Soul Survivor

A personal encounter with psychiatry

Mary & Jim Maddock

reviewed by Mira de Vries

Though she speaks of herself with modesty, the maiden Mary was clearly bright, talented, and highly spirited. Judging by the photographs she was also beautiful. Her choice to join a convent was certainly not because there were no other options open to her. When after seven years she decided this wasn’t what she wanted after all, she understandably passed through an adventurous period, yet was apparently not tempted into any kind of serious trouble. She stayed firmly in control of her life. It is easy to imagine Jim falling in love with her.

Then disaster struck. What should have been the most beautiful moment of their marriage turned into the beginning of a protracted nightmare. A gas administered to ameliorate the pain of delivering their first child affected Mrs. Maddock’s central nervous system, as evidenced by bizarre speech and behavior. The rest is all too familiar to anyone who has ever been trapped into the psychiatric system: rather than protecting her until the effects wear off, medical staff whisked Mrs. Maddock off to be subjected to psychiatry’s bag of quack tricks: deprivation of freedom, defamation disguised as diagnosis, further damage by toxins called medication, electroshock, and so forth. Like most people, including the perpetrators of this cruelty, the Maddocks believed that the doctors knew what they were doing and were acting in her best interests. Yet eventually Mary managed to free herself from psychiatry and wean herself off the drugs. After a year of recovery she achieved a state so stable that the authorities approved her for becoming an adoptive mother, a choice she made because she believed that bearing a second child carried the risk of another episode of madness.

All would have remained well if not for an ear infection, for which she was prescribed a drug (we aren’t told which, it could have been a psychotropic painkiller) which set off her nervous system again. And again, she was spun into psychiatry. By her own description, it turned her into “a piece of psychiatric flotsam … over-weight, stiff-limbed, kidney-damaged, drooling, tremor-ridden, mind-numbed” and totally dependent on others. This image will be all too familiar to anyone who has ever visited a long-stay ward. The second nightmare lasted eighteen horrible years.

Still feisty in spite of being robbed of her health, dignity, and competence, Mrs. Maddock managed to make her life take another spectacular turn. Once again she freed herself from psychiatry and weaned herself off the drugs. This time, however, she understood the injustice done to her, and dedicated the rest of her life to fighting the psychiatric system.

The Maddocks’ story is written powerfully, yet with restraint, sparing the reader the lurid details of just how awful some of it was. Their story is not a story of hate but of hope.

Yet to the reader who (has a loved one who) is him/herself a victim of psychiatry, a word of caution is in order, lest hopes are raised that are destined to be dashed. Compared to other psychiatric victims, Mrs. Maddock is extraordinarily lucky in two ways:

Firstly, throughout her long ordeal, her family – parents, children, and most importantly, husband – never abandoned her. Especially her gem of a husband continued to support her even when she decided to defy psychiatric advice, a lifesaving step that the families of most psychiatric victims, if still involved at all, don’t dare allow.

Secondly, after eighteen years of psychiatric drugging, not to mention repeated electroshock treatments, most people’s nervous systems will be irreparably damaged. Although every psychiatric victim can benefit from careful titration off the drugs, a full return to independent and competent existence like Mrs. Maddock’s is not always attainable.

So although nothing can compensate her for being robbed of what were arguably the most important years of her life, her daughters’ youths, compared to other psychiatric victims Mrs. Maddock is immensely fortunate. And we all share her good fortune, for she is today one of the most energetic activists of our movement.

MeTZelf wishes to thank the Maddocks for providing our library with a complementary copy.

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