Inspiration for Living in Recovery

I have a friend/companion. We sit at an outdoor patio. We go to Starbucks. We attend poetry readings.

Wherever we go the talk often turns to recovery. Not a lot of people would be so open in places where others can hear you. It’s refreshing–and-life affirming–to have a companion in an almost soul-mate kind of way.

I firmly believe a soul mate doesn’t have to be only a wife or husband–a soul mate can be a member of your tribe. We talk about the Sonic Youth albums in our collections. Everywhere I go I’ve met someone entranced with the music.

I value that illness holds only a minor place–because I choose to focus on the life that is possible after a break. I’ve lived through the worst– I recovered.

A woman on the Internet who uses a fake name didn’t understand why I identified as a person diagnosed with schizophrenia. I identify as a person who had a breakdown–what’s commonly diagnosed as schizophrenia.

Yet the point isn’t that once you’ve recovered you should go your merry way. By all means: only if you want to go your merry way do so without guilt.

I decided to become a mental health activist because of the cost of untreated mental illness in America–upwards of $192 billion. I’m an activist because of the untold cost in wasted lives–in the loss of human capital.

Everyone deserves to have a full and robust life–not just a lucky few who get the right treatment right away. I advocate that you can have a full and robust life because no one who has crossed over should despair that they can’t come back.

I advocate–and I always will–for recovery for everyone.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is quoted:

“Everyone must decide whether to walk in the dark of destructive selfishness or live in the light of creative altruism. Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: what are you doing for others?”

My goal in this lifetime is to be an inspiration.

Your hell doesn’t have to go on forever.

Mental Health Month Preview

I’m going to publish a last blog entry right now about Mental Health Month.

The mental health feature article in Women’s Health should win an award for best-of-its-kind journalism. The Oprah magazine’s reference to schizophrenia was about 650 words in that magazine’s series on mental health and it did not do justice to the topic because it conveniently glossed over the reality that most people diagnosed with schizophrenia have to take maintenance medication.

I have a friend/companion now. Even he thinks most people with schizophrenia should take medication. Yet nowhere in current reportage on mental health has any magazine gone into detail about the true reality of the human cost of mental illness in terms of lost productivity (valued at circa $192 billion–you read that right) and human suffering.

The front cover of Women’s Health lists that on p. 174 the magazine is going to stomp on stigma. The feature article uses at least 25 photos of real women who live everyday with mental illness. No grainy images in shadow–no fake names to protect anyone’s identity–no skirting the issue of the effect of these illnesses on the women who experience them every day.

Like I said I do not disclose in the ordinary course of my life. I have had jobs where rude coworkers who are hostile to customers and staff members alike are championed as model employees. As long as management turns a blind eye to this shoddy and shabby customer service–yet it can’t be called customer service–this service with a sneer continues to go on.

I said it before in here and I’ll say it again: people diagnosed with mental illnesses have to be twice as good. Not only in the workplace. We have to be twice as good in society to be taken seriously–and we have to work twice as hard to get often half as far as others who are the reigning kings and queens of popularity among so-called normals.

The time is now when I’m considering disclosing in the ultimate brave and courageous way.

Chirlane McCray–the wife of New York City Mayor Bill DiBlasio–is at the forefront of championing better mental health for everyone living here in the five boroughs. McCray has started up the Gracie Book Club–named after Gracie Mansion where the mayor and his family live. I want to contact her to give her my book to read and see if she can have me talk about my success story.

I’m going to lead the way to speak out about how getting effective individualized treatment as soon as you first have a break can result in a better outcome.

I’ll end here by saying something that a person diagnosed with schizophrenia shouldn’t say: anyone who stigmatizes me or messes with me is a fool because I can dead lift 180 pounds at the gym. Thus I could most likely take out a creeper if I had to.

That’s the word to describe idiots: creepers.

Yet the truth is people diagnosed with mental illnesses HAVE TO act as model citizens. We don’t get a get out of jail free card like you get in a Monopoly game. We don’t get out of anything in life with a free meal ticket or a pat on the back or an “Atta boy!” or “Atta girl!”

We toil every day in what for a lot of us can be a private hell. I have for close to 15 years talked about the benefit of family support and practical career counseling and medication when it’s required and peer support.

I talk about dead lifting because it’s imperative that those of us living with mental illness every day develop fit minds and strong bodies first of all to be able to have a better version of recovery.

On Monday I’ll talk about how lifting weights was the number-one thing that turned my life around for the better when I was 46. I’m the family member of a loved one with a mental illness as well as a peer with a mental illness.

Each of us needs to commit to a fitness routine.

The prime root of why I don’t disclose in my ordinary interactions is that I don’t want the focus of my life to be on illness.

I choose to focus on how each of us can achieve our own version of well. My own version of well is to live my life Left of the Dial.

What’s yours?


Women’s Health Mental Health Issue

Women’s Health magazine’s May issue is out and p. 174 starts a detailed analysis of women and mental illness. May is Mental Health Awareness Month.

I do not disclose: you heard that right. I only disclose via the blog and the memoir and the public speaking I do.

The photos of the women in the magazine were of ordinary women with mental illnesses. One woman was admitted to a hospital and the nurse said: “You don’t look like someone with a mental illness.” The woman thought: “What am I supposed to look like?”

Go out and buy the May Women’s Health and read the mental health article. I subscribe to this magazine and have done so for the last five years. Most of the gym exercises they talked about I was doing long before they were talked about in the magazine.

I’m going to return to talking about recovery at mid life–promise. At that point I’ll talk about the number-one thing I started to do that turned my life around for the better forever. In keeping with this the next blog entry is going to talk about a fitness business I recommend 125 percent if you live in Brooklyn, NY. I wrote about this fitness center before and I had the pleasure to stop in to visit it to see for myself the benefit of joining.

In the fall I’m going to step up doing public speaking around my memoir Left of the Dial and for the second book I’m writing about recovery.

Kudos to Women’s Health–the best magazine of its kind–for braving to have a reporter write about women and mental health.

Booting Self-Stigma to Mars

I want to write about self-stigma. First: on confidentiality: I strictly adhere to it in a support group. I go further: I won’t talk at all–even anonymously–about a person in a support group.

Years ago I regret I titled a blog entry circa 2009 “No Comment” in response to a woman who wrote in. I didn’t like that she talked about a member of her support group. More than this I did not like that she took pity on everyone because they were “just a”–as in “just a cashier at McDonald’s.” (details changed.)

Her self-stigma rubbed me the wrong way. In my response I wrote that the illness “cherry bombs” us and we do the best we can when our lives explode in pain.

Ever since then I’ve tried to write in the blog about treating everyone the same open, equal way.

Any honest job labored at with love can give a person dignity. I met a guy who was a janitor. He didn’t have a mental illness. He was proud of his job and called himself a “custodial engineer.” No kidding.

I was a cashier in McCrory’s for six months when I was 19. It was the last of the “five-and-dimes”–like Woolworth’s. I’m so old I have shopped in a Woolworth’s.

So: I was in college; I dressed trendy. The store manager told me I was a throwback to the sixties. I rang up orders. There was a lunch counter, and a shoe repair guy in the back. The female co-workers bonded over the job as we unpacked knick-knacks and placed them on the metal shelves to sell. We punched in and out of work on a clock.

Self-stigma is a more fervent disabler than the diagnosis. I’m also so old I’ve been there, done that with stigma.

Yes: I might go overboard in making this claim that you don’t have to be a J.D.–you can be a humble librarian or you can collect SSDI and work in Rite Aid.

I revisit the idea of self-stigma in here because it’s fall 2015: time to stop drowning in a downpour of shame, regret, and jealousy.

It’s time to praise not stigmatize each other as peers living with challenges. I see no shame in mopping floors. I see no shame in having a no-fault medical condition.

Changing Minds, Changing Lives

I realize a therapist or psychiatrist has a limited amount of time in an intake to delve into what’s going on in a person’s life.

Yet I make the case for asking thoughtful questions as a follow-up to what the patient has told you instead of making an automatic assumption about what they’re capable of.

This blog entry is my Open Letter to Providers: stop stigmatizing and stereotyping the very individuals you’re in business to treat and to help recover.

If you think a person diagnosed with schizophrenia or another mental illness can’t recover: why exactly did you go into this field if you don’t think that what you do can help others recover?

Do you take great pride in “spinning your wheels” as the saying goes without moving anywhere in what you can do for patients?

I was told I was too low-functioning for therapy. Years later I was told I was too high-functioning for therapy. I was told I couldn’t possibly have schizophrenia. I was told that going into therapy would set me back and jeopardize my recovery.

Four different therapists: four wildly divergent assessments.

If you are a provider, I urge you to change your mind about what people diagnosed with schizophrenia or another mental illness can do. You’re responsible for your actions. If you don’t think we can recover, what do you think we can do with our lives?

Do you really take pride in spinning your wheels when you think no one can recover?

Do you really think stringing us along in endless “treatment” that could lead to dependency and despair instead is the right thing to do?

This reflects on your own self-worth as much as it reflects on your patients.

Take a tip from a doctor who told me: “The only acceptable treatment outcome is total symptom relief.”

Bella De Paulo, PhD in her book Singled Out detailed a research study that bordered on being unethical in my opinion. A teacher was told certain students were intelligent and other students weren’t smart. Don’t you know the results of the study showed that the teacher treated the supposedly intelligent students in a positive way and they got better grades? The teacher reacted differently to the allegedly stupid kids and those kids got poor grades.

Providers have an extra requirement to do no harm to their patients.

Not everyone is like me and is going to champion herself and her goal of getting a full-time job and living independently. Twenty-five years after I dared do that I will always wonder why I was able to believe in myself and think I could do what I set out to do. The reason I was able to speak out might always elude me.

This is why I will not ever place the goal of getting to recovery solely on the actions of the individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia or another mental illness. Not everyone sees a mountain like I did and wants to move it. Most people need encouragement and positive feedback along the way in their recovery.

I’ll end here by saying that if you’re a provider, you owe it to yourself to elevate the status of your patients: in your eyes, in their eyes.

Change your mind and you just might change another person’s life for the better.

Accommodations On The Job: Yes Or No?

A woman on Twitter tweeted that she regrets that people diagnosed with mental illnesses are told not to disclose to their employer and not to seek reasonable accommodations.

I, for one, see things differently. I obtained the job I liked and would be good at precisely so that the illness would not be an issue on the job.

A therapist boldly told me once: “Everyone knows anyway. Who are you kidding?” A dessert plate with a fortune cookie design that I own has this fortune: You Think It’s A Secret But It’s Not.

Thus it’s possible people will know you have something going on even if you don’t tell them.

I get it. I understand that individuals who have a harder time of it with their mental illness would like to have the equal opportunity to succeed in the workplace alongside others who do not have a diagnosis.

This is where you have the right to request a reasonable accommodation. Yet I still think that if you don’t need an accommodation it’s risky to disclose indiscriminately.

Yet another truth exists that makes asking for accommodations possible:

Normal people get to break the rules by extending their lunch hour to shop for cute shoes in a nearby store. The Brazen Careerist suggests talking longer breaks as a valid get-ahead strategy.

And other people enter therapy for non-mental illness reasons: like the ending of a marriage or a loved one’s illness. They have to leave work early or come in late for various kinds of doctor’s appointments. And people call in sick because the have to stay home to care for a sick kid who is home from school. Or they call in to say they have an emergency at home.

Really then: what’s the big deal about the reason for the accommodation requested when all things being equal everyone needs some kind of accommodation at some point?