Peer Support & World Mental Health Day

Peer Support & World Mental Health Day

Happy World Mental Health Day! Given the topic we’re celebrating today, the basis of my project, and that I’ve made the decision to pursue my degree in social work, I feel like it’s a great day to talk about one way we can help the world improve mental health: peer support.

I recently read an article on peer support that I found fairly accessible to the average mental health consumer. Namely because it’s not a clinical paper written by doctors, it’s a theoretically-based paper written by educated people who have spent years working in the mental health community within the peer support space. That means you’re automatically spared the medical jargon in favor of more humanistic characterizations of the deeper levels upon which mental health recovery should be based, and why.

I’m going to be doing a lot of direct quoting from the article because I like the way they represent their perspectives, starting with their abstract, followed by a definition of peer support.

Abstract

“This article offers one theoretical perspective of peer support and attempts to define the elements that, when reinforced through education and training, provide a new cultural context for healing and recovery. Persons labeled with psychiatric disability have become victims of social and cultural ostracism and consequently have developed a sense of self that re-enforces the “patient” identity. Enabling members of peer support to understand the nature and impact of these cultural forces leads individuals and peer communities toward a capacity for personal, relational and social change. It is our hope that consumers from all different types of programs (e.g. drop-in, social clubs, advocacy,support, outreach, respite), traditional providers, and policy makers will find this article helpful in stimulating dialogue about the role of peer programs in the development of a recovery based system.”

Definition of Peer Support

“Peer support is a system of giving and receiving help founded on key principles of respect respect, shared responsibility, and mutual agreement of what is helpful. Peer support is not based on psychiatric models and diagnostic criteria. It is about understanding another’s situation empathically through the shared experience of emotional and psychological pain.

When people find affiliation with others they feel are “like” them, they feel a connection. This connection, or affiliation, is a deep, holistic understanding based on mutual experience where people are able to “be” with each other without the constraints of traditional (expert/patient) relationships.

Further, as trust in the relationship builds, both people are able to respectfully challenge each other when they find themselves in conflict. This allows members of the peer community to try out new behaviors with one another and move beyond previously held self-concepts built on disability and diagnosis. The Stone Center refers to this as “mutual empowerment” (Stiver & Miller, 1998).

Peer support can offer a culture of health and ability as opposed to a culture of “illness”and disability. (Curtis, 1999) The primary goal is to responsibly challenge the assumptions about mental illnesses and at the same time to validate the individual for whom they really are and where the have come from. Peer support should attempt to think creatively and non-judgmentally about the way individuals experience and make meaning of their lives in contrast to having all actions and feelings diagnosed and labeled.

Many people have learned roles that build a strong sense of identity as “mental patient.” Because this becomes a primary identity we find affiliation with others who have also been labeled. Zinman (1998) refers to this as “client” culture. This “identity” leads us to the assumption that the rest of the community can’t understand us and creates an “us/them” split with others.

An imbalance of personal and social power lies at the heart of mental illness and is the cornerstone of the theory of recovery that we wish to present. Recovery lies in undoing the cultural process of developing careers as “mental patients.”

We undo this by practicing relationships in a different way. Peer support, therefore, becomes a natural extension and expansion of community rather than modeling professionalized caretaking of people defined as defective. As peers feel less forced into their roles as “patients,” they naturally come to understand their problems in the larger social and political context from which they emerge, rather than pathologizing themselves.

Peer support is a simultaneous movement towards autonomy and community building. It is not based in deficits model thinking. It is a model that encourages diversity rather than homogeneity, and recognizes individual strengths.”

Well put, right? Are we getting this out of our current mental health care system? Hardly.

Anyone who’s been processed through modern medicine’s modus operandi can clearly see the disparity between it’s approach to mental health treatment and recovery, and the peer-support approach. The former being a one-sided approach, and the latter being a two-way street of acquiring treatment and maintaining recovery.

Peer support creates an environment that allows consumers to dissociate the pejorative of clinical mental health patient, and identify it from a more human perspective that transverses across more planes of society and will basically fly under the stigma radar a little more easily given it’s peer-to-peer foundation.

I see it as reframing mental health care in a manner that allows for more accessibility, utilization, understanding, acceptance, safety, cost-effectiveness, hope, community, retention and recovery, and minimizes stigma, attrition, and relapse. I see it as a whole-person approach rather than a symptom-based approach.

I also believe that to have peer support in the role of advocate or liaison for a consumer of mental health care between their community and the clinical side of treatment makes the entire process, as I keep saying, more human. As it is in America, it feels like a machine; not easily navigable, approachable or very caring. Placing a human being in all those voids, one who can actually relate to the traumatic experience of the consumer, seems like an easy answer to me. A wise choice for the attempt to correct the imbalance between personal and social power, as the article states. I’ll go ahead and make the obvious statement that all of that, to me, adds up to more efficiently utilized health care with better outcomes for consumers.

Also, I couldn’t help myself with the image I used for this post 🙂

Peace, love, and wellness.

The Norm

The Norm

Where is the line drawn when things have gotten bad enough to need help, and how do you define that? When I look at other’s experience with mental health challenges, when they describe their symptoms and how it made them know something was wrong, I always try to relate it my my experience. The easiest way to assimilate something is to make it relatable to you.

So when I hear about things like a constant separation of mind from body, uncontrollable racing thoughts and rumination, paranoia, extreme moodiness, uncontrollable emotional reactions and episodes, dissociation, insomnia and oversleeping, panic, hysteria, a feeling of heaviness, body aches and pains, fatigue, feeling angry, sad, edgy, burdened, hopeless, worthless, powerless, afraid, and waking up daily to life generally being a drag, it always hits me with such familiarity because all of that was always so normal for me. As well as all of those factors infiltrating my actions, words, my whole life.

Imagine all of that being your daily norm. My problem was that I didn’t know any better, yet somehow I was still able to eek some satisfaction and happiness out of certain aspects of my life. Otherwise it was perpetually existing in fight or flight mode feeling all those symptoms and feelings. Because this was my norm I didn’t understand how to act on things, I could only ever react. But I’d still managed to protect myself enough to keep it together on the outside by keeping my mind closed, heart closed, and often times eyes closed. Looking at old photos of myself I could see in my face and in my posture the weight of the world I had no idea I was carrying.

I clearly never had a benchmark for my wellness. I never knew where the line was drawn where I could say “something’s wrong with me, I need help”. As long as I felt what I perceived as functional, I didn’t know I needed help. And even if I did, I don’t know that I would have asked for it. It just was never really an option for me. Before I was on my own as an adult I knew that my wellness was my parent’s responsibility so I’d incorrectly assumed that if they weren’t actively taking any steps to help readjust the norm I was experiencing, no matter how much of it they bore witness to or not, then I must not need help. So I pressed on thinking this is the way things are supposed to be.

When I began to fully unravel around the age of 22, all I could really glean from it was that I was losing my mind, spinning out of control, and at this point the only one any longer responsible for my own well being. No more mind over matter, my mind is my matter. I had no idea what was happening to me but trying to get help all of a sudden seemed like the only answer.

Now, over a decade later and in recovery, I read or listen to others’ accounts of their mental health struggles and how or when they knew something was wrong. I find it incredibly fascinating to hear about people’s personal yardstick of wellness and sanity. When someone says something like “I had an entire week where I didn’t want to get out of bed. I felt really heavy, distracted and emotionally off-balance”, or “My thoughts would race, I was feeling apathetic and joyless toward life”, or “I stopped eating regularly and began substituting food with alcohol”, my reaction is generally to the effect of “Wait, that’s what made you realize something was wrong and you needed help? I lived that almost every day of my life. I had to lose my goddamn mind to have that revelation!”

I had to look up the examples I used of where the line is drawn to write this post because even still I sometimes have trouble delineating my reactions and behaviors as either triggers or genuine responses. That’s not to say I can never tell the difference, I’m better accustomed to that discipline by now as I’ve worked to build my personal protocol for working through whatever is challenging me. But it can still be a gray area for me to know where the line is drawn between acting and reacting, especially when in the moment.

“When I learned the other way people thought” was another good account that hit home, too. It used to be that I didn’t realize it wasn’t a shitty storm cloud inside everyone else’s head most of the time as it was in mine. It’s also difficult to see outside of your mental illness box when you’re that deep in it, so you can’t really use that as a tool for comparison. It’s tough to look around you and wonder why everyone else seems lighter and happier than you when you’re too tunnel-visioned by your own little personal, yet normal to you, hell to be able to see it.

It takes examples like this to really shake me, “The first moment was when I was 12 and I seriously considered killing myself rather than have to change in front of other boys in gym class. I thought it was normal to be constantly thinking about suicide when I was younger”, or “When I found myself sitting on a bridge with pocket beers after a 2 day binge. I had spent my entire paycheck on alcohol and went MIA all weekend. Lost my job, was kicked out of the house. I spent several years self medicating on any substance I could get a hold of. It wasn’t until being pronounced dead twice after ODing on heroin until I realized maybe this shit isn’t working”.

Despite getting a reaction out of me, it’s still easy for me to see how these types of behavior can easily become someone’s norm when they never really knew any different. So when someone recounts their experience with something like “I knew when colors weren’t as bright and music no longer made me want to dance”, I don’t by any means intend to minimize their feelings, but relative to the way I used to feel I have no idea what they’re talking about.

I’ll never forget when I was tested for ADHD in my mid-twenties, I told the psychiatrist my story and she called me “a survivor”. It blew me away. Me a survivor? No way, survivors are people who have lived through cancer, or rape, or wars, or car wrecks. I wasn’t a survivor, just a product of my environment looking to shed the layers that were unraveling and be on my way to feeling mostly in one piece. At that time I had no idea exactly what a survivor I was, I just thought I was carrying on. Turns out I’d spent my whole life surviving and had no concept because survival mode was always my norm. I’m happy to say things are exponentially different these days and much of that gray area has become more black and white.

Peace, love, and wellness.

Stay With Me

Stay With Me

Thank you to everyone who’s stuck with me over the last couple months, I know it’s been an obnoxiously long time since I’ve posted here or to my Instagram. My deal is that I got a new job at the end of June and it’s been absorbing every last one of my spoons every day and challenging me in ways I didn’t think possible. Truth be told, I don’t like it at all for a multitude of reasons, including the fact that I have changed exponentially since the last time I held this occupation. I’m coming up on month 3 now and I wake up every day and fight with this job. I’m not doing what I love and what I love has fallen by the wayside, but this is what I signed up for. That was the least of what I knew going into this.

So why did I do it? I was comfortable in my last job but financially as an independent contractor I felt I could be doing better. An opportunity was put in front of me to go back to an industry I’d worked in in my early 20’s. One where I knew I’d have to bust my ass at first but once I’d laid the foundation, the potential for income was there. It’s an industry I know I don’t like, my heart is not in it but I thought I could compartmentalize for the sake of the future stability. It was also an industry at which I used to be really successful. It didn’t take long for me to realize how the new me was not fit for this role, how it was now sucking my soul, absorbing all my personal resources, and triggering mental health symptoms. I now have a prescription for Xanax. I haven’t medicated for anxiety in 4 years.

So here I am rounding out week one of reentry from Burning Man, with the revelation that I have found a silver lining to this occupational experience. This job I don’t like was the much needed catalyst to get me out of my comfort zone and boot me into a place where I could realize the path to pursuing my true passion. There has been a huge lesson to be had out of this as well- stop chasing money and chase my dreams. My heart fully lies within helping people with mental health, I’ve known that for a long time.

For the last 5+ years I’ve been told countless times I should be a social worker, because I’m so passionate about helping people. That’s why I started this project because I wanted to advocate for mental health without having to spend the time on a degree to do so. Realistically I can’t expect this project to pay the bills when I’m doing it for free, and I don’t have the scale or business model in place to make this a career yet. I also don’t have a degree. Therefore quitting my job and going back to school for a BSW is my answer, and once I came to that conclusion earlier this week, a huge weight felt like it lifted off my shoulders and my heart.

That said, I wouldn’t feel right about not sharing my mental health struggles given that I’m here to use my experiences to help others. At first I was really excited for the change of pace and challenge of this job but as I began settling in the anxiety started kicking in. I think it was due to the realization of exactly how alone I was with this position. I took on a territory that I was to build from the ground up within 6 months, with minimal support by a management staff that’s also brand new, from a company that is going through a lot of growing pains and doesn’t have a very substantial or thorough training foundation. Expectations are high, support is low, pressure is on and it began affecting me quickly. The further I went a long the more I realized how this company wasn’t overly capable of setting me up for success, and that I’m not alone in my sentiment. 

I started as per usual, thinking I could manage on my own, naturally with my favorite anti-anxiety/mood regulator lithium orotate. That quickly became no longer enough to manage and I was forced to seek professional help. I began taking .125mgs of Xanax every morning just to take the edge of so I could get my head on straight and begin work. Then another .125mgs in the afternoon, and often another .125 to get to sleep. I had to be careful not to take too much because Xanax is really strong for me and makes me very sleepy. However prior to that the anxiety levels were so high that it began clouding my head and my ADHD kicked into ultra high gear. We know how one mental health issue can feed into others, this was a classic case.

I explained both fronts of my symptoms to the doctor and he suggested medicating the ADHD as well but I was incredibly hesitant. I’ve been off Adderall for about 18 months now as it was incredibly caustic to my body and also never really helped my focus. He suggested Strattera because I mentioned I might be open to a non-stimulant medication but after researching it, I still wasn’t convinced it was the answer.

Xanax was helping the anxiety which did help to ease the ADHD to some degree. I also researched natural ADHD supplements and found Neuro-Peak which has also been pretty helpful as well and I decided I didn’t need to medicate for ADHD which I was really happy about. Still I found myself waking up everyday feeling like a live wire as a result of how ungrounded this position has made me feel. I definitely lost entire days here and there to anxiety because I simply couldn’t function. I also lost plenty of hours to ADHD for the same reason.

I’ve now reached a point where I’m going to ride out the next 3 months of what’s left of my guaranteed base pay and give it my best effort. I want to be able to leave saying I really tried but that the job wasn’t for me. Meanwhile I’ll be working on getting myself back into school and I’m genuinely excited at the prospect of having my degree, and having a future in helping people that will pay the bills. Even if I’m still scraping by, at least I’m doing it heartfully. I’d rather be broke and happy than rich and miserable. I’m also looking forward to a time again when I don’t have to medicate to function.

I now feel a sense of gratitude for this hardship and experience I’ve been through. For the lessons I’ve learned, the new path I’m on, and the weight that has been lifted. I’m also grateful to be a part of this community, to have people who love and support me, and to have you guys who are hopefully still getting something out of my posts. Like you, I’m doing the best I can with the resources I have, and I hope like me, you’re genuinely looking forward to what’s to come in life.

On another note, it’s National Suicide Prevention Week, September 10th-16th. I want to take a minute to recognize the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the work they do to help #stopsuicide.

Peace, love, and wellness.

These are my Confessions

These are my Confessions

I’m having an apathy day. I just woke up that way, there’s not much I can do about it except honor it, try to go deeper to find out where the feeling is coming from, remember to be grateful for what I have, and then use it as a muse for expressing myself. Life must go on even when it involves doing things I don’t want to do.

Onto things I do want to do: my project. It’s slow goings. I’ve accepted the fact that it’s been that way since the get-go, sometimes that still bothers me. It’s really the only thing I want to be doing with my life right now, helping people. And I am, I still have my two clients, they’re both doing pretty well thanks to our teamwork. I’m also continuing working in the background on pieces of the project, slowly but surely. I’m incredibly grateful for the support I’ve been given thus far.

I obviously haven’t blogged in a while and the Instagram hasn’t seen much action lately either. I feel badly about that. It’s not that I haven’t been inspired, it’s that I still have yet to find the means to get this to take off, and meanwhile I still have to dedicate the remainder of my spoons to managing the rest of my life; for example, the stuff I don’t feel like doing today. I have to also remember I’m not your average entrepreneur who inherently has the spoons to work full time and simultaneously dedicate the other 50% of my life and resources to my project. I face mental health challenges too and if I don’t put myself and my health first, then nothing comes second or third or fourth to that. I run myself into the ground, get sick, and nothing happens at all. I’m doing the best I can with the means I have.

I didn’t think it would be so difficult to launch a project that is meant to help people and contribute to society. It’s not as though I’m trying build another app (that’s not to say apps don’t contribute to life, but there’s no shortage of them), I’m trying to use my hard-earned knowledge and experience to help people get their lives together in the face of mental health challenges.

I can tell you my dream will never die. I don’t care if it takes years to turn this thing into what I’ve envisioned. The peer support marketplace isn’t nearly as saturated as it could be, so I’ll just keep plugging away at the most efficient pace I can manage on my own, and meanwhile probably still feel guilt and disappointment that it’s not coming along the way I wish it would. One thing I’ve learned in life is that nothing truly good comes quickly or easily.

It’s frustrating, but the more entrepreneurs and mental health professionals I talk to in this space, the more I find out that the unfortunate truth is that it’s easier and faster to garner funding and support to launch an app (following the comparison example I’d previously used) than it is to produce a service meant to help rein the beast of mental illness. If this were a Trump tweet, I’d end it with “Sad”, but I’ll just cut my lament here and move on.

Since I’ve decided to use my random strike of apathy today as fodder for content, now is an appropriate time to mention I’ve recently decided take my Instagram posts in a slightly different direction. I realized that I can keep posting positive reinforcement to the effect of “You’ve got this” or “You are enough”, but what I’d rather do is make posts that speak to people.

Truth is its hard for me to do that sometimes because its been so long since I’ve been in the depths of my own madness that I’ve lost touch. I’ve always had this protective mechanism built in that makes me blank on what it was like to be in the throes once they’ve passed. That’s why I want to start sharing posts from this account Art for Mental Health because it comes directly from sufferers and shows so boldly and truthfully what it feels like to live with illness. These people are doing exactly what I’m doing right now: bravely using their challenges as a positive channel to express themselves, to share their struggles, and to find solace in a community.

The pieces on this account serve as a reminder to me of what it was like to feel the feelings of absolute despair, grief, desperation, sadness, loneliness, etc. so that I can keep my content relevant and meaningful. To me, it’s by posting things people can relate to that has that impact. Friendly reminders that you’re worth it, and loved, and can keep going are great, but at some point its nice to just relate to someone else’s struggle and know you’re not alone.

It’s nice to see people basically rip their hearts and minds out, put them on paper, and remember I was there once, too. What’s even nicer is to recall those memories and become even more inspired and motivated to want to help people, because there was a time when I didn’t want to wake up each day because I knew some fresh hell was there to greet me without fail. The thought of that all of a sudden kind of makes me laugh at myself and my apathy I woke up with this morning. Perspective is so f*cking powerful. As is self expression.

So I will continue to seek out and share pieces from the Art for Mental Health account and others that speak to me. I will continue to use my experiences and others’ to help reinforce and uplift the mental health community to feel safe and comfortable expressing themselves. Our society teaches us to follow the straight & narrow, to keep your issues under wraps, to say the right things and act the right way, don’t rock the boat, mind your P’s & Q’s.

Anyone who’s ever dealt with mental health challenges knows there is no such thing as a straight and narrow. It’s not natural whether you face mental health issues or not, people for whatever reason just seem to fall in line with it. Anyone who has ever deviated from that path knows how good it feels to finally let go and express themselves. Anyone who is human, I think, knows deep down that it’s not conducive to a happy, healthy existence to stuff your problems down, mute yourself, and press on. It may not be regularly, but I will be here continuing to express myself be it via my own words, art, and actions, or someone else’s, in an effort to help you. There, I feel a little better now, I hope you do too.

Peace, love, and wellness.

I’m Only Human

I’m Only Human

Anytime I feel like I’m breaking down, I have to break down what’s behind it. What I believe first and foremost that lies behind any illness, breakdown, or trial in life is the simple fact that we’re human; we’re incredibly fallible whether we want to admit that to ourselves or not, whether our ego can handle that fact or not. It doesn’t really matter if we can accept the facts, what matters is whether we can cope with life as it’s dealt to us, and execute our response to it’s adversities properly, per the way nature intended. Truth be told, at various points in our lives, most of us can’t and we break under the pressure. Another truth: It’s ok to break down, it’s part of being human!

I believe that to be human is to be fallible. I’ve proven it to myself time and time again, I’ve seen it in others, and in the end we come out of it alright if we allow nature to take its course. It’s only our egos that tell us otherwise, and present the false illusion of who we are based on how we feel others perceive us, then tell us we must adhere to that illusion. It honestly makes it easier to synthesize the traumas we endure, be they physical, emotional, mental or spiritual, and their impending effects when I look at myself and those around me simply as over-intelligent, survival-based creatures. We are far from the overly stimulated, over-worked, under appreciated, perfection-obsessed, stoic machines we insist we are cut out to be. We need to process, we need to feel, we need to emote.

We live in a day and age where we readily force ourselves to operate at mach speed in the world outside of us in order to distract ourselves from what’s really going on inside. We don’t take good loving care of ourselves, time is just a construct meant to be whipped through as fast as possible out of the self-imposed necessity of what we see as productivity in our world around us, with no regard for the world within us. And for whatever reason we blindly accept this without ever slowing down and allowing ourselves the space to reconcile the daily influx of life. We deny our most primal processes then wonder why we get sick, feel fundamentally void in some ways, or why we feel the need to medicate in a vain attempt to cope.

Trauma is a process that we need to allow to run its course so we can move on and be able to live from our essence, who we really are underneath the ego so that when we are challenged in the future, we can act instead of react to whatever we face. So that we can be mindful and let go instead of being mindless and controlling. You can’t control everything that happens in life, but you can control how you react to it. Stop stifling the subtle voice coming from deep down inside that wants you to know that its ok to feel feelings and move forward a better person for having had the experience, and gaining the wisdom from it. Trauma-based acumen is real, ego is false. Not much goodness in life comes without the hard work to gain it.

Have you ever seen an animal that’s been startled by something? It reacts instinctually by entering into fight or flight mode, assesses the potential danger and either acts out of instinct for survival, or retreats realizing the perceived danger is not actually imminent. No matter the outcome, once an animal has been triggered, when the threat is over it shakes. This is a natural bodily function innate to both animals and humans, to help process and release the trauma of the scare. Humans, if we allowed ourselves to, should and could react in the same manner thereby relieving the trauma of the incident and moving on. We all know we shake when we’ve been startled but we tell ourselves it’s not ok, its a sign of weakness, so we suppress it and any of the other innate reactions we should be allowing ourselves to experience. Our ego as well as societal stigma tell us to absorb the reactions and the trauma, shove it down, and proceed with caution. We then carry on through life as damaged goods, having stored incident after incident’s worth of trauma in our minds, bodies, egos, and spirits, which severely inhibits our natural right to live free of fear.

That’s not to say there is no such thing as healthy caution, boundaries or self preservation. Those are inborn elements to a healthy relationship with the world around us. But when we refuse to properly process our traumas they create layers of fear within that hinder us from staying grounded and operating from the true nature of who we are, which, again, is to be free of fear. We have to be smarter than our fear and our egos. We have to break through the lies we’ve been told or we tell ourselves that keep us imprisoned by fear and judgement. Things like it’s not ok for a man to cry, it’s not ok to ask for help, it’s not ok to admit you’ve been affected, it’s not ok to fail, or it’s not ok to be afraid. I’ll put it this way — how is there light without there also being darkness? How is the light supposed to shine through if its consistently enshrouded in the darkness?

Circling back to the fact of the essential nature of our existence, we’re only human. A good place to begin is to stop expecting yourself to absorb it all and press on trepidatious. Stop telling yourself you can’t or don’t deserve to be free of fear. Enable yourself to raise your vibration and ease the heavy of life by allowing yourself to be human and work through your trials. By doing so you’re not only healing yourself and creating space in your life for freedom and happiness, you’re creating the space for others around you to do the same. Leading by example, showing the world exactly how basic of creatures we are at our core, and that healing isn’t as far-fetched of a concept as we perceive it to be, and that self-actualization is attainable.

The sooner we quit fooling ourselves the sooner we can live freer and easier. The closer we get to being at peace with ourselves and the world as it is whether it presents us fear or confidence, good or bad, happy or sad. As one of my favorite personal anthems goes “There’s a beautiful way of being that allows one to stay rooted and present in the moment, comfortable and calm. Your thoughts and your feelings are energy. The more we can utilize this energy to generate feelings that feel good, the more easy and harmonious or lives become”. It’s so simple yet we choose to make it so complicated. It is being free of fear, it is the true essence of our being as humans. Who doesn’t want that??

Peace, love, and wellness.

Hey, Can We Talk?

Hey, Can We Talk?

 

Reform: It’s not a glamorous topic, but one very much at the forefront of the battle to make proper mental health care a true reality in our country. I’d like to get a dialogue going on the various article-based points in this post. Whether it’s here, or you take this topic with you as a talking point into your own personal conversations. As long as you’re talking about the current state of mental health care, I’m happy.

Politicians and health care administrators can think they know what’s best for us all they want, however as recipients of mental health care, I feel we have much more of an insider’s perspective. Wouldn’t you agree? How can we use that for the greater good and effect real change in the system? As individuals what can we do, and how?

Looking back at the 21st Century Cures Act: I believe it was set up in good faith by the Obama administration, with attempts to help preempt mass shootings and other acts of violence, fund prescription drug R&D, and strengthen the Mental Health Parity Act of 1996, but likely won’t be administered as such. Case in point, specifically on my favorite topic — peer support, from a Mad in America article: “Money is also being taken away from peer support efforts, as these are deemed inessential and a waste of money. Peers, in the mental health system, are considered any individuals who use their own lived experiences with similar issues to support those in crisis. In other words, those who have been there help out those who are having difficulty finding their way. At the same time, the peer supports that are being funded are going to be transformed into some kind of clinical caricature, wherein peers must follow clinical guidelines established by medical doctors that, basically, amount to telling people to take their meds. Peer support, which can be enormously helpful for many, is being corporatized and “manualized” to fit into the current psychiatric machine.”

^NO, NO, NO!^

“The thing is, relationships don’t always require a manual. And sometimes, when a person has been through something and comes out the other side, that person might actually have an idea or two on what could be helpful to someone else.” (Hmm…sounds familiar to me)

^YES, YES, YES!^

Going forward, given the current political climate, we’ve again got consumers of mental healthcare now worried over the possible repeal of Obamacare which brings with it the threat of pre-existing conditions stopping them from obtaining health care coverage. In fact two of my own clients have expressed their concerns regarding obtaining either mental health coverage or a diagnosis due to fears of this exact threat. Pre-Obamacare, I was personally denied health coverage by multiple providers for a pre-existing diagnosis of depression and anxiety. To this day it gets a rise out of me just thinking about it. Suffice to say however, one could safely assume that essentially being left for dead in your early twenties would be upsetting.

A great U.S. News article penned by my personal inspiration for the foundation of my project, Dr. Lloyd Sederer, articulates one thing we are all very familiar with in the wake of the new presidency: We are going to have to stand up and fight. Speak up, speak out, take action.

As Aziz Ansari both shrewdly and comedically reminded us in his recent SNL monologue: “change doesn’t come from presidents. Change comes from large groups of angry people — and if day one is any indication, you are part of the largest group of angry people I have ever seen. Good luck.”

Now here we are, 4 months into the new presidency with nothing but question marks in the air as to what the future of mental health care looks like for us, and how we fit into this already broken system. The least we can do is educate ourselves, and those around us. TALK ABOUT IT…Here’s a really great article with some incredibly keen, easily understood talking points. Start a dialogue. Speak up (kindly) when you hear people say things out of ignorance or stigma. Use the tools we already have like social media, and support/advocacy/awareness groups like NAMI and Bringchange2mind. GET INVOLVED HOWEVER YOU CAN.

If you take away nothing else from the information presented here, at least take the resolute notion that as long as we continue to fight for what is right in our community, and for what we need, WE WILL BE HEARD. I urge you to make this a topic of civil conversation, whether for your own benefit, for someone you love, or for the greater good. And remember, all progress takes place outside the comfort zone. Start talking!

Peace, love, and wellness.

 

An Open Letter on Having the Talk

An Open Letter on Having the Talk

When I first began treatment for my illness I never knew who in my life I could tell, or when or how. In a time where I so desperately wanted to tell everyone who cared about me how much I needed help, acceptance, and compassion, I told no one. My subsequent faltering behavior with no explanation only stood to make me look bad, and help usher me into failure in certain rights. Thankfully much has changed since then and more people and places are coming to accept the idea of mental illness affecting our population instead of rejecting it.

Looking back I’d always wondered if I were given the opportunity to come out to anyone at anytime barring any judgement or repercussions, what I would say and how I would say it. It’s a challenging and harrowing endeavor given both the immensely pervasive stigma and ignorance toward the subject. How could I get people to understand and sympathize with something they likely haven’t experienced or been educated on?

I figured if I’m looking for compassion then I’d be better off starting from a place of compassion. I would’ve wanted to try and find a way to put myself in an outsider’s shoes to help them get an idea of what I was going through and how it affects me, just as I’d hope they could do for me. I imagined I would’ve written an open letter to the world, on behalf of myself and anyone with mental illness that just wanted to be known for who they really are – a human being. Here it is:

Dear Parents, Siblings, Employers, Friends, Coworkers, Extended Family Members, Significant Others, Neighbors, Acquaintances, et al.,

Some of you may have known me for only a short time, some for years. I’m scared as hell right now because I have something to tell all of you that many, few, or none of you might know. I don’t want to tell you as it may shock you, because of the fear, stigma, and judgement that are sadly so very prevalent. By the same token I absolutely want to tell you, because if you care about me at all you will do your best to keep an open heart and mind, and know that there should be no shame in what I am about to tell you.

Nobody’s perfect, and I’ve definitely had my moments. For the most part I realize I seem to keep it together fairly well day-to-day. But if you knew what I go through when you’re not around, or you knew how hard I have to work to hide what I want to tell you to keep my life in one piece, I’d be willing to bet that underneath any adverse inherent reaction you might feel upon finding out, would hopefully be some compassion and kindness.

If you knew about the secrets I’ve kept, or the stories and lies I’ve forcibly crafted to cover the sacrifices I’ve had to make on behalf of my wellness. If you knew the lengths I’ve gone to under the most trying conditions to keep my feet on the ground and my head on my shoulders. If you knew how much grit and strength it takes to wake up and press on almost every single day, or the decisions I have to face knowing I’m ultimately going to disappoint someone in the end, or how hard I have to work on top of the task of existence as it is to save face, I know you’d find the understanding and love in your heart to support me to the best of your ability through what I’m about to confess to you.

Truth is, this shouldn’t have to be a confession at all. Like any other illness I should have the freedom to come out with it to anyone at any time and not live in fear of having misguided judgement cast on me. The unfortunate fact is that illness often lends itself to losing relationships. If nothing though, it should at least be enlightenment to the fact that looking back on the mistakes I’ve made or times where I’ve fallen short, that I was actually trying my best given the hand I was dealt. If there is compassion within you for that, it should hopefully help things make a lot more sense in retrospect. You may even realize how brave I have been all this time, and that I am also not alone in this fight. Many people suffer from the same illness I do, yet 60% of them go untreated each year out of fear and shame, or lack of access to proper treatment.

You might also realize why I am so scared to tell you this, or why I chose to wait so long. There is no instruction manual on who to tell, who not to tell, and how to go about it, or how to deal with their reactions be they good or bad. I’ve been let go from jobs, I’ve lost friends and relationships. I’ve been called a burden, a faker, and a flake. I’ve been edged out, walked out on, mocked, judged, put down. All for something that I never asked for, and I was responsible for fixing on my own. I’m lucky enough to say I was able to do that.

Before I say what I need to say I want you to know that you have the power to help my life and many others become better, healthier, and more productive by allowing us to come out with this into open arms. By accepting me as I am and knowing that I am doing everything in my power to right size my condition and take charge of my life again, you are helping give me the gift of life. After all, you wouldn’t tell someone who has cancer that they’re a burden or pass judgement on them for the sacrifices they have to make on behalf of their wellness.

I want to tell you that I have mental illness. I hope you can accept my apology for any of my shortcomings, past or future, and their effects on you. I hope you can still see me for me, and not my illness. I hope you know that I wouldn’t be telling you if I didn’t care. And I hope for myself, for all those directly affected by mental illness, and everyone indirectly affected because that’s what keeps us going through the hardest times of our lives; hope for our future and the actions we take to effect change on behalf of the hope we have for ourselves.

Signed,

Meredith

Peace, love, and wellness.