Getting Happy

How it went down: I told a person I was going to the gym. She said: “Why don’t you go to a movie?”

It was a gray, rainy, soggy day. I could detect a lack of understanding about my preferred get-happy activity.

For the cost of a $15 movie ticket I’d rather install an e-book on my device that I can read over and over.

You see in little and big ways a lot of people won’t understand you. They could resent that you do your own thing, not what other people tell you that you should do.

The foolproof method that gives me joy is going to the gym. I’ve lifted weights for over seven years. I’ve been a member of the gym for going on 15 years.

One effective tactic for rising above hateful or hurtful comments just might be finding what you love to do and going and doing that.

Engaging in goal-seeking behavior is a good way to feel better as you cross an accomplishment off a list.

Again I’ll refer to the book Changeology: 5 Steps to Realizing Your Goals and Resolutions. The winners who cross their finish line execute each of the five steps in the correct order over a 90-day time period.

I’m convinced that most people don’t like to exercise. They simply give up their efforts to get in better shape after two months. They work out religiously then stop.

This is because they’ve done what other people tell them to do or what they think they “should” do: go to the gym.

In tandem with using the Changeology method I think discovering The Fitness You can make all the difference.

Lindsey Vonn the gold-medalist Olympic skier writes about The Fitness You in her book Strong is the New Beautiful.

Vonn gives readers a strategy for finding the kind(s) of exercise you’ll enjoy. Hint: you don’t have to set foot in a gym to get fit.

Recently in here I wrote about setting up a home gym. That’s one alternative option.

Getting physically and mentally fit is the goal.

Unlike most people who simply stop going to the gym and move on:

I don’t feel so hot when I miss a week of exercise.

That’s why I champion finding The Fitness You.

That’s why I endorse engaging in goal-seeking behavior.

It might not be lifting weights that helps you defend yourself against the slings and arrows other people shoot at you.

Thinking in terms of having fitness of body, mind, spirit, career, finances, and relationships is the way to go.

There’s so much more to life than being handed a prescription and sent on your way.

Yes–I might try to find my handout on the Eight Dimensions of Wellness.

I’d like to refer to it in the coming blog entries.

Just remember: lurking inside a hurtful comment is a pebble of what’s bothering the other person.

Happiness is the vaccine that can inoculate us from feeling poorly about ourselves.

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Talking About Grief and Mourning

Once again I’m the first and only person writing about a topic no other mental health writer or agency has tackled before: what it’s like in bereavement for a person diagnosed with bipolar, schizophrenia, or another emotional illness.

My father has been gone over two years. An aunt died over a year ago. After my father died I started to have conversations with him. He appeared to me in dreams.

The older you get there will be different kinds of losses–of  the people you love, of friends that no longer suit you, of dreams that go unfulfilled.

As the years roll by, our accreted sorrows can engulf us even though we’re doing well and able to function. Our grief as we get older can become unbearable not just in mourning our loved ones. Our pain over not getting what we wanted in life can also consume us.

I haven’t yet had a boyfriend come into my life or a book contract for my second book.

One, just know that you are not alone.

There’s hope that you can get what you want even though it might take longer or you might have to go about it differently in your method for achieving something. It took me 13 years from start to end to publish Left of the Dial.

Two, just understand that you shouldn’t take other people’s bull crap.

They have no idea–most likely they have no compassion because they’re in this world for self-gain so don’t value kindness.

Only I understand what it’s like to have a mental illness. I identify as a person diagnosed with schizophrenia.

I’m 53, and I’ve had to survive by my wits and grit all these years in recovery. I decided long ago that I wanted to act as a cheerleader for others with mental illnesses to give them the hope, support, and encouragement that has been often lacking.

With the “everyone can recover” mentality what gets lost in the message is that even though you’re in recovery your life can still be hard.

A therapist once told me: “Your pain can be greater because you’re aware that you’re different.”

So-called normal people just don’t get it about what it’s like to live with a mental illness. They can’t possibly truly understand.

You’re left to yourself to make your way in the world. No one asks you how you’re doing. No one calls you on the telephone to brighten your day.

To add to this the feeling of grief you have over a loss can threaten to overwhelm you, to consume your waking thoughts, to settle on your chest like a weight, to make you lose hope.

Grief and its twin rejection can seem like immutable forces that will keep us on the sidelines of life.

My analogy is that there’s not a glass ceiling for us, there’s a glass wall separating us from others. We can see the outside world and want to be a part of it yet there’s a glass wall separating us from that world.

There’s a counter-intuitive solution to combat sliding into permanent despair. I can’t take credit for this strategy. It was my own mother who told me:

“Love life. That’s the only one you have. You have to live your life.”

Then my mother said:

“It’s about getting up every day and getting your job done.”

Each of us is doing the best we can with what we were given.

One some days our job will be simply to get out of bed. On other days our job might be to go to a coffeehouse and buy a hot chocolate.

I”ll end here with this:

I understand what it’s like to be in mourning. I understand what it’s like to have ongoing setbacks.

 

 

Self-Care 101

Like I wrote in here recently you have to expect that setbacks will happen. It’s not a matter of if but when you’ll experience a setback.

As this is true it’s imperative to adapt to the changes happening in your life. You need to be flexible and open to doing things differently.

Be flexible  while you’re experiencing the setback and in an ongoing way after the setback ends.

The point is if you ask me to change as you go along in your life.

Your needs will change as you get older.

It’s also critical to remember to be kind to yourself when you’re not at full speed and are unable to do what you were ordinarily able to do.

Be kind to yourself. As long as you’re doing the best you can there’s nothing to be upset about if you’re experiencing your own kind of retrograde period.

This setback time is perfect for editing and revising, taking stock of where you’ve been, thinking about where you want to go in the coming weeks and months.

We are all human. You and I might always mourn the passing of our “glory days” like the baseball pitcher in the Bruce Springsteen song “Glory Days.”

I’m here to tell you to have no fear: the best is always yet to be.

It’s possible to emerge on the other side of the setback stronger and more confident.

None of us can predict the specifics of our future lives.

Yet by taking consistent action to move forward in the direction of our goals we can bloom.

Yes: the best is yet to be. I firmly believe this.

Refrain from agonizing over what you’ve lost or haven’t been able to do.

As long as you wake up and God gave you another day it’s possible to make positive gains.

I’ll report in the next blog entry about setting up a home gym.

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.

Mental Health Acceptance Month

May is Mental Health Awareness Month.

From here on in I’ll call this Mental Health Acceptance and Awareness Month.

Like in keeping with Autism Acceptance Month in April we need to recognize that for a lot of people diagnosed with schizophrenia good things have come from having this illness.

We also need to frame May as Acceptance Month because it’s imperative that we prioritize mental health as the number-one driver of a person’s recovery.

In here before I’ve championed fitness of mind, body, spirit, career, finances, and relationships.

Without mental health all the other links in this fitness chain can be broken.

I will always fight for the rights of individuals with chronic unremitting schizophrenia. This is a given because not everyone is going to do well after they have an episode.

Most people can recover. A minority cannot. It’s those of us whose illness is more severe that require intensive treatment and unrelenting advocacy efforts to protect their rights to services and support.

Those of us who are able to recover should pass the baton to help others recover.

Acceptance of our challenges is the gateway to owning our recovery. When we resist facing the truth and are in denial this will only perpetuate the illness.

Awareness of schizophrenia and other mental health conditions isn’t the end. It’s the start. Any awareness must come with corresponding acceptance that these illnesses are real health conditions. That most of us recover and some of us might not do as well as others.

In the end this involves treating everyone with dignity and compassion.

Not whitewashing the truth. Not catering to only people we deem worthy of advocacy.

Treating everyone as individuals whose stories are valuable.

Helping others tell their stories. Listening when we hear another person’s story.

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?

For  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.