Mother’s Day Message

This is a Mother’s Day greeting to every women reading this blog entry. It’s thought that all women are mothers in some way taking care of other people.

My mother turned 80 this year. I’m 53 now. In 1987 when I was 22 I was diagnosed with schizophrenia. My mother had driven me to the hospital within 24 hours of my breakdown.

This greeting goes out to every mother whose adult children and or the mental health staff have blamed them for what happened to their kids.

Ever since I decided to become a mental health Advocate in 2002 – over 15 years so far – I’ve credited my mother’s one courageous act to drive me to the hospital as the number-one reason I recovered. Recovered with an ed at the end of recover because of my mother.

I will go to my grave championing getting the right treatment right away when a person first experiences mental or emotional distress.

My mother isn’t well. For 40 years she smoked two packs a day. Though she quit when she was 61 it was too late to prevent smoking-related disability. She has emphysema because of her addiction. Today she sleeps and travels everywhere with an oxygen tank.

Though I’m the one diagnosed with schizophrenia I’ve become my mother’s caregiver. Unlike how a lot of mothers are the caregivers for their adult kids with schizophrenia.

No one at mental health organizations like NAMI talk about this reverse dynamic: how adult children are becoming caregivers for their parents. Hell NAMI isn’t even addressing the mental health needs of senior citizens living with mental health issues.

What will happen after our parents are gone and we have no one to care for us?

I’m fortunate that I’ve recovered and have always been independent. I will continue to be fit and active because of my own efforts.

Yet what will happen to people diagnosed with schizophrenia who can’t care for themselves after their parents are gone?

What will happen to our parents if we can’t care for them when we’re older?

Nobody’s talking about this. Not NAMI. Not anyone else.

Over five years ago I first wrote about geriatric psychiatry when I was the Health Guide at the HealthCentral schizophrenia website.

Back then I was a pioneer in writing about this. Today I’m still a lone wolf crying out about senior citizens with mental health issues.

We need to think about the passing of this health baton. We need to get real and start talking about the services and supports available to people with schizophrenia and other illnesses that are becoming senior citizens.

We need to talk about the reality that soon those of us who are caregivers will need someone to take care of us.

I’ll end here by sending every women reading this blog entry words of compassion, appreciation, and gratefulness for all you do.

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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?

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.

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.

Remembering Carolyn Dobbins, PhD

Carolyn-Dobbins-1517838422

Years ago I interviewed Carolyn Dobbins, PhD when I was the Health Guide at the HealthCentral SZ website.

Recently I was fortunate to have Carolyn write a chapter for the career guidebook I expect to publish shortly.

Alas, she is no longer here. It wasn’t the SZ medication that killed her it was something else.

A bright light snuffed out too soon.

Won’t you join me in honoring her legacy? At the end of this blog entry I link to another testimony to her life.

Obituary for Carolyn J. Dobbins

Dobbins, Carolyn J., of Knoxville, passed away on Thursday, February 1, 2018. Born in Memphis, TN on March 1, 1960, Carolyn grew up in Memphis and Denver, CO. An avid alpine skier, she graduated from high school at Stratton Mountain Academy in Stratton, VT and was on the Junior Olympics Ski team during this period. She graduated from Vanderbilt with a Masters of Science in Clinical Psychology and a PhD in Clinical/Community/Counseling Psychology. She served as Director of Larry Simmering Recovery Center in Branson, MO for over 12 years. She was also in a private practice there for a number of years. She published several professional papers and wrote a book, “What a Life Can Be”. Carolyn enjoyed many activities including alpine and cross-country skiing, tennis, swimming, and family camping trips. In 2009, Carolyn moved to Knoxville to be with her parents, Dr. and Mrs. William Dobbins. She is survived by her parents, a sister, Dr. Connie Lehman of Boston, and two nephews, Grace and Sam Lehman. Carolyn’s heart went out to the forgotten and less fortunate people and she worked to make this world a more compassionate place for all. She will be remembered by her kindness, her faith, and her beautiful smile.

Roky Erickson and Daniel Johnston Have SZ

If you ask me the goal should be expecting that people can recover and helping them to recover.

Mental health staff have traditionally discouraged us peers from going to school and work. Why did those staff get into the field if they didn’t think what they do could help people recover? Are they content to prescribe pills and allow us to warm chairs in day programs the rest of our lives? Are they able to sleep at night knowing they weren’t giving their clients competitive skills to succeed in the world?

I couldn’t live with myself if I watered down my vision of recovery or sold it out the highest bidder (Pfizer et al).

I’ve been in recovery going on 31 years so far. I’m not the only one out there with a career and apartment to call my own. I might just be one of the few who dares publicly tell our stories.

For more inspiration I want to tell you about two famous individuals with SZ.

Roky Erickson and Daniel Johnston are rock-n-roll artists who have toured and performed to critical acclaim FOR DECADES.

Roky and Daniel take SZ medication by the way.

I played Roky Erickson and his band the 13th Floor Elevators on my FM radio show in the 1980s. It’s true that when you’re diagnosed with SZ the experience is like taking an elevator to the 13th floor: an unlucky trip to hell that you’re on.

Roky and Daniel’s success flies in the face of the Mad crowd that argues that psychotropic drugs cause disability.

The lives of Roky and Daniel my life and thousands of other people’s lives are a testament to how it’s possible to reclaim your Self, do what you love, and succeed at it post-illness.

Readers: think for yourself.

Everyone wants to be understood and accepted for who they are. They want to know that they matter to other people.

This is the dilemma: that after you’re diagnosed with SZ your Self doesn’t matter to others in society. Armchair shrinks pass judgment every day from the comfort of their La-Z Boys. They see fit to attack us for taking medication. They see fit to mistake our symptoms for personality traits.

So many mental health peers want to work at jobs that are personally meaningful and to have their own homes. We shouldn’t be discouraged from trying.

It’s 2018. Roky and Daniel and I and others have been in recovery for decades now.

So when you feel like giving up or giving in just remember you’re not alone. Seek out others to network with who have been down this road longer than you.

Read inspirational blogs and books. Attend a support group if it would help you. Do two things each day to move you closer to your goals.

Recovery isn’t quick and it isn’t easy. Yet it’s some of the most rewarding work you’ll ever do.. If want to go to school or have a job, you’re in the target market for my forthcoming book I’m working on: You Are Not Your Diagnosis.

It’s true: You Are Not Your Diagnosis. Contrary to what other people think.