In my memoir Left of the Dial I have a short scene about riding the subway. How you don’t know what the person in the Calvin Klein suit sitting across from you is like in private.

It’s a two-sided coin: on one side you can have a person who looks odd and is normal under their facade. On the other side you can have someone who looks normal and is a rebel on the inside.

This is the beauty of individuals: no one is a cardboard character. Even a racist can have their good points. The goal is not to judge others even if it seems a lot of people tend to judge you.

The individuality of a person’s spirit is what makes them beautiful. This is an element of their humanity that no one should try to judge or to take away.

I say: we do away with the judging, with criticizing ourselves and others, with trying to change others to get them to conform to what we think is appropriate.

Celebrate individuality.

It’s what makes the world go around.

I will return on Saturday with a memoir excerpt.


Go For The Gold

The definition of normal is of average or ordinary intelligence, or conforming to a standard or type.

It’s well and good if this is what a person aspires to be yet I make the case for striving for excellence.

The stigma then has nothing to do with having others think you’re “crazy.” More likely, so-called normal people don’t want individuals with mental illnesses to succeed because when we do it reinforces their own insecurities about what they can do. Not a lot of people who covet having a normal life appreciate another person coming along who’s driven to excel.

They know we’re often more competent, more driven, more normal than the average person.

The traditional playing field that others compete on in society hasn’t been level for people with MIs. The fact is so-called normals designated the rules of that playing field and set it up so people with SZ couldn’t compete.

This is why for going on 9 years I’ve talked in my blogs and at HealthCentral about competing against yourself, because when you compete against yourself the playing field is truly level: you own that particular piece of land you’ve chosen as your playing field.

One of my favorite quotes from the book Imagine is: “It’s not enough to be good when you can be great.”

I say: kick the stigma to Mars. Boot it out of your life by daring to be yourself.

Dare to set your sights higher for what you want to do in your life. No victory you achieve can ever be taken from you. Own your achievements.

It’s just as easy to dream big as it is to settle for less.

So why not go for the gold?

How Stigma Really Works

I’m going to continue in this vein and then end at the next week.

I propose there’s a double standard for people with schizophrenia who are doing well. If you have this illness and act odd, appear a little off, no one will want anything to do with you. On the other hand, if you’re doing well, I still make the case for not disclosing on the job.

You can tell a romantic partner, you can risk telling a friend if you want. Yet I’m here to tell you disclosing to your employers will still most likely backfire.

It’s because people don’t like to give credit to those of us with this illness when we’re doing well. It’s because so-called normal people have a lot invested in maintaining their appearances. They hid their flaws well. They don’t like people with schizophrenia who are doing well because it threatens their power.

It doesn’t look good to others when a person with schizophrenia can run circles around them, people who don’t have a mental illness. They have to protect their turf, so you might not get promoted on a job. You’ll be given an interview for a better position if you apply so that HR can trot you out like a show pony to claim they don’t discriminate.

The person who gets the job might be wacky and might not be the best candidate yet as long as they maintain their cloak of normalcy they’ll be fawned over.

I’m tired of people fronting normalcy as a “get out of jail free” Monopoly card in the workplace and in society. I have a big beef with what passes as normal in society because often dysfunctional behavior is rewarded in the workplace as well as in society.

With so much at stake I implore you: do not disclose to your employer or think twice about disclosing to your employer.

I’ll return with two more blog entries on this topic and then I’ll move on to other topics.

Fortune Cookie Fortunes

Fifteen years ago I bought a set of 8 dessert plates with witty fortune cookie messages printed on them coming out of fortune cookies:

Love Is Worth The Risk

Why Not Take Responsibility For Your Greatness?

Suppose You Get What You Want

You Think It’s a Secret But It’s Not

The last two messages are apt because you can get what you want when you live with a diagnosis. It’s possible to succeed doing what you love. In my estimation a person can succeed ONLY when they do what they love. Acting false to yourself and working at a job that doesn’t suit you just to pay the bills is the sure-fire way to be miserable. Each of us deserves better.

I chose to get a job in a library rather than in an office when I obtained my library science degree.

In February 2005, I was the victim of accidental disclosure when the employee newsletter published in the Good for You section the news that I won the Volunteer of the Year Award for NAMI-Staten Island. Little did I know the newsletter editor would lift the information directly, word-for-word, from the article already published in the newspaper at the time I won the award. Everyone found out exactly why I won. It was no secret.

Even with this I don’t recommend disclosure for most people employed at jobs.

I recommend “researching yourself” to discover the kinds of jobs you might like to do and be good at. When you find the job you love, the stigma becomes irrelevant to your daily life.

I have a desk. I placed the collage I framed on the desk. I had created a collage with various colorful letters that spelled out the word Optimism in an art class I took where I work. I hung up on the cloth board on the back of my desk a bookmark with my signature poem “What She Said” typed on it.

That’s how I know that sometimes pretending not to have a diagnosis is unnecessary. If you work in offices or corporations or business I still think Sheryl Sandberg’s idea of mixing the personal with the professional is so controversial for people diagnosed with mental illnesses.

Can people living with mental health conditions Lean In on our own terms?

I sure hope that day is coming. Women like Brene Brown and Sheryl Sandberg who have written books and are leaders in their fields do inspire me for this very reason: they reveal their personal sides.

The idea that only Alpha Males can succeed or deserve to succeed in business and in other work arenas is crumbling fast thanks to these two courageous woman. Possibly I’m going to be another woman who breaks the glass barrier too: in this case for people living with a diagnosis.

I sure hope the old way of doing business: the old boys’ network: is becoming obsolete.

I’m all for Leaning In now. I respect and admire women and I respect and admire men too who challenge the norms in the society that hold each of us back and hold us as a society back.

You Think It’s A Secret But It’s Not.

None of us can afford to get our knickers twisted over this as the expression goes.

The day is here when people who have diagnoses can get what they want just like others.

If I can do for people with mental health conditions what Sheryl Sandberg or Brene Brown does for other women and men, I will have done my job.

It’s time for a revolution. It’s time to re-think what’s possible for people living in recovery.

Suppose You Get What You Want?

Something to think about.

Our Time In The Sun

Sheryl Sandberg in her compelling book Lean In hints that the goal is to mix the personal and professional on the job. That woman can offer their original talents alongside men.

I wouldn’t be so quick to disclose your mental health diagnosis on the job. In most traditional arenas of employment this backfires. You’re viewed through the lens of a disability and every screw-up is chalked up to not taking your medication.

Your diagnosis can and will be used against you in office work no doubt about it and I’m confident when I say that in other areas it can backfire too.

I call it “the time in the sun” when a person is successful living with a mental health condition. Everyone has a thing. It’s how you carry yourself that effects how people respond to you. The goal is to be proud of yourself, hold your head high.

People know. It’s not ever a secret for a lot of us. To quote a fortune cookie greeting on a dessert plate I bought: You Think It’s a Secret But It’s Not.

So disclosing is unnecessary. It becomes a non-issue when you find your place in the sun. It’s where we can hope to be in our recoveries: where the light of hope shines, a spark of excitement to be alive doing what we love.

It’s easier to think stigma is powerful, evil, limits us. Yet only our own fear of stigma limits us. When we get past making stigma a threat, we can move into the sun: we can light up our recoveries with our faith that we have right inside us what it takes to succeed.

Try it: live in the light, dare to find your place in the sun. All human beings need light and air and laughter. We must have a sense of humor about the perceived stigma.

I’ll end here by telling you again:

It’s possible everyone knows. There’s no need to disclose. You shouldn’t make your life all about your diagnosis. When you find your place in the sun, you will be successful, regardless of any stigma.

I will report back in here next how you can thrive at work.

Sunday Girl

A supervisor used to take me to dinner on Sundays.

We ate in an Italian restaurant famed for its penne vodka with shrimp.

The restaurant closed down and K. is no longer here. At her wake at the funeral home another woman told me K.’s dying wish: “that everyone love each other more.”

Sadly, the trend is hate and violence. A friend who is Jewish thinks Israel was wrong to attack Gaza, instead of doing an investigation and executing those responsible for the teens’ deaths.

If a butterfly fluttering its wings in South America can impact what goes on elsewhere, as the expression goes, it’s time to re-think turning a blind eye to what goes on in the world.

It’s time to honor the memory of a person like K. It’s time to consider that each of us can “be the change” we want to see in the world.

I firmly believe change starts from within, like Michael Jackson sings in the lyrics to “Man in the Mirror”: if you want to change the world, you have to first change yourself.

It starts with the man or the woman in the mirror. And it’s not ever too late to make a positive change in your life. Self-improvement has a ripple effect like stones thrown in a lake.

Changing the world by changing ourselves:

It’s something to think about.

I will talk in the Flourish blog soon about a technique that could help a person change their lives.

Kicking Stigma To The Curb Begins At Home

You kick the stigma to the curb by having the last laugh when it seems the joke is on you.

I see things differently in this regard and will continue in the vein of the last entry here.

It’s true I have a strong reaction against labeling a person as either normal or a freak of nature. Both stereotypes straitjacket all human beings.

I believe in the ethic of expressing yourself, not being afraid to be who you are. Even if the world is not kind to “beautiful dreamers” and others who don’t follow along in the rules of society. Who made up those rules anyway?

The way you value-or don’t value-yourself determines whether other people value you. If you don’t respect yourself enough to respect others, how can you expect them to think highly of you, if you use other people as a dishrag?

That’s my big beef with what passes for normal in society: the lack of compassion, the lack of dignity people accord others: that is, acting with dignity or giving others dignity is about as common as a roller rink or a typewriter these days: it’s often non-existent.

Living your life Left of the Dial is a way to kick ass in this department. It’s a way to do your own thing faced with the pressure to Photoshop your personality into an acceptable social persona.

This is a way to liberate your spirit: to unchain the essence of you; to free yourself from the stigma by living your life.

A person must value themselves first of all: learn to accept the diagnosis or that they have a mental health challenge. To turn the liability into a positive: use it to your advantage to claim your power.

That’s all I’m saying: re-think your impressions of what you’re capable of living with a mental illness.

I used to wear medallion-print pajama pants everywhere with tee shirts and I carried the kind of army bag you could buy in the now-defunct Canal Jeans on Lower Broadway. I was told no employer would hire me. The staff in the day programs stereotyped me because they considered my quiet nature to be pathological. I was literally shell-shocked because I had been shunted into a day program that was little more than a babysitting service.

Remembering this is what ignited me to elegantly spoof my counselor in Left of the Dial. All of us must have a sense of humor about these things because to not forgive others isn’t healthy. That’s the way to heal: to forgive even if you can’t forget.

Most of all, we must forgive others in society who stigmatize people with mental illnesses. You don’t cure hate with hate: you allow yourself to have compassion for others.

It’s 2015 in 5 months. It’s a new year so we can all change our tune: let into our hearts a little more light and love for others. This starts when each of us opens our heart to ourselves-and embraces our own quirks, our illness and whatever else is part of the package.

The world is going mad: in the Ukraine and Russia, in the Middle East. We don’t need to join others in going mad. It’s high tide for something to change. We can decide to love: to choose to value ourselves and others and what each of us brings to the table.

It’s called R-E-S-P-E-C-T, and a little goes a long way.

You kick the stigma to the curb by valuing yourself when others do not, by not giving others permission to make you feel inferior.

Don’t give up the fight to claim for yourself a better life.

In a coming entry here I will talk about options for creating a good life.

Stay tuned.