Everyone Hurts

We shouldn’t forget that ordinary nameless individuals–people walking on the street or waiting in line at the supermarket– are facing pain and living in agony just like Kate Spade was.

Unlike NAMI New York State I’m not going to criticize people who are shocked and in mourning because a famous person committed suicide.

Strip away Kate Spade’s status, take her name off pocketbooks, and she’s a person who despaired of finding relief just like a lot of us despair.

The truth is that external success doesn’t always inoculate a person from hardship or from being in pain or thinking they’re suffering alone in what they go through.

Too many people obtain external markers of success–the house, the car, whatever–and yet still feel empty inside.

I wrote about this in one of the blogs when I quoted Joanna Gaines of Fixer Upper TV show fame: if you’re not happy now wherever you are in life today how can you be confident you’ll be happy in the future as long as a certain condition is met?

Happiness shouldn’t be linked to “having all your ducks in a row” or be predicated on achieving some kind of goal.

Waiting for the perfect condition in life to happen before you’ll be happy–or before thinking you’ve been a success–is a mistake.

The takeaway from Kate Spade’s death is that even great success isn’t enough to give a person joy.

For mental health peers it should come as a relief the idea that we can be happy even if our lives are ordinary and unremarkable.

We don’t have to win a Nobel Prize or otherwise become a “household name” like Kate Spade to be happy and feel worthy.

What I want to tell readers:

You are a success regardless of the number on the scale, the figure in your bank account, your status in society or anything else traditionally used to measure a person.

You are a success because you are your Self.


The Shortest Guide to Mindfulness You’ll Ever Need

Years ago my shrink told me I should practice mindfulness.

No kidding–it’s not a trite concept and it’s not pop-psychology babble.

It works–mindfulness is a valid healing practice. How do I know this?

Having had a severe cold for one week was no joy. As I started to be on the mend I was able to do things. This inspired me to have a weekly mindfulness practice and to make mindfulness a daily habit too.

You don’t have to read a 300-page book on this topic.

Just read this one sentence: Mindfulness at its heart is simply paying attention to what you’re doing and not doing things on autopilot.

That’s all it is.

Thinking about mindfulness can conjure up meditation or another behavior that seems hard to implement successfully.

The truth is–there is no right or wrong way to do or to practice anything–just the way that works for you.

In terms of mindfulness, it can help to focus on the 5 W’s: the who, what, where, when, and why of what’s happening in your life at this particular moment.

Thich Nhat Hanh a famous monk author uses the classic example of washing dishes with awareness of what you’re doing.

Feel the plate and sponge in your hand. See and listen to the water.

Really experience what you’re doing instead of doing it mindlessly.

To this end I’ve started a mindfulness practice.

I was motivated to do this by the simple act of washing my makeup brushes when I had gotten over the severe cold.

Simply washing makeup brushes with care and attention can spark joy.

The truth is, if what you’re doing doesn’t spark joy and you don’t have to do it–I say stop doing it.

Stop doing busywork and start doing the things that are important to you and align with your values.

I’ve come to see the beauty and benefit of practicing mindfulness.

For women, I recommend hand washing bras and washing makeup brushes 1x/per week.

When I decided to practice  mindfulness it was like I was hit on the head with a piano falling from the roof of a building in a TV cartoon.

It occurred to me that mindfulness begets mendfulness. That to mind what we do can be the first step to mend what’s not working.

I for one don’t want to live my life on autopilot anymore.

Inspiration for Risking Change

Yes: I think that I succeeded because I have a diagnosis of SZ not in spite of it.

You have two options in how you respond to a diagnosis that could change your life plans:

Give up and buy what other people are selling: that there’s not much you can do.

Or like I did you can become more determined to defy everyone’s expectations.

That’s the difference: the diagnosis motivated me to try my best to succeed.

Before the diagnosis I always wanted to live an artist’s life in the city. After the diagnosis I quickly realized that I could do this because it was under my control whether I at least tried to do this.

As long as I gave my goals my best shot, it wouldn’t matter if I failed. The same goes for you. The only real failure is the failure to try.

As a kid, as a younger person, I lived on Staten Island–the borough where the cop killed Eric Garner in a choke-hold. It wasn’t the place I wanted to continue to live.

It was a world of white conformity in every way–devoid of color; devoid of culture.¬† I wanted to escape ever since I was in college.

After I was diagnosed I realized that if I acquiesced to the life plan I was being sold [collecting SSI forever and forced to live in public housing] I wouldn’t ever get out.

Take this tip from me as to what I did next:

I had the courage to risk change because I believed that tomorrow could be better.

Know this as I did then:

Whatever you want to do in life is under your control because it’s up to you to take action to try to get there. The choices you make today will help you get to where you want to be tomorrow.

Start your engines. The road is wide open.

Confidence: Getting It and Using It

The InStyle December issue features an interview with Cate Blanchett the Oscar-Award winning actress in its I Am That Girl column:

“How do you define confidence?

I think confidence is the acknowledgment of doubt. Fear is a natural state. You can’t truly achieve a creative life without it.” – Amy Synnott

It’s true that fear is part of being creative like Blanchett says. You can only achieve great things if you risk becoming uncomfortable when you do new things.

Failure is the cost of taking risks. Not everything you try to do will work out. I bombed out big time in the gray flannel insurance field.

Fear should be welcomed–not paranoia–the kind of fear where you’re not certain you’ll succeed but you have to try because the goal is too important to you to not risk trying.

All of us should be terrified to do something that has the potential to give us a better life.

Giving ourselves a challenge is the ultimate confidence-booster.

There’s no safety in playing it safe. There’s no triumph in conformity if you ask me. Sometimes you have to go out on a limb to see how far you can go.

Shakespeare wrote: “Cowards die many a time before their death. The valiant only taste of death but once.”

That’s not how I want to live: as a spectator in my own life.

Cate Blanchett is right: acknowledging doubt is the first step in taking a risk.

The more action you take, the easier it is to keep taking action. Taking action can cure fear.

I’ll end here with this: self-confidence is a natural high.

There’s no shame in acting confident and going after what you want in life.

Making Changes at Mid Life

The takeaway–the life lesson– is that our lives aren’t over until God says they’re over.

Finding our right work–vocation–livelihood is like trying all the keys on a chain to see which one unlocks the door to true happiness.

Readers: I failed big time at a lot of things. I spent five years in the gray flannel insurance field just starting out–that’s my number-one infamous claim to having failed.

Getting to mid life gives us the chance to reexamine our path. It’s not ever too late to take action in the direction of our dreams–or in the direction of a new passion that arrives later in life.

I went to graduate school with a woman in her sixties–yes, she was going to school at 65!

I say: risk change–believe in tomorrow. I will talk soon about how one daring act when I was 46 totally turned my recover around for the better.

It’s not ever too late to make a positive change and see results.

Fifty and beyond is prime time.

I’ll tell readers now and always: set your sights higher. As best you can, refrain from believing anyone who tells you there’s no hope that your illness can get better.

Our lives can change for the better at any point along the way.

In the next blog entry I’ll tell you how I’m confident beyond a doubt that this is possible. I’ll talk about how other people have made this happen.

Schizophrenia Recovery at Mid Life

I turned 50 last year. It’s a time that’s so challenging for a lot of us–yet it helps to see our lives in a cheer-view mirror not a rear-view mirror.

It’s a life lesson to realize that as I wrote here and elsewhere we should give ourselves a “life line” for making our goals real instead of an impossible must-do-it-by deadline.

Face it: at 50 a lot of us mourn unrealized dreams. We should be embracing the future and living in the here and now instead. Always an alternative exists that is just as good as the original goal.

I had wanted to get a diploma in image consulting from FIT. This dream disappeared quickly along with my idea to take up running that could’ve been stamped DOA–dead on arrival too.

Whatever happens, we’re not always going to achieve a goal we set. We can end it with grace and move forward with the courage and resilience to choose a new goal.

This is because our lives aren’t over at 50. It’s a myth that EVERYONE diagnosed with schizophrenia dies 25 years earlier. A MYTH. My friend is 72 and has taken SZ meds since he was 13. I kid you not–he’s 72.

The life lesson I give readers is to not give up on yourself or settle for the path of least resistance.

There’s still time to make positive changes and see the benefits of improving your life no matter where you are in your recovery or how far you think you still have to go.

I say: act with grace and kindness towards yourself and others. There’s still far too much ongoing hate and violence in the world. We shouldn’t be giving critics and haters the power to influence how we feel about ourselves.

In the coming blog entries I will continue to talk about recovery at mid life.


Fight Like a Girl–or Guy

In her article the woman said she was upset that others talk about fighting their disability. She claimed the disability was part of who she was and that she fought discrimination instead.

This illustrates that for too long we’ve has to fight for our rights: for the rights other people take for granted that they have.

Normal people think nothing of having a home of their own and working at a job they love. Yet when you have a diagnosis you often have to fight to be taken seriously in your goal of living independently and having a career you love.

I’m willing to stand up for my rights and other people’s rights to live a life of dignity where we’re accorded kindness and compassion.

I say this because for too long our focus was misplaced. We often spend the earliest years of our recovery fighting the diagnosis and giving it power over us. Yet what you resist persists.

The moral of this story is: fight like a girl–or a guy. Stand tall. Walk proud.

In this regard: The Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act in the House of Representatives was marked up and kept intact with every provision. Call or e-mail your congressperson to urge him or her to vote yes on making this bill the law.

A contingent of Democrats tried to water-down this bill so that in effect it wouldn’t help those of us with a chronic form of schizophrenia who need evidence-based treatment. Shame on you, whoever those Democrats were.

The Act has bipartisan support. Fighting for the right of individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia to get effective treatment is one way to fight.

Right now I’m fighting against having to do the work of 10 guys in my Toms shoes to paraphrase the lyrics to a J. Lo song about her YSL stilettos.

My point is: nothing is going to change unless more of us have the courage to speak out against the crap: the crap that management covers up on the job; the crap we’re given in how others treat us; and the crap in terms of mental health treatment.

Gild it in gold: make it gold-plated on the outside: crap is still crap.