Four Weeks To Spring

It’s coming up on four weeks until spring.

I’m busted: just as guilty of frittering away the day when I’m holed up inside when the wind chill is too cold outside to go out of the apartment.

I’ve written that I value being in tune with the natural world: to be in synch with the seasons. Fall is the harvest to enjoy the bounty of our labor. Winter is the season to hibernate and to clear out the old and make new plans. Spring is the rebirth of ourselves to have the energy to carry out our goals. Summer is sweet and the living can be easier in that season.

This is how our lives evolve: season-by-season. Yes: I do value respecting the forces of nature. I value living near greenery or within an easy commute to a park. The goal in New York City a couple of years ago was to plant a million trees.

If you’re going to hibernate, I make the case for doing it in style. Lie in bed for hours in elegant pajamas. Listen to the radio. Read a fashion magazine.

Yet sometimes the lure of doing nothing must be heeded. Part of living life-even for those of us who are not in recovery-is to recover from the daily grind. To rest and recharge our batteries on the days when we’re not active outside.

A typical winter’s day, Chez Chris:

7 a.m. – wake up automatically without alarm clock and listen to the radio when the alarm does come on.

morning – work on a writing project.

afternoon – fritter away my tax refund by shopping on the Internet.

late afternoon – install CDs on my computer from iTunes.

night – listen to radio.

next day: lather rinse repeat all of the above.

It doesn’t help when Presidents’ Day is an official holiday and baby it’s cold outside so you stay indoors shopping all over again on the Internet.

Do not try this at home: I don’t recommend a person goes into debt using their credit card.

I do recommend hibernating in the winter. The siren’s song of lying in bed all day can’t be resisted.

Five days later your packages will arrive in the mail.

What’s not to like?

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Ha Ha

(Almost) nothing is sacred to me in terms of comedy.

Though I don’t like racist or ethnic jokes.

I admire and respect Dick Gregory: the 1970s comedian who broke the color barrier in stand-up comedy.

He related this tale: He was in a restaurant eating chicken down South when the KKK entered and one of those guys told Gregory: “What you do to the chicken we’re going to do to you.” Insinuating they’d cut him up.

Dick Gregory promptly kissed the chicken.

There’s a guy, a senior citizen who stops me on the street to tell me jokes.

“Are you ready for the weekend – I have a joke,” he saw me coming one Sunday.

“Yes – sure.”

“What do you call a nun who walks in her sleep?” he asked.

“I don’t know.” I was puzzled.

“A Roamin’ Catholic.” He flashed a wide grin.

“That’s funny.” I laughed.

Imagine that: getting stand-up comedy on the sidewalk.

I kid you not there’s something to be said for having a sense of humor.

Don’t Give Up The Fight

A poster on a wall beckons: Don’t Give Up The Fight.

I will go to my grave fighting for the right of every person who experiences mental or emotional distress to get the right help right away to halt disability.

I’ve been employed as the Health Guide at HealthCentral’s schizophrenia website for nine years now. Easily five years ago I wrote at HealthCentral that sometimes getting out of bed warrants a recovery Nobel Prize.

It’s hard. I won’t discount how hard it is. Yet I prefer to focus on the positive because hope heals.

It’s possible I’m doing something right because this blog kicked off only seven months ago in the summer and a ton of readers are tuning in. I give a “mille grazie”-a thousand thank you’s-to every reader and to my loyal followers for tuning in.

It is part of my biology-my chemical nature-that I’m an eternal optimist. I was born with a fighting spirit to not give up. My mother had seven miscarriages before I was born. So I must have been determined to be born: to give my mother the baby she always wanted.

I tell you now and I will tell you always: don’t give up the fight to have a better life.
I understand that people diagnosed with schizophrenia and other mental illnesses often have to fight to be taken seriously. We have to fight to be given crumbs from the table when everyone else feasts at the banquet.

This is no joke. I do not take this lightly even though I have an irrepressible sense of humor.

Certainly it’s hard living with schizophrenia or another mental illness.
Yet the solution is not for the mainstream media to parrot the hell we’re in ad nauseam without offering ideas for solutions and techniques to make our lives easier.

At HealthCentral, I write news articles that focus on schizophrenia recovery strategies.

I’m going to end this blog entry with a request that readers post comments about future blog topics they might like me to write about. In the earlier incarnation of my blog a reader wanted me to write about negative symptoms and I obliged.

In the next blog entry I will talk about the beauty of hibernating in the winter.

Booting Stigma: 9 Techniques

Nancy Sinatra sang that her boots were made for walking and they were going to walk all over you.

I propose booting the stigma by walking all over someone with your disarming wit. I’ve tried to get published on HuffingtonPost and elsewhere. The dilemma is I have a sense of humor. The voice of my writing is upbeat and cheerful and I use humor to talk about mental illness. I doubt this flies with the gatekeepers in the mainstream media. I doubt a certain website will ever deign to publish what I write because I’m not wallowing in misery about how schizophrenia effected my life like their resident SZ blogger does.

My hairdresser found out about me and she couldn’t believe I wasn’t crying. She was amazed that I was sunny and cheerful after everything that happened to me.

Cheer on: that’s my motto. What doesn’t break us makes us.

Yes: I’m going to sound flip when I recommend these Top 9 Techniques for Halting Stigma. Yet I truly believe you can win a war of wits and that this is the best way to fight stigma.

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• Do something to be happy. If you exercise two to three times a week, you’ll feel too good to feel bad about what other people say and do. You only need to exercise two or three times a week to be effective at a fitness routine. I strength train for maximum results.

• Remember: the stigma is a “self-selection” tool that aids you in quickly assessing whether you should get involved with another person. They’re doing the dirty work so you don’t have to waste time courting them. Do you really want to be a friend or lover with an ignorant, fearful, narrow-minded person? You’ll save the time and money and effort it takes to pursue them.

• Refrain from telling employers you have schizophrenia. Ask for a reasonable accommodation only if you absolutely need to and have no other choice. As long as you can do your job as well or better than your co-workers, your diagnosis is no one’s business.

• Refuse to take shit from people. I’ll tell others I can power lift 205 pounds at the gym. And I’m only five feet tall and weigh 121 pounds and I’m female. A woman I told this to responded: “You can lift a whole person!” The insinuation is that I could take someone out if I had to.

• Alternately, I have a built-in comeback when another person fears I’ll become violent: play the Italian card. A psychiatrist told me he knew he’d better not mess with me because I was Italian. He’s not the only one that’s told me this. So I have a handy retort: “I’m not violent and I won’t ever be. I’m Italian though so I’m connected. I know someone who knows someone if you know what I mean.” That should take care of things.

• Keep in mind: life isn’t a popularity contest. Be your own best friend. You’ll be doing the rejecting too. And a lot of times you’ll be a mismatch with another person for reasons having nothing to do with your illness.

• Sue their sorry ass if you’re discriminated against in an illegal way. Go to the media to tell your story. Take legal action if you’re denied housing, employment, or other things you’re entitled to by law.

• Act like Mr. T of the 1980s TV character fame and “Pity the Fool” who dares to stigmatize you. Use your wit to disarm any creeper you meet who flips out because you tell them you have schizophrenia. If you’re a woman, and a guy on a date gets freaky when you tell him you have schizophrenia, zing back: “I’m only interested in a guy with balls, not a cowardly lion. Check please.”

• Be the best-dressed person in the room. Care for yourself more than other people do.

Mental Health Agencies Asleep At The Wheel

I did not have a good experience with a community mental health center because the one I was involved with for 3 1/2 years was ill-equipped to help a young person like me that had so much potential for what she could do in life.

After I came out of the hospital, I was shunted into “transitional” programs that led to dependence and disability instead. I fought to be taken seriously in my goal of obtaining a full-time job and living independently.

It’s why I’m not a fan of most community mental health centers.

And Rep. Tim Murphy released a report slamming SAMSHA, the government agency, for not doing anything to help individuals with serious mental illnesses. The funds given SAMSHA couldn’t be accounted for. There was no proof that anything SAMSHA does helps those of us with severe symptoms.

In reality, staff at SAMSHA are against treating people with medication. Its funding goes to agencies that advocate for people to refuse the treatment that can help these individuals be in remission.

Here’s the results from the Treatment Advocacy Center press release:

“The GAO (government General Accounting Office) identified 112 programs spread across eight federal agencies with combined budgets of $5.7 billion in 2013 that might support individuals with serious mental illness but only 30 targeted specifically for this population.

• Of the 30 targeted programs, fewer than half had been evaluated or were scheduled to be evaluated. As an example, a multi-agency committee established to improve coordination for such programs has not met since 2009.

• Few agencies were found to be tracking or evaluating their programs for serious mental illness, and many were unable to say how much money was actually being spent for the target population or if individuals were actually participating in such programs.

‘This is a stunning independent validation of what we been saying for years: The people who need help the most are being neglected by the federal agency responsible for ensuring they get help,” said Doris A. Fuller, executive director of the Treatment Advocacy Center. The GAO found that of the 30 programs specifically targeted for individuals with a severe mental illness, most of those were in agencies like the Veterans Administration and Department of Justice, whose missions don’t include mental health.

The report was prepared in response to a bipartisan request from subcommittee Chairman Tim Murphy (R-PA) and Ranking Member Diana DeGette (D-CO). Subcommittee members heard testimony at a series of hearings exposing a systematic pattern of focusing federal dollars elsewhere than on those with the profound psychiatric diseases such as schizophrenia and severe bipolar disorder. This population, estimated at 10 million by the GAO to include individuals with severe depression, is at significantly greater risk for homelessness, arrest and incarceration, suicide, homicide and a number of other negative results when they do not receive treatment.

‘The Oversight subcommittee wanted to know whether the needs of society’s most vulnerable citizens were being addressed by the federal agencies charged with meeting those needs, especially SAMHSA,’ said Fuller. ‘The GAO found they are not.'”

Grace

You don’t realize when you’re 22 that one day you’ll be 50 and your loved ones will be in your life for a limited time.

I’m going to write at HealthCentral in the coming months about bereavement for individuals with mental illnesses. About how parents need to develop a succession plan for their son or daughter who has schizophrenia or another MI.

Nowhere have I seen this issue addressed by anyone anywhere in any medium. Not even by so-called mental health organizations.

It seems so unfair that anyone can develop a life-ending disease. You’re not ever prepared for this. Nor are you prepared for any ordinary loss of your family members.

I like to think that by the time a person is 50 they should’ve done 3 things on their “bucket list.” I was kind of odd in that I typed up a list of “30 by 50”: 30 things I had achieved by the time I was 50. I could count and itemize 30 things. This seems unusual yet there you go.

Yet right now as I confront that the years are gone I think it’s foolish to measure your self-worth by the things you’ve achieved in life. As driven as I am, I don’t think accomplishments count.

I think the measure of a man (and of a woman) is his or her character: how they treated others with dignity, were they kind and compassionate, did they hold the door open for the person behind them.

I’m not impressed with someone’s status in society even if they’re a JD or an MD. Martin Luther King famously told us we should only judge someone by “the content of his character.”

Age brings wisdom. You learn how to pace yourself, to rest when you need to rest, to value what’s truly important and stop focusing on things that don’t matter.

This involves acting with grace and forgiveness towards yourself and others.

If you’re already 50, you’re too old to focus on the negative because doing so will only age your faster.

I’m facing things right now that all of us face on the cusp of 50. It can help to “let go, let life” or “let go, let God” tell you what to do.

Most things aren’t a big deal in the scheme of life.

Yet confronting the loss of your family members isn’t something that people diagnosed with mental illnesses should have to suffer alone.

I’m going to write about bereavement at HealthCentral in the coming months.

For The Record On Mental Health

I do not subscribe to the opinion that psychosis is a natural life experience and that it’s better to be symptomatic than to take schizophrenia medication.

I do not subscribe to the opinion that hearing voices is a great thing and that rather than take medication to halt voices a person should live with hearing voices every day of their lives.

These are opinions other people hold and they’re not facts.

At HealthCentral, I report on research studies and statistics. One hopeful criteria for remission from schizophrenia is that when you have no symptoms or minimal symptoms for six months you’re technically in remission. Only six months is the criteria for stating a person is in remission.

I do not believe that the “the natural progression of the disease” should be allowed. It’s my professional viewpoint that symptoms should be stopped or halted quickly to prevent ongoing disability.

The choice is clear to me: to live with optimal mental health because you got the right help, right away. Or to slowly yet inevitably become disabled because treatment is delayed or non-existent.

I do not advocate for the “right” of a person to be psychotic for the rest of their life.

I champion using an appropriate dose of medication to stop the symptoms completely or at least reduce the severity of the symptoms so that they’re minimally intrusive in a person’s life.

You know where I stand. This is where I stand.