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.

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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

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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.