Not everyone appreciates metaphors of uncomfortable truth

It’s not a secret held close to the peers’ collective chest that peers sometimes run into criminal trouble when experiencing the severe symptoms of a full-on, full-force, and full-blown crisis situation. At these magical times, law enforcement are often called to assist a peer. And some of these magical times, peers are transported to inpatient service rather than criminal incarceration. Score. Bonus score.

Things get a little iffy at this point. Let’s say a peer is in crisis with some regularity. And let’s say the peer pings on the law enforcement radar with some regularity. There is an idea that these peers require being on a “special list” so responding officers are aware this peer is a frequent flyer. In addition, MOUs (Memorandum Of Understanding) are attempted so psych providers can share HIPAA protected information with law enforcement. This is requested in the hopes of better serving peers.

The thing about it is not every peer wants their mental health information at the ready for responding officers, and peers really aren’t thrilled about providers sharing their information with law enforcement. Want proof? Check out this article on the Topeka Police Department’s “Premise Alert” program.

Constitutional academic arguments aside, the problem with a program like the Premise Alert is it’s very easy for foreknowledge to become forewarning. Not every crisis situation is like the last. Every crisis is entirely unique as is every peer is unique. As is every person is unique. Foreknowledge or forewarning? Is it any surprise that the volunteer Premise Alert has no volunteers?

When I brought up the Premise Alert at an MHRAC meeting in 2016, the idea was met with nods of agreement, that the Premise Alert made good sense and peers should support such an initiative in Albuquerque. So, yeah, I didn’t bring it up as a suggestion. I brought it up as what the Albuquerque Police Department should be avoiding. The idea is de-escalation, that’s the training I developed for APD’s Crisis Intervention Training. Having peers on a list easily referenced by responding law enforcement is a threat to peer safety, not a benefit to peer safety. The Premise Alert works entirely contrary to everything I was training APD to understand about the peer experience.

There was still confusion amongst the MHRAC Muggles. What is Steve saying? Won’t peers feel safer if officers knew they had mental health issues? Wouldn’t peers want the police to have this information ahead of time? No matter which vector I attempted in explanation, my reasoning was met with skepticism or outright hostility. So I decided to come at it with some Word Art.


The Premise Alert is the same as asking peers to volunteer for a Tag & Release program.


An almost immediate motion was made by an MHRAC member. Immediate.


I object to the term Tag & Release and make a motion to strike this terminology from these proceedings.


The motion was quickly seconded and was voted upon by Muggles who apparently took issue with my metaphor. Score. Bonus score. They found the terminology offensive. Finally. I was able to get them to understand the peer experience and what the idea of law enforcement keeping referenced information on prior contacts on hand when responding to a mental health crisis. My response . . .


I’m pleased I found a way to connect with the committee in such a way where the moral outrage peers feel about a Premise Alert is mirrored by your moral outrage at such a harsh analogy. First amendment guarantees outweigh a motion, second, and vote by this committee. So, if I feel using “Tag & Release” is a necessary insertion into our proceedings, that’s what I will share. I’m not here to make you comfortable. I’m here to have you understand from sharing the peer experience. And what I have to share is often an uncomfortable truth.


Here is my full response shared with the Topeka Capital-Journal:

A response to the Topeka Police Department’s “Premise Alert” program.

Tag & Release. Foreknowledge versus Forewarning. Uncomfortable truths. You’re welcome.

My neighbor of 45 years needs some SUTS education

My Dad lives in my childhood home; our family moved in just before I turned three, and it’s been a Bringe stronghold ever since. I get to sleep in my childhood bed when I come home to SoCal, a bed I outgrew when I was 12, where I began sleeping on the diagonal progressing to tucking my knees under my chin to remain completely upon the available sleeping area.

Today, before heading down to my HB stomping grounds at the beach, my neighbor who I’ve known for 45 years now came over to chat and catch up on what he’s been doing and what I’ve been doing. He’s a retired aircraft engineer (I think . . . he is an engineer of some flavor) so most of his conversation centered on his two girls and what they’ve been up to in their adult life. It’s tough thinking about the little girls next door being old enough to have adult lives. I’m aging. It happens to the best of us.

If it hasn’t been mentioned, ever since I was a very young child my academic and career trajectory was lasered in on being a geologist. I think my neighbor was expecting me to be talking about geology, which I did, although it was talking about geology in the terms of the pure joy of exploring the world (like when I was a kid) and not gazing upon the world as a commodity (which is where my mind naturally matured, since geology was now my profession).

Instead of talking about my latest geology gig, I said I had repurposed myself and was now working with Ryan and Sarah (and Megan) on behavioral health advocacy and education. I talked about developing and presenting peer-experience education for the Albuquerque Police Department – there was some discussion of the DOJ mandate because that’s where most people who have heard of APD want to go – as well as community presentations and going inpatient places like Turquoise Lodge Hospital.

It was that mention of Turquoise Lodge Hospital that revealed my neighbor has severe misconceptions of peers who receive inpatient services. I explained the Laugh It Off program and how we do a peer support group as the wrap up, or more accurately, how we use humor to let our friends in Turquoise Lodge know it’s safe and fun talking about our struggles with mental health issues and substance use issues.


His reply was, “That doesn’t sound fun at all.”

My reply was, “Really, it’s a lot of fun. It’s my favorite presentation of the week. And, it’s incredibly rewarding.”

And his reply was, “I can see it being rewarding. But aren’t you scared of what might happen to you?”

And my reply was, “What do you mean?”

And his reply was, “It’s dangerous, those people.”

And my reply was, “I’m one of those people. And it’s a serious misconception that peers are dangerous. That’s only what the media enjoys reporting because it’s sensational. Peers, we’re pretty straight forward and non-violent. Kind of like everyone.”

And his reply was, “So what do you have?”

And my reply was, “Bipolar, PTSD, and anxiety. Don’t worry. It’s not contagious. Except avian bipolar. I don’t have that.”

And his reply was, “……………………………………..”

And my reply was, “Dude, I’m messing with you. Avian bipolar is a joke.”

And his reply was, “Yes?”

And my reply was, “Dude, I’ve always been a wiseass. Don’t you remember how many times I made your kids cry with my teasing?”

And his reply was, “Yes, I remember that. So you’re still funny?”

And my reply was, “Yep. And it has nothing to do with the bipolar. And you’re ample proof my bizarre sense of humor predating the bipolar stuff. Can you be a reference for me next time someone attributes my humor to having a mental health diagnosis?”

And his reply was, “Sure. Did you know I went to Branson?”


Let’s get back on track. I’m going to pull out the salient parts of the conversation for reflection now, the part of the conversation dealing with our Laugh It Off program presented in Turquoise Lodge Hospital.


“That doesn’t sound fun at all.”

“I can see it being rewarding. But aren’t you scared of what might happen to you?”

“It’s dangerous, those people.”


My neighbor is a great guy. He helped me with calculus 2 when I was in high school. He’s a great dad and loves his family. He is well-read and very creative. Still, he harbors a kneejerk stigma very close to the surface. From his unfiltered reaction, going into Turquoise Lodge Hospital is inherently dangerous because the inpatient peers are inherently dangerous. I explained I’ve been inpatient a good dozen times since 1999, and that I’ve had issues with binge drinking through my recovery journey. I’m not a dangerous dude. Nor are the folks we meet inpatient.

So, unlike folks in the behavioral health industry and disability rights industry who have difficulty grasping the importance of peers sharing their life experiences, I felt no disappointment with my neighbor. What I felt was:


The peers who present with Stand Up To Stigma . . . we have a lot of work to do.

Challenge accepted.


– Steve Bringe

Why are peers expected to be volunteers?

This is one of the weirdest stigmas known to peerkind. It’s perplexing at best and audacious at best. Best to explain what I’m sharing with you. It’s not anything so significant as being relegated to “Crazy” and “Not Crazy” elevators (that was a thing at a provider service I once frequented – I kid you not – it was kind of my fault – we’ll be talking about this in our podcast) although it is significant because it suggests peers be unemployed and broke, and having money earned to spend on necessities like food, rent, mortgage, and full-on way-radical limited edition Pokémon cards are real challenges for many peers.


Why are peers expected to volunteer their personal time and life expertise?


While I’ve always been sensitive to this specific stigma, where folks from Disability Rights New Mexico, The Rock at Noonday, the Albuquerque Police Department, the University of New Mexico, and various miscellaneous assorted politicians turned private business owner turned politicians (hats off to my main man Ricky) sit at the same advisory table as I do yet are being paid to be there, it never really struck me as immensely ingrained in the behavioral health culture as it is until a peer openly criticized me for wanting to launch Stand Up To Stigma so all peers can also be paid professionals sitting at the same advisory table (hats off to my main man Robby). Said this peer:


“You’re just in this for the money. It’s an honor to be invited to the table. You’re doing this for the wrong reason.”


Bam. There it was, a peer stigmatizing another peer and a peer directly stigmatizing himself. Let’s break this down, misguided point by misguided point.


1.) You’re just in this for the money.

You betcha! The service Stand Up To Stigma provides the community has every last bit of worth as DSNM lawyer-person advocate, director of The Rock at Noonday, Albuquerque police officer, UNM provider, and politician person (I’m not certain what service many politicians provide . . . can you imagine what sort of projects could be funded if campaign funding was diverted to social services instead?).

Peers have value. Peers sharing their personal experiences and uncomfortable truths has great value. Value is not only in the vital service peers sharing of themselves provides the community, value is also monetary.

Everyone else at the table is being paid. Why not peers? After all, if it wasn’t for peers having mental health symptoms, nobody would be at that table discussing mental health needs at all.

I’m uncertain why peers being compensated for their worth to the community by drawing an income is a bad thing. Being able to generate an income from a unique skill set is the definition of employment. It’s also incredibly empowering supporting oneself. Guess what? A cornerstone purpose of Stand Up To Stigma is helping peers empower themselves. How is being paid for our expertise a bad thing?


2.) It’s an honor to be invited to the table.

Yeah. Stating it flatly, the dynamic suggested is backwards. To feel it is an honor – as peers – to be invited to a table where the issues, concerns, and needs of peers are being discussed, planned, and implemented is happening without direct peer advisement seems ludicrous. It’s like inviting an astronaut to sit in on lunar mission briefings. This does not happen. Astronauts are required at the briefing table at every step of the mission development and implementation. Personally, I’m not going to strap myself into the tip of a 50 story chemical cylinder bomb if I don’t know what’s going on. That’s what test monkeys are for. It treats peers like test monkeys. Don’t worry, we’ll keep you safe. Sure. Give me a banana and this month’s copy of “Just So We’re All on the Same Page, I’m Not an Astronaut Test Monkey.”

Peers are required at the table. They are not invited to the table. Why would there be peer discussions not involving peers?

Personally, I feel peers must be calling these meetings and inviting those who dedicate their lives to making our lives better (thank you, truly and honestly) to our table and discussing what is important to us, what we need for our successful recovery and wellness, and how we want it done. The honor is in peers bravely and openly sharing of themselves and the collaborations we require to ensure our successful recovery and wellness. “Being invited to the table” is such a miscalculation. Invitation? It’s our table!


3.) You’re doing this for the wrong reason.

I feel my expressions on the prior two misguided points touches on why the statement of “wrong reason” is so unintentionally ludicrous. What are the reasons I’m an active and dedicated peers advocate of the past eight years? There’s the being compensated for our value thing. There’s the helping peers empower themselves thing. There’s the making sure our voice is primary and our voice is heard thing. There’s the keeping both peers and the community informed of what’s important to peers thing. There’s the making sure our needs and the policies and projects implemented address and fulfill these needs thing. There’s the importance of peer education programs to be developed, managed, and engaged by peers thing (there are “peer education” programs where peers are invited to participate by Muggles). These hardly seem like “wrong reasons.” All said, do you know why I’m an active and dedicated peer advocate?

Because I care deeply about people.

Stand Up To Stigma is just as dedicated to ensuring peers earn monetary compensation when sitting at the table. Our mission and plan details just how. We don’t expect peers we train to be volunteers forever – we ask only for their support as we initiate the go code. And yes, Sarah, Ryan, and I are making Stand Up To Stigma our livelihoods.

We offer SUTS education programs free to the community; this means we ask your kind financial support in our fundraising efforts to make our dream of peer empowerment and community understanding a reality.

Go ahead. Tell me anything I’ve just shared is the “wrong reason” to go to the moon. Hold up. I’m stuck on the moon thing. Guess what? I always wanted to be an astronaut. A geologist astronaut. The moon is too close. God willing, I’ll get to go much farther than that. There are those who are passionate about reaching out to touch the stars. Then there are those who insist on touching the stars.

Peers are the stars.

And one way to touch the stars is to change perceptions on peers being considered first as volunteers and paid professionals second. As a community, we can change this stigmatizing perception. And Stand Up To Stigma is dedicated and prepared to do our part as peer community leaders. So maybe I’m getting to be an astronaut after all. All I needed to do was care about people. One small step for peers. One giant leap for peerkind.

– Steve Bringe

Becky Rutherford and Steve Bringe with Dr. Harrison Schmitt
Apollo 17 Geologist Astronaut and personal hero.

A very funny meme from AutisticNotWeird.com

A peer presenter with Stand Up To Stigma passed along a meme for posting to our site. Rather than just post the meme, it’s better to write out the dialog, which comes courtesy of Autistic Not Weird.


Dude #1: “I’m autistic, which means everyone around me has a disorder that makes them say things they don’t mean, not care about structure, fail to hyperfocus on singular important topics, have unreliable memories, drop weird hints and creepily stare into my eyeballs.”

Dude #2: “So why do people say YOU’RE the weird one?”

Dude #1: “Because there’s more of them than me.”


Classic.

Want to see a grown dude weep in front of his son? Just get me all hyped up on patriotism.

Back in 1997 I took my son, Scott, who just barely turned three years old, on a cross country trip to Boston. The thought was I might salvage the grad school offer a severe one year bipolar depression effectively sabotaged for me. By that I mean i didn’t return any phone calls or official letters, etc. Instead, I crawled inside my blanket fortress and waited for the blissful moment I blinked out of existence.

My wife suggested (read: threatened to divorce me if I didn’t try to get my academic career back on track) I get my lazy arse out of bed and get a meeting at Harvard. Hmmm. The parenthetical read a lot like the non-parenthical. My wife loved me so much she always reinforced her threats with threats. That’s just good operations research.

It continuously escaped her that the one year depression coincided with my senior year at New Mexico Tech, where I perfected the safety factor of 34,770 on my blanket fortress. I didn’t get out of bed, I didn’t go to class, I didn’t graduate. It was going to be a tough grad school sell in Cambridge lacking the BA sheepskin. Smart girl considering how stupid she was. Definitely a sharp-dull lass (read: She was drowning in a sea of her own oxymorons).

I’ll snip the story a little here to get to the good stuff. I never went to the meeting at Harvard and instead turned the trip into a vacation for Scott and me. I dig the National Park Service, with most on the East Coast being historical in theme. Beacon Hill, Charleston, Orange, NJ, Valley Forge, Fort Maswik, Cumberland Gap (that’s a cool meteor impact that punched a hole in the Appalachians), Harper’s Ferry, Antietam, Gettysburg, Fort Smith, Lexington-Concord… we hit a ton of sites with all the spare time generated by not begging Harvard to take me in. By the by, I hated Boston and North End Italian food is one rung below Chef Boyardee’s arm pit stains on his Chef Boyardee chef shirt. So there.

Cool photo, yeah? Are you digging that frothy puff of follicles I used to sport? And how cute is my kid? And how cute am I? Shit, I’m wearing Tevas. I swear, I wasn’t a Greenpeace warrior throwing myself in front of harpoons and chain saws. I don’t care about whales or spotted owls in the least, although it’d be funky seeing a flock of spotted owls feasting upon a beached whale.

Okay, the photo is cool for a much better reason. This photo was taken at Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This photo taken at a very specific room in the Pennsylvania State House, later renamed Independence Hall. This building holds a special place in the history of the United States of America. It’s where our country was born. And Scott and I are standing EXACTLY where our founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights, and Constitution. We are standing where our country was born.

Usually, you can’t access this part of the room. It happened that the day we were there, the period pieces, artifacts, and other historical paraphernalia decorating the room had been taken to Washington DC for cleaning and restoration. So, the National Park Service was allowing tourists to enter the room and stand where our country was born. EXACTLY where the United States of America was born.

A really sweet college lass offered to take a photo of Scott and me, and that’s what you see above. What wasn’t photographed was me feeling a great swell of overwhelming significance, where I dropped to my knees and proceeded to weep openly in front of my three year old son and about 40 tourists of various miscellaneous assorted nationalities., along with a smattering of Americans. The sweet college lass ran to me and just held me in her arms. She started crying, too. And two other American came over and started crying. And the various miscellaneous assorted tourists of other nationalities chuckled and took photos.

YouTube was still a decade or so off, and that really sucks. I wish I had a video of that moment. I’m actually misting up right now thinking about that day. I’m going to go ahead and squirt a few salty drops out of my orbs. Pardon me for a few moments.

It’s so sad my son was too young to remember that day. It’s Bringe Family Lore all the same, and that photo holds a place of pride on the wall just under the baseball mitt my dad had in high school when he was pitcher. If you ever drop by Chez Steve, I’ll give you the tour.

And to close this out., that was a real emotion I was gifted that day, not some bipolar “overreaction.” And what’s non non non non non heinous is that moment of patriotic pride is what finally jump-started my brain out of its one year bipolar depression.

Those plaid Caddyshack shorts, I remember those. I tore them getting out of the Dumbo ride at Disneyland a few months later. Probably for the best. 1990s fashion mistake went unnoticed while I was weeping openly and publicly in Philly, After trotting about the Magic Kingdom for the day, I had to toss the shorts in the trash at home, being ripped beyond repair. I had to keep hiding the rip with a $40 Mickey Mouse sweatshirt tied backwards around my waist for fear of exposing my root to a bunch of kids at Disneyland. I think I would have been crying different tears having to register as a sex offender. Such an unfortunate placement of the rip.

Oh! One more story. Did I mention we stopped in to Valley Forge? Yes? Okay. While the Minutemen and such were outside freezing for the winter, General George Washington took up board in a cute little farm house, a two story deal where the general slept upstairs in the one room up a very narrow, low stairwell. I went up to check out the room, and on the way down I nailed my forehead on a wood cross beam and landed on my arse, totally from reflex than head injury. It’s a soccer thing.

Anyway. The National Park Ranger, dressed in period garb and trained in period lingo (she told me “Thar be leeches, goodsir” when I was splashing around in the stream outside in my Tevas… stupid Tevas), totally dropped character and gasped, “Oh my God, are you okay?!?”

I’m 6 foot 3. General Washington was 6 foot 5. Without missing a beat, I said, “That was so cool! I nailed my head where the first president of the United States of America must have hit his head a billion times!”

I like interactive history.

 

Reprinted with kind permission from Steve’s Thoughtcrimes.

“The difference between you and them is you respect the law.”

When I first started having troubles with bipolar and was frequenting the hospital with some regularity, my parents bought a house in Albuquerque so they had someplace to live if I needed them to help me for an extended length of time. My parents are my heroes.

I check on my Dad’s house a couple times each week. Mostly, it’s to make sure the weeds are murdered – I like vegecide as much as arborcide – as well as making sure the roof isn’t leaking. Yes, in Albuquerque, we get stuff falling from the skies that damages roofs. Usually it’s frozen water. Frozen water falling from the skies. This global warming thing . . . somebody got it wrong. Somebody got it very, very wrong.

Where was I? Right, I know. Once, on checking upon my Dad’s house, I found the front door had been kicked in. The intruder tried to bolt with the TV in the living room (the only TV in the house) but my Dad’s got it wedged into this walled shelf above the fireplace, so how I found it was slightly askew. I’m telling you where to find the TV, that there is only one, and you’ll never get it if you break in to my Dad’s place. So there.

I did a quick assessment of the damage and because it seemed significant enough structurally I made a call to the police, so I could file a report in case Dad needed one. Interested neighbors are universally famous for congregating at times like this. Perhaps it’s with the hopes of potato salad like on the July 4th block party, perhaps it’s with the hopes that their home doesn’t also fall prey to a frustrated bandit. Did I mention he didn’t get the TV? Classic.

It turns out that one of Dad’s neighbors is a retired Albuquerque Police Department lieutenant. He shared that there were contractors working on the house next door and this meant there were also subcontractors. That my Dad’s place was vacant – there’s really only the TV to steal, by the by, and you can’t get it out – did not pass unnoticed, and the Lt. also shared that usually with this type of break-in the perp is a subcontractor. Contractors, do background checks on your subcontractors, please. I guess. I’m itching to turn this tale into a parable.

Oh, wait, I got it! Parable, start your engines! So I shared with the Lt. that I was active in training APD in understanding peers in crisis and ways that officers can help peers, and themselves, in deescalating a crisis call. This was not long after the James Boyd thing and APD was very sensitive to any discussion of mental health and law enforcement. We spoke for some time about what I was doing with APD, and the Lt. offered this.


“The difference between you and them is you respect the law.”


I couldn’t hold back laughing. Openly laughing. Not about a perceived shortcoming of the Lt. I wasn’t laughing at him. I was laughing at me and the stupid stuff I’ve done when in crisis. My arborcide story is legend and deserves its own article. For now, I’ll say I’ve done some incredibly weird stuff when in crisis, stories I enjoy sharing with APD in their training. It’s helpful to see me when I am well because the only time APD has seen me at my abode is when I’m not well. It stands to reason. We don’t call APD when we’re not in crisis. Unless we’re lonely. I guess. Hi, it’s Steve. How are you? Just calling to see how everyone’s doing. So, fighting a lot of crime today?

Off track again. My reply after the hearty laughter was very self-aware and self-assessing. With the Lt. I shared . . .


“Dude, you’ve never been to my house when I’m crisis. I really don’t have the understanding, awareness, or capacity to ‘respect the law’ when I’m at my worst.”


The Lt. looked somewhat perplexed. I expanded upon my statement. “Lt., you only see peers when they are at their worst. You don’t see those times when they’re not in crisis because there’s no need for your services when we’re doing well. Crisis situations are infrequent for many of us. When we first started talking today would you have pegged me for someone who had police response for psychosis? Probably not. We walk amongst, sir, we walk amongst unnoticed because we aren’t always sick. And that’s when you see us. When we’re sick.”

He took it in, chewed it about, and shook his head in understanding. No words were necessary. He got it. And that felt so freakin’ great to make that connection.

This is a story I’ve shared with APD during Crisis Intervention Training. And it’s a story I’ve used in helping to develop CIU training. If there’s a moral to the story, law enforcement needs to understand that we aren’t our symptoms and we aren’t always symptomatic. Many officers have approached me after trainings and when they recognize me in the street. I always ask if what I’ve shared with them has helped them in the field. Many say they’ve had more successful outcomes, many say they now feel safer in mental health crisis situations. The most warm-fuzzy satisfying feedback I’ve gotten is just this:


“Steve, you’ve helped put on a human face on things for me.”


Score. I don’t know if we’re allowed to hug a police officer on duty. It might be assault on an officer. These are uncertain times with the DOJ hanging about. What is certain is peers sharing their stories with officers is making things more successful and safer for peers and police.


This is the cornerstone of the SUTS education program

Peer & Police Safety


What a lovely parable. Brothers Grimm, you can just clean between my toes until they are clean to my satisfaction. I’ve totally smoked your ham on this one. Take your spankin’ and scoot on back to Saxony. Score.

Peers shouldn’t be forced to behave like a prey animal

I’ve had pet rabbits for a number of years. Barson, Frito, Bailey, Emo, Bennett, and Happy to date. All good bunnies, a lot smarter than I thought they’d be (I got my first rabbit in college and had no life experience with the critters), and mischievous as all get out, each and every one of them.

Let’s talk about Emo. She was a tiny rabbit, and she died of kidney failure. There were no signs of illness in her, although the vet said she had been sick for at least a month. As the vet explained it, prey animals instinctually “hide” their illness until they just can’t any longer. Why? Because in the wild, a prey animal that shows illness betrays itself as easy prey for lazy predators who pick off the young and the weak (an instinct of predatory animals, as it is).

Something about this vet’s explanation of why it seemed Emo got sick “overnight” got me to thinking about how many times I’ve been fired over the years. Think about this. I new I was starting to get symptoms. They were getting worse. However, I had a young son and wife to support, and if I took the time off necessary to treat the upwelling symptoms, then I would also be betraying myself as “sick” to my coworkers and boss, and that ran the great potential of being “let go” for some reason that had nothing to do with the actual illness per se, but definitely I would be “let go” based on stigmatization associated with mental illness. Don’t argue with me on this one. It’s true.

So what was my option? I hid the symptoms as best I could, all the way until I couldn’t any longer, and then I was in now in crisis with severe mental health symptoms necessitating inpatient treatment regularly.

Emo hid her illness by instinct, and had I known when her kidneys were first having troubles, there are medications that could have helped her live a longer life. Rabbit instinct is to hide it until it’s essentially too late to reverse the damage.

I would hide my illness similarly, because I didn’t want to lose my job, until it was too late to reverse the damage . . . and I lost the job anyway.

This is not an uncommon story amongst peers. And when it hit me that many current employment models are built on the foundation of staying well to accommodate the job (such as to be able to keep a productive 9 to 5 position), it also hit me that jobs should be available to peers to accommodate their symptoms.

As usual, let me give you an example. When I was chairing Local Collaborative 2 in Albuquerque, I hired a young man with a mental health diagnosis as my administrative assistant. He was to maintain my schedule, manage my communications, set up my meetings, etc. The thing is, one of his worst symptoms was a sleep hygiene nearly impossible to maintain. So, I hired him, and I told him, “You need to be at every meeting. Other than that, do the rest of the work when you’re awake.” Boom. I created a job for a peer that ACCOMMODATED HIS SYMPTOMS rather than forcing him to stay “well” in order to do the job. And get this. He took initiative at every turn. He made my life easy, although managing LC2 was incredibly taxing on me personally.

With programs like OPRE’s CPSW training and the jobs being made available to CPSWs, there are more and more job models that work on the premise of getting help for the peer long before crisis occurs. The recovery from crisis, in my experience, is so much harder than getting additional help when my symptoms become harder to manage. And, keeping me outpatient is much less traumatic . . . and ultimately less expensive for insurance companies, if you need a practical fiscal justification.

Still, the pervasive employment model of forcing a peer to stay “healthy” to keep their job is so similar to prey animals instinctually hiding their illness until it’s too late to help them . . . it’s almost instinctual for a peer to think in terms of “I have to hide the symptoms and force myself to e ‘normal’ so I won’t lose my job.”

Or lose custody of my son.

Or lose my girlfriend.

Or lose my family.

Or lose my et cetera.

The models are wrong. Accommodate the peer’s symptoms, don’t force the peer to hide being ill. It’s the humane thing to do, and all the cool kids are creating new job models like the singular one I did. You want to be one of the cool kids, right? Sure you do.

We’re people with skills, talents, and intelligences like everyone has to offer. Don’t force us to behave like a rabbit with malfunctioning kidneys. If that sounds ludicrous, it unfortunately isn’t. Be one of the cool kids.

By the by, we at Stand Up To Stigma are creating education programs to help employers develop peer-accommodating employment models. We’re part of the cool kids.

Reprinted with kind permission of Steve’s Thoughtcrimes.

Wise Woman – a poem by Megan Cox

In the interest of encouraging others to share their art here is some of mine:


Wise Woman
dedicated to my Aunt Brenda


Some say there was a woman who valued patience
She sat on a stool for three days and nights
Waiting for an egg to hatch
No food, no water
Unmoving
She had the patience of a saint
But she was not like this one.
Some say there was a woman who valued beauty
She painted her lips red as ripe raspberries
Her eyes she lined with kohl
Blacker than a raven’s back
Beauty she surely possessed
But she was not like this one.
Some say there was a woman who valued nature
She tied feathers into her quilts
So skillfully, so carefully
She became one with the birds
Nature was her lover
But she was not like this one.
For this woman used patience, beauty, and love to create art
She was the wisest
For she with all art comes patience, beauty, and love
But
Great art does not add to these traits.
Merely recognizes that they are all there
Within the Earth,
If one is willing to look.

by Megan Cox

Oddly stigmatizing compliments

When I first attended behavioral health meetings, there were two things that irritated me in conversations I had with industry employees and politicians. Want to know what irritated me? Consider being told (as a compliment):


You are so articulate for a consumer!

and

You are very intelligent for a consumer!

What’s the worry here? I was being paid compliments. I’m articulate. I’m intelligent. These are kind words, not at all disparaging . . . if not for this one qualifier:


For A Consumer


Putting aside that I’m not fond of the word “consumer” to describe peers – I was told this is because we consume mental health services – to be told that, amongst peers, I’m exceptional in being able to talk and think, well, this is insulting. To me, this implies that the “baseline” for peer eloquence and rationality is much lower than Muggles. It’s the concept that if you have mental health issues you are by default intellectually deficient. Thusly, for a peer, being able to talk and think is such an exception that I am exceptional. Bosh.

Please note, peers do not share these “compliments” with each other. I don’t go to an MHRAC meeting and say, “Wow, for a consumer you are much more adept with words and thoughts than I am. In fact, you are a giant amongst ants.” These “compliments” aren’t part of DBSA Albuquerque check ins. “I just want you to know, you put the rest of us to shame with things about stuff and stuff about things.”

I’m (of course) being facetious, and it’s always more effective when instead of levying snide quips I share how such events leave me feeling. So, here goes. How did it feel when I was told – with genuine warmth – that I was “articulate” and “intelligent”?


I felt lesser. I felt inferior. I felt subpar. I felt I had limited worth. I felt crappy.


This might seem contrary to intent, and that it’s “just me” and I was being “oversensitive.” There’s something you need to understand about behavioral health meetings. They are frequented by individuals who know each other on a first name basis, and they know where everyone works and their role in the community, and they are well-versed in the volumes upon volumes of behavioral health acronyms. It is not a peer-friendly environment and for me I’d walk in with a sense of intimidation and uncertainty. I barely spoke because I knew absolutely nothing about the behavioral health field beyond my personal experience with detrimental mental health symptoms. After years of systematic, purposeful abuse by my ex-wife (another story) I had lost view on the confident, informed man I once knew years ago. I felt alone, separated, and unworthy.

Summed up, I walked in already feeling scared and out of place. So, to be told that I was somehow an anomaly amongst peers, well, now I felt out of place at these meetings AND I felt out of place at DBSA Albuquerque peer support groups. The first time I attended a DBSA Albuquerque support group – October 14, 2010 – I FINALLY felt like I was with other people who understood me and I understood them. Did I stand out? Did I seem like I didn’t belong? Did my newfound peers feel I didn’t have anything in common with them? Crud. I just found a place where I felt accepted for who I am. Now I feel I’m don’t, and all as a result of being “complimented.”

After many years of attending behavioral health meetings, it felt to me that many in the behavioral health industry simply don’t understand the peer experience. Sure, I can paint art with words and I am academically talented. So why should it matter if I’m a peer? I went over a decade without a diagnosis. Never did anyone feel necessary to tell me I’m articulate and/or intelligent for someone from the general population. And what does it say of my friends with mental health issues who are not as verbose or academically talented? Does this mean they are “typical” for a peer?

Can you see where the disconnect is? If not, then I will state it explicitly:


We shouldn’t be underestimated because we have mental health issues.


Let me finish off with a few rhetorical questions to illustrate why such “compliments” are the epitome of stigmatization, however well-meaning and friendly.

  • Is it okay to say “You are so hard-working for a Mexican!”?
  • Is it okay to say “You are so moral for a gay man!”?
  • Is it okay to say “You are so mobile for a woman with MS!”?
  • Is it okay to say “You are so aware of your surroundings for a blind man!”?
  • Is it okay to say “You are so ethical for a lawyer working for disability rights!”?
  • Is it okay to say “You are so honest for a politician running for lieutenant governor!”?
  • Is it okay to say “You are so tall for a midget!”?

If all of these sound ludicrous and/or insensitive, then you have an informed grasp of how minimizing “complimenting” me as “articulate” and “intelligent” truly feels.

I close off with a horrible side-effect borne of what are effectively backhanded compliments (and I’ll give allowance for the backhanded component being unintentional). Coming from years of self-stigmatization and the PTSD I drag with me from my aborted marriage, the worst feeling that came from being tagged as “articulate” and “intelligent” was just this.


I already doubted myself. Now I doubted myself worse.


This final statement deserves its own exploration. Muggles, please understand. Peers are in every way the same as everyone else. And since I don’t like merely to point out issues, concerns, and needs, let me offer a request and solution:


Don’t treat us any differently than you would yourself.


That’s a standard anyone can appreciate with self-experiential empathy. And by the by, a less-attractive feature of my personality is I’m tenacious, stubborn, and competitive. I took reams of notes, googled tons of acronyms, researched individuals, and versed myself in every bill, program, and policy discussed at these meetings . . . which I then used to educate my fellow peers. This is the foundation of Stand Up To Stigma peer focus groups, which I conceitedly boast are entirely peer-developed, peer-managed, peer-run, and peer-driven. No other organization in New Mexico can boast this admirable endeavor.

– Steve Bringe

When to “out” your mental health diagnosis to a lover?

A topic amongst peers:

When, if ever, do I “out” myself to my girlfriend/boyfriend that I have bipolar and/or depression and/or anxiety and/or schizophrenia and/or PTSD and/or fondness for disco?

First off, I don’t like the words “out”, “outed”, or “outing” when speaking of mental health symptoms. The implication is there is an innate shame having mental health symptoms, the implication is symptoms must be hidden . . . to the extent of not being able to hide mental health symptoms any longer and thusly falling into full-on mental health crisis. Not totally rad, dude.

Having mental health symptoms; c’mon, it’s not like being Patient Zero for having Herpes Simplex 3988 because I like “dating” green monkeys. It’s just a bunch of symptoms I manage that consequently affect behavior. Heck, if that was something shameful, my ex-wife should feel googols of tons of shame every time her “blood sugar dropped’ (she was hungry is her explanation), because her behavior got all fussy and grumpy when her “blood sugar dropped.” I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt and say in blanket terms she was always fussy and grumpy regardless of blood sugar level. An absolute angel I wanted to strangle with her halo, the ex-wife was.

I’ll give my reply succinctly, just as soon as I get done with things you really want to reveal immediately to a new or established lover.

  1. You’re infected with Ebola
  2. You like to date nursing students.
  3. You like burying nursing students more than dating nursing students.
  4. Are you a nursing student?
  5. Have you considered going into nursing?

Okay, my answer. When to “out” yourself? Do me a solid and don’t say “out” yourself. Do me another favor. Answer the question for yourself based on what your heart tells you.

When? Whenever it feels right.

Look, regardless of when you tell someone of symptoms you may exhibit, either they’ll accept that it’s only a disease you have and it is not your identity, or they will schedule an operation to have their head surgically implanted in their rectum. And if they can’t accept that? Well, there are plenty of other people on the planet and chances are you’ll stumble across an understanding soul. And truly, if the person you’re with is saturated in stigma and can’t see beyond mental health symptoms, what are you going to do, spend the rest of your life trying to get them to understand? It’s their ignorance, not yours. You don’t have to accept their ignorance.

There’s nothing shameful about having mental health symptoms. It’s a lot of work managing these symptoms. And you are worthy of having someone in your life who accepts this and supports you regardless and unconditionally.

That’s what everyone wants, mental health symptoms or not. See? We’re not different in any w

Reprinted with kind permission of Steve’s Thoughtcrimes.