Jody A Harmon
“I’m a psychiatric survivor, and I don’t use that term loosely. I have been stored in warehouses labeled hospitals. I have endured weekly lectures termed therapy. I have been zapped until my brain burns white. I have been held down, tied down, put down. I have had pills forced down my throat and needles plunged into my flesh. All this to make me ‘normal,’ a mold I will never fit.”
Contact info: Corvalis, Oregon,USA
Currently doing: Jody is a feral cat trapper for the Feral Cat Coalition of Oregon. She is also an Anti-Psychiatry Activist who enjoys wandering the woods, writing, working on cars, and laughing.
Mental health experience: Shocked, Inpatient, Outpatient, Commitment, Psychiatric Drugs, Forced Treatment, Coercive Treatment, Restraints, Torture, Solitary Confinement
Psychiatric labels: Schizophrenic, Schizoaffective, Major Depression, Anxiety Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, Dependent Personality Disorder, Bipolar, Agoraphobia, possibly more
Psychiatric drugs taken in the past: Stelazine, Thorazine, Haldol, Prolixin, Elavil, Zoloft, Wellbutrin, Artane, Clozaril, Risperdal, Navane, Lithium, Depakote, Topamax, Clonopin, Ativan, Zyprexa, Tegretol, Benadryl
Off psychiatric drugs since:
Recovery methods: Empowerment through fighting back, Writing, Animals and nature, Self-Help, Social Activism, Regulating Sleep, Spirituality, Meditation, Diet, Exercise
Greatest obstacle: Internalized oppression.
Growing up, I had a lot of problems that I now realize were related to my childhood. My father was very “handsy.” He also used to berate and put me down all the time, calling me a “dummy” even though I was valedictorian at the boarding academy I went to. I was extremely isolated and found refuge in the woods behind our house and with animals.
So I kept to myself and was labeled “weird” from a very young age. Then at age 19, I was having severe migraine headaches while attending Pacific Union College in California. With no discussion or caution, the doctor prescribed Stelazine, saying it would help with the headaches. I later found out from a friend that Stelazine was used for “psychotic” symptoms. So here I was given a powerful neuroleptic drug for my headaches! Thus, I was introduced to the mental health system.
After transferring to Oregon State University, I started getting depressed and I would deliberately seek attention by doing things like cut on my wrists. Sometimes I would get suicidal, but it was more about the attention. And soon my behavior did catch some notice, but not the notice I needed.
A psychiatrist at OSU talked me into the system with these words, words that still haunt me: “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.” Over 20 years later, looking back at all the abuses I’ve experienced in the system, I now believe that he was the crazy one.
This psychiatrist talked me into the county mental health system, first at Kairos House, a day treatment center. Immediately I was placed on psychiatric drugs again. I was put on a concoction of Stelazine, Thorazine, Elavil, Prolixin, and then stuff for the side effects like Artane and Benadryl. I gained 50 pounds on these drugs. My mouth would be so dry that I would have to swallow some water before I talked or ate. I felt absolutely horrible. This, combined with the staff’s superior attitude–they would separate themselves from us at camp outs and things–just destroyed my self-esteem.
I went on to become a NAMI poster child. I had over 20 hospitalizations all over the state of Oregon. Over the years the labels changed from Schizophrenia, Schizoaffective, Depression, Anxiety Disorder, Bipolar, Borderline Personality–you name it, they probably labeled me with it. The drugs and their effects would change over the years as well. For 11 years, lithium gave me chronic diarrhea and left me with a lingering salty taste. Lithium’s replacement, Depakote, or as I call it, “Depacrap,” made my body swell up and was causing my kidneys to fail before I went off of it.
When I complained, the doctors didn’t listen. Soon a Corvallis psychiatrist intimidated me into receiving electroshock at the Oregon State Hospital in Salem, telling me it was the “up and coming treatment” for bipolar disorder. He threatened that if I didn’t go through with it I would be permanently institutionalized. And I was on court commitment so I didn’t have much choice.
The machine looked old, I wasn’t sure if it would work. They strapped me down, and when I woke up, I had the worst headache of my life. I wanted to tear down walls it hurt so bad. Well the “treatment” for that was to put me in restraints. And here I couldn’t remember my own name for a day, or where I was, why I was there. I was terrified and confused.
You come out of the blackness of anesthesia, and you have a complete blank in your brain. It’s probably like being born, except as an adult. I had eleven “treatments” over the course of five months. As far as helping, the electroshock had no therapeutic value at all. None. To this day, friends will share with me some of the great times we had together, and I just can’t remember.
Probably the worst experience in the system happened to me just before Christmas in 1998, when I was sent to Portland Adventist Hospital. They had me in isolation and wouldn’t allow me to use the bathroom, so I was forced to relieve myself on the floor. When I pounded on the door, demanding to go to the bathroom, a dozen staff came in and took me down.
Two of them beat me, slamming my head over and over against the floor and against a metal half-ring that was used for restraints. Because I was begging for mercy, one man put his forearm across my throat, crushing off my ability to breathe. A woman I consider an angel got them off me.
They then released me into the twilight during an ice and snow storm without shoes or a coat. It was 14 degrees and an unfamiliar city, but I still felt my chances were better out there than back at Portland Adventist, where they had almost killed me.
It turned out that the beating had ruptured a neck disk into my spinal cord and I would need surgery. But when I returned home to Corvallis, the mental health workers there didn’t give a damn about what happened to me.
If there was a good thing to come out of it, at least that abuse created a fighter out of me–I will never ever take abuse again from this system of coercion and codependency. So I didn’t win my human rights–I stood up and demanded them.
For awhile the system had convinced me that I wasn’t fully human and didn’t deserve any rights. Well, I learned how to use the internet two years ago at the library and suddenly found that there were other people who had gone through similar things, who were also abused and ostracized. Here were some people who listened to me and actually understood when I talked. I started feeling like a human being again.
There were a lot of things, but perhaps the most important part of my recovery was my being able to gain some sense of perspective, and try to understand how others might view my actions. I also try hard not to stereotype people–police officers, psychiatrists–and I try to forgive people. It has also been extremely important for me to do things like regulate my sleep and exercise, while staying away from other things like caffeine and junk food.
And I still seek out nature to feel real. Because it is by the river, looking at the stars, being with the cats and raccoons, where I feel fully connected to things. I feel an energy in the universe that pulses through me and everything else, and I feel at peace.
Just getting away from the psychiatric system has also helped immensely because they never treated me with any kind of respect. They just wanted to shut me up with drugs.
Now, although I still feel trapped on SSI, I am doing some things that I enjoy. I’m a feral cat trapper for the Feral Cat Coalition and I love to work on cars. Sometimes I feel this world dealt me a difficult hand, but I’m surviving now the best I can.
I’m a psychiatric survivor, and I don’t use that term loosely. I have been stored in warehouses labeled hospitals. I have endured weekly lectures termed therapy. I have been zapped until my brain burns white. I have been held down, tied down, put down. I have had pills forced down my throat and needles plunged into my flesh. All this to make me “normal,” a mold I will never fit.
I’m a psychiatric survivor because I’ve survived the psychiatric system’s lies, abuses, and betrayals of trust.
Interviewer’s Comments: Jody has a strong resolve and is perfectly comfortable living her independent life on the river’s edge in Corvallis. She is a talented poet and writer: those of us who have listened to her recitals have been touched and visibly moved by words that strike at the chords of truth.