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.

 

Say Yes to Mental Health Treatment

The Republicans are set to vote into law today the gutting of mental health services enacted under the Affordable Care Act while President Obama was in office.

The Republicans are set to roll back progress by eliminating mental health treatment and charging higher premiums for fewer kinds of mental health service.

The Republicans are set to deny mental health constituents coverage for addiction treatment.

It will become illegal to have an abortion. Yet when your fetus turns 18 and develops schizophrenia or another mental illness or a drug addiction there will now be no treatment available for them. Write your elected officials and thank them for this.

Makes sense right? Makes sense to have voted into power the people who are voting today to eliminate funding for mental health services for the very people who need it.

Cue the sarcasm. Is there an emoji for sarcasm? You know where I stand.

If you live in New York State here are the telephone numbers of the elected officials you can call to tell them to vote NO for the MacArthur Amendment that denies citizens treatment for mental health.

Rep. Lee Zeldin Long Island 202-225-3826
Rep. Peter King Long Island 202-225-7896
Rep. Dan Donovan Staten Island 202-225-3371
Rep. John Faso Upper Hudson Vally 202-225-5614
Rep. Elise Stefanik North Country 202-225-4611
Rep. Claudia Tenney Binghamton 202-225-3665
Rep. Tom Reed Finger Lakes Region 202-225-3161
Rep. John Katko Syracuse 202-225-3701
Rep. Chris Collins Western NY 202-225-5265
Tell your congressperson that:
  • The American Health Care Act would leave millions of Americans without mental health coverage and strip Medicaid funding.
  • The recently-introduced “MacArthur Amendment” would let states get waivers allowing health insurance plans to not cover mental health and substance use treatment and charge people with mental illness more.
  • It’s outrageous to even suggest that mental health coverage is optional and to charge people more because they have a mental health condition.
  • Medicaid coverage is also under threat. It covers important mental health services that help people with mental illness get better and stay better.
  • Please tell Representative_______ to keep what works for mental health and REJECT the American Health Care Act and the MacArthur Amendment. Thank you.

I telephoned my guy in Washington. The line was busy. I’ll call again to try to get through.

I’m posting this same blog entry in the Flourish blog.

 

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.

The Necessity of Self-Care

I want to write about the necessity of self-care as you get older.

Readers: if I gained weight I doubt I’d care at this point anymore.

Like so many women at mid life proclaim: “It’s either my face or my ass.” This is because:

In your fifties you might have a wrinkle-free face and gain a few pounds or have wrinkles and no extra poundage.

Research studies indicate that women who exercise feel better about their bodies even if they haven’t lost significant weight.

My secret is to lift weights twice a week as often as I can and to watch what I eat on most days. Now that the spring weather is here I often walk places instead of taking the subway. That’s how I get in “cardio”–cardiovascular exercise.

That’s the secret to hang a healthy body and a healthy mind: strength training. You feel better after you’ve exercised. There’s also some kind of idea that lifting weights firms the skin on your face too. I wouldn’t go so far as to think this–this seems incredulous to me.

My regimen is: At night I use L’Oreal Eye Makeup Remover and some kind of Neutrogena cleansing cloths for the rest of my face. After this I use Simple facial cleanser you can get in Rite Aid. Then I apply an old-school product from the Body Shop: the Vitamin E Night Cream.

In the morning I use Neutrogena Hydro-Boost moisturizer with SPF 15–the one that comes in the tube not the jar. I use an eye cream that costs about $15.

The reality is that you have to–at least I have to–wear moisturizer every day when you’re older. So I use a moisturizer with a sunscreen. I also notice that foundation goes on better if you’ve applied moisturizer first.

I’ll end here with this now:

No one will tell you–only I’ll tell you–that the future won’t always be totally rosy or always better and not ever challenging.

I learned the hard way from being the victim of an attack that your life can in some ways get harder at times not easier.

Which is the prime reason that self-care is so important now if you’re in your fifties.

Doing healthy things to make yourself feel better is a necessity not a luxury in recovery at mid life. 

More Inspiring Stories

This is a photo of Joan Smalls the fashion model who is highly coveted on the runway:

joan smalls

I use her photo to illustrate that beauty comes on the inside too. Her inspiring story was used along with other fashion models’ stories on the Allure magazine website a couple of weeks ago. Their stories were part of the “Beauty and Diversity” feature.

Reading the fashion models’ stories empowered me to have no fear. I thought: If those beautiful women can face down their detractors and be victorious, I can carry my head high too.

Joan Smalls’ quote was the most inspiring: “If someone else doesn’t like me that’s their problem not mine.” Mental health peers should take this tip from her as regards so-called stigma.

I’ll be 52 in three weeks. Soon I’ll have been in recovery 30 years. This month I want to write a blog carnival about the beauty of getting older and the beauty of individuality.

Having lived in recovery 30 years I know that for too long mental health peers have internalized shame about having a diagnosis, as if our illness is transparent for others to see. We’ve given up on ourselves because other people gave up on us.

Though it seems unrelated, the Joan Smalls’ quote inspires me now to take this stand: “The diagnosis is on the table. Take it or leave.”

The gloves are coming off by necessity. It’s because turning 50 is one thing. Turning 52 is an entirely different, bigger thing. I realize now that my time on earth is getting shorter–so what do I want to achieve in the time that’s left?

At mid life another quote sums up perfectly what the fashion model alluded to:

“The only power a person has over you is the power you give them.”

Right–absolutely right. All of a sudden I’ve been buying fashion magazines and obsessively poring over the photos of the models in clothes. Who knew they weren’t just pretty faces?

Yes, reading the Allure Beauty and Diversity feature empowered me to have no fear in going after what I want.

I’ll end here with this: it’s high time to not only honor “diversity” it’s time to embrace “individuality.”

In the next blog entry I’ll talk about a recent experience that changed forever in me the notion of judging a person by their appearance.

 

 

Sparking Love Kindness and Joy

love-mugkindess-mugjoy-mug-ellen

(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.

 

Mental Health and Snow Boots

I see in the ballad of the snow boots below a metaphor for mental health.

A woman told me she always detested using the word consumer to describe recipients of mental health treatment.

“No kidding,” I told her. You consume soft drinks. You don’t consume healthcare.”

She told me that for those with developmental disabilities the term is now individual. As in individuals who have developmental disabilities.

Imagine that–individual.

Consumers are a mass market. They’re a homogeneous demographic used to sell products. Do we really need to buy what marketers are selling? Buying products should not be the reason for our existence.

I paid $125 for these boots because I wasn’t going to spend $200 on an abominable pair of even uglier fur trapper boots.

A woman told me she liked these boots because they’re trendy, modern. I say: dare to be different. Call yourself an individual.

Buy a different boot instead of UGGs.

People who don’t think and act alike are unpredictable. They can’t be controlled. So in reality consumerism is a form of submission.

Thinking and acting the same as everyone else is a form of submission.

That’s ultimately why I don’t like using the word consumer: it insinuates that we’re all the same and have the same needs.

I say: be an individual. Get on yr boots and walk all over conformity.

sdc10464

 

 

 

 

Living Life

close-up-matt-party

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.

 

 

 

 

Defining Ourselves and Determining Our Fate

In the late 1980s and early 1990s when I first came up in recovery I railed against using the term schizophrenia to describe me.

Of course at the time I wanted to be seen as normal not mentally ill.

Yet more to the point is that I must have subconsciously realized the danger of using externally applied labels to define who a person is.

Why couldn’t we define ourselves using our own terms? Why should we give others the power to control our fate simply because they used the diagnosis to determine what we could do–which in the mental health staff’s eyes was not very much.

Even today I wince when a label like LGBTQ is used to describe people. Why use any kind of label at all?

The International Women’s Writing Guild (IWWG) had a newsletter column where it asked the female members “Who Are You?” Everyone was supposed to write in and chime in with “I am…” This is how it’s supposed to be.

In my eyes the diagnosis is helpful as a tool to help people get the right treatment for the symptoms they’re experiencing right now. Yet this judgment is not infallible–a lot of us go through years of hell and misguided treatment because the diagnosis isn’t the right one.

Let’s place that aside for the moment and focus on this: we have the right to define ourselves using our own terms. We have the right to determine our fate. Doing this is a form of fitness.

Who are you?

I’m Chris: an independent spirit in chic fashion.

I’m a defender of truth, justice, and the right to bare arms after you’re 50.

I’ve been a mental health activist for going on 15 years this February 2017.