¡No más electroshock! International Day of Protest South of the Equator in Montevideo, Uruguay

Katherine and I had been so busy with our own stuff that we put off the protest organizing until the last minute. Suddenly,, it was upon us. Katherine had put together a six’page informational piece for us to distribute, entirely in español. It was night before the protest and not a creature was stirring…But no, that wasn’t true. The earth was stirring below us as always and sunrise was coming awfully soon.

Katherine keeps a local mailing list so she sent out a notice to everyone on it about the event. The lack of response was dismaying, but I assured Katherine that maybe people just hadn’t gotten home to open their email yet. I in turn emailed someone I knew might be interested, but I honestly don’t think she received the message. I, in turn, didn’t pay much attention to my cell phone Friday night. Katherine showed up at my door, a bit concerned that perhaps I’d crapped out on this.

“No way!” I said. “I wouldn’t miss this for anything!” She said she’d pick me up at 1pm, or, rather, 13 horas, as it is called around here. The papelaria had prommised they’d be done printing out the information sheets by then.

Wow, i knew that was cutting it close. We live in a laid-back country here where timeliness is based on a real or perceived time warp. Show up..or not. Take your pick. Would the printout be ready?

Suddenly, I received an email from Katherine saying her truck was leaking water again. Last time we tried this, the truck stalled in the middle of Avenida Italia. That was not only embarrassing, but inconvenient for sure. I recall the texts Katherine received from a couple of ther other expats that day asking if we needed to be rescued. Oh no, we gals were just fine without the men. We figured out what the problem was and then were goood to go. But neither of us wanted to go through all that again. We deciced to take the bus.

I told Katherine I’d make some signs we could hold. I so much wanted to hold up my sign from the Justina protest, that said, “Never, ever shut up.” Could i even find it? My apartment goes from messy to “Why can I never find anything in here?” When tt gets that bad, I spend an hour or two doing a Grand Scale Cleanup. Then, it goes safely back to messy.

I found a box that had nice large sides. I cut out the largest pieces for a backing.  Then, I printed out two signs in the largest print I could muster up. I taped the papers with giant words on them onto the cardboard. I told myself I was all ready for a hitch-hiking trip. Time to hit the road.”No má Electroshock.” “Electroshock destuye las vidas.” Destruye? I was happy to learn a new word.

I was just about all set to leave when Katheirine texted me again. The papelaria hadn’t colated the pages. I told Katherine we should do it on the bus and not be late.

We drove back to her place so she could park her car at home, then walked from there to the highway. Buses were on weekend schedule which meant there might be long intervals between buses headed for Montevideo.

Buses were on weekend schedule. The wait was long and we were debating whether to walk to a different bus stop where perhaps we could see more buses headed to Montevideo. However, just as we were about to walk westward, the bus we wanted arrived.

I can’t see well enough to read the lit up signs on the fronts of buses until they are too close to flag down. Usually, I have to ask another person to read for me. This is rather difficult to explain to a complete stranger in Spanish. Today, Katherine was my eyes. She managed to get the bus driver’s attention so he’d stop and let us on. I’m not particularly good at that, either. I was so grateful for her presence. We were even able to get seated together. This was going to be a long ride.

It has now been a year since my drastic relocation, my move here to Uruguay to escape impending forced psychiatric care. These days, I look back on my last years in the USA with horror, and also feel a huge sense of relief that the three and half decades I endured of psychiatric slavery are finally over. I feel sorry for the people I know in USA who are obliged to endure the drudgery of endless appointments and programs, and have to live their lives with the threat of psychiatric imprisonment hanging over their heads.

I have taken this bus ride to Montevideo many times. The first few times, I couldn’t hold back my tears. So many times I wept while riding buses back in the USA. I hoped I could just cry quietly and no one would see my tears behind my glasses. These days, I weep for joy when I ride the bus. I watch the towns fly by, the mercaditos, the farmacias, the ferreterias, the almacens, minimercados, and the carcinerias. We often joke that it takes all day to do what in the USA would only be one trip. I don’t miss the giant supermarkets, giant malls, muzak, and pervasive TV in USA. For me, I’d gladly trade all that luxury, lined with beeps and buzzes, sirens and “security” cameras, for the freedom I have found here. Mostly, I rejoice that I am finally free from psychiatric “care,” the bogus system and all its false beliefs that almost killed me. I thought of all this, while the kilometers rolled on.

I imagine readers have a concept of what a ream of paper looks like. Imagine two women trying to collate them on a bus. We couldn’t quite deide who would colate and who would staple. We managed by trading off. I practiced my español while hading papers to Katherine. Katherine said to me, “Julie, do you really think you should hold  the papers in your lap that way? I think they are going to spill.”

I said, “Naw, don’t worry, that won’t happen.” That’s when the entire two entire reams of paper fell from my lap to the floor. Eight hundred sheets of antipsychatry literature were sprawled out on the bus floor in a most manic fashion. Such delight!

Just then, something amazing happened.  The bus fare collector came and helped me pick up the papers. He made sure they were re-stacked neatly and securely. I said, “‘¡Gracias!” Kindness like that is rare in USA, where two wonen with far too many bags and loose papers would get scorned by both  passengers and bus employees, maybe even looked at with suspicion as potential criminals, but here in Uruguay, kindness is the norm. Nor were we called crazy. We were being efficieint, since doing this at her house would have delayed us.

Finally, I sat down, with the papers back into stacks. We began collating again. I said to Katherine, “I think my writeup of this story is going to have a twist of humor in it.” We laughed, and continued to chatter on in ingles y español.

We managed to get perhaps 100 copies collated and stapled. Then, I noticed we were getting rather close to our destination, Tres Cruces, which is a mall-type shopping center. Katherine confirmed with the driver that he was pulling right into the station and then stopping to let passengers off. Usually, buses drive by and continue down 8 de Octubre, without entering the large bus area. We gathered our things, not wanting to cause delay or awkwardness exiting theh bus.

We took a cab to La Rambla, our national road that follows the shoreline. Many people were out walking with headphones, pushing baby carriages, and walking their dogs. Our original plan was to bring Puzzle, my dog, but I couldn’t bring her on the bus. I managed to convince Katherine that we might be better off handing the flyers to pedestrians and answering their questions rather than trying to pass them to drivers of moving vehicles. Cars were passing by rather quickly. Surely, La Rambla, the seaside road that traces the shoreline is quite different out in our town, where the beach is usually completely empty. This, in fact, is where I love to run in the mornings.

We found a bench to sit at and rest for  a bit. We realized that maybe it would be easier to sit there and wait for folks to walk by. So we perched the three signs I had in our bags, then waited. Whenever we saw someone, we handed them our information, saying, “Informacíon médica.” Some refused to take the pamphlets. Of course, people are affronted with such things all the time, most advertising and information about political candidates.

We learned that people who are doing fitness walking, or running, wouldn’t be good recipients, because they cannot carry the papers while doing athletics. People talking on cell phones were too involved in their conversations.  But casual strollers seemed interested in our literature. I began to learn just how to approach people, never forgetting to admire their dogs or babies.

We were delighted when Mariana, a friend of Katherine’s who lived not too far from where we were, joined us. The two of them seemed to have a lot to catch up on. I walked away a bit, to give them privacy. I knew Katherine was filling Mariana in on the status of her son, John Rohrer, who has been stuck in an Ohio state mental prison for six years now. Katherine has been working night and day trying to get him out and free. I myself will be filled with such overwhelming joy when that effort succeeds. I believe we will win this one. To me, seeing even one person get free is as if an entire nation if people were taken out of its chains. Let my people go.

Sometimes, people approached us to ask what electroshock meant. A man came and told us it was so awesome when a doctor put electricity into his heart to start it up again. Why were were protesting against it? I explained that this was “ectricidad en la cabeza, no en corazón. En cabeza, es mal, porque electricidad destruye un parte de corazón. I didn’t know if my español was correct or not. But I thought it was a good thing that he was happy to be alive. Now, I am, too.

A couple approached us later on. The man spoke a small amount of English, so I was able to tell him that I am a survivor of this barbaric practice. i told him that this stole a year and a half of my life. I also told him I had many hospital roommates who took their lives or died in some other manner as a direct result of psychiatric “care.”

True, I don’t speak of this at home, but my town is rather far from Montevideo, where three million people live. In  Montevideo I am anonymous enough to come out and speak of this. Here I do not. The town is too small, and gossip is always a risk.

We stopped to collate more papers. I was glad we had two staplers and extra staples. We joked that this was secretarial work. Women’s work. How many times had we been told, in our childhoods and beyond, that our place was at the right hand of a man, and of course, many steps below him.

We had both defied all that. Katherine became one of the most outspoken attorneys in the states where she practiced. Even now, she continues to infuriate the judges, but never hesitates to point out their crooked rulings and favoritism. As for me, I was supposed to be a dutiful wife and mother, who so lovingly tended her Kosher kitchen and never disobeyed. My dad would always remind me to “be civil,” didn’t he? I am happy and proud to have defied what was expected of me, and even prouder to civilly disobey as much as I can.

Freedom. What does it mean? For psych survivors, or at least for me, it means living well, living in a manner that says, “I never needed them and I am better off now without them.” This, actually, gives hope to others around the world that we can indeed survive and thrive postpsychiatry.

A man approached Katherine and began to sputter angrily. I couldn’t understand him since he spoke so quickly. Apparently he was a shrink who performed shock, only I didn’t even realize it. As soon as I told him I was a survivor of shock, I noticed he began to disregard me, as if I wasn’t there and didn’t matter. Why? Because to him, I was useless waste. However, he continued to yammer on to Katherine, telling her we were a danger to society just for exercising free speech.

Think of it this way: Had we been advocating not educating children, not teaching them to read nor write nor do arithmetic, and then, leave home and do criminal acts, would we be a danger to society? Or course not. We could speak all we wanted but not too many parents would take heed. But now, many were. Who is dangerous but those who are doctors of dubious science, but don’t know much and do illegal acts. A fellow survivor tells me he questioned a shrink, and discovered the poor man didn’t know what the scientific method was, nor could recite the very first line of the Hippocratic Oath. First do no harm.

After a couple of hours, we were exhausted. I was, especially. I needed water. Sometimes, when I get dehydrated after a long day, agua is all I can think of. This is because I took lithium for twelve years. I took it because I was told I couldn’t live without it. I was told it wouldn’t hurt me. It did.

My kidneys are half the size they should be as a result, and only partially work. But to me, kidney disease isn’t a death sentence. I look back on that kidney doctor I saw who offered me no hope. They were only waiting for me to die, or perhaps hoping for it, since my writing has infuriated them so much. Today, I ran 11 km by the ocean first thing in the morning, bringing Puzzle with me. I felt more joyful than I have in decades.

Joyful, yes, but also, centered. I hate to use that yoga word since therapists pushed the yoga on me in such an annoying fashion. Maybe think of centering in pottery. Think of the clay, held lovingly between the potter’s hands. I am that potter, and the creation I am holding is my life.

I never get depressed anymore. I know now that even the most debilitating depressions always come to an end. Shock will see to it that a person keeps coming back for  more, destroying more brain cells, memories, and with that, hope.

I am home now and Puzzle is asleep at my feet. I look back on our day with pride in my heart. If we touched one person, one family, and steered them away from ECT or any of the other psychiatric tortures, thereby saving a life, our mission was fulfilled.

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I posted photos to the Montevideo Protest Facebook page here:

I hope you enjoy them!

2 thoughts on “¡No más electroshock! International Day of Protest South of the Equator in Montevideo, Uruguay”

  1. As I was passing out information on the steps of a Catholic cathedral (with the permission of the priests, of course), only one person attempted to argue with me. She said she was on some mental health board. All of her arguments were very simple to dismiss, and in the end she walked away repeatedly saying, “Doctors shouldn’t lie.” And finally, “Some of them are even Christians.” However, there was one earlier comment that I didn’t even reply to because it cut so deep.

    She obviously didn’t know anything about me other than, I assume, I had been mislead by some zealous anti-psychiatry group who were using and waisting my passion and talents. When I replied to one of her comments with, “They’re damaging people.” She said, “They’re already damaged.”

    This caught me so off guard, particularly since we were standing on the steps of a Church. What do you say to such a comment? I’m sure she had no idea that she was directly insulting both me and my wife, since we’ve both had ECT, and all the harm done to us, our children, and our extended family.

    1. Thanks very much for your comment. The question you have raised is very important one. To me, it asks, “What is the meaning of ‘damaged’?” I will speak of it in a blog entry, since I think it’s so vital. Thanks!

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