Proof

Two weeks ago I helped create a guy’s resume and he was given a position as a supervisor and his salary doubled.

I tell this story because living only for yourself and your needs and desires is not the way to go.

I’m not a celebrity with schizophrenia like another person might be billed. I’m just a recovered person who wants to see justice served for the still-significant minority of people with this illness who have a greater hard time in life.

My calling is to champion that getting the right treatment right away results in a better outcome.

For decades now, individuals have been turned away at the hospital doors and sent back out into the community where they get sicker and sicker every day they go without treatment.

I have the experience of talking with family members whose loved ones are ghosts of their former selves; whose loved ones committed violence or killed because a judge failed to authorize mandatory treatment. Family members hurt and they suffer when their loved ones are denied necessary treatment or their loved ones have anosognosia and so refuse treatment.

The list of tragedies goes on and on. I want to be a spokesperson for schizophrenia like Temple Grandin is for autism. Yet I take no joy in shining a light on superstars that manage herculean feats despite having ongoing symptoms. The reason is because when you get the right treatment right away it’s possible for the symptoms to stop completely.

I’m more interested in giving a voice to people who it seems have no voice in society, either because their level of disability is too severe to be lauded as remarkable, or because they’ve become pawns in the anti-psychiatry war game.

My two self-help books are geared to individuals who are often told they’ll never achieve their pre-illness dreams; that they’ll never amount to much because they have schizophrenia; that they’ll have to live out their days collecting SSI and living in a street-drug-infested housing complex.

The road is often long and winding with many detours when you have schizophrenia and want to get to a better place in life. You shouldn’t have to go it alone with no help from the very people who are tasked to help you.

I’m not a superstar. I just dared early on to dream of having the kind of life I wanted to live. I dared fight to have this better life. It didn’t get better until I turned 35 yet that was when I decided to become a mental health activist.

Those of us with beautiful brains owe a debt to society to uphold the social covenant: to take our medication if we need it to be well; to extend a hand. Like Audrey Hepburn is quoted: you have two hands: one for helping yourself, and one for helping others.

Creating resumes and seeing all kinds of people get jobs when it took them months of searching on their own without success is what motivated me to become a mental health activist. Mind you, only one person over the 7 years I’ve been doing this has called up to thank me for helping her get a job. More people than not obtain jobs and go on their merry way.

So: I was creating resumes that helped people get jobs and I thought: what if I could help individuals with schizophrenia and bipolar and other mental illnesses get jobs, live on their own, and have lives that are filled with joy and satisfaction just like people who don’t have illnesses?

Bingo: I understood my own life was proof that individuals with mental illnesses could overcome hurdles if they had cheerleaders urging them on, not a firing squad shooting down their hopes and dreams.

You’d better believe that more people than not who have mental illnesses can have good lives if they get the right treatment right away. Going to school and getting a degree or working at the job you love: that’s a kind of treatment too.

No kidding.

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Living Life

I recommend becoming self-reliant: not having to rely on an kind of marginal mental health system. Seeing the best private doctor and therapist you can afford.

If your son or daughter or other eligible loved one will have to collect SSI, the rest of his or her life, I recommend you set up for this person a special needs trust. This legal protection in the Estate Law that was created in 1993 allows a person who collects SSI to draw funds from the trust to pay for living expenses.

It boggles my mind that two individuals I know had family that failed to create special needs trusts for these people. How could a mother or father leave their son or daughter out in the cold? Whatever you can afford to fund the special needs trust with is better than not creating a trust. This is one instance where any tax liability the parents will have is well worth the peace of mind that your loved one(s) will not live in poverty, forced to live in a dangerous neighborhood or a group home of poor reputation.

I’m not joking. The first order of business is to create a special needs trust for a loved one. Pronto. Immediately. Having this stash of cash can enable your loved one to see a better doctor and have a better treatment team.

A loved one who is secure financially can then move on to other matters.

Like choosing the color for the new couch he or she needs to buy to replace the old one.

Unstuff Your Life

I’ve read a book I’ll review this week in the reviews forum: Unstuff Your Life.

It’s about developing organizing systems that you can rely on to make order out of chaos.

I write about this because it’s critical not to live in a mess of papers, half-full coffee mugs staining the coffee table, abandoned junk mail on counter tops, and so on.

Two secrets to organizing exist: get rid of things you don’t use instead of storing them in closets or cabinets or drawers. And for every new thing you bring in one thing has to go out.

A lot of us get attached to our stuff because we equate what we own with who we are.

It’s healthier for those of us with challenges to understand that we are not our stuff. We don’t have to “keep up with the joneses” to prove our worth. Living on limited incomes could be the cure-all for spending-itis.

Better to have on display only a few items you cherish than to clutter your spaces with numerous tiny knick-knacks that make it hard to dust. That alone is a compelling reason to pare down.

All this comes to mind because it’s the fall and what better way to bring in the new in this harvest season than to clear out and make room for new things and people in our lives.

One thing in, one thing out. Get rid of what you don’t use.

Lastly: I recommend the Feng Shui book Move Your Stuff, Change Your Life and Buy Your Home Smarter with Feng Shui, two books that will help you find and create healthy living spaces. Buy Your Home Smarter will help you not make a mistake in renting an apartment or buying a house or apartment.

Defining Success

Elyn Saks, the J.D. law professor who has schizophrenia and wrote a memoir, is billed as a “celebrity.”

I find it curious that people revere a person who has ongoing major episodes simply because she kept going on numerous drug holidays that failed. She might have obtained degrees from Oxford and Yale yer her family did little else to support her as a younger person.

The reason I talk about this now, the reason I wrote about intrinsic motivators, is because I don’t think the goal is for everyone to become a superstar. I’m not impressed with other people’s on-paper remarkable achievements when they have to live with symptoms every day.

Getting the right treatment right away could enable a person to live symptom-free. I’m not a fan of having to live with symptoms. Most people with ongoing symptoms might not be able to do what Elyn Saks can do so this is another reason her story doesn’t impress me.

The focus on achieving external markers of success (husband and kids, picket fence life, Ivy League pedigree) didn’t appeal to me as a young woman and it doesn’t interest me now.

I want to write about this here because in keeping with the last blog entry I want to limn that traditional markers of success aren’t the only valid accomplishments that anyone should covet claiming, whether or not you have a mental illness.

Each of us can get to the top of our own staircase yet the room on the other side must have a view of the kind of life we’ve expressed is personally meaningful for us. For you, it could be an M.D. For another person, it could be having a career as a chef. Yet another person might want to work at Rite Aid part-time while he collects SSI.

Our family members, others in society, would be wise to champion us in our goals and dreams, as hard as this can be when we’re first starting out and might have reached a plateau. I quoted the professor two months ago in here who said a person who reaches a plateau can then go on to be successful.

Define what success looks like to YOU. Nevermind what others in society think it should look like for you. Nevermind what others in society can achieve.

I’ll end here by confessing I was just as guilty of being skeptical of a young woman who didn’t immediately set out to get a job after she graduated college. A year later she applied to library school and is going to be quite successful in a non-traditional career.

I was just like her when I graduated college: I was a free spirit who didn’t relish the thought of being chained to a desk in a cubicle.

Thus my contention that using only traditional markers of success to define a person’s potential is not right, especially for a person with a mental illness who had a harder stair to climb.

I’m not a special person either. I’m just a person who survived the hell of a mental health system ill-equipped to help a young person like I was in 1987.

I decided I wanted to act as a cheerleader today because back then I had no one on my side except my close-knit family and my private therapist and private doctor.

I fought to create a better life for myself. The stair was steep. And it’s why I cheer on everybody now, circa 2014: it’s too late in the history of psychiatry for providers to keep reinforcing to patients that they won’t be able to do the things they want to in life.

Each of us can do the things we want to in life.

It starts when we stop chasing what other people have and decide to work towards our own version of success.

I have no doubt that the young woman who decided to go to library school will be successful.
I have no doubt that people with schizophrenia and other mental illnesses can be successful.

Dare to Dream. Take the stairs, one step at a time. There is no elevator to success for anyone. That’s the point. It’s not about what’s on the other side. It IS about “the climb.”

(Cue the Miley Cyrus song lyrics.)

No Crystal Stair

Out of the blue one night last week I remembered the words to the Langston Hughes poem, “Mother to Son.”

She told him: “life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.” Those words popped into my head over 30 years since I read the poem in high school.

Lnagston Hughes, in my estimation, is one of the greats, not just of the Harlem Renaissance, but of all time. I’ve memorized his poem “Harlem–A Dream Deferred” and can recite it at the drop of a hat.

I wanted to write about this because it seems relevant to recovery. Life isn’t a crystal stair for anyone. Envy serves no purpose. I want to inspire people to dare to dream of having a better life–to go to school or to work, to live in their own apartment or to own a house, to do what anyone without a mental illness does.

If you reach for these things, others might be jealous of you, yet carry on. The stair might be long and hard to walk up to get to where you want to go, yet keep on moving. Another great, Martin Luther King, is quoted: “Faith is taking the first step even when you can’t see the whole staircase.”

Taking the first step is what counts. Even when others try to cut you down.

And if you’re looking at someone else and think he or she has it easy, think again. Are you a mind reader? How do you or I or anyone know what’s going on in another person’s head and life?

Jealousy serves no purpose. Focusing on what other people have or can do doesn’t help you succeed. Strive to do the things you can do instead of harshing on yourself for what you can’t do.

Maximizing our assets instead of trying to correct weaknesses is the only way to live.

Instead of keeping ourselves stuck in a negative thought loop of envious thoughts, we can pick the brains of successful people to see how they did it. Truly accomplished people will harbor no secrets; they want others to follow along in their footsteps. They do this because they realized the secret to making yourself look good is to make the people around you look good.

I say: send the haters packing. Acknowledge that their insecurities come from a place of pain, and have compassion for them. Reach for the stars and settle for the moon. It’s just as easy to dream big as it is to settle for less.

Be grateful for the tacks and threadbare steps. Every effort to climb the stairs counts.

You can get to the top.

Just Do It

I’m fond of the Nike slogan–Just Do It. I have it on a sunny yellow tee shirt with fuchsia and turquoise letters.

Just Do Your Own Thing is more like it. This is easier to do when you remember wellness is not the total absence of illness. I value having a life where I can live as a whole and well person.

This isn’t impossible. It’s possible when we recognize that our health isn’t an “always” well or “never” ill affair. And that allowing ourselves to live in fear of other people’s judgments is no way to live and the quickest way to make ourselves ill.

Ironic, yet true.

We can look to others for inspiration yet selectively choose the media we use to get information about ourselves and other people. We don’t have to feel inferior to the rail-thin waifs like Kate Moss advertising designer clothes. We can instead seek out individuals and images that reinforce a positive message.

For the record, I rarely wear high heels. I’m not rail-thin either. I believe that those of us facing mental health challenges need to take back the media. Thus my goal of publishing Left of the Dial in December and of publishing soon after the two self-help books.

Remember: wellness is not the total absence of illness. Achieving wellness involves accepting that the world is bigger than you and your pain. That by going out and doing what you love every day or as often as possible the pain subsides.

That by helping others, you help yourself.

Just Do What You Love?

Yes. Yes. And Yes.

Intrinsic Motivators

I recommend setting goals to achieve for the intrinsic rewards not external approval from other people.

The ability to walk in “go-big-or-go-home” stilettos that cripple your feet just to prove you’re hot.

The getting on a hedonic treadmill to acquire more and more things that clutter your apartment.

The faking it over and over to prove you’re normal to people who are going to judge you for being “crazy.”

The holding of other people accountable for determining how you feel about yourself.

The living with endless insecurities instead of lowering the VU meter on your thoughts so that you can live life in balance: left of the dial.

It goes on and on when a person continually seeks other people’s approval.

I say: do what’s right for you. Live YOUR life in YOUR style.

In my book Flourish I talk in detail about acting true to yourself to combat the stigma.

The Ziggy Marley song “True to Myself” is an anthem. I attended a Ziggy Marley concert where I first heard that song and had to buy the CD it was on.

It can be hard when other people in society don’t give you recognition. Like when Ralph Ellison wrote in his classic book that he was an invisible man because no one saw him.

There’s a solution: seek intrinsic rewards like a job well done or the high of a good workout.

Each of us can hold ourselves in high esteem when others do not.

It takes courage to live with a mental illness. It takes confidence to do your own thing when society abandons you.

I’ll end here by telling readers that doing your own thing IS the way to combat stigma.

I’ll return on Thursday with more ideas about this.