What makes the bus go? asked the man I’d been talking to, as he prepared but slowly to get off the bus. What makes the bus go? to mostly bored faces. Electricity, says one guy. No! Does anyone know? We rolled to a stop. The wires, said someone else. No! I’ll tell you. Art makes the bus go. Later, after cornering, the silent man with the coat made of stuffed animals smiles. Others mutter, Crazy. The city rattles by all these facades where lives might be, another man suddenly screams It’s my stop! And we do on a route visible only to him, lost in a daydream and caught unawares that the bus would soon pass into dangerous territory. You’ve got to pay attention: Keep Hands Clear: The city is indifferent – these are bus lines not leylines, traplines, songlines – don’t be so heretical, these don’t mean. For your safety, Please hold on.
apparently this was published in 2011 in The Network, the newsletter of the West Coast Mental Health Network. who knew.
After the dust clears from your first encounter with the apparatus of psychiatry, you’re diagnosed. “Dia” as in (“diameter” or “dialogue”) means “across.” “Gnosis” means “knowledge”. So the psychiatrist is naming you according to his knowledge of you, acquired during a meeting of perhaps five minutes, which likely occurred while you were in a bad way and completely unable to resist such naming.
The big book containing all the names is called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), and has been through four editions so far. New, exciting names are expected in the upcoming version. And, by the by, once you are named, it sticks. You’re “bipolar” or “schizophrenic” – and keep in mind that you may get the wrong name; misdiagnosis is common.
When you’re loaded up with psychoactive pills that knock the energy right out of you, you have lots of time to think. “Treatment” mainly means pills and visits (assuming you’re lucky enough not to be subjected to electroshock). In many ways, both constitute an invasion of the privacy of your own mind. You end up in a struggle for self-preservation, resisting the silence that pervades the world of mental illness, still stigmatized and relegated to the margins.
Then too, psychiatric treatment is generally uniform, taking a one-size-fits-all approach. Regardless of your uniqueness – your glorious difference – you’re reduced to a peg hammered into some pill-shaped hole; which of course does not leave you whole. The integrity and complexity of your personhood – the most important aspects of what makes you, you – is part of what ends up being subsumed under the label of “illness.” But illness/ disorder doesn’t define who you are, and no pill can do that either.
Resistance is Useful
I’m not suggesting that pills are all bad: I take mine, and they help alleviate the debilitating symptoms of serious mental illness. But we must always be careful – they are overprescribed, and their long-term effects (despite the claims of safety and efficiency promulgated by the pharmaceutical industry) are unknown. All of us who receive psychiatric treatment are experimental subjects – or rather, objects. And part of our struggle is to become subjective persons again. There are many ways in which this can be accomplished, including joining with others who have had similar experiences to share knowledge and ideas, and initiate action.
An army of lovers cannot fail, and treatment can be redefined as the way in which we work with each other.
i was taking my meds at the time, apparently. this was also a time of very disordered and chaotic illicit drug use for me. everything exploded, soon enough, and i wound up in the hospital, “on leave” from gachet, and because drugs, respectable types in the art/mental illness space deleted me from relevant existence. i tried to fight my way back…
i don’t like that last sentence.
An army of lovers cannot fail, it’s said. But this war makes everything a battle. The treatment we get every day can really only be changed by the ways in which we choose to treat each other.
human, artist, historian, maker, writer, thinker.
Policy & politics: drugs & harm reduction. poverty. actual housing. mental illness. public space, public art, public life. vancouverist. downtown eastside. the goal is poetry and justice.
Was born near Hamilton ON 1973. attended mcmaster u; B.A. (Hons) in literature, edited & produced arts student paper, did a term at cambridge (3rd yr). m.a. in literature, dalhousie. worked for about 8 months at a mainstream publisher, hated it so much. quit and worked on new young-person type magazine which failed. made zines. moved to vancouver ’99. m.a, in history 2001-05. edited grad student magazine. produced a parody issue. at some point became homeless. various things occured. went very insane. hospitalized.
associate Member of Gallery Gachet (gachet.org), since 2009. lived in the DTES from 2008; to woodwards in 2010. made more zines, poetry, art. did some stuff in the neighbourhood.
member of DTES local area planning committee 2011-14, mental health task force (2013-15), people with lived experience working group (2015-present). wrote some articles and did some cover art for a paper or seven. curated some shows at gachet. have produced three solo shows of my work, with assistance of DTES Small Arts Grants. volunteered for a while with/for CCAP. made many of the “political” posters around the neighbourhood for several years. i use drugs so I advocate for user rights, dignity and safety; I was a VANDU board member from 2015 until I resigned Aug 24-17, as rights, dignity, and safety were in short supply. currently i am unpredictable and definitely involved.