Left of the Dial

My goal in writing Left of the Dial was to chronicle everything that happened after I recovered.

I wanted to dramatize the events that led me to where I am today.

Stories of young people who received the right treatment right away document that a few of them no longer needed medication.

I wasn’t so lucky.

I’m here to tell you that there’s no shame in taking medication to be well.

There’s also no shame if you don’t become a librarian like I did or do the things that other people do.

My goal in telling my story was to offer hope for healing and having your own version of a full and robust life.

In 1988 when I was first diagnosed it was unheard of for a person with schizophrenia to live in her own home and have a full-time job.

Today as of August 2018 you’d better bet it’s possible for more people living with mental health issues to have their own home and work at some kind of job.

This is predicated on getting the right treatment as soon as you need that treatment.

Over the years there’s been near-endless rhetoric about the broken mental health system. About the fate of peers whose illnesses are chronic and persistent and severe. About how their disability progressed to a permanent state because they were denied treatment. Over the years copious amounts of press have been devoted to this.

With no disrespect to anyone I simply wanted to document my story to dramatize what happens when psychiatry gets it right.

Before the Elyn Saks book and before my book there were few positive portrayals. The other first-person accounts hewed to the “misery memoir” genre. This emboldened me to want to publish Left of the Dial.

I say: the goal isn’t to become a famous Ivy League attorney or to become a famous author. The goal is to take inspiration from our stories to craft your own recovery.

Elyn Saks has ongoing symptoms by the way. Proof that you don’t have to be in remission to have a good life.

The truth is that a minority of peers won’t recover as well as I have or Elyn Saks has. This makes it more imperative to advocate for those less fortunate.

The way I see it those of us who are doing well owe a debt to society to do what we can to help others recover.

By telling my story I wanted to show what happens when psychiatry gets it right.

In the coming blog entry I’ll talk in more detail about the myth of being a superstar.

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Incarceration Nation

Not a week goes by where I don’t think “It could’ve been me.”

This is because: it could’ve been me who wound up in jail after breaking into a Pizza Hut while symptomatic.

The fact is I received the right treatment right away. It’s remarkable that my mother drove me to the hospital within 24 hours. What’s more miraculous was that I was given medication right after that and within 3 weeks when I was released the symptoms had stopped.

Should the guy who self-amputated his tongue while involved in the prison system be told by the Mad in America flunkies that he shouldn’t take medication?

He was lucid enough to call for help and report that he was symptomatic. Instead of being sent to a hospital he was sent to jail. Not given treatment there he could no longer hold onto his grasp of logical thinking.

After 3 weeks in prison he crossed over and believed what his ill mind told him to do.

We’ve crossed a line in society too. I fear that justice won’t ever be restored for MH peers. I’m starting to think no one else wants MH peers to get better. Less slices of the American pie that need to be shared right?

ForĀ  awhile after my memoir Left of the Dial was published I struggled with the disclosure via the graphic relapse scene of what happened to me.

Now I see that rendering this event so vividly dramatizes what happens when a line is crossed.

As someone who lived to tell her story I want to ask you to join the Where’s NAMI Facebook group. There you can be given the details about this horrific miscarriage of mental health treatment. You can join the movement to help the family afflicted by this loved one’s descent into chronic symptoms.

I consider jailing a person instead of giving them MH treatment to be a form of malpractice. Everyone involved should be legally held accountable.

A CIT–Crisis Intervention Team–should be a routine response to the scene where a symptomatic individual has committed a crime.

Every jurisdiction in America should also have a Mental Health Court like Brooklyn, NY does where I live. Here symptomatic defendants are tried in a separate courtroom in a more human way.

What if? I ask you. What if more people got the right treatment within 24 hours like I did?

What if we were treated like human beings equal to others in society?

Instead of being seen as competition for the jobs, services, and rights that every other American takes for granted.

What if?

For an expose of this decades-long trend I recommend you read Insane: America’s Criminal Treatment of Mental Illness a just-published book.

Criminalizing individuals with mental illness has been only par for the course.

In America–Incarceration Nation–it’s easier and more expedient to lock up in jail any kind of “throwaway” person to get them out of the way.

This has to stop. Pronto.

Mental Healthcare Change

To start a more productive conversation about mental healthcare change we must talk about the root of societal ills: the economic growth model exposed in my Left of the Dial blog recently.

America–a capitalist society–has as its economic foundation the growth model.

Only the economic growth model is ravaging the earth, causing resource depletion, and human rights violations too.

This economic model has also created a prison employment sector that exploits “the justice-involved”: incarcerated individuals, their families, and communities.

It’s the “school-to-prison” complex that disproportionately has a greater effect on low-income communities and people traditionally called minorities. (I detest using the word minority to describe a person.)

I’m thinking now about how to create positive lasting changes. As I’ve not ever thought our government will ever be invested in catering to ordinary citizens instead of Citizens United corporations.

How then can we get positive mental healthcare change enacted? What can we do? Talking about injustices hasn’t corrected this imbalance of power.

Today peers are still criminalized, winding up in jail not treatment for crimes committed while symptomatic. While in jail there’s no medication given. That’s how a guy with SZ was able to self-amputate his tongue while locked up.

It’s no joke.

All of this is ultimately linked to the economic growth model. The prison industry actors make tons of money when people are jailed–and these corporations have the big bucks to lobby the government to do their bidding.

“Anything to make a buck” is the prevailing ethic of capitalist America.

Psych hospitals have been closing down for decades now. In New York City where 8 million people live there are only 112 psych beds available for those of us in crisis.

Insurance companies offer limited psych coverage–so psych hospitals won’t get rich treating patients. Even hospitals operate on an economic growth model!

What’s not right is that in America profits come before people. As long as profits come before serving humanity, no societal ills will ever be vanquished.

Those of us who have the big bucks and want to serve humanity should consider running for elected office. Those of us with the big bucks should consider opening up and operating a psych hospital.

Until this imbalance of power is reversed (I fear it won’t ever be) we have to continue to exert pressure on our elected officials.

Join your local Community Board, get active in mental health and other initiatives in your community.

Finding the Right Job for You

Loyal followers:

I bombed out big time at the first jobs I had early in my recovery.

I was terminated from 4 out of the 5 jobs I held in the 1990s. Yes I was laid off from every job except one of them. No job I held lasted more than 19 months.

Finding the right job for you can take time too.

It wasn’t until I obtained a library degree and started working in a library that things got better for me in terms of my life as well as my vocation.

This happened when I was 35 years old not a year sooner.

You shouldn’t give up. As a young person, your life is not over when you’re 20 and diagnosed with SZ or BP or DP or whatever mental health issue you have. You recovery has just begun.

Dare to dream. Create a support network of peers and family and providers that can help you get to where you want to be.

Your life hasn’t ended. You can have a long life.

A good friend of mine was diagnosed with SZ when he was 13 years old. He’s 73 years old now. No kidding. He has SZ and is still here at 73. Proof that not everyone diagnosed with SZ dies 25 years earlier.

This guy does what he loves which keeps him young.

I’ve written a career guide for mental health peers. It talks about figuring out the kind of job you might be good at and like to do long-term.

Other books exist. One is titled Going to College with Autism.

We mental health peers need to rise up and clamor: “Where’s our book? Why does the autism crowd get a book and we don’t? What’s the delay?”

For going on over 11 years now I’ve created resumes for people. Numerous people I’ve helped have gotten job interviews that led to job offers.

Try not to despair when you think there’s nothing you can possibly do compared to other people who don’t have a mental health issue.

My work as a librarian and peer counselor and career services person has shown me that going to school and work when you have a diagnosis is possible for a significant number of people.

Just remember: it can take time to find the right job that you love waking up to go to in the morning.

I had to go back to school to get the degree that would enable me to have this kind of job. So far I’ve been a librarian for over 17 years.

I’ve been an Advocate for over 15 years so far too.

In the coming blog entry I’m going to talk about disclosure on the job once again.

It’s true that when you find the job where you belong disclosure becomes irrelevant.

 

Vault Newsletter on Workplace Mental Health Disclosure

The Vault website is a reputable career forum.

You can sign up for their e-mail newsletter.

This week’s newsletter featured a what-to-do when a coworker reveals to you that they have a mental illness.

Anyone reading this blog who doesn’t have a mental health diagnosis can read this workplace mental health disclosure newsletter here.

I give vault credit for tackling this topic today and listing positive responses you can take when a coworker discloses.

What Goes On At Work

My goal is that more and more peers are able to obtain jobs where we can then hire other peers to come on board at our companies.

You have to be aware of something that happens in the workplace even to the best workers among us.

This scenario makes disclosure on the job tricky for me to recommend in most work environments.

Employers will hire people with disabilities for temporary or transitional employment. This covers their ass and makes them look good.

As to whether those employers will hire mental health peers for full-time positions with paid health insurance and other benefits that remains to be seen.

I had attended a small business hiring practices event. It was suggested that for mental health peers seeking employment “the door slams in their faces.”

Sometimes it’s still an Old Boys’ (or Girls’) Network. Which is why I make the case for those of us who are peers to hire other peers. Getting in the door is what’s important.

As someone who is set to publish a career guide titled You Are Not Your Diagnosis I’m interested in hearing from peers ourselves what you perceive as the reason why the door is slammed.

I would like to add new information to my career guide that can be like the key that helps peers open the doors.

I’m simply interested in hearing from peers what their experiences have been in this regard.

My experience has been that employers love to interview people with disabilities for promotions. This shows they made a good-faith effort at being receptive.

In reality the position might go to another person.

In one interview for a supervisor job I was asked this very question (I kid you not): What single event in your life has made you who you are today?”

OK–I flubbed everything I said in the interview and didn’t get the position. It wasn’t a great interview so I understand not being chosen.

Years later I interviewed for another promotion. I was totally on and totally confident and thought I was the most qualified. Most of all because I had years of supervisor experience and that’s what the job called for.

They gave the job to someone else because they already knew they were going to choose this person. They went through the charade of interviewing other people they weren’t going to offer the job.

Folks: this happens all the time. It’s a dirty little secret.

Knowing this I think you can see that you have to be judicious in deciding whether or not to disclose your diagnosis on the job.

In the next blog entry I’m going to talk about something central to mental health peers’ success on the job: having autonomy versus having a job with narrowly defined duties and a rigid power hierarchy.

Playing the Fool to Get Ahead

I’ve fooled people into thinking I’m an ordinary person.

I’ve been a librarian for over 17 years so far. I was the victim of an accidental disclosure of my illness in 2005.

As that news was out of the bag I told certain co-workers that I published my memoir Left of the Dial. Three of them showed up to the launch party for my book.

When people find out I have a diagnosis of SZ they’re shocked. One co-worker had no idea until he found out.

I still maintain that disclosure on most jobs is too risky (even in the face of how I survived and thrived on my job after people found out).

In the next blog entry I’m going to devote time to a dirty little secret in the workplace.

You need to know this information to be able to make the right choice in your situation about whether to disclose or not.

I have the luxury of having the diagnosis out in the open. Nobody cares and nobody thinks any differently of me.

If you asked me what I came into this world to do in this lifetime it would be to a make difference.

No one with a mental health condition who wants to go to school or work at a job should remain sidelined from doing these things.

It’s 2018. The future is here today. It’s possible for peers to succeed in finding a career we love and would be good at.