Counterpoint Winter 2018 • News • Page 6

RUTLAND – Three psychiatric survivors shared their perspectives on their jobs as related to their own experiences with oppression in the mental health system at a panel presentation at the Vermont Psychiatric Survivors annual meeting in October.

The discussion, moderated by Calvin Moen of VPS, ranged from how they reached their current perspectives about the system to what is meant by the term “person with lived experience.”

“It’s a funny term,” said Malaika Puffer. “I’m pretty sure (everyone) has been alive … having experiences all along.”

“The stuff that gets put there” as a definition is actually what everyone experiences and is not separable into different categories, she said. Puffer is in a peer support position at Health Care and Rehabilitation Services, the mental health agency for southeastern Vermont.

What connects them with those currently receiving services in the system is broader, said Kaz DeWolfe.

It is “victimhood as expertise” through experiences of coercion and discrimination that “gives us a perspective that other people don’t necessarily have,” they said.

Kaz is the communications coordinator at VPS.

J Helms, who also works for HCRS, agreed that “oppression and marginalization” are what most people have an experience of.

They became involved in peer support work after “feeling increasingly invalidated and harmed by the medical model” of care, they said.

Moen asked the panelists how their various identities drew them into their work.

DeWolfe said that being queer and transgender is similar in the inability to feel safe in society, and that they also had “poverty as a marginalized identity.”

“Everything intersects as aspects of who I am.”

“My experiences within my body and mind every day” are what they see as being “lived experience.”

Puffer said that for her, “being a psychiatric survivor is the identity that has been the place where the most oppression has happened and I feel the most anger.”

Helms raised the issue of connections to other identities that become “limited by categories and boundaries.”

“My rejection that gender is binary and my rejection of the medical model” are parallel, they said. In both cases people are being told there’s something wrong with them instead of being told, “Your feelings are valid, and there’s nothing wrong with you.”

“My emotional experiences were being problematized and labeled by others for me,” Helms said.

The message was, “This is a problem, this doesn’t work for me, you have to fix this.”

After experiencing a life crisis, receiving a psychiatric diagnosis based on a 10-minute interview sent the message that there was “something wrong with my brain because I had big feelings” about a trauma, Helms said – and it made them really angry.

Puffer said hearing a speaker at a conference was when a “huge, huge lightbulb” went on.

“I had this whole picture of my life, [but] there was some missing piece.”

Being introduced to the work of Judi Chamberlin and Robert Whitaker about alternative explanations for distress was a whole new perspective that enabled her to look at her life and see that “it all made sense.”

It is an awareness that Puffer said she would like to see broaden into more public forums and schools. “So much depends on the public narrative.”

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