Healing Happens in Community, not in Care

“You have Generalized Anxiety Disorder”, the doctor reveals. Or “Major Depressive Disorder”, says another. Their face offers more data — concern, concentration, confidence. You trust their confidence. They reach for their pad. “I’m going to prescribe you some medication.” You exhale the weight of the world.

The care

When a doctor names our distress, we receive something precious — an explanation. Ahhhh exhale. They have this in hand. We’re going to receive care. What we don’t know at this moment is that care framework is broken. And more deeply, even before the care that’s coming, the psychiatric explanatory framework is bunkum too. So desperate for relief are we, and this being the faithful authority, that we submit. And then we take a treatment that has been demonstrated not to work. Over and over, again and again. When studies argue it does work, they’re consistently flawed. Worse than their ineffectiveness is these drugs’ side effects, (which outweigh their benefits), just like the generation of medications that preceded them. And not by a small distance. Despite all of this present-day evidence, and a history of unrepentant harm, we trust psychiatry unflinchingly. After all, what harm could a well-intended carer do?

The explanatory framework

That’s the sense of relief you feel when the doc says “you have SSD” (Scientific Sounding Disorder). It’s treatable! Rest easy in the arms of expertise. You’re not alone. “The thing about your brain,” the doctor explains, “is that you have a chemical imbalance. It’s not your fault.” Well the doc was right about one thing. It definitely isn’t your fault.

The issue — it should be obvious but it’s not — is that your biochemistry is not where your distress began. You’re not posessed by the devil, but with chemistry. That’s the explanatory card trick. The cause is not us, nor the devil, nor the chemistry. The cause is our culture — what you’re expected to do around here. Who you’re expected to be. You weren’t designed to raise kids without a network of community that loves your kid almost as much as you do, nor to do meaningless work for barely enough to survive, nor to maintain social relations through wires and screens. You weren’t built to nourish your body from plastic containers, nor listen to the hum of fluourescent lights, nor sit in traffic, nor pay money for water and shelter, nor ask a boss if you can pee, nor be disconnected from the civic process of your community. None of this is “normal”.

But something about this psychiatric set up says it is. To see it the utter insanity of the insanity industry, imagine being stuck in the wreckage of a car crash and the paramedic arrives to say “you’ve got two broken ribs and some swelling. Here’s some morphine and anti-inflammatories. I’ll see you next week” and then they walk away, leaving you trapped in the car. That’s psychiatry. Nobody’s saying the psychiatrist means to be callous like that. It’s not their wish to minimise our reality. It’s their obligation. And their pharmaceuticals? We don’t feel “better” by the power of anti-depressants. We just feel less. And feeling less when you’re trapped in a car wreck that nobody will acknowledge is, in a way, to feel better.

The problem? Our pain loves us. It’s trying to tell us something.

Awakenings

If the pills (and the culture they cloak) don’t finish you off, and you recover to tell the tale, you’ll have a hell of tale to tell. Johann Hari did exactly that. His book hit a note not just for psychiatric survivors but for everybody at odds with the message of “its not us, it’s you”. I reached the point of needing to notice all this out loud too. I was chemically lobotomised for 15 years (SSRIs in my case). I retreated from conventional life. I moved to the countryside and worked just enough to pay for the basics. I guzzled the emotional painkillers in the same rhythm I previously guzzled grind culture. I became so pliable that I had abandoned the word “no” altogether, attracting wall-to-wall mistreatment. It came from everyone and everywhere, even people with no skills or interest in exploitation. I was so disconnected from myself that, even as I spent a decade defragmenting, often lying on my back and unable to move, I turned the blowtorch of late-capitalist norms inward: “Your value equals your productivity”. “You can never rest”. “You are responsible for the feelings of others”. And most psychiatrically of all, “The way you feel is your fault.”

It’s not. You are allowed to rest. Your value is your existence, not your productivity. But your mind is a product of culture and glitches at this message. Your dazzling, magical, human body-mind, has been abducted by your culture, and become your culture’s messenger — shouting at you 24–7. No wonder you are tired honey.

Of course, It’s not just shrinks who have peer-reviewed dopamine for us. We also get rewards for perfect participation — “smile for instagram” — “yes babes! 🔥🔥🔥”. And the further we move from healing. Everyone else looks happy. Everyone else is participating. And when we can’t pretend any more, we get psychiatric pharmaceuticals. “I’m so anti-depressed” my friend quipped, bumping us all in the ribs with her elbow and winking so we could laugh, not cry.

Whether you’re locked into a hard-to-service mortgage, paid for by a job that drains you, alongside a drowning spouse who you can’t quite reach, or you’re doing survival sex work to pay for medical bills and shelter—you’re rewarded for pretending you’re ok. But you’re not. No one is. That feeling inside keeps growing though, no matter what treats you arrange for yourself. The treats have diminishing returns.

It’s not just you by the way. That you’re reading this is not just an algorithmic bias in your feed. People are calling bullshit on isolationist modern life from all corners of the zietgeist. From progressive confessionals to prepper discourse, everybody is noticing.

What’s the solution then?

I tapered off my meds over 3 years. It wasn’t the hardest time of my life. That came next. Unlearning the behaviours I adopted during the compliant years was the trouble. The fog of SSRI beigeness lifted to reveal my technicolor emotions. Cue overwhelm, grief and panic. I’m coming out the other side now. But the whole project, from the decision to come off the meds to seeing sunshine over the hill, has been 6 years. It’s a process that could have begun 20 odd years ago when I first sought help. But I sought help in the wrong place — from the industry tasked with blaming the unwell for their suffering.

The beigification of affect

Psychiatry’s best-selling drugs are anti-anxiety and antidepressant meds. SSRIs and Benzos.

Both stifle your self-loving feelings — the ones trying to tell you something. Both are healing-resistant treatments. By the industry’s own admission, both are over-prescribed.

Although I sought help 20 years ago, and my tapering began six years ago, my healing wouldn’t begin until I got free of SSRIs.

Community healing

I began to heal when I began to feel. My newfound feelings directed me to make decisions in my own interests for the first time in my life. I left toxic patterns behind and became myself out loud. I’m trans and Autistic and while on the SSRIs the best I could do was pretend. I self-described as “an effeminate guy” and “a bit Autistic”. Those are the beige SSRI versions of the proudly mad, proudly trans, and creative creature I really am. You think SSRIs, transphobia, and ableism aren’t all friends? Think again.

Unburdening myself of anti-depressants was the first step. The next was setting boundaries. In the anti-depressed years, estranged from my self-loving indignation, I placed all things on pedestals except for myself. I fawned to friends, lovers, colleagues, bosses, clients, and neighbours. Nobody was safe from the elevation I gave them. Boundaries solved that. I hate to speed past that process, because it was painful for me and for the others. But as important as that period was, it was only laying the table. The meal started when I found my people and hung with them. By sharing myself and being witnessed lovingly, decades of pain and shame spontaneously dissolved.

Dancing with people like me? Healing

Walking with people like me? Healing

Cooking with people like me? Healing

In community. Not in care.

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Emma Barnes

Emma Barnes

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Autistic, trans, survivor, abolitionist @friedkrill on Twitstagram