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.

Dare To Be Different

The Lean In concept is seductive because it implies women should want to rise up in corporations. What if you want to do something else with your life? I find that there’s a stigma against women who rebel the roles others in society expect them to have: mother or nurse or teacher. And now one of the only acceptable roles has become “corporate superstar.”

Why not Lean Out? Why not live your life Left of the Dial? The idea that moving mountains is the only best life strategy turns me off. What if you’re different? What if you don’t live up to the stereotypes of how a woman is supposed to live and act and think? I regret Lean In might just replace one stereotype with another.

I regret the way society continues to place women in a sexuality box. It’s damaging, particularly to young woman coming of age now or who are going to come of age in five or ten years.

The root of feminism was that women were often trapped in their marriages at the time when getting married and raising a family was the only acceptable option for a woman.

I say: rebel. Live your life. Choose to do your own think. Be a free spirit.

It’s possible to be single AND happy. You have the power. It’s not wise in my estimation for a woman to lose herself in a relationship, to subjugate who you are to please a man (or woman). That results in ill-health.

I write this blog entry because I think it’s important for the next generation of women to hear this: for our daughters and nieces who are just kids now and will face a different world from the ordinary kind of bullying I experienced.

I take issue with how a female author criticized a young woman who wanted to wait to have sex until she was married. Also: Tara McCarthy wrote Been There, Haven’t Done That about being a virgin in her twenties.

It upsets me that societal norms are deemed normal and anything deviating from the norm is considered aberrant. Is the current hook-up culture of sex without love normal? Why does society give a woman brownie points for having sex on the third date with nearly every guy she meets?

I say: “qualify your leads” like any good salesperson. Make the guy work for it. If he knows you’re an easy lay, he won’t feel he needs to keep up his end of the bargain in the relationship, because he knows you’re emotionally hooked on him.

That’s why men have no incentive to Lean Out and give up their power.

I say: it’s OK to be different. It’s OK to Lean In or Lean Out or Live Left or do whatever it is you want to do.

I say: it’s time to give other people the drubbing they give us. It’s time for women to take back our power. It’s time to celebrate our differences not judge others for having them.

I’m a critic of what passes for normal in society. Judging others for being different is NOT normal so I urge readers not to give the haters the power to influence how you feel about yourself.

Do you want to Lean In? Or do you want to bake brownies? Either way is perfectly fine.

I’ll end this blog entry by cheering on everyone who feels like they don’t fit in, who doesn’t see themselves reflected in the media.

My memoir Left of the Dial gives readers hope ultimately because it shows there is not one right way to live. If I believed the snow job the staff in the community mental health system told me about what I was capable of: I might not have sought to achieve half of what I’ve achieved.

My memoir lifts the veil of silence that traps people with mental illness into hiding, into faking themselves into thinking they have to do what’s considered “normal” to be accepted in society.

Getting a corporate job isn’t the only possible thing you can do. Getting married and having children isn’t the only possible thing either.

Dare to be you: the one and only you.

You’ll be happier and that’s what counts in the end:

If you can’t please your soul, how will you live out the rest of your life?

Something to think about.

Lean In Or Not

I’m set to start reading the book Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg the COO of Facebook.

From what little I’ve heard of the concept of leaning in I don’t buy it or get it as an approach that every woman must take or needs to take.

A cubicle is a box. I worked in offices for 7 years. For a creative person, this kind of job can rob you of your soul.

Only I was young and I wanted to prove I was normal so I thought that was what a person did: worked in offices, coveted a corner office or at least to become a corporate superstar.

How easy it is to get sidetracked this way because you think it’s what you should do or that it’s the only thing you can do.

I recommend a person researches herself to see what she might like to do and what she’d be good at, regardless of whether it’s what others tell her she “should” do. Artists are routinely discouraged from going to art school and told they should take up a degree like accounting that is practical.

No. No. No. I don’t recommend you listen to anyone who tells you this. Do what the deafening voice in your head tells you is what would suit you. It’s like not following a trend and wearing an outfit that looks ridiculous on you. You don’t have to follow trends in fashion that don’t suit your body type or personality. Nor do you have to follow others into an acceptable career.

I wonder if Dita Von Teese, the burlesque artist, ever caved into the doubt and was led into a gray flannel career early in her life. She’s famous for being Dita Von Teese and doing her own thing.

It takes courage. It takes balls or breasts to live your life Left of the Dial when others tell you to Lean In to an ordinary life, the life you’re “supposed to live” as a woman: birth babies, raise a family and take yourself higher in the corporate world.

What if you want to have a magnificent life of your own choosing? What if you don’t want to have a normal life others choose for you or tell you that you have to live?

Dare. Dare to be the one and only you. Dare to do what pleases your soul first of all. If you’re “all about the money” that’s OK too. Just be yourself and you’ll be happier either way.

I will report back shortly in the Reviews section of this WordPress site on what I think of the Sheryl Sandberg book.

Drink Drugs Mental Illness

I waited on line in Rite Aid as the cashier rang up two magazines and an 85 percent cacao dark chocolate bar.

The woman after me took one look at the Daily News cover on the kiosk and loudly denounced Robin Williams: “Stupid, stupid, he was stupid.”

“He had a mental illness,” I shouted back. “He was troubled.”

“Stupid, stupid, he was stupid,” she continued to judge Williams in the guise of stating a fact.

Drink Drugs and Mental Illness is an all too common scenario when a person doesn’t get the right treatment right away. Fifty-six percent of the people diagnosed with bipolar have a co-occurring drug addiction according to statistics.

Reputable individuals think Robin Williams had bipolar all his adult life. News accounts of his stand-up comedy routines described his delivery as “manic” and it’s quite possible he was manic, he was depressed, he was manic, he was depressed all his adult life and treated this undiagnosed illness with cocaine.

I find it incredible the ongoing stigma in society that goes on at the hands of a person like the woman in Rite Aid.

I do not recommend indiscriminate disclosure of your mental illness.

I recommend keeping your boundaries and telling only those people who have earned the right to be privy to your hardship.

The sad truth is that if Robin Williams got help early on his brilliance as an actor and comedian might have burned brighter than even it did during his lifetime. His success might have been stratospheric and more so than it already was.

Talent should not be a trade-off with illness. I have no illusions that I would be an even better writer and a more gifted artist if I didn’t take medication.

More likely, if I didn’t get help right away, I might not be alive today or I might not have a life worth living. I definitely would not be able to dead-lift 175 lb. at the gym.

The news accounts that two individuals with depression wrote played into the media’s hand of not encouraging individuals with a mental illness to get the medication that can save their lives. The two accounts didn’t mention that taking medication could help a person thrive, help a person win the game of life.

None of the first-person accounts of depression listed agencies or resources or the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Hotline 1 (800) 273-TALK (8255). They glossed over specific treatment options, didn’t talk about effective medications, and had the usual romantic view of living with symptoms instead of taking medication.

The usual no-medication-at-any-time stance was parroted. The usual living-with-symptoms-is-better-than-taking-medication platform that the media allows would-be writers parading as legitimate journalists to advance.

Robin Williams was in hell. Numerous friends and other people I know lived in hell until they found the pharm that took away the depression, that gave them a life worth living.

Individuals like these don’t tell their stories because of the stigma. The media gives a platform to the individuals who don’t take medication. The media refuses to advance accounts of people that recovered and are in remission because of Big Pharma.

I tell my story out loud and I’m proud I’ve been in remission over 22 years because of the medication. The Geodon has been a miracle drug.

My heart goes out to Robin Williams’ family and to his loyal fans. Williams was a true original.

He might still be alive if he got the right help right away.

I’d rather be a humble librarian who lives without symptoms than an SZ celebrity with a J.D. from Yale who has ongoing major episodes.

There you go: I’ve stated this publicly.

We need to re-think how the media discusses mental illness. We need to dispel the myth that mental illness gives a person brilliant gifts.

In reality: I’ll take dead-lifting 175 lb. over living above a subway grate any day. As gifted an artist and writer as I am, I know my gifts come at a cost.

Brilliance isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.

Mental illness is often a burden not a “dangerous gift.”

It’s not a pretty box tied with a bow you want to open up and live with the rest of your lives.

It’s cruel, and for people who don’t get the right help, there’s no way out.

Hail To The Kale

I discovered a secret that might just be true:

Having a salad with a meal or before going out to a party will keep you fuller longer.

The CSA box arrived with bell peppers, eggplant, green beans, zucchini and kale.

The kale salad filled me up and I didn’t feel like eating a lot more of the other food.

I’ll give you the recipe for a kale salad. You can often find kale at a Greenmarket.

Kale Salad:

One head kale, leaves cut into pieces

Green peppers cut into strips

Beets, roasted in oven 350 to 400 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour, then peeled and diced

Goat cheese cut into small medallions

walnuts, optional

Mix the vegetables into the salad and then top with the goat cheese medallions. Sprinkle with walnuts if you’d like.

To cut the bitterness of the kale if you’d like: toss with olive oil and lemon or olive oil and vinegar.

I’d love to hear from others about whether having kale is a way to halt hunger longer after you eat it. This is what happened to me so I wonder about this.

Organic vegetables are the best bet even when you weigh in other factors. Absent choosing organic, choosing mostly fruits and vegetables is the better way to go than buying processed foods.

Healthy food is happy food. It can boost your mood too.

What’s not to like about that?

Creating A Better Life

The three-and-a-half years I spent involved in a community mental health system were the worse years of my life.

I recommend you research, research, research any kind of treatment options you’re presented with. I can’t in good faith recommend a person attend a traditional day program.

I’m a champion of an IPRT or Intensive Psychiatric Rehabilitation Treatment program where you set a goal with a 12 to 24 month completion date and act resilient to get your life back on track.

This too: I recommend social skills training and also cognitive remediation for individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia. These treatments should be given as early in the recovery period as possible.

No: I’m not a fan of having people languish in traditional day programs or outpatient clinics that are little more than a babysitting service.

One director who had me speak to her patients lamented that they didn’t want to get jobs or go to school. She tried to have me pump up the audience to be inspired to take these risks. My talk fell on deaf ears. A friend suggested I had good things to say and did well: that it was only the audience that wasn’t buying in.

So: how can a community mental health center help clients if its director has assessed the patients don’t want to better themselves?

It’s a Catch-22. And certainly there are better community mental health centers out there. I’ve written about one great center in Topeka, Kansas at HealthCentral. I intend to write news articles about other agencies that truly help individuals conquer their mental health challenges.

Until “best practices” is the norm: I don’t think it’s wise to rely on treatments like “line dancing” and “yoga” that haven’t been proven to guarantee results.

Research, research, research your treatment options.

I will talk in a future entry about my other observations about mental health providers.

Hope Heals

Brene Brown in her book The Gifts of Imperfection quotes a leading researcher who defines hope as a strategy not a feeling:

The act of setting a goal, taking steps to achieve it, and revising your plan or changing your goal when the original one doesn’t work out.

In this way: hope heals.

I stand in solidarity with others who were told subtly or directly that there was no hope for them because they had schizophrenia.

After I came out of the hospital, I was shunted into a community mental health system ill-equipped to help me. The very counselors who should’ve helped me stigmatized me.

This is why I’m no fan of the current “consumer recovery movement” as it now exists. I’m a member of the Positive Psychiatry Movement instead. There’s a difference.

The consumer recovery movement parrots opinions as if they were facts. Their denial of anosognosia as a real symptom is an opinion not a fact.

Anosognosia or the lack of insight that you have an illness is documented in over 15 research studies. It is caused by frontal lobe lesions in the brain and upwards of 50 percent of individuals with schizophrenia have it as a symptom.

I stand on the side of science and kindness in treating people living with mental illnesses. The idea that mental illnesses are not real medical conditions is also not a fact. It’s an opinion that can’t be proven either.

The consumers who champion community mental health systems as the best way to get treated are sadly mistaken in my humble view because of my experiences in this kind of center. Years ago on the Internet a staff member of a community mental health system wrote an article in which she claimed no one with schizophrenia could recover or achieve remission.

With staff like that, how are most community mental health systems equipped to help people?

I will report back in here what I think is a better option for a person newly diagnosed with schizophrenia.

It employs hope as the ultimate strategy.

Ah to Zucchini

The latest zucchini recipe I cooked was easy and I recommend it in the summer when the vegetable is plentiful at markets.

Slice in half two zucchini and scoop out the insides. Sprinkle generous grated parmesan on the zucchini. Bake in the oven at 350 for 25 to 30 minutes. Cut into chunks to eat and enjoy.

I zoom in on zucchini in the summer. It’s one of the most healthful vegetable options and one of the tastiest in my estimation.

Another foolproof recipe is to cut zucchini into coins and sprinkle grated parmesan on it and saute in olive oil for about 5 to 10 minutes. You can check the vegetable’s firmness to decide how soft you want to cook it.

Voila: easy, cheesy vegetables that provide calcium, protein and vitamins.

Hospital Life

I expect my memoir Left of the Dial to go on sale at the latest on December 1st of this year.

As the date nears I will excerpt scenes from the memoir here. Today’s is a glimpse of life on the ward, a place I hope no one has the misfortune to land in.


By my third week, my lipstick was worn down to a blunt slope, and I had the goal of leaving before the tube was empty. Zoe came into my life in a drop-dead segue between despair and hope. She arrived on Monday and made herself known. A wild earth kind of woman with manic depression, she was a fireball, igniting the other patients, and then flaming out on herself.

Caught up in her frantic good humor, I coasted along with her whims. Lucia, the recreation therapist, decided to take the patients bowling at Knotty Pines. I was reminded of the Camper Van Beethoven song “Take the Skinheads Bowling” that I played on my radio show. I liked the music, not the sport.

“Come on, we’ll have fun at the Nutty Pines.” Zoe didn’t skip a beat.

“Okay.” We lined up together to be escorted out. She gave me a pair of sunglasses (she had two) so we could cover up in case our friends saw us on the outside.

“I got a couple pairs from Jimmy. He has a case of them in his room,” she said. How did she know this?

The van rattled down Forest Avenue towards the desolate section of town. Truly, I hated bowling and wanted an excuse to escape. Once inside, I eased into a size five shoe and selected a ball that weighed the least. The tobacco-color interior was glum; the stench of cigarette smoke lingered. Lucia kept score.

“Darn, a gutterball.” I watched it slide down the side.

“Gutterfuck.” Zoe laughed.

Lucia told her to watch her language.

We ended ten frames and started again. Fidgety, I wanted to end it all so threw the bowling ball down the alley with careless conviction.

Lucia said, “Be patient. Don’t rush.” Zoe got a lucky strike and won the game.

After, we went to Pal Joey’s for pizza. We wore our sunglasses indoors.

“What are you, the Blues Sisters?” Lucia laughed.

I imagined our protest would go down in our charts.

“We’re not here for a long time, we’re here for a good time,” Zoe chuckled.

If only we could’ve stayed outside a little longer. I missed the freedom of blue skies. Too soon we returned to Veronica Lane.


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