My Seasonal Affective Disorder is a Real Drag this Time of Year

Something needs to be done about my Seasonal Affective Disorder and how insufferably cheerful and gratingly pleasant I get during summertime. Not imposing upon my loved ones just because I’m joyful must be leaving a huge void in their heart. There must be a med to drag me into even a mild doldrum, requiring the people in my life the burden of having to be on suicide watch 24/7.

I hardly want to spend any time at all in my bed beneath my Blanket Fortress. And this unforced smile is so easy and uplifting. What a chore this is. For myself, for everone.

I’m so sorry for feeling happy and productive once again. I feel selfish to the core.

Forgive me for this and I’ll forgive you for eating the whole goddam bag of Cheetos. Those were for everyone, you realize.

Reprinted with kind permission of Steve’s Thoughtcrimes.

Accomplishment is Measured in Effort

Having been attending DBSA support groups since October 14, 2010, I’ve heard said, “All I could do today was take a shower. I was exhausted. I feel like such a failure.”

I’ve heard similar words out of my own mouth, although mine was more akin to “All I could do today was make it halfway to the toilet from my bed, decided I wouldn’t have the strength to lift the toilet seat if traversing the entire remaining distance, so I moistened the carpeted floor over which I stood, and then my knees buckled from the exertion of urinating, never making it back to bed, and lightly moistened myself. Big win!”

Thing is, that was all the strength I had that day. Every. Last. Ounce. Of. Strength. Getting halfway to the bathroom took all the effort I had that day.

Contrast that with a few months on, and I’m training for a marathon. Truly. And that was the strength I had that day. Every. Last. Ounce. Of. Strength. Training for a marathon took all the effort I had that day.

Let’s say it together.


There’s a HUGE difference betwixt peeing on the floor (and collapsing into said puddle of pee) and training for a marathon.


And let’s have me counter immediately this fallacy.


Nothing a peer accomplishes is a “pathetic small thing” and a “monumental huge thing.”


Why, that makes no sense, says some. How can I make such a claim?

This is because, as a peer, I measure my accomplishments in terms of “effort.” If all the effort I have gets me halfway to the bathroom from the bed, it is EXACTLY equivalent of all the effort I have to train for a marathon. It’s the magnitude of the effort, not a qualitative “that is so much more than this” stigma.

Where I’m going to with this is to say to my fellow peers, pat yourself on the back, on the front, on the arse, wherever, because any accomplishment that expends all your effort for the day is HUGE!


HUGE!!!


I don’t beat myself up any longer, with “Geesh, I’m pathetic and weak. Why am I so exhausted?” I’m exhausted because I put every last bit of effort I have in me into whatever supposedly pathetic, weak task I accomplished. Some days, it’s making it to the toilet and back into bed. Some days, it’s pushing hard so I can beat a three hour finish time on the marathon.

Give yourself credit, peers. You didn’t ask for this life, with a brain condition that determines how your effort can be expended that day. Give yourself credit because you accomplished something amazing.

Self-disclosure. Before losing Clare, I felt I had unlimited reserves of effort. Nowadays, just making it to DBSA support group takes everything I have not to stay home and isolate instead.

Measure your deeds in the amount of effort you put into it. It’s that magnitude of effort that defines your accomplishment. Such as, reading through this entire article wondering if my meds are working properly. I know how much effort this takes. I’ve been told so very many times.

For Mental Health Peers, “In the Closet,” “Coming Out,” and “Outing Myself” are naughty, icky, and meanie words

Stigmatization is a cruddy reality for those contending with the symptoms of illnesses, mental and medical alike. There’s a group of terms affiliated with stigmas I really don’t like in the least, the most, and all points betwixt:


“In The Closet,” “Coming Out,” and “Outing Myself.”


I’d like you to look at this photo of the NAMI Challenger. The front page article is one I composed during my time on the NAMI Albuquerque board. I ask you to look at this photo and remember it because when we travel full-circle back to “in the closet, “coming out,” and “outing myself,” the importance of this image will make sense.



So, I’ve got a buddy who is deaf (“Big D” as she calls it), and she is not the best at “reading lips.” That’s great for Hollywood scripts, she tells me, but not so great for actually carrying on a conversation. There are two things that bug her about people:


1.) When they raise their voices to talk to her, as if shouting will bring her hearing back.

2.) When people think she’s stupid, as in intellectually deficient, because her speaking voice is different than those of us whose ears collect noises and whose brains interpret the noises as sound.


These stigmas, when she was young and soon after she lost her ability to hear, had her hiding from the neighbor kids who were once her friends. After the accident that took her hearing, these “friends” became cruel, taunting, and vicious in the teasing and gossip they spread into the community that the accident made her stupid and deaf. She just wanted to hide, she just didn’t want to be with people anymore, she just wanted to die.

Now, she is a strong peer voice in the hearing impaired community (and I use the word “voice” purposely, and she likes it a lot), and she works with children with hearing impairment sharing her life stories and experiences to hopefully spare them the feeling of worthlessness and self-doubt that comes from being stigmatized.

In our chats, I shared with her that I, too, had feelings of worthlessness and self-doubt tied to my bipolar. I had a friend of two decades who stopped calling (after my wife… ex-wife now… told him I had a mental illness), I’d been fired from job after job, my marriage was a disaster and a failure, I’d been kicked out of New Mexico Tech… what I thought of myself was equivalent to what I thought of dog squeeze on the bottom of a nice pair of Nikes. I dreaded that point where someone caught whiff of me and tried to wipe me off on the lawn, the entire time cursing they ever met me… and the bottom of their shoe.

Stigmas abound beyond only medical and mental considerations. I gave a presentation to a group of kids at Polk Middle School earlier this year, and part of the presentation is asking the kids what stigmas they contend with in their lives. The typical teen-angstiness identified “We’re always on our phones,” “Everyone thinks we’re lazy,” and “All we think about is boys/girls.” I think they meant teen crushes, but I didn’t explore that one.

One young man shared a stigma that broke my heart. And, I could sense when he shared his stigma with the class that there was an implicit understanding with his peers:


“Everyone says if you live in the South Valley you’ll wind up in prison or working at Walmart.”


The quality of this stigma, the impact it had upon the class, was tangible. It was real. It was beyond “always being on the phone” or “being boy/girl crazy.” A young lady followed up saying “That’s why I never tell anyone where I go to school.” Too many of her classmates nodded in agreement.

That sense of accepted worthlessness is something I realize and understand is part of any marginalized group’s mainstay. It’s a community bond built upon a foundation of presumptions, misconceptions, and lies. These kids believe that people think less of them because of where they live, and that this stigma they overwhelmingly feel is part of their identity is a preordained limitation on what they can accomplish. I’m not too proud to say I started tearing up when I heard the kids speak about this unfair assumption.

The word “unfair” is thrown out there so much and so often that it’s all but lost meaning. It’s unfair I have to wait until Sunday to see Force Awakens. It’s unfair she got to go to the company picnic while I had to stay at work and finish billing reports. It’s unfair he buys a brand new car every year and I’m stuck driving this clunker. Given these qualifications for “unfairness,” it’s easy to see why “unfair” is a nearly worthless word.

Yet when you hear from these Polk Middle School kids, the word “unfair” is afforded a clarity all but lost in the vernacular, that the magnitude and direction of vectored fairness is so real and succinct that stigmatization is unavoidable. These kids were all a part of a leadership class, and there is no mistaking why they were chosen for this class. Their leadership talents define them so much more than the geographic locality of their community.

That’s the crux of stigmatization. It is unfair and immediate, created by an unenlightened, self-appointed mob judiciary over generations. More than that, though, is stigmas become so pervasive and saturating that the people being marginalized come to accept the prejudice, and when this happens stigmatization mutates from prejudice to shame.

What is shameful about living in the South Valley? For me, it’s a gorgeous place to walk the old trails and follow the irrigation canals between neighborhoods. The history and culture are rich and so much more a part of New Mexico’s identity than my tract housing neighborhood. For some reason, though, kids living in the South Valley are ashamed to tell other kids where they live and where they go to school, and this is baffling to me. If anything, being part of such an important community is a trophy of pride and not shame.

Looking at different stigmas, and looking at my own life living with bipolar and how I’ve often devalued myself, there is a common link expressed almost universally by marginalized groups:


Shame.


In fact, the shame is so powerful that people feel they have to hide themselves from public view and scrutiny. My Big D friend hid from kids who used to be her friends. The young lady from Polk Middle School won’t tell other kids where she goes to school. And me? I pretended that I was “normal” and dreaded that people would see the symptoms of bipolar that alter my behavior so detrimentally (read: I’m weird, I know it, and I hope nobody notices me because I just can’t handle another failed job, failed relationship, and failed self). I was ashamed of myself for having bipolar.

“In The Closet,” “Coming Out,” and “Outing Myself.” We touched on this at the beginning of this article, and as promised we’ve gotten to the reason I started the article talking about “in the closet,” “coming out,” and “outing myself.” This is a concept attributed initially to the LGBT community (I don’t know the full acronym any longer – please send me the entire list of letters if you know it and I’ll edit the text). Being “in the closet” was being homosexual and not sharing this with others. There are valid reasons for this, with the policy of the U.S. military being a fine example. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was actual policy and not just a catch phrase. Serving our country, protecting our freedom, rights, and liberty meant you couldn’t tell anyone you are gay. Where’s the logic in that? And yet there it was, and it was a policy that if you wanted to commit yourself to serving our country, it meant you couldn’t be homosexual, of if you were, you were required to hide it. It’s shameful to be gay while serving our country. It was official federal policy to keep people “in the closet.”

Now, stating proudly “I’m a guy who likes guys” or “I’m a girl who likes girls” is part of our American culture. Being “in the closet” has become more passe than “coming out of the closet.” Yet, the term remains. To share with those you love that you are gay still entails the idea of “I’m coming out of the closet,” shortened as “coming out,” and the choice and act of leaving “the closet” as “outing myself.”

I don’t like “in the closet,” “coming out,” and “outing myself” in word and concept, and this goes to the etymology of the phrase. The connotation retains the artifact consideration that “coming out” or “outing myself” meant I was hiding something that I felt was deeply shameful, and that I didn’t like who I was based upon others’ presumptions, misconceptions, and lies about what it is to be someone with bipolar.

I don’t like “in the closet,” “coming out,” and “outing myself” with such directed, purposeful zeal that it is part of my peer advocacy playbook. I don’t feel like I’ve “come out” to the public to share openly that I have bipolar. When I decided to start speaking in public about my challenges and triumphs living with bipolar, I wasn’t “outing myself.” I share openly that I have bipolar because I like who I am, and I’m hoping that my openness can inspire other peers to have the innate pride in themselves that every person on the planet has a right to.

Exactly like with “journey to recovery” versus “recovery journey” (I NEVER say “journey to recovery”), I NEVER say anywhere at anytime that me sharing my life experiences with others is the a process of being “in the closet,” “coming out,” and “outing myself.” You will NEVER hear me say “I’ve come out of the closet as someone with bipolar, and when I did I outed myself and you can, too.”

Why? Because while I felt inferior at the beginning of my recovery journey, and I felt I had to hide my shame away, the way I feel about the world and my place in it has evolved dramatically, and I’m exceptionally proud of who I am, and part of that is being a peer and a peer advocate. When I first began this peer advocacy phase of my recovery journey, I discovered in myself that I had no shame of having bipolar and I didn’t feel I had to hide my bipolar symptoms. There was no “coming out.” I didn’t “out myself.” There was only me sharing my life experiences with others in a celebration of life and all the quirky nuances that is the human condition.

So here is that photo again, zoomed in on a very specific sector of the article. “In the closet,” “coming out,” and in this article “outing myself” is not part of my vernacular, and I actively advocate removing “in the closet,” “coming out,” “outing myself” from the vocabulary of my peers.



That “outing myself” is presented in italics is a good indicator that my original article met with less-than-adept editing skills prior to publication. Sorry if anyone got the wrong impression, which many peers did at the time questioning, “Steve, ‘outing myself’ doesn’t sound like something you’d say.” Exactly. And please notice the “journey to recovery” kicking off the article as well. I covered this in an earlier “Letter to the NAMI Editor” article. “Journey to recovery” and “outing myself” in the same initial paragraph of my article are not my words or what I submitted for publication. Quality control and professional editing was not a priority for this issue of NAMI Challenger, so let this serve (vanity press) notice in lieu of a wordy editorial retraction in a future issue of NAMI Challenger.

If you’d like a copy of this NAMI Challenger issue, I’d highly recommend this specific issue. There is a very good article on WRAP, and a free WRAP class is taught at the NAMI Albuquerque office every Sunday.

Okay, so here’s the rub. I’ve learned a lot about myself as I understood more about stigmas. For you, I share a pocket-size version to take with you:


There is nothing shameful about having mental health challenges. There is nothing to hide.

And what I’ve discovered during my recovery journey is that while there are so many stigmas surrounding mental health peers, others weren’t stigmatizing me as strongly as I was stigmatizing myself.

I hope you learn something similar about yourself in your recovery journey.


Dedicated to Mary Tabor, for without your warmth, leadership, and encouragement this article would not be possible. Thank you for everything!

Reprinted with kind permission of Steve’s Thoughtcrimes.

Petitions & Peer Endorsement

As an active peer advocate in the New Mexico Behavioral Health Community over the last five years, I’ve learned there is one highly-sought commodity in our behavioral health community that is treasured over all others:


Peer Endorsement.


Any number of agencies, organizations, legislators, individuals, companies, etc. would love to get the “peer stamp of approval” for whatever product, project, or purpose they’re championing. Peer endorsement lends validity, credibility, and substance to behavioral health causes in a way no other type of endorsement can.

One way peer endorsement is achieved is through petitions. You’ve been handed a clipboard any number of times in any number of places. Heading in to vote. At the grocery store. At a sporting event. Someone knocking on your front door to ask you if “You’ve Heard the Good Word.”

The thing about petitions is the dude handing you the clipboard will give you a thirty second, rapid-fire spiel explaining what the petition is for and how you can help. It’s a thirty second sales pitch, and you’re asked to give your name in signature form at the end of that thirty seconds.

The pitch always sounds great. Sign this petition and you’ll be helping education. Sign this petition and you’ll be saying our community needs to be tough on crime. Sign this petition and you’ll be standing up to proclaim “NO WAY” to poachers who prey upon unborn gay whales.

But what can you learn in that thirty seconds that tells you exactly HOW your signature will be used? Who has access to your signature? Is the cause just or even real?

As a peer, your signature is worth its weight in gold-encrusted diamonds with a shiny platinum filling. Your signature says “I am a person living with mental health issues and I sign your petition because I believe what you say is just and true, and I want everyone to know you have my support.” Signing that petition is peer endorsement, and you’ve given it away for free with no consideration other than thirty seconds of explanatory sloganeering.


Here’s the advice: Don’t sign petitions.


There are so many reasons for this. I’ve already detailed many of them. The most important reason for passing on petitions is just this:


Your word, your voice, and your support is your greatest strength and your greatest gift to our communities.


Be sure of what you’re signing, and if you have only thirty seconds to decide, chances are the guy with the clipboard hasn’t earned your signature, your support, and your endorsement.

X__________________________________
Sign here to add your name to those who agree with everything I ever say without question! (just joking)


Reprinted with kind permission of Steve’s Thoughtcrimes

Advice for Muggles concerning AOT – Assisted Outpatient Treatment – Kendra’s Law

This will be one of the shortest articles I offer on Thoughtcrimes, and it is special advice for the Muggles in the audience.

When it comes to AOT (Assisted Outpatient Treatment), rather than trying to convince peers AOT isn’t forced treatment try sharing what AOT can do to benefit peers instead.

Start the conversation with:


I appreciate you feel AOT is forced treatment, and there might be benefits to peers being overlooked. I’d like to share my thoughts with you.


This will require some homework and analyzing AOT from a peer perspective. I feel we’re worth the effort.

You’re welcome.

Reprinted with kind permission from Steve’s Thoughtcrimes.

How did you find such a well-hidden scab, you Mind Sculptor?

I need a better opening line than “As a peer…”, like “As the superhero Indiana Jones” or “As a fleshy bag of mostly water…” this being a Star Trek The Next Generation quote. I did watch TNG for a while until this episode when Data said “Much like deep sea divers experience nitrogen narcosis, we are suffering from a form of temporal narcosis.” Because that makes a lot of sense. Time is supersaturated in the blood at great pressures and returning to STP (Standard Temperature Pressure . . . pretty much sea level in Huntington Beach), time begins to bubble out of solution in the blood forming painful, often lethal time bubbles in the blood vessels. TNG should have the temporal contemporary title Tool Time because the writers and actors are a collaboration of tools . . . who collectively think time dissolved in blood is a real thing. Tool Time. I’m out.

As a peer, there are a lot of horrible things that have happened in my life. Not getting my geology degree(s). Meeting my future wife who during the divorce told my mom on the phone, “I always get what I want, so you better say goodbye to your grandson because you won’t see him until he’s 18.” Getting fired from job after job, not knowing bipolar has the propensity to make it impossible to go to work as well as making me a complete tool when I did get to work. Tool Time!

Lots of this stuff gets pushed down, buried, ignored, dismissed, and hopefully forgotten with time. And then you get a therapist hired to help you work through the wreckage of your life, which includes the wreckage of your past sometimes. Only sometimes. And you get to therapy that week, and the therapist is thinking, “Damn, four garden variety anxiety peers today. I’m bored. Let’s see what I can do to spice up the next patient session!”

And that’s you. Or rather, that’s me. It’s been me. It’s been me too many times. Example: Somehow, my therapist once weaseled out of me that my ex-wife said, “I know all your triggers and I’m going to push every button until you kill yourself so I get full custody.” I don’t like that memory. And I had taken thirteen years to repress that particular memory and pain. But my, what a rich, painful, profitable vein to mine. So much for the successful repression.

I’m told, “Repression is unhealthy because you never come to terms with the pain and the situation, and this will continue to affect your mental heath if you don’t talk about it. You’ll never learn to handle the stress and you’ll never know how to handle the situation if you encounter it again.”

And I reply, “I taught myself how to handle it. I won’t marry Susan again. Problem solved. And thanks for somehow worming that to the front of my awareness again and getting me to talk about it for 50 minutes. You’re a Miracle Worker, where I never knew how to feel pain until you taught me. Water.”

What’s the harm in repressing pain, where’s the worry in not thinking about painful memories at the fore of the mind, how is it a crime pushing the wreckage into a tiny cube into the deepest hole in my heart where happy happy joy joy memories are a depleted uranium barrier keeping access to and from that repression from surfacing?

It takes a lot of work, repressing painful memories. Think about doing triple bypass surgery on yourself. And think about doing this even though you show no signs of heart disease, and you run marathons, and you swim La Manche to and fro just to get to work in Dover from St. Malo. My heart is healthy. And think about doing this because someone you pay to help you feel better says, “Today, I think we should crack open your sternum and play with your heart a bit.” You see what I did there? I got it around to “play with your heart” which in Hellenistic times was considered the receptacle of emotion. Clever boy.

Repression is the scab that need not be picked at. I’ve invested thirteen years worth of thrombocytes scabbing over my life with Susan. I let my bleedy nose drip all over my shirts for twelve of those years to dedicate as many thrombocytes as possible to scabbing over the open wound that was Susan. And now you want me to open that wound again? Where did you get your psych degree? Sending in four box tops from your Cheerios?

What would be ideal is to save those box tops, pour yourself a bowl of Cheerios, and while pouring your milk, notice that the picture of the “Missing Child” is a picture of Susan. And she’s been missing for thirteen years.

What am I getting around to? It’s a self-empowerment thing. It’s the ability to tell my Mind Sculptor, “We’re not going there. Let’s talk about my date last night, where the girl’s cumulative brain power for a year could toast a slice of raisin bread, but only lightly, and one side only. That’s a painful mistake that has not scabbed over with depleted uranium, and a mistake I don’t want to make any longer.” Current. Unscabbed. Worthwhile.

My therapist holds a dual role. Sacajawea and Mechanic. It’s important to have a guide into the unknown, although Lewis and Clark had no need for the lass to backtrack to last night’s camp site because one of them (Clark, because he was a directionless fool) forgot his  iPhone. It’s the current stuff I need help fixing, or at least the most current stuff that is like dragging an anchor through a sea of magnets. For me, that’s losing Clare. Not being married to the Queen of the Sirens thirteen years ago. Here is your tarnished crown, your Majesty.

My therapist says, “What should we talk about this week?”

And I say, “My inflamed hemorrhoidal tissues that have begun seeping puss and blood lately.”

And my therapist says , “What? I’m not a proctologist!”

And I say, “It’s a metaphor. The thoughts of Susan are a pain in my ass. I’m trying to repress, again, the memories of Susan you dredged out last week. Of course, people do say my head is full of shit. Perhaps I need a proctologist after all.”

– Dedicated to Stephanie’s puppy, Poppy.

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.