Mental Health Awareness Month 2017

Do you want to remain invisible for the rest of your life?

Do you want to NOT be there when they count out the dues?

Do you want that the decades-old status quo of no treatment, failed treatment, or delayed treatment continues on forever in American society?

By living in hiding we maintain the status quo of decades of inequality in healthcare; inequality in housing; and inequality in having the quality of life that other Americans take for granted.

To remain silent is to fail to be counted. To remain in hiding is to fail to be seen and acknowledged.

It’s 2017: there can be no shame, no guilt–about having an illness; a diagnosis; about having been attacked if you were a victim; about being the object of someone’s hate; about experiencing trauma.

We must demand an equal stake in the rules–that is the laws–the U.S. government imposes on us. We cannot continue to sit idly by while other people–and elected officials–decide our fate.

Ralph Ellison in his book The Invisible Man wrote: “I am an invisible man because no one sees me.”

The saddest thing is to become invisible to yourself–to keep making yourself smaller and smaller so that other people can accept you.

I say: we must tell our stories, or we won’t get funding for the housing, treatment, and research studies we need.

I find it interesting that a person who ISN’T “living with” a diagnosis of SZ could claim in a review of my memoir that no one can recover.

I’ve talked the talk as a mental health activist for the last 15 years. Now I’m walking the walk having created a business to help people recover.

I want to ask that book reviewer: what is your priority in life? If you think no one with SZ can recover why aren’t you doing anything to try to help us recover?

For too long, outsiders have been looking into the lives of people diagnosed and living with SZ and making judgments about our worth, our abilities, and our strengths.

They seem to be okay with near-endlessly deriding us for the choices we make (which might include taking medication for a lot of us).

They seem to be okay with not doing anything to help us recover.

They seem to be okay with near-endlessly parroting that we can’t recover.

They seem to be okay with standing in judgment of the lifestyle choices of those of us who do recover–as if we don’t have the right to choose the best option for our individual needs.

We need cheerleaders–not critics. We need people cheering us on. We need to be given compassion. We need to be listened to and understood.

Capisce?—as the Italians would say. Understand?

My goal for this spring–it’s an actual goal–is to use my persona to challenge what people think of a person diagnosed with SZ.

I’m tired of being singled out as some kind of exception. To what? I want to ask: To what am I the exception when I’m only being myself?

I’m Chris Bruni. I was diagnosed with SZ when I was 22. This August I’ll have been in remission–out of the hospital and with zero symptoms–for 25 years.

In October I’ll have been in recovery 30 years.

This is my story. What’s yours?

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Telling Our Stories

At the educational conference I was the first person to talk at the session on: The Impact of SSI and SSDI on Going to Work.

My co-presenter detailed how to apply for these benefits and how to use the Ticket to Work and PASS Plan options to find a job so you can stop collecting SSI and SSDI.

At the start of my talk I quoted lines from the Anne Sexton poem “For John, Who Begs Me Not to Enquire Further.”

She is a famous poet who had her own mental health challenges and is no longer here. Sadly, like a lot of gifted artists, she took her own life.

Yet the lines from her poem are often quoted. She tells the reader that she has nothing else to give and that what she has to give can be hopeful in its own way.

After I quoted the lines I told the audience: “This is my story. It’s the only story I have to tell. It’s unusual and a little atypical. I tell it to uplift and inspire others.”

I’m here to say that what you feel can be healed. Pain can end. I’m a firm believer in using our pain as the catalyst for self-growth and finding out what our life’s purpose is.

I stand by the motto: “service above self.”

It’s true that you get what you give–plain and simple–you get what you give.

Other forums exist in which to spread hate of psychiatry, hate of people who are different from you, and any other kind of hate.

This blog will always be not just a hate-free zone it will be a healthy zone.

It comes down to this: my ethic is: “This is my story–it’s on the table. You can take it or you can leave it.”

In the next blog entry I’ll talk about the new dynamic of holding a job circa 2016.

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.

 

Recovery and Pride

I know plenty of security guards who have college degrees. I met a janitor who loved his work and had a big grin on his face when he told me he was a “custodial engineer.”

No kidding. Any honest job labored at with pride can give a person dignity.

You will not always like every aspect of your job every day. Yet finding a job where most of what you do is okay is possible if you ask me.

I’ve worked in offices and libraries and a law firm. I’ve been employed for over 25 years.

Starting in the fall I’d like to return to talking about employment.

First here I will take about each aspect of The Triangle of Mental Health: appropriate medication, quicker individualized treatment, and practical career counseling.

Using Self-Empowering Language

not true

A friend and I talked over hot chocolate in a coffee shop. “Here.” T. reached into his wallet. “For you.”

“Thank you.” I accepted the black decal with white letters that read: This is not true—a slip like a fortune cookie.

“Joe Strummer gave these kinds of slips out. You like the Clash, right?”

“Sure do.” I thought the ticker would be a clever title for a blog: This is not true.

I’ve always had the idea to interview peers who’ve been through a hard time too—and post to my blog their talk about other things in their lives—without referring to illness or diagnosis at all.

This weekend I chose boldly not to use clinical terms—no diagnoses—going forward. First—those words scare people—and second it’s a trap. Identifying a person by their symptoms locks them into a no-win mental straitjacket.

Thomas Insel–the former director of NIMH–created the RDOC system to link research funding to clusters of symptoms not specific diagnostic categories like bipolar.

This inspires me now to take the bold leap into more positive language because in leaping the net will appear: a soft landing in recovery not on rocks and garbage. To be pelted with ignorance doesn’t have to be our fate.

So stand up and assert your rights. Tell others: “I’m a human being–treat me like one. You’re most likely not so hot yourself, so why do you think I’m less than zero?”

I’m going to continue to focus on today in the blog because today is the greatest day.

I’ll talk about health/salut and wealth/dinero and love/amore in ways that no one else is talking about these things.

Listen: what’s truly cray-cray is stereotyping everyone you meet because of your experience with one person or two or a few people with similar traits.

This is not true: that we’re so damaged by what happened to us that we can’t have a full and robust life.

This is not true: that we don’t deserve compassion and other people should cower in fear of us.

This is not true: that we’re so effed up that we’re beyond repair.

What is true: that how we live–what we do and say–has the power to make the world a better place.

 

 

Inspiration for Living in Recovery

I have a friend/companion. We sit at an outdoor patio. We go to Starbucks. We attend poetry readings.

Wherever we go the talk often turns to recovery. Not a lot of people would be so open in places where others can hear you. It’s refreshing–and-life affirming–to have a companion in an almost soul-mate kind of way.

I firmly believe a soul mate doesn’t have to be only a wife or husband–a soul mate can be a member of your tribe. We talk about the Sonic Youth albums in our collections. Everywhere I go I’ve met someone entranced with the music.

I value that illness holds only a minor place–because I choose to focus on the life that is possible after a break. I’ve lived through the worst– I recovered.

A woman on the Internet who uses a fake name didn’t understand why I identified as a person diagnosed with schizophrenia. I identify as a person who had a breakdown–what’s commonly diagnosed as schizophrenia.

Yet the point isn’t that once you’ve recovered you should go your merry way. By all means: only if you want to go your merry way do so without guilt.

I decided to become a mental health activist because of the cost of untreated mental illness in America–upwards of $192 billion. I’m an activist because of the untold cost in wasted lives–in the loss of human capital.

Everyone deserves to have a full and robust life–not just a lucky few who get the right treatment right away. I advocate that you can have a full and robust life because no one who has crossed over should despair that they can’t come back.

I advocate–and I always will–for recovery for everyone.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is quoted:

“Everyone must decide whether to walk in the dark of destructive selfishness or live in the light of creative altruism. Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: what are you doing for others?”

My goal in this lifetime is to be an inspiration.

Your hell doesn’t have to go on forever.

Mental Health Month Preview

I’m going to publish a last blog entry right now about Mental Health Month.

The mental health feature article in Women’s Health should win an award for best-of-its-kind journalism. The Oprah magazine’s reference to schizophrenia was about 650 words in that magazine’s series on mental health and it did not do justice to the topic because it conveniently glossed over the reality that most people diagnosed with schizophrenia have to take maintenance medication.

I have a friend/companion now. Even he thinks most people with schizophrenia should take medication. Yet nowhere in current reportage on mental health has any magazine gone into detail about the true reality of the human cost of mental illness in terms of lost productivity (valued at circa $192 billion–you read that right) and human suffering.

The front cover of Women’s Health lists that on p. 174 the magazine is going to stomp on stigma. The feature article uses at least 25 photos of real women who live everyday with mental illness. No grainy images in shadow–no fake names to protect anyone’s identity–no skirting the issue of the effect of these illnesses on the women who experience them every day.

Like I said I do not disclose in the ordinary course of my life. I have had jobs where rude coworkers who are hostile to customers and staff members alike are championed as model employees. As long as management turns a blind eye to this shoddy and shabby customer service–yet it can’t be called customer service–this service with a sneer continues to go on.

I said it before in here and I’ll say it again: people diagnosed with mental illnesses have to be twice as good. Not only in the workplace. We have to be twice as good in society to be taken seriously–and we have to work twice as hard to get often half as far as others who are the reigning kings and queens of popularity among so-called normals.

The time is now when I’m considering disclosing in the ultimate brave and courageous way.

Chirlane McCray–the wife of New York City Mayor Bill DiBlasio–is at the forefront of championing better mental health for everyone living here in the five boroughs. McCray has started up the Gracie Book Club–named after Gracie Mansion where the mayor and his family live. I want to contact her to give her my book to read and see if she can have me talk about my success story.

I’m going to lead the way to speak out about how getting effective individualized treatment as soon as you first have a break can result in a better outcome.

I’ll end here by saying something that a person diagnosed with schizophrenia shouldn’t say: anyone who stigmatizes me or messes with me is a fool because I can dead lift 180 pounds at the gym. Thus I could most likely take out a creeper if I had to.

That’s the word to describe idiots: creepers.

Yet the truth is people diagnosed with mental illnesses HAVE TO act as model citizens. We don’t get a get out of jail free card like you get in a Monopoly game. We don’t get out of anything in life with a free meal ticket or a pat on the back or an “Atta boy!” or “Atta girl!”

We toil every day in what for a lot of us can be a private hell. I have for close to 15 years talked about the benefit of family support and practical career counseling and medication when it’s required and peer support.

I talk about dead lifting because it’s imperative that those of us living with mental illness every day develop fit minds and strong bodies first of all to be able to have a better version of recovery.

On Monday I’ll talk about how lifting weights was the number-one thing that turned my life around for the better when I was 46. I’m the family member of a loved one with a mental illness as well as a peer with a mental illness.

Each of us needs to commit to a fitness routine.

The prime root of why I don’t disclose in my ordinary interactions is that I don’t want the focus of my life to be on illness.

I choose to focus on how each of us can achieve our own version of well. My own version of well is to live my life Left of the Dial.

What’s yours?