Introduction to Educational Conference

I’m set to give a talk on employment at the NAMI-New York State educational conference on Saturday, November 12 from 5:40 to 6:40 p.m.

My talk will focus on my new peer-owned resume writing and career help service. It will also detail my own experience with requesting a reasonable accommodation on the job.

Here now I want to give a plug for my memoir Left of the Dial. The book chronicles how I recovered with the help of family support, a great psychiatrist, and also peer support in the later years.

What’s remarkable is that in all my life and early in my recovery I was able to see possibility where others saw pain. Even today I see potential where staff still tend to see disability.

In 1990 I blazed a trail for myself at a time when no road out had existed for a person like me. Years later I had the vision to use my writing to uplift and inspire others that an open road now exists for them too.

In the 1980s and early 1990s when I was young and in love with Manhattan I refused to be placed in any kind of box–not a sartorial one; not a psychiatric one.

Dressing in Avant Garde fashion and listening to alternative music was my way to jump out of the boxes others tried to place me in.

Quite simply I didn’t want the label schizophrenic attached to me either.

In time I understood that the diagnosis is best used as a tool to help someone get the right treatment for the symptoms they’re experiencing right now.

My memoir Left of the Dial is a treat because it follows along in the lives of real people living real lives outside of the hospital, outside of any kind of institution. The characters in my book have unique identities apart from their symptoms.

My goal was always to write about what happened after I recovered. If another woman could write about her chronic symptoms and endless hospitalizations, I thought, why can’t I write about a success story to give others hope?

I don’t know about you however in my 29 years in recovery I’ve read and witnessed numerous hell-and-heartache stories.

When I pick up a memoir I don’t want to read about yet another train wreck. I want to be inspired that it’s possible to overcome whatever challenge the character¬†faced.

Don’t we all want to be given hope that if a character in a book can conquer an obstacle that we can too?

Bingo. That’s what it’s all about.

We need to set the clock to today when it comes to thinking about recovery. As of today a significant number of people–more than ever–can and do recover and some of us can be in remission for the long-term too.

We cannot dwell in the psychiatric failings and abuses of the past.

I’ve talked in here endlessly about the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act. This year the U.S. Congress passed this bill into law. We’re awaiting the U.S. Senate to pass their version.

Now more than ever with landmark legislation like this–and with better treatment, support, and lifestyle options for peers–we cannot regress to continually parroting that no one can recover.

Yet we cannot forget or ignore or abandon our peers who have a chronic form of their illness.

Only now with the possible assistance of the U.S. government in passing laws to promote access to better treatment it’s possible that fewer people will be getting worse and worse without help.

Getting the right treatment right away equals the possibility of a better outcome.

Starting next week I will blog in here about the topics I’m going to talk about at the educational conference. Stay tuned.



Getting Real Help

I had a job as the Health Guide for HealthCentral’s schizophrenia website for nine years.

What I wrote for HealthCentral was in the vanguard of mental health reporting. What I wrote was always five years ahead of what other people and organizations were writing about recovery.

Years ago at HealthCentral I would write a series called Family Members Forum. In one of those news article I gave ideas as to how to help a loved one.

Point blank I wrote this: “Ask your loved one: “What do you need me to do right now to help you?”

In this way everyone in society needs to “get with the program” as the expression goes in how they interact with people living with and impacted by a mental illness.

I always wanted people to see me not my pain. Jodi Picoult is quoted: “People are more than the sum total of their disability.”

The producer Mark. R. Weber understands that maybe we can’t end homelessness and we can’t always give a homeless person money. Yet we can stop for a moment to talk to them to ask their name and show we care about them as a human being.

In this way too people need to start breaking bread with those of us who have some kind of mental health challenge. It’s a Catch-22 because a lot of us don’t go around telling people “Hi, I’m so-and-so and I was diagnosed with ______________.”

So a lot of times no one else knows what we’re going through unless we tell them.

What is the solution? Brene Brown wrote about this in her classic book Daring Greatly. We should tell only the people who have earned our trust.

I understand what it’s like to not trust mental health providers.

I had to quite seeing a doctor immediately because of his unprofessional behavior. This is revealed in a humorous scene in my memoir. I fled his office one night and didn’t ever return.

This lack of trust has extended to mental health service providers like state employment agencies for individuals with disabilities.

For at least five years now I’ve realized there was a need in the marketplace for my second book–a one-of-its-kind self-help book.

In September I will start to talk about this book and about a new business I hope to provide to peers linked to this pressing need that has historically gone unfilled.

I ask you: when has any other person asked you: “What would YOU like to do with your life and how can I help you do that?” Instead of telling us: “This is what you should do and there’s no other option only the one I deem appropriate.”

VESID in New York City would send people who were deaf to a printmaking program long after jobs in that field became obsolete. Peers were disillusioned with this state employment services agency for years.

There’s a better way. In this regard I want to start my own peer-owned business to fill this need that has gone unmet. Stay tuned in September for more news about this.


Non-Traditional Work

I have famously celebrated Rite Aid cashiers in this blog and elsewhere.

An old SZ magazine news article of years ago talked about what to do if you have negative symptoms or other limitations that make paid employment not viable.

The analogy was that if you like to play guitar you could join a band. If you like to write you can try to get published in literary journals. And so on. And so on.

I have often made the case that only valuing work that contributes to the economic stream in society effectively undervalues people whose humanitarian work–and often the work of recovery–DOES COUNT as a worthy endeavor.

One of my saddest things is that parents with adult kids who are diagnosed with schizophrenia often have to mourn the loss of the son or daughter who isn’t going to be the M.D. or J.D. they hoped.

My contention is: it’s not our parents’ choice that should determine what we do in life.

I’ve been told of a woman who bakes cakes. I’d be willing to take the risk to pay her $100 to bake me cakes to take to a holiday party. Her father is disappointed that all she does is bake cakes. The identities in this story have been changed yet you get the idea.

I don’t value paid employment because I’ve worked with rude or lazy co-workers so I can assure you a robot could do their job better. It’s unfair yet they remain employed. I don’t hold these people up as role models. Ordinary people diagnosed with schizophrenia who get up every day and struggle to get out of bed are my true heroes.

I value the gifts people were given at birth to use to better ourselves and others in the world. Using the gifts we were given and not squandering them is indeed the foolproof way to have a full and robust life–regardless of whether you’re paid to do the work you do.

This is where I’m going to end this series of career blog entries. It seems I’ve detailed this as specifically as I can right now.

Stay tuned for topics in April related to finding joy in living in recovery at mid life.

Family Support

I always told audience members at book talks that I recovered because of my mother. She drove me to the hospital within 24 hours and I was placed on medication and three weeks later when I got out I had no symptoms.

All along my mother brushed this off and didn’t think I should give her the credit. Was she insinuating that my own actions rightly took the starring role in why I was able to have a full and robust life?

I’m grateful either way. Yet I’d still rather deflect from perpetuating the myth that I’m some kind of superstar.

As I’ve written before, each of has gifts we were born with that can help us recover and do well. It’s my contention that we should move beyond using these gifts solely for self-gain and use them to promote wellness for others.

I say: let’s give a shout out to our families who often are doing the best they can faced with the truth that their kids have a mental illness.

My memoir Left of the Dial is the only one that details the link between family support and how a person can succeed. The book shows how an illness threatens to ravage the character’s mind and how her mother will do anything to stop the illness from taking over her daughter.

The expression by any means necessary popped into my head about the measures family members often have to take to get their loved ones help. Our families often do battle with the gatekeepers in the mental health system who refuse to admit us to the hospital, who refuse to give us medication as soon as we need it, or who surprisingly reinforce that there’s no hope for what loved ones can do.

Forget Taking Back Sunday like the name of the rock group. We need to talk about Taking Back Power over the trajectory of our recovery.

I say: give family members their due.

I’m confident when I write that only a mother who has given birth to her kids can possibly understand the distress that comes from seeing your son or daughter slip away before your eyes because treatment is denied or delayed.

As a daughter, I can only imagine that fear and desperation.

I will talk about family support in the future again.

Now: go tell your mother and father that you love them.