Stepping Back in Time

John McManamy Health Guide
  • I feel I stepped into a time bubble. The DBSA conference is over, and my California buddy, Paul, and I are checking out Marin County, over the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. We reach a place called Point Reyes Station, about an hour’s drive up the spectacular Coastal Highway. A Volkswagen van, complete with curtains in the windows, is parked outside the local library. In a saloon that dates from gold miner times we learn from a guy in a pony tail that the area is heavily into organic farming. There is not a McDonalds or Wendy’s, nor for matter any remotely similar blight upon this desolate and fairly aspected locale. At the restaurant across the street a perky young waitress introduces herself as Harmony.
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    We have discovered the 60s! I enthusiastically tell my friend. It’s a time long gone, but also a long time coming. One day, a different incarnation of that distant era will light up the land, if only for one brief shining moment. Hold onto your idealism, I always say. Seeing that change is possible, no matter what, is what separates us from the walking dead.

    Twenty or so miles away, we are in a different culture entirely. We are having lunch at a sidewalk café in San Raphael talking to two of Paul’s bosses. Here, it’s all about the future. Here, we are talking visionary rather than simply idealistic. Paul’s bosses have founded what can best be described as an internet health matrix called Network of Care. They are part of a revolution and they are looking for ideas. I let fly with a few and the discussion becomes animated. We could sit here all day discussing how we can change a piece of world, but they need to get back to their business of actually changing it. We take our leave, knowing this conversation is just beginning.

    Earlier, at the DBSA conference in San Mateo, I have been talking to head office staff and grass roots leaders. They, too, are about the future. New models of recovery, new initiatives, new dialogues, working harder, thinking smarter. The system may be broken, but no one at DBSA is complaining. Rather than wait for things to happen, people are taking charge of their own recovery and their own lives. Intoxicating stuff.

    Yesterday afternoon, Paul and I touched down in Berkeley. We popped into a very depressing-looking drop-in center where later there would be a function for two overseas advocates. Shortly after, killing some time sight-seeing, Paul warns me what to expect, so I’m on my best behavior when we return with fruit for a pot luck meal.

    This is the antipsychiatry crowd. People are going around the circle telling ancient war stories. One of them brags about how he spearheaded a drive to outlaw ECT in Berkeley in the 1980s.

    So the poor slobs who drop in here have no choice in their treatment? I wanted to say. You’re actually proud of that? But I’m a model of decorum, so I keep my mouth shut.

    Another one proudly mentions how she organized a demo outside the 2003 San Francisco American Psychiatric Annual Meeting. I was at the annual meeting, too. I recall seeing them making idiots of themselves waving their “Psychiatry Kills” banners. At that same convention, I learned about a landmark study that has revolutionized how we think about how genes influence behavior. I listened to the leading experts. I asked questions. I learned.

  • More tedious war stories. No one talked about helping fellow patients into recovery. No one talked about anything new.
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    They’re all living in the past, I told Paul, once we were back in the car. All they are capable of is waving signs, shouting at public meetings, saying no, and fighting losing battles, all while pretending to represent all of us. Believe it or not, the State of California has actually co-opted them into some kind of quasi-government agency. The only explanation that makes sense is that this sorry set of losers with no original ideas can be much more easily ignored than some forward thinkers who might actually force government bureaucrats to earn their salaries.

    The antipsychiatry movement came of age during the bad old days. They had their time and place. They served their purpose. Their membership is aging, and there is a shortage of young people to step into their shoes. Thank heaven. It won’t be long till antipsychiatry goes the way of the 60s. Only this time, no one will be longing for its return.

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Published On: September 18, 2006