The Loony Bin Trip: A Conversation With Norah Vincent 

A journalistic Houdini, Norah Vincent follows up her best-selling book Self Made Man with Voluntary Madness, an account of her days inside a mental institution.

BY Charlotte Abbott

January 03 2009 12:00 AM ET

 VOLUNTARY MADNESS NORAH VINCENT PORTRAIT X100 | ADVOCATE.COM

When you were sprung, what did you most appreciate
about life on the outside?
I really appreciated the fresh air and having
healthy food when I wanted it and deciding when I
would come and go. Even just to be able to turn on a
light if I wanted to read. I had never had those freedoms
taken away before.

What effect do ads and the media have on how we see
mental illness and its treatment?
The ads are in the interest of the
pharmaceutical companies, and they are in the business
of making money. They don’t want us to get better and
stop taking meds. That’s their business. You see the
same thing with obesity. It’s this idea that
it’s not your fault that you’re obese -- you
have a disease, so you can take a cholesterol pill or have
surgery. It may be a very American way of living, this
idea that you can eat what you want, take a pill. and
you’ll be fine. But we’ve already learned that
many of these meds have a lot of effects that are not being
disclosed, some of which can be fatal.

In your early 20s you saw a psychiatrist who
immediately prescribed drugs, taking you on a
decade-long roller coaster. Knowing what you do
now, what advice would you give your 20 year-old self?
Go to someone who you can talk to. Don’t
go on meds. Figure out what’s bothering you
before you paste over it with a veneer of chemical
happiness. But don’t pathologize yourself either. As
a woman said at the last bin I went to,
“There’s nothing wrong with you. You have the
feelings of someone who’s been through what
you’ve been through.” I would also
definitely tell myself to exercise in a big bad way.
It’s as important as going to an AA meeting.

For more
information on Norah Vincent, visit her official website.

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