On surviving yourself: the challenge of advocacy

I listened recently to a conversation between two people who have played a significant historical role in the peer/human rights movement (I apologize if that is a politically incorrect term). Both have been involved for many years at a national and state level. They talked about being burnt out, but more than that sad and maybe a little bit disillusioned. They thought the movement that meant so much to them was dying. It wasn’t being killed by psychiatry or by any other adversarial forces. They were no longer convinced that we could survive each other.

Since the 60’s I have watched more than one group, more than one movement either collapse or simply evolve into impotency and irrelevance. The culprit is normally the same. They split, they evolve different denominations, and find the people they are in the most passionate battle with is the same as those who at one time seemed to want the same thing they do. To one degree or another advocacy becomes cannibalistic. We eat our own.

Is that going on now? I don’t know. Several weeks ago I wrote a post about what I saw as a progressively negative and attacking stance that many people who identify with this movement were taking towards others. There seemed to be a rising battle and demand for orthodoxy and coming from people who were about human rights and freedom that seemed to be very disturbing.

Perhaps I was wrong. The reaction I have gotten since then from most people was that I was not. More than one person told me they had to be careful about public statements for fear of attack from those who disagreed with them. One person wrote: “It is not just that they attack what I say. That is okay. They attack who I am. They question my motives, my honesty and my integrity. And that is not okay.”

One person told me that a certain Facebook group was not on safe. I asked her what she meant. “I told them treatment had helped me. They told me I was delusional.”

There is a point where people who argue and attack each other with gusto and passion become unable to argue for anything. Everything becomes about victory. Nothing is about change.

I don’t know. I really don’t know. But I am concerned. And I wonder if you are too?

When people talk to me privately the words they often use are “it’s become so mean… So intolerant.”

Everything I have been told by people I trust and believe have more access to information that I ever had tells me the Murphy Bill is not going to happen this year. It is late in the year, much needs to be done to even reach resolution on any proposal and the legislative process (as all of us have noticed) is not exactly effective or conclusive. Not much really happens. And with the presidential campaign and the possibility of some trying to shut down the government to prove a point about Planned Parenthood focus on anything may be in short supply.

All that may be totally wrong. Events may change everything and it is certain Tim Murphy is not going to give up because the time is running late.


I have also been told that it will be much harder to stop this next year. Leadership in the Senate may get behind some proposal and as long as it doesn’t give one presidential candidate some kind of political advantage it may be hard to stop. Perhaps the presidential campaign may buy us another year. It is all guesses from where I sit.

But what will we do? Will we be an effective voice? Will we get so caught up in the battles that we forget the war? I don’t claim to know the answers to any of this. I am concerned and I believe there is reason to be concerned. And if I am wrong I am relieved.

A final word from another friend: “The biggest problem with the Torrey people is that they think there is only one story…. Their story. And they are so wrong. This is not just about one thing…. One truth. I fear that many on our side believe the same thing. There is only one story and it is theirs. The truth of your story need not threaten the validity of mine. Treatment can work for you but it does not mean it was not a harmful poisonous thing for me. And I wonder if we do not welcome all truths if in the end we have any. ”

If this all seems a silly concern to you I encourage you to ignore everything I have said. If this seems an attack to you it is not intended to be that way and should you decide to come hunting for my head please be a little gentle. But in the end I don’t think my head solves any of your problems. If you are worried too know that your concerns are shared. I don’t know the answer. But maybe part of the answer is first asking the question. Perhaps that is a good place to start.


11 thoughts on “On surviving yourself: the challenge of advocacy”

  1. No one is coming for your head, Larry. But I have better things to do than be treated like I have oatmeal for brains by some of the types who are out there claiming to be activists and advocates. Let them all put each other in the ovens as far as I am concerned at this point. I have my plane ticket in hand; and, I am gone.

  2. Work towards harmony – within yourself & with others (when possible). Written while on the island of Kho Tao in Thailand where I just got back from having breakfast at a small little place overlooking a beach and numerous small boats.A break from chaos is delightful.

  3. Psychiatry is very personal to/for me. Diagnosed ‘Major Depression- Recurrent’. For more than 20 years I sought help through medications, None of which worked for me. Being on Medicare, neither Psychiatrists nor Therapists have been willing to give me more than the time of day. The state of Oregon fell short even as I went through dozens of med regimens. Texas, which won’t expand Medicaid has done less. Even the peer-support seems to have had the bottom fall out, for many reasons, some of which you mentionedI post many positive quotations on Facebook, but, I don’t have one now… Peace

  4. This cannibalism that Larry describes is all too true. Especially it seems as if the people who do the most are singled out to be attacked.

  5. Reblogged this on Inside the Stormy Prison and commented:
    This is a sad statement of the state of Mental Illness advocacy. And I have seen it before in my state. We can’t seem to put aside our differences and instead of striving toward advocacy we’re beating each other away from helping each other out. I back away. The magic is gone again. It comes back around but, I think to myself maybe MAYBE next time we will realize we are all we got and we’ll stop arguing about our differences.

  6. Larry, if they come for youth are coming for the wrong person. You told the truth and nothing but the truth. I stay away from hateful advocates, they only hurt people unecessarily. We are to disorganized and fragmented to be a true movement and we have people speaking for the masses that should not be speaking for the masses. As ritlingit said “We all we got” and it’s time we wake up and realize that. Stop the infighting and slandering of folks who take meds. We are not AA or NA if folks feel they need to take meds they rightfully have that option. I took meds for 11 years and I’m not ashamed to say it. If it wasn’t for the meds I took my mind might truly sipped away, I needed them at that moment and time. I love your writing Larry, you are truly one of a kind.

  7. Reblogged this on Hopeworks Community and commented:

    It is looking like this may become the most read post on this blog. Even though it is only a month old a bunch of people have asked me to repost it so they can have easier access to it and share with others

  8. There is not one or two stories about advocacy, reform, mental health or ill health. Unless Life and living with some joy and fulfillment is the “story”. The problem is “people” those who live with wounds and constantly scratch at them and become infatuated with their own experiences and other’s “torture” and the people who seek to profit from the “survivors” who cling to their pain and somehow feel entitled to experience their extreme states which hurt their families and friends. One person on the MIA site complained that she was put on an involuntary hold after she said that she was suicidal AND homicidal. She also complained that her therapist had a welfare check done for her at home after she demonstrated that she was very ill in her therapists office. And then there are those who, of course, profit from drug making and faulty research. The people are the problem. Always have been.

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