Joe S Baletta
“The most important thing in a person’s recovery process is to know that someone cares for you, someone outside yourself, and that you can care for yourself and that you can love yourself and get over those demons that haunt us all, that drive us crazy. You have to get up with some love in your heart and you have to be able to know that you can do something that you love.”
Contact info: Eugene, Oregon,USA
Currently doing: Joe is a gourmet cook. He also enjoys botany, creative writing, and fine art. Joe volunteers at several charitable organizations, including SCI.
Mental health experience: Outpatient, Psychiatric Drugs, Coercive Treatment
Psychiatric labels: Manic Depression, Obsessive-Compulsive, General Anxiety Disorder
Psychiatric drugs taken in the past: Benzodiazepines, Wellbutrin, Depakote, and others
Off psychiatric drugs since:
Recovery methods: Family/Friends, Gardening, Cooking, Art/Music, Self-Help, Peer Support, One-on-one Therapy, Diet, Spirituality, Meditation, Literature
Greatest obstacle: Being a unique individual, I’m different than the people I depend on.
My story with the mental health system began in 1985 in a small county in Florida. At that time, I was not where I wanted to be in our society, and had been going through a messy divorce for a number of years. I had moved from where I grew up, which was in the northeast, to the southeast. This was traumatic, as there were differences in terms of the culture. These situations combined to stress me out to the point where I had a nervous breakdown.
I did not have too many resources. I was alone. Even though my mother and brothers had moved to Florida by that time, these family members could not really understand what was going on and were not able to be supportive, so I turned to the local mental health system for help. I did not have a good idea of what to expect from that experience.
My problems at that time involved feeling insecure, feeling a great deal of fear, having great anxiety and having stress from not knowing how I was going to survive. I was dependent on the mental health system. I felt very helpless.
I found that the mental health system lacks knowledge of how to treat people, individually, and in general. Their basic mode of working with people was to get them adjusted “back into society” in a “normal” way–not to develop an understanding of what they were going through. My problem was that I had undergone a lot of trauma from actual experiences, which caused me to have a hard time fitting into American culture.
When I went to the mental health system, I felt that my problems were compounded by somewhat of a punishing factor. They indicated to me that I was going to get back out there and conform to the standards no matter what. They did not show that they really cared about what I wanted or needed. My problems were also compounded by the attitude of those people in the mental health system. No one tried to understand me as an individual. They assumed that most people in the system were brain dead, retarded, and had no potential.
The activities they had us do involved putting us in a big room with a pool table and ping pong tables. They would just leave people in this room on their own for awhile and then they would have “therapy” sessions. This basically involved people venting anger. It was not directed towards rehabilitation or towards real therapy. It was also assumed that you were going to be just as damaged and fearful of a person for the rest of your life, so what did it matter? If you just played ping pong mindlessly, that was okay. But I felt that was more damaging. That kind of attitude hurts people.
I did have a psychologist in Florida who used cognitive therapy. He was an intuitive man with good insight. This kind of therapy helped because it was based on something; it was intelligent therapy, intellectual therapy. I tend to be an intellectual person, so I was able to use this therapy. When I had certain feelings, I was able to use a thought rubric to rationally look at them. If you are feeling a certain way, why are you feeling it? Is it based on anything objective? That kind of therapy was somewhat helpful, but it did not really take care of the core fears.
Almost from the very beginning, I experienced 99.9% of the psychiatric drugs I took as being toxic for my body and having terrible side effects. One of the drugs I took was a benzodiazepine, like Xanax. What it did was to mimic my symptoms at a heightened state. Also, not only are they addictive, but they have withdrawal effects as well. If you have panic or tend to have anxiety, what these things do is they make those situations even more acute.
My opinion is that they’re not addressing the real causes for these problems. Instead, they just try to contain the symptoms. When you withdraw, you can see what the biological approach does—it masks the symptoms. The feeling from using the majority from these psychiatric drugs was horrible. I had to actually take little bits to withdraw, and I needed support to do that because it was just like withdrawing from any other major drug, such as heroin or something else.
There were also antidepressants that really never took care of the depression. What they did was to take away the reaction I had from being depressed, the emotional anxiety. The way I see depression is that one gets tired, isn’t motivated, and then at the same time has fears and anxieties. It took away some of the anxiety but it did not take away the depression. In other words, you did not become motivated. Depression actually makes you more chronically fatigued. One of the side effects is that you would be more fatigued and so naturally dealing with your depression would be ludicrous when something is making you more fatigued.
And that’s the experience I had in general with most of these so-called psychiatric drugs. They made me feel worse and I knew that much. Therefore, I never really took them for any great length of time.
I think the whole trick to recovery and the self-help movement is to introduce the idea that you can tend to yourself as a person that has something, you can do for yourself. You can help yourself and it’s this idea that is important. I’ve always applied it and that’s why I have been able to end my dependence on the mental health system. I know I would regress by reaching out to them and thinking that they would provide any help.
When I got into the system, it was not something I had to profoundly think about. It was just obvious that the system was toxic. It was noxious. Some of the very fears I had, some of the very anxieties we re-edified, reinforced within that system, and I found that very interesting. I knew that I had to find out how to get my health better outside of that system. I worked at looking outside of it, as I’ve always been more interested in alternatives and self-help groups.
I have begun to overcome my core fears more so than I ever have in the past. I find that one of the things that I had to learn myself was that you have to get beyond your fears. You have to just do things, and not think about it. I think what the mental health system perpetuates is that it sets people up. It actually locks them in to those excessive and impulsive patterns that have been no good for them or no good for anybody.
I think spirituality plays a role. It is the sense that you are okay, no matter what is going on with you. It is more of a heart thing. People have to go through a whole cerebral trip to get to this very simple thing. It is simple. It is not something you think about or analyze a lot but something you just believe in. I think it works because of its simplicity.
I have found that books are important. I have read a lot, including Thomas Szasz. I don’t agree with him absolutely. I have read all kinds of different philosophies. When you read a book, you associate with that person’s spirit who wrote that book. There are different ways one could have support or spiritual communion, through books or directly through people–whatever works.
I also volunteer sometimes through charitable work for local mental health groups such as Support Coalition International because I just feel that it’s my duty to do so. I like what they’re doing and I hope they succeed. And I have a lot of other projects. I’m very much an independent person.
I am hoping to have a foods business in a couple of years. I grow plants and I do computer art. Computers, art, travel to France, just a lot of things. I would say that I’m an artist for the most part and I like to write.
To me, the most important thing in a person’s recovery process is to know that someone cares for you, someone outside yourself, and that you can care for yourself and that you can love yourself and get over those demons that haunt us all, that drive us crazy. You have to get up with some love in your heart and you have to be able to know that you can do something that you love. It could be a person, it could be a project, it could be anything.
I think we live in a very arrogant culture. We live in a culture that if you don’t fit in, you’re punished. Since we don’t have a culture that has a lot of alternative models, I don’t think we’re near a civilized culture. We pride ourselves as an individual culture but actually we do not respect individuality. That’s the reason people get into the mental health system.
My ideal of the mental health system would be to get right down to the core of that person’s problem. [The system ought to…] be objective and give them what they really need to recover. Actually, I think if we were more advanced beings in a culture, there would be no need for a mental health system. The whole idea of the mental health system indicates a problem in our culture and perhaps a problem with our species.
Interviewer’s Comments: Joe is an extremely intelligent, thoughtful, and articulate individual. It was obvious from our conversation that he has a deep and profound understanding of his own experience and the experience of his fellow humans.