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.

 

Drop Kick Stigma. No Really.

Now I’ve been in remission for 24 years.

I think that if you’re a human being you’ll want to love another person and be loved back just like most people on the planet do.

I shudder to go into detail about the diagnosis. It’s because I want to focus on the positive not on illness. And the point in getting the right help right away is that an illness has the potential to become non-existent in your life. It can be gone and might not ever come back.

I’m not kidding when I say this. Tons of people are recovered and doing well–they’re just not blogging about it or telling other people. For so many of us we just want to move on in our lives and have a normal life and not focus on the hell.

That’s because for a lot of us the hell IS gone.

I make this claim–because it’s the goal to shoot for. I’ve been in remission for 24 years now–that’s 24 years. That’s how long the illness has in effect been gone from my life.

My beloved Sicilian grandfather was in a coma hooked up to a respirator in the intensive care unit when what happened to me happened. That was my breaking point.

Thus I prefer to describe this in human terms not in clinical terms.

I met a woman who told me she and her boyfriend met via Plenty of Fish. I knew they’d been dating for at least 2 years so I got right on this and joined Plenty of Fish.

Whatever happens I’ll be OK with it. I’ll be here on earth too long to waste one minute fearing stigma or fearing any garden-variety rejection.

Everyone has something. Whatever your thing is figure out how you want to talk about it and the level of detail you want to use to describe what happened.

In the years I’ve kept this blog it might appear I’ve made the case strongly for achieving remission as a noble goal. I stand by this because it’s certainly easier to live your life if the illness is gone.

Yet when a person doesn’t achieve remission there is always still hope for having a full and robust life. You’ll just possibly have to work harder at managing an illness so that it doesn’t consume your energy 24/7.

I’m the family member of a loved one with a mental illness. So I use this to introduce to other people why I label myself as a humanitarian. After I gauge the response I’ll consider whether to talk about my own life.

Most of all I’m not keen to make an issue out of having a diagnosis. I’m not going to be in-your-face about this. And let’s face it a lot of people simply don’t care. My good friend tells people–and they accept him anyway. What a brave soul who doesn’t feel the need to fear what people think.

It’s because I don’t care what people think either that I go my merry way in terms of trying to meet a guy. It’s because “love is worth the risk.” You’ve got to be in it to win it–in love as in the lottery.

How soon would I tell a guy? Right now I don’t want to tell at all. My perception is: “This  is what happened in my life. It is what it is and I don’t care about it.”

I think then having a certain nonchalance about these things will put others at ease. Focusing on the negative in our lives won’t help matters even though for a significant number of people they’re knee-deep in managing symptoms 24/7.

I’ll end here by saying that getting the right help right away does matter if you ever want the hope of being able to drop kick the illness for good.

Normal versus Crazy

I think the word normal should be retired as well as the word crazy.

They’re just words in the lexicon yet they continue to hurt people when the words are used.

I wonder if people who live in fear of hearing the word crazy are possibly identifying with their illness to a greater degree because it affects them more.

I once wanted to be normal and not have others think I was crazy. That ended when I started my job as a librarian.

My contention is that people diagnosed with schizophrenia or bipolar or another mental illness should find some kind of work to do so they feel better about themselves and get out of their house and their heads.

This could be a labor of love like volunteer work or paid labor yet either way it should be the kind of right livelihood that thrills our soul most of the time.

Ruminating on what we think people think of us is a futile circular tape loop in our imagination. It often doesn’t turn out to be true what we think.

A good friend of mine tells people his diagnosis–they don’t care and they accept him because he’s a good guy.

I was stigmatized way back in the mists of time so now I don’t really consider it as something that really matters to me.

Besides: I say: a person with a mental illness could turn out to be a viable romantic partner.

Holding out so-called normal people as the only suitable or desirable partners will set us up to fail.

I met a guy who is more real and honest and ethical than most “normal” people I’ve met.

That’s why we really do need to retire from the lexicon the words normal and crazy.

Decades ago I quickly got over wanting  to have other people accept me as normal.

It’s possibly because I’m a writer and an artist that I think these time-worn cliches should be removed from a person’s vocabulary about how they feel about themselves.

I don’t view any human being as normal or crazy. This takes courage.

Yet it also takes the belief that you will see the person first and get to know them.

It does help to break break with another person and listen to them so you can understand them.

So-called normal people need to be listened to and understood too.

Common ground is the ground on which everyone stands.

Dividing people into normal versus mentally ill is not the way to go.

Schizophrenia and Dating

I want to know:

Where is Mr. Normal?

A psychic told me I’d meet a lot of turkeys before the right guy came along.

And any way you slice it I don’t want those “turkeys” on a deli sandwich–or anywhere in my life.

I do not say this in a vain or boastful way–it’s simply a fact that I’m skinny and have a pretty face. This causes OKCupid guys to send me messages because they only want to go to bed with an attractive woman.

Some are 0 percent matches. Others don’t read my profile essay.

Either way you slice it, dice it, slather on mustard and slap it between two slices of bread the term is turkeys to describe a lot of so-called normal guys.

I should respond to those blatantly horny guys with the message:

“I was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Now do you want to f*ck me?”

Seriously. It’s why I’m so over coveting having so-called normal guys accept me when I go on a date and could worry they’d think I’m crazy.

Hearing the word crazy has no power over me because I know I’m not–so I don’t imbue that word with meaning. You want to call me crazy–go right ahead.

It’s because a lot of people without mental illnesses aren’t normal either.

I think it’s garbanzo beans that the only guys that send me messages are tools. Now you see: normal isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.

Women diagnosed with schizophrenia deserve better.

The day is coming when I respond to those guys by saying:

“See my gorgeous body? Well, I was diagnosed with schizophrenia–and this is what a person diagnosed with schizophrenia looks like.”

My own hairdresser insisted you can’t tell by looking at someone whether they have a mental illness.

I’ll end here by saying those turkeys could be sandwiched between two slices of Wonder Bread yet who would want to eat them?

We should not live in fear that deli meat thinks we’re crazy.

Really: normal people shouldn’t hold sway over us as being the arbiters of our self-worth.

Give me a real Thanksgiving dinner not unhealthful food loaded with nitrates.

Deli meat indeed.

Schizophrenia and Human Rights

I tried to strike up a friendship with a woman–JB–and she bolted after I disclosed.

I moved on–it didn’t upset me either way. Some people look at you and they don’t see who you are–they see an illness–like you’re a walking billboard for your diagnosis.

You could’ve at one point dead lifted 205 pounds–you could’ve done any number of impressive things–yet those people close the door on finding this out because their minds are closed to you as a human being.

This is a human rights violation: the sloppy shorthand people use to link you with your symptoms. Mental illness stereotyping is a human rights violation like any other.

Though I think if you make your happiness and your self-worth dependent on whether people like you that’s a form of self-imposed ill-ness right there.

You have to like yourself first of all because if you do it won’t matter that other people don’t like you. I learned this early on from having been bullied as a kid.

Yes: I understand–I get it–that most people want to love others and be loved back. They want to feel like they belong–like they’re understood and accepted for who they are.

Listen: I understand this need a lot of us have. Yet I’m going to go so far as to say that the people who post hateful comments on social media ARE CLOWNS. Give them a red plastic nose and they could perform with Ringling Brothers in the circus.

No amount of “splaining” is going to change their minds so I don’t care to even try to set them straight. I’ve been there; I’m so over it–when I disclose to a person–and they suddenly have a negative opinion of me even though I’m the same person I always was.

Their stigma is a cop-out. They can’t be trusted to value what each of us brings to the table: our sense of humor; our kindness; our courage to fight a battle every day–whatever positive traits we have..

Yet I say–go ahead–reach out to try to be a friend or lover with another person. Just go into it if you ask me with the approach that you’ll make mincemeat of the stigma if it happens.

Open-minded, positive people do exist in the world. I’ve found them; you can too.

I’ll talk in the next blog entry about finding your tribe of kindred spirits.