The Myth of Having Dangerous Gifts

It’s a myth that mental health issues are “dangerous gifts.”

Trust me there are people who love having mental health conditions.

I’m not one of them.

SZ is a burden, not a gift. It’s hell. It’s painful to bear. More than dangerous it’s simply destructive.

If I could live one minute without SZ I’d take back all the true gifts I was given–like my writing talent and anything else–for one minute of freedom.

I’d like to know what it’s like to be accepted; to be understood; to be given compassion not screw-faced looks.

I take no joy in passing as a normal person.

Meg Jay, PhD wrote a new book about people who compensate for their hardship:

Supernormal: The Untold Story of Adversity and Resilience.

You can take the quiz in the book to see if you fit the supernormal criteria.

We’re in this camp because those of us who faced hardship work longer and harder to achieve what comes easy to regular so-called “normal” people.

We’ve compensated for our early hardship by yes passing for normal when our lives were anything but ordinary.

There’s a solution to accepting and embracing a life with SZ or BP or whatever you have.

Helping others is the foolproof way I know to help yourself have a better life.

“Service above self” is the antidote to pain.

Just remember: I don’t think our pain is a dangerous gift.

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Talking About Treatment Choice

In my Google Alerts yesterday I received a link to a revolutionary article posted on The Sun website. Now I don’t know the politics of The Sun, yet you can bet I’m more than willing to link to the article that appeared in my inbox.

I stopped taking SZ medication in 1992 under a doctor’s supervision. Yet even though I had a mild form I relapsed within 3 months and had to go back on the Stelazine. It’s why I choose to take a maintenance dose of Geodon every day.

It’s why I’m going to link at the end of this blog entry to an article in The Sun online.

My ancestors arrived here in the 1890s from Italy. Yes, mental health issues have run in my family since the 1890s–no kidding, this is a fact.

The quote is: “Genetics is the gun. Environment pulls the trigger.”

We each of us deserve better than to be told we’re wrong for choosing how we want to live. This choice might include taking medication for those of us who need it. We each of us have the right to choose recovery in whatever form our recovery takes.

Here’s the link to the revolutionary article in The Sun:

Neurotypicals Need to Cool It with the Advice

Alternative Careers

librarian book cover

I recommend getting a library job as an alternative career to working in retail or working in a cubicle in an office.

Those of us without a library degree can get a job as a clerk in a library.

Or better yet those of us with great computer skills can get a tech position in a library.

This is because a lot of libraries aren’t hiring clerks anymore. Libraries today are creating tech support positions.

As the book cover attests, libraries attract a diverse crowd.

I started my new career when I was 35. It’s not ever too late to change gears.

This is a good thing to do when you’re having a hard time in your first career.

Mid life gives us the opportunity to change our lives for the better.

Like I’ve always championed:

It’s a kind of mental health treatment to have a job you love.

The book is interesting. You can check it out of the library if you can’t afford to buy it.

Recovery is an Open Door

Tonight I’ve changed the wording in a couple of sentences in the book description for Left of the Dial on Amazon.com.

You live–you change your mind. I deleted the reference to achieving a “pre-illness dream.” I replaced it with wording that you can have your own version of a full and robust life.

Going on over two years since the memoir was published I’ve learned something profound, more realistic, and hopeful in terms of what is possible:

That when we get older we can discover that we have a new talent that we didn’t have before we got sick.

This is the real hope. The truth is that the illness can attenuate for a lot of us in our older years. So the point isn’t that to be considered successful we must–or can–achieve our pre-illness dreams.

The point is that I didn’t achieve my pre-illness dream of getting a Masters’ in Journalism.

This is the far more remarkable thing: that a person can have better life after they’ve had a breakdown than before. And this life isn’t always the one we wanted or expected to have.

Nothing succeeds like persistence. Recovery isn’t quick and it isn’t easy–it’s challenging and hard at times. Yet it can be a beautiful expression of the potential within each of us to do some kind of personally meaningful “work”–paid or not.

There’s an ending to the expression: “When one door closes, another door opens.” It’s this: “Yet we often look so longingly at the door that closed that we don’t see the one opening before us.”

It’s a mistake to regret what cannot be. It’s a gift to embrace what life has in store for us when we dare to walk through the open door.

No one else has stated in these exact words what I’ll be the first person to tell you now:

Recovery is an open door.

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?

Smiling Depression

Before I go into things from my other books I want to take a detour into talking about a feature article in Women’s Health magazine. Every year the May issue focuses on Mental Health.

There’s a thing: smiling depression. In the May issue you can read about how this silent suffering affects women.

I could relate to having a persona that masks what’s really going on. In here before I wrote about squelching your personality to fit in–and how that can damage your soul.

The Peer Support guideline is: “We judge no one’s pain as any less than our own.”

Yet the women in the May issue were told in essence to buck up–that they had done great things so shouldn’t be depressed.

One woman’s friend told her: “You’ll feel better if you pray.” Yet prayer doesn’t cure a person’s mental health issue. The woman’s Pastor had the good sense to tell her to see a therapist.

That’s the toll it takes on a lot of us to live in hiding. Our therapists are complicit in telling us not to disclose at our jobs. Good advice. Yet that’s precisely why we need to find our own tribe of kindred spirits to talk to about what’s going on.

Smiling depression is a thing. It deserves our attention. Those of us who have smiling depression deserve our compassion.

Go subscribe to Women’s Health if you want to–it’s a great magazine and I read it every month. I like Self too–yet I think Women’s Health is even better.

Nutrition Action

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I want to talk about food and nutrition again. We’re coming up on Greenmarket season in New York City. Here you can use food stamps at a Greenmarket and there’s even an incentive for doing so. I think you should if you get food stamps buy fresh produce at a Greenmarket this time of year. Or year-round if a market is available in the winter.

The pasta is fresh angel hair pasta. The mussels are Newfoundland rope organic mussels. I order from an internet grocery that delivers. I had splurged for Mario Batali tomato sauce yet won’t do that again–it cost a ton of money for one jar.

I sloshed the mussels in red wine. You can fill a large saucepan with just enough water and place the mussels in the water. The water shouldn’t be so high that it goes into the shells. Steam the mussels for 25 minutes or so. Pour the wine over the mussels halfway through.

One time I was eating mussels in a restaurant. As you might know I’m Italian. So I’m eating the mussels and the woman at the table next to me tells the young girl with her: “Italians love their mussels.”

I was astonished. There I was Italian and I’m eating mussels.

The table decor is the spring tablecloth and vase and candlesticks. I firmly believe in changing your table decor at the start of every season. It can give a lift to your spirits.

I eat mussels. I have muscle. I doubt the two are connected. Yet enjoying good food  can improve your mental health too.