Formerly known as "Creepy-chusetts, Strange-chusetts".

Monday, July 29, 2013

Judi Chamberlin's Political Button Collection -- A Story of a Shrink Resistant Woman

No, anger is not "nice," but it's real, it comes from the gut, and not to be angry at being shit upon is being dead -- which is exactly what shrinks and their kind want us all to become...
But anger is exhausting, and being put down for our anger is destructive. What we need is to be able to turn to one another for strength, for support, and for understanding.
-- From Judi Chamberlain's correspondence, July 19, 1975
Judi Chamberlin at Conference on Human Rights and Psychiatric oppression
Toronto, 1982

You might ask, who's "Judy Chamberlain?" No, you got it wrong, she's Judi. Chamberlin, without an "a." Judi Chamberlain in Somerville removed her name from a phone book because she'd been mistaken over and over again as other Somerville woman named Judi Chamberlin, I mean our Judi.

So why did she collect such quirky pin badges? Shrink resistant, stop shock, what do they mean? Ok, let me tell about her life story.

Shrink Resistant

Judi was a psychiatric survivor. Based on her voluntary and involuntary hospitalization experience in 1966, she became a major proponent of opposing involuntary commitment to a psychiatric hospital. Until her death in 2010, she had been a key member of Boston based Mental Patients' Liberation Front, Ruby Rogers Drop-in Center, and the National Empowerment Center.

Influenced by the rise of the African American civil rights movement, gay liberation, and women's movement in the 60's, the psychiatric survivors movement started simultaneously and spontaneously in New York, Portland (OR), and Boston in 1971.

What survivors (ex-patients) wanted was the liberation from psychiatric oppression. Because they had been dehumanized, regarded as a "nonentity" and labeled as something devoid of rational mind, their subjective experience of "treatment" was uniformly dismissed by psychiatrists and non-survivors.* Forced drugging, shock treatments, psychosurgery, and seclusion were carried out in the name of treatment.

That's the reason why ex-patients called themselves as "inmates" or "survivors" not as "patients." "Hospitalization" was "incarceration." "Medication" was "drugging." Their experience was  synonymous with the one in prison or concentration camp. Thus they fought for human rights, not for patients rights, to be recognized, to live as a human being.

* Robert Whitaker, Mad in America: Bad Science, Bad Medicine, and the Enduring Mistreatment of the Mentally Ill (Cambridge: Perseus Publishing, 2002), 175.

Unmedicated Schizophrenic!

What propelled Judi and many other psychiatric survivors was anger. They were attuned to the very human emotion that many "sane" people --especially, mental health workers-- suppressed because it's not "nice." If you read a following testimony made by Ted Chabasinski,* would you still think anger is not nice? In 1944, he was sent to Bellevue Hospital at the age of six with a diagnosis of childhood schizophrenia and endured an intensive electroconvulsive therapy. Eventually, he spent next ten years in Rockland State Hospital:
I wanted to die but I didn't really know what death was. I knew it was something terrible. Maybe I'll be so tired after the next shock treatment I won't get up, and I'll be dead. But I always got up. Something in me beyond my wishes made me put myself together again. I memorized my name, I taught myself to say my name. Teddy, Teddy, I'm Teddy... I'm here, I'm here, in this room, in the hospital. And my mommy's gone... I would cry and realize how dizzy I was. The world was spinning around and coming back to hurt too much. I want to go down, I want to go where the shock treatment is sending me, I want to stop fighting and die... and something made me live, and to go on living I had to remember never to let anyone near me again.

I spent my seventh birthday this way, and my eighth and ninth birthdays locked in a seclusion room at Rockland State Hospital...
--The Other Half by Ted Chabasinski, from Madness Network News (June, 1974)
I'll ask you again, dear readers, this time to the point: Do you think survivors were "pathologically" angry? Do you think Ted's experience was a "mere" hallucination? Now, you listen to the gut, and make your own decision. Do you still think their anger is a rootless delusion? Do you still think having anger is a symptom of mental illness? -- I confess, I may be asking these questions to myself.

What did make Ted keep from "going down?" How did the process of "never to let anyone near me again"affect his life after the incarceration?

Ted wasn't destroyed. He was released at the age of seventeen and met Judi and other survivors. He eventually moved to California and became a key member of a Berkeley based survivor group, the Network Against Psychiatric Assault. In order to ban the electroshock therapy on the legal basis, he became an attorney. So kids like Ted won't be kept in seclusion, living with an annihilating terror of the electroshock.

*He is also Judi's ex-husband and lifelong friend.

I Am A Shameless Agitator

Now, I think I explained enough about the psychiatric survivors movement. Let's go back to Judi's story.

Brooklyn native, Judi Chamberlin was born in 1944 as Judith K. Ross. As anyone grew up in the 50's, she married young; everything seemed to went well, got out of high school, got married, got pregnant. Happy family days were well ahead of her.

When she's sixteen!!

When she experienced a miscarriage at the age of 21, she became severely depressed. She cried for days, staying bed, thinking about her loss. Negative thoughts gripped her, didn't let her go. Nothing helped easing her sadness.

 I used to be sane, but I got better...

Worried and concerned, her obstetrician refereed her to a psychiatrist. Judi trusted her obstetrician, so she didn't doubt psychiatry would provide a solution to her sadness. She visited a psychiatrist and cried, talked about her miserable feeling, a thought about killing herself. After 10 minutes or so passed, he opened a drawer and gave her a bunch of pills.

"Take these. These will make you feel better."

Her life as a psychiatric survivor started here in 1966. Those pills were anti-psychotic drugs, Thorazine and Stelazine. Judi later learned if she had taken these drugs for a high dose or for a long term, she would develop tardive dyskinesia, an often irreversible neurological disorder marked by involuntary body movements that people often associate with the stereotypical image of people with schizophrenia.

She didn't notice any changes in her mood, just those drugs made her feel lethargic.

After a few months passed, the psychiatrist suggested that she be hospitalized. She naively thought hospitalization would provide all the care and treatment. She imagined a hospital was the solution... she wanted to get better. Next seven months, she went back and forth between half a dozen hospitals.

The first hospital was Mt. Sinai Hospital. More drugs; they took Thorazine off and added Mellaril and Elavil. And therapy by a resident, thirty minutes, twice a week. Her life was spiraling down rapidly, uncontrollably. After Mt Sinai, she was sent to Bellevue, Gracie Square, Hillside Hospital, Montefiore, and finally Rockland State Hospital where she would later recall the involuntary experience as a "nightmare."*

In those hospitals, she experienced drug withdrawal with no explanation by staff, seclusion that made her feel like a "caged animal,"** and undiluted liquid Thorazine that burnt her mouth and throat.

* Interview with Darby Penney, 2002
** Judi Chamberlin, On Our Own (New York: Hawthorn Books, 1978), 37.

Psychiatry is Social Control
--Anyone who knows me personally knows this is my favorite.
Can't beat the word "social control."

After she was released from Rockland, she did her best to stay away from the psychiatric system. Until she saw a confident, competent, and experienced psychologist, Dr. Jonas, her spirit was rock bottom. Labeled as as a chronic schizophrenic with suicidal and homicidal tendencies, she told Dr. Jonas that he wouldn't be able to do anything with her because a staff at a psychiatric hospital told her what she needed was custodial care, not a talking therapy.

After seeing her record, Dr. Jonas told her:

"Everything here... was written by young doctors just out of medical school. They like to use these big words but don't know what they mean. Who would you rather believe-- them, or me, a doctor who's been  in practice for years?"*

I'm glad she believed the guy. Beginning from joining New York based Mental Patient Liberation Project in 1971, she rebuilt her confidence through her active involvement with survivor groups. After living in Vancouver, BC and Bellingham, WA, she settled in Boston in the end of 1975 where she became a key member of the Mental Patient Liberation Front.

She published a book On Our Own: Patient Controlled Alternatives to the Mental Health System in 1978 where she explains her experience in hospitals and how ex-patients can build autonomous self-help groups without oversight of mental health professionals.

*Judi Chamberlin, 55.

No limits on Recovery

Through her long and successful advocacy work, she and her colleagues questioned medical based explanation of mental illness, arguing that the etiology of human distress is far more mufti-faceted than the medical model would like to present. Like Szasz, Breggin, Laing, Foucault, etc., she questioned the very concept of "mental illness," challenging that it could come from a socially constructed label cruncher, intentionally and unintentionally, tactfully and crudely delineating what is normal and abnormal; she thought her experience in 1966 came from various social pressures that she was unaware of.*

Certainly she was radical and was proud of being radical.

On the other hand, she also believed every person had a right to be treated or not to be treated by psychiatry. You have a power to make your own decision about yourself, not by someone else. What she advocated for was the importance of self-determination; if you're confident with your decision, that's what she wanted.

* From 1993 conference speech

Wear them for your next visit to a therapist. 
He/she will be elated by the degree of your self-determination or bring up an abrupt termination.

So why do I have an access to those pin badges? Glad you asked.

Essentially, this is my summer project. I'm working my ass off with processing this enormous, invaluable, and powerful materials for the Umass archives. It's a historian's wet dream, I'd say.

...or go nuts, wear'em all!! 

Interested in my other blog entries in Psychiatric Survivors Movement? Read: Belchertown State School Cemetery, Gaebler Children's Center, and Massachusetts Mental Health Center.


  1. I just found this today, and was very moved to read about Judi once again. Yes, we were married and then became lifelong friends. It was wonderful to have been side by side with her in the early days of our movement. I still sometimes think of things I want to talk with her about, to get her opinion on, and it still hurts when I realize that isn't possible any more. Anyway, thank you for writing this (and I loved the picture of her when she was still young).

    1. Hi Ted!!

      Thank you for your comment. Yes the project, reading through Judi's manuscripts is a life changing experience for me. I was moved, enraged, and encouraged so many times by Judi, you, and other survivors through her memory and experience. I hope my work contributes to the movement.

      If you have an occasion to visit Amherst, please let me know.


  2. Those and more buttons are wstill available from the Mental Patients Liberation Alliance in New York State. 1-800-654-7227. or www. The Alliance. org

    1. Hi Anon,

      Thanks for the info. I'd like to get those buttons! If your members visit the Western Massachusetts area, please visit the UMass special collections where Judi's work is me!