Be Brave and Be Yourself

At the end of April I turn 53. I’m devoting a blog entry to a hot topic that no one else has ever talked about before. What I write is for peers to read first of all. If outsiders chance to read it I hope you will be moved to understand and have compassion for us.

It’s a reflection on how a friend is in awe of a woman with a formal serious office job. Yes I understand how she could covet another person’s life: that’s exactly what fueled my desire to have an insurance broker career: when my first boss developed a career plan for me.

I told my friend we should start a “F*ck You!” Club and dare to not conform to other people’s expectations. Who are either of us kidding thinking we would be happier being (or could even be) another person?

This I’m confident is the age-old dilemma of anyone with an MH diagnosis–going in the opposite direction to prove you’re normal–only to return to where you started as your original self.

I’m living proof that it all comes down to finding the job and workplace where you belong. I didn’t belong in insurance office jobs wearing “power-blue straitjackets” as I described that attire in my memoir.

The more I tried to prove I was normal, the more it backfired.

So it becomes imperative to find the place where you belong. That’s going to be a different environment for each of us. A good friend of mine rose up to be the CEO of corporations. He wore thousand-dollar suits and all that. More power to him for rising up. This is possible for some of us and not possible for others.

Either way it’s precisely when you turn 53 that it’s time to tell others: “F*ck You! I’m not buying what you’re selling about my worth. I’m NOT less than zero. I’m 24-Karat gold. Mess with me at your own peril.”

Or as a woman told me once: “You’re a diamond, not a rhinestone. Remember that.”

I’ll end here by telling readers:

Be brave and be yourself. There’s no other way to live.

Shine on.

The grass isn’t greener over there.

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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.

Healing Ourselves to Heal Our Planet

After watching the video Normal is Over I was more energized and committed to continue telling my own story.

This is my story–Left of the Dial–it’s the only one I have to give you.

The ultimate purpose in championing living life Left of the Dial was to show how creativity healed me.

Art and music and fashion and writing and exercise have been the 5 things in life that helped me heal from a mental health condition.

I’m not going to back down and I’m not going to give up in advocating for “Recovery for Everyone.”

I don’t want to ever be so mentally or physically ill that I lose my power to take action to create a better world and better options for myself and my fellow human beings.

If we want to heal the planet we first have to heal ourselves.

At the end of a HealthCentral news article I wrote years ago I stated:

I”d rather be dead than psychotic.

If we don’t seek to improve our own lives we’re in no position to help others have a better life.

So the shocking cost of our own ill health is that we’re defenseless and powerless against those in power who control the economy.

Hence those in power will always control our resources of any kind–whether it’s our mental health resources or our natural resources.

Unregulated corporations have been given free reign to destroy our planet in the pursuit of profits.

Standing by while the world collapses is not a good thing.

Allen Frances, M.D. has published this year Twilight of American Sanity. The books details how our collective psyche is in denial about climate change and other pressing issues.

Frances rightly states and I agree with him: Mr. Toupee is not the problem.

The problem is that people have put their trust in beliefs that I would argue along with Frances are insane. They’ve elected a president who plays loose and easy with “facts.”

Not allowing women to control when they want to get pregnant is one such belief.

Overpopulation is the second leading cause of the ravaging of our natural resources.

The collapse of our mental healthcare system has been documented widely. It’s been going on for decades now that people are prevented from getting the right treatment right away.

I will go to my grave telling my story of getting the right treatment right away and being able to recovery fully.

I refuse to remain silent on the things that matter.

In the next blog entry I will talk about how I think mental health advocates can learn a lesson from climate change activists.

The time to act is now. It’s time to wise up and get real.

Everything I’ve written in this blog entry is interconnected. Therein lies what I think would be an effective approach to coming up with solutions.

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.

 

25 Years in Remission

This week I celebrate having been in remission from SZ for 25 years–out of the hospital and having had ZERO symptoms for 25 years.

In 1987 when I got out of the hospital the first time I went shopping at the local Macy’s in the Mall. There’s a grain of truth to the expression: “When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping.”

What I bought: a black suede zebra-print embossed pocketbook; a light gray sweatshirt with black tipping on the bottom, neckline, and sleeves; and an interesting sterling silver necklace that I’ve kept all these years.

Most of what I bought is gone yet won’t ever be forgotten, just like I remember nearly every significant item of clothing I bought and wore in the late 1980s and 1990s.

I think striving to be in remission is a noble goal to achieve. It certainly makes things easier when you’re not burdened with permanent symptoms the rest of your life.

Yet I will always stress this above all else: you can hold a job and be successful in life even though you might still have symptoms.

I know people who have jobs and still hear voices occasionally.

In my life I’m grateful to be in remission, a status I don’t take lightly.

I got here because I take a dose of medication, yet as a professional told me: “You recovered more so because of the actions you took.”

Which proves the premise of the Rachel Roy book I reviewed in the last blog entry.

Ten years ago when I first started blogging I wrote too:

“It’s not the enormity or severity of your challenge that determines your fate, but how you respond to it.”

So back then I had stated in my own words what Rachel Roy also told readers: the choice is yours how you want to live your life.

I chose in 2002 to become a mental health advocate.

Years later I consider myself simply to be an Activist because I’ve branched out into a focus on fitness, which encompasses fitness of mind, body, spirit, careers, finances, and relationships.

As well as  helping keep our planet fit and free from environmental destruction.

My goal is to be the change I want to see in the world.

To that end I’ve been focused on getting a second non-fiction book edited that I hope to publish within three years.

I hold this above all else to be true and will go to my grave championing this:

That getting the right treatment right away can enable you to have a better life.

It might include taking medication or it might not.

Yet when you’re in emotional pain, when you’re suffering from mental distress, you really shouldn’t wait it out and allow your hardship to progress so that it becomes a permanent disability.

If any of my readers fit this scenario, I urge you to get professional help right now.

Yes–I’ve been in remission for 25 years.

I hope to live at least 25 years more to continue to uplift and inspire everyone I meet.

My message is clear and simple:

Now more than ever it’s possible to have a full and robust life living in recovery–with or without symptoms.

Self-Acceptance

Years ago a Nike print ad featured athletes with the tag line “Make Yourself.”

In the end, that’s what a person does in recovery: you have the chance to make yourself into who you want to be.

You don’t have to get a J.D. or M.D. You don’t have to do what I do.

You just have to be the kind of person that it gives you joy to be (regardless of the number on the bathroom scale).

Surprise–I think about the beauty and benefit of “self-acceptance” as a mantra in recovery.

If you’re not happy being you, ask yourself why exactly you’d rather be someone else. Change what you can of what you don’t like, and live with and forget the things you can’t change.

I’m 52–next week I will write about my 25th anniversary of being in remission.

Here now I want to write about self-acceptance because it’s the secret to feeling good about yourself. It could help to define what makes you a true original.

I would say my personality is “creative-kinetic.” Like the athletes in the Nike ad, I understand that there’s a power in creating yourself.

What I’m possessed with right now is a Deborah Harry quote. In a magazine, she said that all artists go “inching and crawling” towards their situation.

That sums up recovery: it too often involves going “inching and crawling” toward each goal; each milestone; each victory.

I will write more about recovery in here in my own inimitable way in the coming weeks–because it needs to be said what I have to say.

I’ll end here with this prelude: if you’re an artist, you cannot ever not do your art.

If you’re in recovery, you have to be true to yourself.

A good first step to embracing who you are is to remember that a mental health diagnosis is simply a tool for getting the treatment you need. It’s not who you are.

I call using your diagnosis to define yourself–I call this an “identity straitjacket.”

The beauty of living in recovery is that you get to decide how you want to describe yourself. That’s how I hit on my own two-word statement.

Try out your own self-definition. Meet me here next week when I talk about how I’ve been in remission for 25 years.

Living with SZ in England

I love the Brits. I’ve been to London on holiday over a decade ago. I want to link here to a woman’s story about living with SZ in England.

Circa five years ago the Guardian published a news article that claimed only 8 percent of those diagnosed with SZ in the UK were employed.

A longitudinal study by Boston University’s Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation had as participants peers who had been employed long–term and had a mental health diagnosis.

I was a participant in this American study. Ninety-three percent of the participants were taking medication at the start of the study.

From my firsthand experience I don’t think it’s a coincidence that taking medication allowed the study participants to achieve sustained employment.

The unabashed Brit who talks about her life with SZ also takes meds. She has a sense of humor.

I chuckled at her use of the term “tummy-tamer” to describe the kind of panties you need to wear when medication causes you to gain weight.

All hail Erica Camus the author of this list.

Drum roll please you can read the Top Ten Things She Can’t Live Without.