The life experiences most alive in my head consist of being locked up in urban centers and rural State Hospital circumstances, surviving ghettoized institutional roach-infested settings or barracks; working seasonal retail positions; being bullied by organized crime, police, various branches of law enforcement and mental health professionals, being silenced or alienated by wealthy family members who cannot accept the fact that I increasingly feel at odd with my culture of origins.  And I am so lucky to have found work among people who invariably report similar experiences, whether they come from the insulated suburbs or the streets of East Oakland.  This work affords me the ability to strike an empowered balanced home on the outside.

I consider myself an extremely lucky, guilty survivor.

While message receivers no longer get lobotomized and put permanently in asylum if they are law abiding, there has been a tendency for institutional realities to be sputtered and spit into zoned, ghettoized realities that circulate unnoted and unseen by many through the fabric of our nation.  Having experienced or at least understood these realties in the raw, I go to work on an old institutional wing trying to imagine a culture where message receivers of all creeds and social status can fit in and work together for empowerment.

In over twenty years of professional experience providing mental health services, I have found, as I was taught in school, that navigating racial, ethnic, class, and gender bias in relationships can lead to powerful and authentic contact; yet I remain dumbfounded when I was destined for mental health clinics, that I was clearly not taught to me was how to navigate around the black market with respect or relate to individuals when they are “psychotic.”  I knew I was prone to see things from a message receiving perspective as a helper and was always considered good at what I did; but it wasn’t until I chose to immerse myself in last resort lifestyles when I became “psychotic.”   I became “psychotic” in order to avoid being killed for some of the meddlesome things I had done.  I became “psychotic” because I went off of my low dose of anti-psychotic.  On better days I think I became “psychotic” because god needed me to learn what it really meant so that I would stop treating people with eugenic concepts.  I became “psychotic,” and believe me it was a shock. Yet ultimately, I couldn’t be more grateful.

I have disclosed my cultural background in much further depth in my first book. I have increasingly found that disclosing my cultural background is necessary to reach Oakland men and woman who are in message crisis. Indeed, sharing the specifics of my ideas of reference requires a frame of reference. And why should they take the risk if I am not well enough to talk about the specifics of my experience.  Not only do I use the experiences I had with messages, but also I have to own that I got my degree as an isolated male with bulimia in the ghettos of Camden, New Jersey with a “Where’s Waldo” reputation (that’s one of the names that some neighbors called me.).

Indeed, for me, working in this context challenges I hope to challenge the cultural notion of the blank-slate therapists’ ability to work within oppressed cultures.  Indeed an upstanding cultural success story who can tell you what to do may be what many “chronically normal” folk look for, but for some individuals in utterly oppressive circumstances, nothing can be more offensive.

Part of the aftermath of the Medical Model is a reality in which, subjects, like message receivers, like slaves and homosexuals, are medically pathologized and not even considered to bear a history or a culture or legitimate oppressed experience.  It seems fitting that peoples pathologized as such don’t get to work with earthlings; traditionally, they get to work with perfect blank slates whom can heal their pathological circumstance (which supposedly will never go away,) without consideration for the cultural oppression of their history. I am no dummy, I am not here to challenge the medical model.  I do not want a bullet in my head. Instead I’d propose we take back culture one at a time, one person at a time. In this context we need an underground movement that works with the mad machine which says it wants recovery, to deliver freedom to people one life at a time.

Author: Tim Dreby

I am an award-winning author and practicing psychotherapist

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