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.

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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?

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.

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.

You’re Not an MD So Stop Giving Medical Advice

Chris Bruni is not an MD. I refuse to give medical advice.

Telling someone to discontinue their medication and offering a method to do so is practicing medicine without a license.

I’m not here to tell people what they should do. The story I tell–the only one I have to give–is my story. I can and will talk about how taking the SZ medication every day enabled me to be in remission for over 25 years so far.

A friend of mine who doesn’t have SZ I consider to be my soul mate. He discontinued his psych medication under supervision and is perfectly fine years later.

What gladdens me is that although he’s been successful he doesn’t give people medical advice. He thinks most people with SZ need to take medication.

My friend hasn’t attacked me–like so many anti-psychiatry folk have done–for choosing to take pills.

I want to be very clear to readers now: telling people they should discontinue their medication is practicing medicine without a license.

At this point I won’t even tell people they must take medication because as said I’m not an MD.

We can only share our stories with each other. It’s up to each of us to decide what we want to do.

If someone asked me I would tell them that I think discontinuing SZ medication is too risky to chance it. That’s my belief and my friend’s belief.

You can decide for yourself if this makes sense to you. You have the choice.

Yet I also think that choosing psychosis over health is a big mistake.

No one I know who discontinued their SZ pills got better. They started hearing voices again. (I’m lucky I didn’t ever hear voices.)

Yet even stating this I cannot tell you or anyone else what to do or how to do it.

I urge you if you’re a paid peer specialist as your job not to dispense medical advice without a license. You’re not an MD. You’re not licensed to diagnose and treat illnesses.

In the coming blog entries I’m going to talk about practical career information again.

My goal is to publish You Are Not Your Diagnosis in October 2018 which is Disability Employment Awareness Month.

Getting Into the Gym Groove

Round about the New Year a lot of people join gyms across America.

There’s a guaranteed way to persist at your fitness goals.

Read the book Changeology: 5 Steps to Realizing Your Goals and Resolutions. It can help you succeed when you execute each step in the right order.

In a recent New York Times article a woman writer snipped about yoga pants. She joined a gym and wears sweatpants to work out. She thinks people stared at her because she’s not wearing yoga pants. The woman claims that yoga pants objectify woman as sex objects.

This is blarney. If you want to succeed at your fitness goals you need to dress the part of a champion. Elite athletes don’t wear sweatpants to perform.

How you dress in any area of life can affect how you feel about yourself. Getting into the gym groove will be easier when you dress the part.

I used to wear whatever clothes I could pass off as workout gear when I first started lifting weights. Then I got hip and started to buy training pants and tee shirts specifically for sweat sessions.

You can buy for at tops $79 a pair of training pants in Modell’s. Or get cheaper options in Century’s in New York City–Century 21 off-price discount retailer. Even Target if I remember has Champion workout gear.

In all areas of life if you want to get in the game you have to put on your game face as it’s called. Wearing the right clothes to the gym can put you in a champion’s frame of mind.

JackRabbit sells running shoes at their stores and online. In person you can get tested to see which kind of shoe is best for how your feet touch the ground.

I tell you loyal readers that resisting buying quality training clothes is a royal mistake. You’ll feel better about yourself when you’re dressed better.

No one else is looking at you at the gym either way. Hardcore fitness buffs are too busying working out to spend more than a minute or too glancing around the room.

Should you not want to buy skintight yoga pants there are plenty of options with a boot cut hem out there.

If you power through the next two months at the gym and want to stay motivated to continue I urge you to rethink wearing sweatpants to work out.

In the coming blog entries I’ll return to a focus on fitness and nutrition.

In the end having a fitness routine and a balanced nutrition plan is a valid adjunct form of treatment for people with mental health issues.