Who You Are Versus the Pills You Pop

I’ve been thinking long and hard about the topic of personality.

About how a person’s soul is animated in their body and embedded in their brain in this particular lifetime.

We cannot confuse a person’s symptoms and illness with their identity and individuality.

That is the root of what’s called “stigma”–stereotyping everyone with a mental illness based on one person’s behavior.

In fact, stigma isn’t often linked to observed actual behavior. Just to popular opinion of what it’s like to have an illness. Which is fueled by the media.

I’ve been an Activist–a Mental Health Advocate first of all–for over 17 years so far.

My stance is this: anyone who chooses not to see another person as an individual is blind.

I’ll quote from an e-mail I received:

“Those who judge don’t matter and those who matter don’t judge.”

I say: “Break bread” with others to get to know them at their soul level.

The sad fact is for too many people those of us with a mental health diagnosis are seen as an interchangeable homogeneous entity.

It’s why I refuse to divide people–either along color lines or the line of having a mental illness or not having one.

In the end, it’s simply lazy and ignorant to stereotype a person, as if they are not worth getting to know for who they are on the inside.

The truth is: our personalities are as individual as our thumbprints.

Which is the root of why I wanted to write and publish a memoir that told a good story about real people living lives apart from their illnesses.

There’s no other first-person narrative like my book Left of the Dial.

As said I’ve been thinking long and hard about how the individuality of a person diverges from their symptoms.

Who You Are Is Not the Pills You Pop.

Add the chemical cocktails we imbibe to the mix and this doesn’t alter our personality.

I want to shake the haters and ask:

“What’s up? Can’t you see that everyone is beautiful? Why are you labeling people you haven’t even met?

Why are you closed off to opening your eyes to the diversity of human beings at the soul level?”

I tell you:

Imitation isn’t the sincerest form of flattery. It’s the quickest route to ill health.

Be brave. Be yourself.

That’s the foolproof  recipe for success in recovery.

 

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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.

What Goes On At Work

My goal is that more and more peers are able to obtain jobs where we can then hire other peers to come on board at our companies.

You have to be aware of something that happens in the workplace even to the best workers among us.

This scenario makes disclosure on the job tricky for me to recommend in most work environments.

Employers will hire people with disabilities for temporary or transitional employment. This covers their ass and makes them look good.

As to whether those employers will hire mental health peers for full-time positions with paid health insurance and other benefits that remains to be seen.

I had attended a small business hiring practices event. It was suggested that for mental health peers seeking employment “the door slams in their faces.”

Sometimes it’s still an Old Boys’ (or Girls’) Network. Which is why I make the case for those of us who are peers to hire other peers. Getting in the door is what’s important.

As someone who is set to publish a career guide titled You Are Not Your Diagnosis I’m interested in hearing from peers ourselves what you perceive as the reason why the door is slammed.

I would like to add new information to my career guide that can be like the key that helps peers open the doors.

I’m simply interested in hearing from peers what their experiences have been in this regard.

My experience has been that employers love to interview people with disabilities for promotions. This shows they made a good-faith effort at being receptive.

In reality the position might go to another person.

In one interview for a supervisor job I was asked this very question (I kid you not): What single event in your life has made you who you are today?”

OK–I flubbed everything I said in the interview and didn’t get the position. It wasn’t a great interview so I understand not being chosen.

Years later I interviewed for another promotion. I was totally on and totally confident and thought I was the most qualified. Most of all because I had years of supervisor experience and that’s what the job called for.

They gave the job to someone else because they already knew they were going to choose this person. They went through the charade of interviewing other people they weren’t going to offer the job.

Folks: this happens all the time. It’s a dirty little secret.

Knowing this I think you can see that you have to be judicious in deciding whether or not to disclose your diagnosis on the job.

In the next blog entry I’m going to talk about something central to mental health peers’ success on the job: having autonomy versus having a job with narrowly defined duties and a rigid power hierarchy.

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.

People Have the Power

Individuals with SZ are seen as interchangeable with no identities of our own apart from the illness and its symptoms.

The reasoning goes: we’re not able to recover so why bother trying to help us do this if it’s impossible?

NO. That thinking doesn’t fly with me.

We should be trying to help people recover.

I don’t accept chronic disability as the fate of any human being.

My point exactly is that getting the right treatment right away can enable an individual to bloom–to do better–to be able to have a full and robust life.

I’m not a fan of the all talk and no action to create solutions MO of so-called normal people. They don’t have a vested interest in my life and health and in yours and other people’s who have MH issues.

I titled this blog entry “People Have the Power” because we have control over the dialogue. It’s also the title of my favorite Patti Smith song.

I’ve written before that I think no one we elect in government can ultimately ever do things to remedy societal ills.

So it’s up to each of us to take action to create the kind of life and health we want for ourselves.

It’s up to each of us to help each other.  Martin Luther King called this creative altruism.

I ask you:

Are you willing to remain silent?

Are you willing to accept chronic disability?

Are you willing to accept the status quo?

I’m NOT able to buy into the myth of helplessness and hopelessness.

There’s a better way: having the courage to speak the truth to power. Telling our stories.

Doing something to help those of us who WANT to recover have the OPPORTUNITY to recover.

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

Women with SZ and Menopause

I find myself drawn to wanting to write about health topics.

Yet again I’m going to be the first person to write about a hot topic in recovery.

NAMI isn’t doing this and neither is MHA.

No one except me has dared to focus in detail on SZ and recovery at mid life. We need to have this conversation now.

For women, you’ve hit menopause when you’ve gone 12 months without your monthly period. As you approach 50, your primary care doctor can test your hormone levels.

Reading the book Menopause Confidential: A Doctor Reveals the Secrets to Thriving through Mid Life by Tamara Allmen, M.D. might be helpful.

It’s a short book yet has vital information. You can also read Body-for-Life for Women by Pamela Peeke, M.D.

Women as we age gain fat in our abdomens–the dreaded “menopot” according to Peeke.

Her book talks about the 4 stages of a woman’s life and how to cope with the changes we experience in each stage.

It’s possible to not have it so hard when you’re in menopause. Taking 400 mg of Vitamin E is thought to help with hot flashes. You can ask your mother what kinds of symptoms  she had at menopause if you’re able.

The average age of getting menopause for American women is 51. I’m 52, and I have 2 months to go. So far, I’ve had no hot flashes, I’ve been the same weight (because I strength train), and I still have a photographic memory and no fuzzy thinking.

It’s a joy not getting your monthly period.

Yet if you’re having sex, make the guy wear a condom and get tested for HIV/AIDS. People diagnosed with SZ have a higher risk for HIV/AIDS, according to research I reported on when I was the Health Guide at the HealthCentral SZ website.

A More magazine news article years ago reported that a significant number of women over 40 develop HIV/AIDS. If I remember right the statistic was 1 in 4 women over 40. They’re not having a guy use condoms, and they’re at higher risk.

I’ll end here with what I think makes sense:

If you have to take SZ medication, or thyroid pills, or whatever you have to take, do this to have a better life at 40 and beyond. You shouldn’t have to be in any more mental, physical, or emotional pain than is absolutely necessary.

A therapist told me years ago: “Suffering for the sake of suffering is bullshit.”

In coming blog entries I’ll feature a guest blogger–a guy who’s a peer in his fifties–to talk about mid life from a male perspective.

I’ll report more about the female view of mid life in the coming months.