The Beauty of Individuality

The online Merriam Webster definition of stigma is “a mark of shame or discredit.”

I’m not keen to use the term stigma to describe what is in effect a lack of compassion for people who are different, who might not look like you, who might have an illness.

Too often the word stigma is framed as the cause of people not seeking help for mental health issues.

My memoir Left of the Dial chronicles my own fear of not being normal.

In 2020 I would like to be part of the solution to what’s going on in the world.

For too long narrow-mindedness has ruled in society.

I can identify with individuals who were subjected to “conversion therapy.”

I can relate to people who were told to conform and give up their dream of being an artist.

What I’d really like to do is contribute to the dialog about how to heal from stigma.

No one should feel guilty or ashamed because they don’t fit the mold of what other people think is acceptable.

It’s so easy to fall into the trap of internalizing this stigma.

On the cusp of 55 I’ve decided to promote individuality as the remedy.

The only way to succeed in life is to be who you are not who others would like you to be.

In coming blog entries I’m going to talk about the beauty of individuality in more detail.

Talking About Mental Health With Others

I don’t like to talk about what happened. On an ordinary day I choose not to tell people. Only in my blogs, books, and public speaking engagements will I be open.

I’m trying to meet a love interest like a lot of women in America are. Even in this arena I don’t want to reveal too much information about anything, even about non-mental health things.

To empower readers I would like to talk about this:

When is the right time to tell your romantic partner about your mental health history?

I say: it’s after you’ve gotten them to swallow your bait and you’ve reeled them in on your fishing line.

The bait you should be dangling is who you are apart from your illness.

The first date or even only the fifth date is not the time to talk about any liability if you ask me.

If you agonize and obsess over whatever your mental health diagnosis is, constantly thinking about possible stigma and expecting stigma wherever you go, this might just become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It’s going to influence how you interact with other people.

My memoir Left of the Dial exposed the early mindset I had that I didn’t want to be viewed as “crazy.”

Yet discontinue your medication and get sick, and you’ll be farther away from attracting a romantic partner.

The reality is–to quote a shrink–“A guy will be impressed that you take medication because it shows you want to be healthy in the relationship.”

In my early fifties I decided I wanted to try for love. The diagnosis is off the table as a conversation starter.

First I might slip it in little-by-little by talking about how Kanye West has told people he has bipolar.  Then by talking about a real person in my life who has a mental health issue.

Send out the information like a canary in a coalmine. See if it kills the canary.

The point is people who lack compassion, who are going to get spooked because you have an MH thing, are really messed up themselves. They’re not so great candidates for living in love with.

When you do talk about what happened it’s OK to keep embarrassing details to yourself. Keep private of course the things you don’t want to tell others.

You can tell others the bare-bones if you’d like and only that. It’s your right to tell others only what you’re comfortable revealing.

My signature poem “What She Said” talks about how I’ll only give others parts of the story. It’s worth buying Left of the Dial to have on hand this poem that starts off the book.

Like it or not (it’s a fact), revealing your diagnosis is going to color and influence what another person thinks of you from that moment on.

It’s far better if you ask me that you tell your love interest when you’ve established a connection with them linked to who you are apart from the illness..

Lastly, I’ll give readers this counterpoint:

You have to realize that it can be a burden for another person to process what you’ve told them. This has nothing to do with stigma.

They should be told in a way that considers their needs too.

The person you want to get intimate with should be told at some point.

What to do if you’re rejected, if the person stops calling, if they ghost you or disappear?

Think of the good times you had up until then.

Remember the adage:

“Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

Every experience you have in life with another person gives you the skills, abilities, and strength you need to succeed in the future.

 

Healing is an Act of Love

My decades-long vision that recovery is possible animates my role as an Advocate.

My goal in life is to advance this vision of Recovery for Everyone. I believe recovery is possible from whatever setback a person has experienced.

Healing is an act of love.

Woundology, as I wrote about in here before, is the refusal to heal because you get a payoff in being ill.

The root of my vision of recovery lies in my belief that healing is possible.

For years I’ve been in recovery from a traumatic attack. I’ve also recently been in recovery (as an older woman) from the self-scrutiny of how I look without any foundation covering my face : )

This is to say that a person can be in recovery from different kinds of setbacks.

Advocating for recovery goes hand in hand with advocating for universal love as the twin engines that drive my life’s purpose.

It was an act of love that drove my mother to drive me to the hospital to get help not once but twice when I was younger.

Seeking help is an act of love for yourself or your loved one. Yet too often the door to recovery is slammed shut before you get to open it. Treatment is often denied just when a person needs it.

A lot of people are unable to recover because they don’t get the right help right away when they first experience mental or emotional distress.

It can sound radical to do so yet I frame stigma not only as discrimination I view it as hate. Is the absence of compassion for people with SZ and other mental health issues tantamount to being a form of hate?

You decide. I think it is. Society needs to heal from the disease of stigma.

The hate a person gives out only serves to damage the hater more than their target.

My vision of Recovery for Everyone has been attacked. A woman billed as an “international expert” (who curiously didn’t have her own website) attacked me twice for claiming that most people can recover.

No surprise she had claimed that no one can recover from SZ. How can any so-called expert claim that most people aren’t in treatment who need it?

We have no statistics to prove that people aren’t recovering. This is because there’s no way of counting the number of people who aren’t in treatment who need to be.

This is also to say that diagnosing a person from afar just because you think they have a mental illness isn’t the way to go either.

My decades-long vision of Recovery for Everyone is predicated on empirical evidence: the real mental health peers I’ve met and talked with who are doing just fine.

Nobody in power seems to see fit to count successful peers in their statistics of who’s actually doing well and who isn’t.

Am I the only one to state this truth in a logical way? Because the arguments claiming that no one can recover sure aren’t rational or based in reality.

My life’s purpose and work extends to more than just mental health. This should be apparent to loyal blog readers who have followed my talk for years about healing the planet too.

I’ll say it again: healing is an act of love. Getting treatment for yourself or a loved one is an act of love. Choosing to love yourself and others is a form of healing.

I believe that universal love must reign over the ongoing hate in the world.

Won’t you join me in championing Recovery for Everyone?

Won’t you join me in advancing universal love as a form of healing?

 

Honoring Martin Luther King’s Legacy

Ever since I was younger I have always had an affinity with Martin Luther King, Jr. and his message even though I was only 3 when he was killed.

It might be that as a person diagnosed with SZ I understand the plight of other people.

Racism got started by looking at a person’s skin color and stereotyping them.

I think about this now because of how people with SZ are stereotyped.

The fact is at 22 I had a minor breakdown. At 27 I had a relapse after a 3-month drug holiday failed.

I identify as a person with SZ because of having had these two experiences in my life.

A woman in the comments section below a news article I was quoted in wrote that I must be the exception.

To what or whom am I the exception when I’m only being myself?

If a person can’t do what I’ve done or what you’re able to do that’s not the point. Corralling everyone with SZ into the same homogeneous stereotype of what we’re capable of or how we act does a disservice to peers and others alike.

Frankly it upsets me  that so-called normal people often don’t have the decency and compassion to really SEE Who We Are–Who Each of Us Is–apart from the SZ.

To deny that people diagnosed with SZ are as unique as our thumbprints is to in effect render us invisible even though we’re standing right in front of other people.

Again it also upsets me that so-called normal people parrot that NO ONE can recover. Why aren’t they taking action to help us recover?

This is at the heart of what drove me to publish my memoir Left of the Dial: every other SZ memoir focused on chronic illness, symptoms, and long-term hell.

The pathology in the memoirs overshadowed the personality of the individuals.

Yes–I wanted to entertain readers not make them depressed.

The whole of success in life lies in SEEING who a person really is on the inside.

If you’re interacting with people and making judgments about them before you get to know them you’re contributing to stigma.

Stigma is a form of mind pollution that has infected human relationships for too long in society.

It’s 2018. MLK must be crying in his grave over how people still treat each other.

Let’s honor Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy by reaching out and getting to know other people.

Let’s SEE.

Change Starts Today

At some point you really have to say:

“This is who I am. Take me as I am–or leave.”

We cannot control what other people think of us.

I’m learning this lesson now.

In the end, it doesn’t matter what people think of us. Seeking their approval is a no-win game.

Thinking you know what another person thinks about you is circular failed logic.

In effect, you’re judging that person without knowing the truth.

As a mental health peer I realize that holding so-called normal people up as valid arbiters of our worth is a form of internalizing the stigma.

Holding anyone else up as a judge in terms of how they view us is also not healthy.

We need to like ourselves first of all and in turn have compassion for other people.

Each of us living on earth is doing the best we can with what we were given.

Change starts today. Often if we want to change our lives we first have to change our minds.

I’ll be 53 in April–in just over 5 months. This is what I’ve learned so far:

Judging people isn’t the way to go. Stereotyping people isn’t the way to go.

The way to go is to understand that those of us living with mental health challenges are worthy friends, lovers, and support folk.

I for one have gotten over thinking that having a so-called normal guy as a boyfriend is the way to go. I’ve given up for good trawling OKCupid for a mate.

I don’t expect anyone who doesn’t have a mental health challenge to truly understand.

We need to seek love companionship and empathy from people who are able to give it.

We can’t expect to change the hearts and minds of people who are stones in how they treat others.

It would be great if people would come to their senses and treat everyone they meet with love.

While we wait for this to happen we can help make it happen by acting on our own to model compassionate behavior.

The older I get I’m trying to make a difference in the world.

I call this ethic placing “service above self.”

Acting with love will show others the benefit of acting with love.

One thing I know: people can change as their circumstances change.

People can become more loving and generous towards other people.

I’ve seen that this is true. It’s entirely possible for another person to wake up.

Change starts today. It starts today for all of us.

We have only today in which to make a difference.

God has given us this day. Let’s use it wisely and for the benefit of everyone.

The View from My Poltrona

I wanted to write a blog entry about microaggressions.

They’re hateful and hurtful. I don’t consider them to be “micro” anything; I consider them to be actual racist comments.

The last I checked my calendar at home it was 2017. What is the year on your calendar where you live? 2017?

That’s right: it’s 2017, and it’s time to stop hate in its tracks.

I suggest critically attacking the person who has told you something that is hurtful or hateful. They need to be told why what they’ve said is wrong. This is because unfortunately they’re clueless–they have no idea of the hateful magnitude of their comment.

I stand in solidarity with anyone who’s been oppressed.

In 2014 when my First Person Account was published in Schizophrenia Bulletin I linked to this column on the NAMI LinkedIn Group.

A woman who uses a fake name on social media responded thus: “Why do you identify as a person diagnosed with schizophrenia. You obviously had a once-in-a-lifetime never-to-be-repeated episode.”

So, this armchair psychiatrist diagnosed me from her poltrona (the Italian word for armchair).

That is how low the bar is that other people set for a person diagnosed with schizophrenia.

In the late 1980s when I was shunted into “the system” I was told there was not much I could do precisely because I had this diagnosis.

Thus, I’m no stranger to the guilt-by-association tactic that linked everyone with SZ into the category of “capable of not very much” except warming a chair in a day program for years and years.

That’s why when I hear a guest speaker on an unrelated topic reveal that they were the victim of a microaggression I can’t help getting upset.

The guilt-by-association tactic is alive and well in Mr. Toupee’s America, as evidenced by his Muslim-country ban that ascertains you’re guilty of possibly being a terrorist simply because other people from that country are terrorists.

Is this really the climate we want to live in? Stereotyping everyone who’s different and continuing to set the bar low for what you expect from everyone who shares a similar background is still going on.

Check your calendar again–it’s 2017 not 1864.

My stance now is this: we need to confront the haters. I’ve changed my mind about this. Yes, I think we need to tell the haters in no uncertain terms that their low opinions of other human beings aren’t going to be accepted anymore.

I identify as a person diagnosed with SZ for this number-one reason:

I hold accountable for their beliefs and actions the mental health staff that dared tell me I wasn’t capable of holding a job.

I was judged; I was stereotyped.

My intent in identifying as a person with this diagnosis is to be in their face, to tell them: “See? You told me there wasn’t much I was capable of. Who’s sorry now? I’m having the last laugh.”

We must each of us hold others accountable for their behavior towards us.

It’s 2017–that’s the year on my calendar and it’s the year on your calendar too.

We can’t hold it all in and let the hate eat us up or tear us apart any longer.

Won’t you join me in speaking out?

My real name is Christina Bruni, and I was diagnosed with schizophrenia when I was 22.

Take this, or leave.

Hate is off the table in my house.

Hungry Heart

In 1999 when I was an assistant in a law firm library I told a coworker: “I want to win a Pulitzer.”

She responded: “You have to write a book first.” In a tone that seemed mocking or incredulous that I could do this.

We shall see what happens.

I’ve known ever since I was seven years old that I wanted to be a writer.

Ever since I was only five years old I had been bullied by the neighborhood kids and the kids in school.

Coincidence? I think it’s not a coincidence that I’ve wanted to be a writer ever since I was only seven years old.

Run out and buy this book: Jennifer Weiner’s memoir Hungry Heart.

In it, the New York Times bestselling author boldly asserts that it’s the freaks of the world, the ones from f*cked-up homes, the outcasts, who are destined to become great writers.

Jennifer Weiner was strong enough to row on a crew team at Princeton University.

Yet all through her life before achieving this Ivy League feat the other kids and teens called her fat.

I’m engrossed in Hungry Heart totally. I”m going to continue reading it at the speed of light.

Easily nine years ago I’d go on Jennifer Weiner’s author website. I’ve revisited the website today. Her advice to aspiring authors is some of the greatest advice you’ll ever read for free.

Writers, click your pens and get writing. Those of us who are writers write because we must. We write because to not write we’d have a breakdown of the soul.

I stand in solidarity with Jennifer Weiner. Go on her website and read the articles she’s written for the New York Times on women and body issues.

Years ago–too long ago to count–I logged on to Match.com for about five minutes and quickly logged off.

The featured profile on the homepage of that dating website was that of a guy who wrote in these exact words:

“I won’t date a fat woman.” No kidding he used the word fat.

As soon as I saw that I refused to join Match.com.

That’s interesting, right, considering that I fit into a size 2 Petite not a 14 or a 3X?

I urge you to buy and read the book Hungry Heart.

Jennifer Weiner is anti-MFA. Like I do, she knows that if you’re a writer you don’t need to spend all your time in a classroom learning to write.

Those of us who are writers will do our editing of a manuscript on a crowded New York City bus we’re lucky to get a seat on.

We’ll write in a notebook on the subway, or at a table in a public library, or at any number of indie coffee shops in our neighborhood.

We scope out the layout of the living room dining room area when we want to buy a co-op or rent an apartment to verify there’s room for a desk and a file cabinet.

I’ve been remiss in blogging here because yes indeed I’ve started writing a third novel. This is the one I want to publish first within three years.

Jennifer Weiner tells it like it is.

I tell you this:

There is something about being bullied, about being called fat, about being an outsider in the Popularity Contest of Life that endows a person with great writing talent.

I’ve been listening to alternative music ever since I was in high school–long before I was a disc jockey on the FM radio.

I tell you this also:

I’ll go to my grave–a 90-year old woman–listening to the Beastie Boys.

Thirty years after my disc jockey career ended I’m still listening to alternative music.

Thirty years after having a breakdown I stand in solidarity with those of us who are outsiders–who don’t fit in–whose difference threatens to mark us with an externally-inflicted stigmata.

Listen up loyal blog readers:

You have nothing to be ashamed of or feel guilty about because you have a diagnosis of SZ or whatever challenge you have in life.

Let’s refuse to be hurt when a dude tells a potential lover he won’t date a fat woman.

Would he then divorce a skinny woman who gained 10 pounds because she was no longer desirable?

Think about this. Think long and hard before you submit to feeling guilty or ashamed because of who you are.

Honoring Our Individuality is a Human Right

The right of everyone living in recovery to have their own version of a full and robust life is a human rights issue.

Is it not an inviolable human right for everyone living on earth to express, embrace, and celebrate their unique Self–and to have others acknowledge and honor this individual Self?

Honoring and embracing each other’s individuality is the root of resolving human rights issues.

Too many people in American society and in the world judge others who don’t conform to so-called “norms.”

The solution to stigma of any kind is to be your Self, regardless of whether or not other people like and accept your Self.

Each of us must express our Selves freely and without shame. We have nothing to feel guilty about when we act true to our Selves.

The burden is on other people to “deal with it”–to deal with the fact that we don’t conform to what they think  is an acceptable Self to promote in the world.

Make no mistake: we can’t live in fear of what people think of us.

We need to honor and embrace each other’s individual Self. Doing this is the foundation upon which all human rights are built.

It’s up to each of us to continue to act true to our Selves. It’s up to each of us to accept, honor, embrace, and celebrate the uniqueness of every other person we meet and interact with.

To not do this is to perpetuate a violation of human rights.

Yet at the same time, we cannot judge and seek to negate the Self of a person who does narrowly define what an acceptable Self looks and acts like for other people.

Hate looks good on no one. “Hating the haters” is not the way to live. Understanding and having compassion for everyone–even for those who hate–is imperative.

The bottom line: compassion is always in fashion. It starts with having self-compassion and self-acceptance. When we like ourselves and embrace and celebrate our individuality, it doesn’t matter if other people don’t like us and lack compassion.

In the next blog entry I’m going to quote a woman who has quickly become my newest role model. She tells it like it is in her own words. I’ve just finished reading her astonishing memoir.

 

Using Your Clothing to Speak Your Mind

It’s curtains for any stigma. The show of hate has closed down.

An image consultant wrote a 5-star review of my memoir Left of the Dial.

Now more than ever I stand by my assertion that the role of stigma is overrated.

Followers, everyone knows. And the kind people, the compassionate people, don’t care.

[You think it’s a secret but it’s not.]

The haters are jackasses. Do you really want to waste one minute of your life trying to get a jackass to like you and approve of you?

In the wise words of John Maxwell: “They can’t hurt you unless you let them.”

If you allow the haters to dictate how you feel about yourself, that’s a form of internalized shame.

You are kinder, you are stronger, and you are braver than that. You are wise and you are worthy.

Fight for your rights if you’ve been discriminated against in obtaining housing or other legal opportunities because of your mental health diagnosis. Put on your boots, because like Nancy Sinatra sang, those boots can walk all over another person.

Make no mistake: other than legal violations, wasting time worrying about potential stigma will rob you of having a full and robust life.

Repeat after me: the people who are kind and compassionate don’t care if you have SZ or BP or DP or whatever you have. Seek out friends and lovers who aren’t afraid.

The ones who are going to get spooked by your diagnosis have issues. You don’t need them in your life.

The only baggage I covet is Louis Vuitton. Better yet, make mine a Sac du Jour.

I’ll end here with this story:

I watched on TV as Letitia James–the first African American woman to hold the position–was sworn in as Public Advocate of New York City.

She now holds the second highest ranking elected office in the City.

She wore knee-high boots to take the stage at her inauguration.

Take a tip from Letitia James:

Use your clothing to speak your mind.

Any questions still about designing your life through personal style?

Sparking Love Kindness and Joy

love-mugkindess-mugjoy-mug-ellen

(Lineup of Ellen mugs that tell it like it is.)

We need to spark love kindness and joy for ourselves and others.

Now I think of how Ellen Degeneres “came out” in the 1990s on her TV sitcom.

Since then she’s had a remarkable career. Ellen doesn’t seem unkind or hurtful–she appears to be a genuinely compassionate person.

We need in the mental health community to have our own “Ellen” who can take on the bigotry against people with SZ and BP and other MH conditions.

The more members of our tribe earn our success alongside people without diagnoses we’ll hopefully have the clout to obtain the equality and excellence in relationships that we’ve demanded for years now.

Yet I don’t think only successful people should get this free pass. Those of us who are doing well should fight for the rights, opportunities, and dignity for peers whose faces aren’t in the news or in blogs and who struggle in the shadows.

We’re at a point in the history of the world where speaking out is imperative. We must start telling our stories first to each other and then to the people we meet.

We need to make it known that we’re not going away; we won’t take anyone’s bull crap; we’re here to stay.

This starts when we accept the diagnosis and get comfortable with it–because then we can be casual about it with the people we meet–slip it into dialogue as if it’s a natural thing.

If you ask me we haven’t often gotten anywhere because we’ve been spooked about having a diagnosis and this rubbed off on and spooked other people.

So: Be Kind to Your Mind. Love Yourself. Love-bomb the haters.

I would like to be the Ellen Degeneres of mental health.

That’s a tall order. Yet I’ve been a mental health activist for 15 years now and there’s so much more I want to do.

I want to stomp on stigma with my Missoni Converse.

I want to get people talking about mental health on the front porches of America.

I want to show peers that we have choices and lifestyle options.

No longer do we have to be relegated to collecting SSI forever and living in dangerous low-income housing on the edge of town.

Are you in?