Speaking Out as a Form of Self-Care

I like this Martin Luther King, Jr. quote:

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

It matters to me that I champion what “pro-choice” really means in its various manifestations:

The right to choose how we want to live. The right to choose love not hate. (Or the right yes indeed to choose hate if that’s how we want to live.)

It matters to me how people treat each other.

It matters to me that I speak out against hate and yes oppression.

In a way, people with mental health challenges have been repressed from speaking out and oppressed from having power.

I’ve talked in here before about my analogy to slices of the pie in how people compete with each other.

It comes down to self-care. When no one else seems to care about you it’s imperative that you care about yourself.

Refrain from internalizing the message that there’s something wrong about you. That there’s no hope for what you can do.

In 1988 I had to fight to be taken seriously. I rebelled the role of mental patient. Which is ultimately why I wrote about other things in Left of the Dial. I wrote about how I used fashion and music to heal. It was revolutionary because I didn’t focus on symptoms.

It matters to me–it has mattered to me from Day 1 of my recovery–that none of us are identified by our symptoms or our illness or our lack.

As an Author and a Dilettante/Lover I’ll continue to champion treating other people with dignity. I’ll continue to take my message of hope and healing wherever I go: on the street; on the stage; on the pages of the blog.

It’s 2017. We can’t be afraid to challenge the status quo. We can’t be afraid to challenge the haters. It’s time to rise up and use our voices to tell our stories.

Recovery is a human rights issue. I might be the only one who is so blunt to state it like this. I want to cry when I hear that a person has been institutionalized for 12 years or longer. The greatest thing is that they got out.

Everyone has the right to be supported and cheered on in their pursuit of having a full and robust life living in recovery. Now “full and robust” will look and be defined differently for each of us.

 

Choose Love

Last week I attended an open mic where I read the poem “What She Said” that starts off Left of the Dial.

The host started the evening by quoting Audre Lorde on self-care:

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

Self-care–in whatever healthy form it takes–is an act of love and healing. That’s why fashion and beauty aren’t frivolous pursuits.

I ask you: without self-care how can a person really feel and look their best? In this regard it’s imperative that each of us treats ourselves and the people we meet with kindness and compassion.

At the open mic I was witness to stories of tragedy and the overcoming of tragedy.

Ashley Smith, a fellow blogger, has alluded to the idea that we’re all in recovery, from whatever it is we’re in recovery from.

A breakdown; an illness; a diagnosis; an attack–all these can be a traumatic event.

Though I’ve only been 52 for two weeks I suddenly have zero tolerance for the hate, violence, and killing in the world.

I want to talk about this now because when you hit your fifties you’re faced with a choice: continue on the same path (that might include having negative thoughts or unhealthy behaviors)–or choose empowerment through having empathy for yourself and others.

You can’t afford to go down a path of ill health when you’re in your fifties. Now is the time to intensify your efforts at self-care.

If you’ve suffered a trauma–be it a mental health challenge or something else–please be good to yourself. You can’t blame yourself. Self-care is a necessity not a luxury.

There can be no shame and guilt involved in having a diagnosis. There can be no fear of reprisal when you choose how you want to live your life.

I bought a silver necklace that spells out: CHOOSE LOVE.

That’s the message I want to spread in the blog now:

Choose Love.

Tu B’Shevat

tu-bshevat

A friend invited me to celebrate the New Year for Trees.

Today is the New Year for Trees in the Jewish Calendar.

The Torah says: “Man is a Tree of the Field.”

Olives, dates, figs, and pomegranates are the fruits of the trees that are eaten on this day.

The pine tree photo is my creation. Not confident that you can make out that I used glitter on the leaves.

This of course is not my religion because I’m not a member of any organized religion that meets in a church.

How interesting that everyone was painting because in the New York Times yesterday there was a news article about art therapy. Apparently the second lady Karen Pence wife of our vice president has taken an interest in art therapy over the years.

Professional art therapists wonder if Pence echoes her husband’s anti-human rights stance and will try to get art therapists to convert gay people to heterosexuals. Others in the art therapy profession laud the second lady’s attempt to promote their field.

We painted and ate dried fruits and nuts.

Let’s celebrate the New Year for Trees for what it can be:

A reminder that we are human beings and part of the natural world. That when we water the soil our trees bear fruit. We also bear the fruit of our goals when we water and nurture our imagination.

I’ve written about friendship at HealthCentral. I’ll be publishing a Bruni in the City column about friendship in early 2018.

It’s true–and I’ll end here with this–that often those of us with a mental health challenge do best in artistic environments.

A verified significant number of Artist/Creatives have mental health conditions. Far better to encourage these gifts and use them to create things of beauty to share with others.

Sketch, paint, sculpt, write fiction, cut hair, apply makeup, sing, dance, act–it’s all good.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Living Life

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You’re supposed to use photos in blogs so that Google ranks you higher.

I say: as hard as it can be: get out of your apartment or your house.

There’s really no benefit in ruminating on what’s not working or on being jealous of others who seem to have it all. Most people bluff rather than admit that they’re not doing well. No one is going to tell you that they feel like they’ve fallen down.

Just think this: life isn’t easy for any of us not even people who seem to have it all.

If you’re idolizing Kim Kardashian that just might be the dilemma: you have too much time on your hands and aren’t doing things of your own to bolster your self-esteem.

Living life–in recovery from whatever you’re in recovery from–involves taking risks. You will not always be in the mood to go out the front door.

Yet this is exactly how a woman I know met her future husband–they were innocently set up after a friend needled her into going to a pub.

A guy at the pub had his friend come over to meet her. They started talking and the rest was history. She had originally resisted going out and was pulled dragging her high heels into the pub.

I’m revising and editing my second book that I want to publish within two years. In it I’ll talk about how to thrive in your life in recovery.

Really–should we be aspiring to to emulate the Kardashians? Should we be buying their products and making them rich?

The CUNY Graduate Center journalism Masters’ program has an admissions test. You’re supposed to define what the people listed on the exam are famous for. I kid you not one of the people listed was Kim Kardashian.

I don’t admire anyone who is famous for being rich and beautiful.

Not even as a form of mindless escape watching a TV show. The sad reality is that more people adore Kim Kardashian than Michelle Obama. I greatly respect and admire all that Michelle Obama has done.

Has Kim Kardashian done anything to help save the planet or try to cure childhood obesity? I rest my case. Now turn off the TV and go to the pub.

You don’t have to drink alcohol when you go out either. Just go out and have a good time.

I tore out of an Oprah magazine a page with a photo of a huge yellow flower with the words Have Fun in black on the top of the page.

That is what we should all do:

Have fun.

 

 

 

 

He’s Just Not That Into You

Come on, the author of He’s Just Not That Into You should’ve titled his book the truth: He Doesn’t Like You, Chica!

This last week I realized I could star as a character in that book.

Guys want a bird in the hand and two in the bush. Most guys think they’re not a man if they’re not banging a chick, so they’ll lead a woman on and keep her even if they don’t love her. All to prove they’re manly and to have their way.

I still think it’s a man’s world–a guy friend insists women have the power. Rejection is a two-way street.

Certain words should cue us that the guy or gal isn’t interested in seeing us again or in continuing. I found out the hard way that He’s Just Not Into Me. So I decided to call it quits.

Rule Number One:

The guy has your number,  so if he hasn’t called, ditch him. He’s not interested.

Rule Number Two:

You can’t make a guy like you. So give up–stop trying to.

Rule Number Three:

Tattoo rules number one and two on your heart.

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.

Urban Tribes

Years ago I read the book Urban Tribes.

I remembered from the book only the author’s takeaway that single people in America are forming tribes that are their own version of a chosen family not a birth family. It wasn’t that great a book except for his premise about creating a tribe of kindred spirits to stand in as a family.

A friend and I went to hear live music. I started to fall asleep on the banquette we sat on in the back of the club. Then I got a cup of water from the bar. We went outside for fresh air.

I perked up when the featured act started to perform–a fake-jet-black-haired guitarist who’d been touring for 30 years–not all at once that is over the years.

We ate in a fabulous diner at midnight. To get home we has to cross “The Boulevard of Death”–the term for a street where numerous people get run over trying to cross it every day. As I started to cross no kidding a car was speeding down the road.

My friend’s friend had run across the street to flag down a cab to take us home. We followed him like blind chickens crossing the road because we had to get to the other side.

When I was in Rome the tour guide remarked about crossing Rome’s streets: “The drivers are speedy–they’re not going to stop. Just run across the street and don’t look–just run across the street.”

I doubt that outside of New York City people jaywalk and cross the street when the light is green. People who were born in and live in New York City like I was and have do not wait for a red light to cross the street.

Only I cross the street when no car is coming my way. The drivers here are dangerous. They don’t stop at stop signs. They don’t stop for red lights and keep going through the intersection when the light is red.

I take my life in my hands crossing the street every day. No kidding.

I’ll end here with a photo of our divine lemon meringue from the diner:

 

nevada diner

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.