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.

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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 thinkĀ  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

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(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?

Dare to Be You

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Years ago for my birthday my dear friend gave me this card.

I wonder about the mental and physical toll of bottling up who you are–and bottling up the truth about the illness. Stuffing down your feelings can’t be healthy because one day the lid will pop off and they’ll explode.

So much has been written about how churches try to convert gay individuals to acting as heterosexuals. Yet I might be the first person to write about the folly of squelching your personality when you have a mental health diagnosis.

Pretending to be someone you’re not over the long-term only leads to illness.

Yet it’s a mistake to conflate temperament with symptoms. For a lot of people with mental health conditions though we do worry about betraying our illness to others in how we act–especially if we have jobs and degrees.

As a professional told me years ago:

“When you’re high-functioning you’re aware that you’re different so the pain is greater.”

Really, if you have anosognosia thus don’t think you’re sick why would you be ashamed to think the CIA is after you? You wouldn’t. You’d be oblivious to the slings and arrows of stigma.

As a woman put it to me: “At home and outside–with friends and family–I can be myself and don’t have a filter. Yet who am I supposed to be at work?”

I’m writing about these things because no one else is and someone has to.

In the end the ethic of my memoir Left of the Dial boils down to this:

Dare to Be You–and you’ll be happier and healthier.