Jammies Party

This morning, I had a group of women over for a potluck brunch.  It was a “jammies party,” so everyone came in their jammies.  It was like a sleep over, without the actual sleeping over.  I knew only a few of the women.  The other women were new acquaintances, friends of friends of friends.

About half the women left shortly after eating and finishing off their minimum required morning dose of caffeine.  That left five of us, who ended up talking for almost five hours.  We fell into a very important conversation, and no one realized what time it was until I pointed out that the sun was low on the horizon.

This group of five, loosely associated through social connections, had some profound common experiences.  All of us were or had been treated chemically for depression, anxiety, bi-polar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and/or other mental disabilities.  At least two of the women had been in abusive relationships with men—one had had her neck broken, one had been married to a porn addict—and both of these women had PTSD.  All had struggled with the erasure of emotions and sense of self that was induced by the pharmaceutical drugs.  Four women had experienced profound “side” effects from these drugs, including black outs and inability to walk.  Three women had had profound experiences of abuse by health “care” professionals (“care” must be put in quotes in relationship to these experiences).  For example, one woman was forced to have a pap smear, even though it could not possibly have had any relationship to diagnosing or treating her mental disability.  This triggered a major dissociative episode.

Sometimes, this kind of conversation can put me into a funk.  However, tonight I feel a renewed energy.  Our conversation was not at all like a lethargic support group in which women are dragged through personal disclosure by a professional making a lucrative living off of women’s misery in a violent and abusive society.  Instead it involved an almost covert sharing of information.  It involved stories of will and resistance.  It involved sharing how-tos for navigating the woman-hell that the mental health industry can be.  It involved three women sharing how they were now either completely or nearly off of all pharmaceutical drugs.

It is unfortunate, although predictable, that the mental health industry is collusive with women’s oppression.  As a major institution under patriarchy, its interests lie with maintaining the status quo, rather than challenging or dismantling it.

But as women, both alone and in groups, we resist.

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4 responses to “Jammies Party

  • Rainbow Riot

    Talking about our struggles is very important, I think. I am currently enmeshed with the mental health industry and probably will be for some time. I couldn’t get free therapy through my state without submitting to also be put on psychoactive drugs, so until I decide it’s not worth it, I’m doped to the limit on three different things. I feel very isolated in my resistance.

    “Mental illness” has such a stigma that I don’t tell anybody in real life what I’ve been diagnosed with (PTSD, dissociative identity disorder, borderline personality disorder, bulimia, some unspecified mood disorder). I try to stay strong, but being without a support network of real life friends is hard. I wish I had people to have a jammies party with.

    I’m trying to say, thank you for writing about this.

    • wohom

      The stigma is huge. There’s also, for women and for many others, the need to be cautious about to whom you disclose your “illness” (I was just at a lecture by an activist on mental health issues, and she uses “mental disability” so that it is not framed as an illness, but rather as a response to an environment that does not meet one’s needs). I would never disclose at work that I have or have had any mental disabilities. I know that it would be used against me.

      A lot of women (and men) struggle through dealing with both mental disability and the mental health care system silently. The five women who were in the jammies party discussion were at different points in their personal journeys. I was the oldest, and clearly the most outspoken and most recovered from the damage inflicted through the mental health care system. The next oldest woman also spoke passionately and sincerely about her experiences (with the disabilities, the causes, the drugs, and the disempowering experience of being treated as a lesser person within and without the mental health care system). The youngest woman had just been recently hospitalized. She mostly listened. The other youngest woman, although she was also on an anti-depressant, worked for mental health care services and frequently said things like “Oh, it’s getting so much better” and would cite new laws and such. She was in denial. She just wouldn’t “hear” what we were saying, because she was a representative of the same industry and didn’t have a disability that carried a lot of stigma.

      I hope you find your jammies party. Twenty-five years ago, a jammies party would have been an extraordinary experience for me. I would have been the young woman sitting there mostly silent, but, as I sure she was, I would have been listening intently and feeling a profound sense of connection, pain, and hope.

  • Holly

    Mmm. I wish I weren’t medicated. Someday I won’t be.

    • wohom

      There is a place for medications. I needed a sleep aid for some time to get over insomnia and have also taken anti-depressants. Some people have medical issues that may be assisted with life-long chemical treatment. The issue I have is the way that corporations–the pharmaceutical other medical industries–mesh with patriarchy and profit-driven capitalism to over-medicate many women. In my other blog piece on this issue, I mentioned that at one time a psychiatrist wanted to put me on five medications. I refused all except one. And I was right. I only needed one. Fortunately, I was in a position where I was able to advocate for myself.

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