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.

Muggle: A magical one-word peer self-empowerment tool

Have you read the Harry Potter yarns? Did you see the flicks? Answering “no” means either you’re lying to me or you’ve been living in the deepest cave on a hunk of nitrogen ice and silicate rocks in the most remote region of the Kuiper Belt with your eyes sewn shut and your thumbs twisted firmly into your ears.

So, since we’ve all read Harry Potter books and/or seen Harry Potter movies, the term “Muggle” isn’t an unknown word to you. In the Harry Potter universe, a Muggle is a person without magical powers. Aunt Vermillion, Uncle Owen, Cousin Doodlebooper. Those guys are Muggles, and they will never understand magic because they have no magical powers. All they can do is observe magic. They’ll never know what is like to be a wizard or witch.

In the behavioral health universe, “Muggle” is a word shanghaied by my pals and I in DBSA Albuquerque to refer to a person without a mental health diagnosis. A Muggle is someone without a mental health diagnosis, a person who does not know what it is like to take medications, go to therapy, learn and develop tons of coping mechanisms, and maintain their behavior daily just to keep the symptoms of bipolar or ADD or depression or schizophrenia or PTSD or OCD or every flavor of anxiety at bay, to keep these symptoms from having hugely detrimental effects in their lives. A Muggle in the behavioral health universe can observe the symptoms of a mental health diagnosis but will never understand what it’s like to deal with symptoms of a mental health diagnosis. They’ll never know what it’s like to be a Peer.

In the behavioral health universe, who can be considered a Muggle? Many providers are Muggles. Politicians by and large are Muggles. Family members can be Muggles. Friends. Pastors. Musicians. Forest rangers. Police officers. My two rabbits (they are miffed I haven’t been talking about them enough in my blog). The neighbor next door whose tree I felled. Judges. Lawyers. TV hosts. Game show contestants. The CEO of Trump Industries. Authors. Poets. Lab techs. Girl Scouts. Men. Women. Children. Anyone who doesn’t live with the challenges and triumphs of having a mental health diagnosis is a Muggle.

While it’s a jokey, ha ha, flippant wholesale thievery of a word from a fictional literary source, the word Muggle has much more weight and significance than being an “inside-joke” for me and my pals. I’ve been watching the social progression and entomological evolution of peer usage of “Muggle” in support groups, at meetings, in classrooms, with providers, and everywhere else Peers insert themselves into our communities. What have I seen? What differences are noteworthy? What do peers have to say about it?


Peers Using the Word Muggle is Empowering.


An unfortunate circumstance of the Peer Experience is the symptoms of a mental illness often rob us of confidence, worth, and self-certainty. For me, time and again I was fired from jobs. My marriage shattered. I lost some of my closest, dearest friends. I was convicted of felony embezzlement. I flunked out of college one semester short of graduation. All of these life circumstances are life experiences 100% attributable to undiagnosed and unmanaged bipolar symptoms. I went from being the Golden Child of New Mexico Mineralogy (this was a nickname coined by others, not me) to being a pariah who couldn’t sell a 15 cent broken quartz crystal to a mineral collector anywhere in New Mexico, and many regions near, far and beyond New Mexico.

How did this make me feel about myself? Worthless. Unworthy. Deviant. Pointless. Shameful. Valueless. Lost. Powerless.

I made the statement Peers using “Muggle” is empowering. I know it’s empowering for me. How can a single goofy word from a literary Brit kids series be empowering? Think about it this way.

In the Harry Potter universe, the kids who are stalked by creepy owls (who most likely legally aren’t allowed within 100 yards of a school) with waxed-stamped letters are the special kids, the lucky kids, the kids who are remarkable. Of course, Harry wasn’t aware of this.

Harry, living with his Muggle aunt, uncle, and cousin was kept under a staircase. He was “weird” and had “weird behavior.” Uncle Vehicular even threatens poor Harry on a simple trip to the zoo that “there better be no funny business.” Uncle Verizon presumed that Harry’s behavior would be a problem, and Uncle Vroom had grand reservations that Harry’s behavior would ruin the day and embarrass the family. Sound familiarly stigmatizing, Peers?

The upside to the Harry Potter epic poem is Harry learns there are other kids out there with magical powers. He learns his behavior is not bizarre, it’s only that his adoptive family doesn’t (and can’t) understand what it’s like to live with magical powers. And he learns that having magical powers is totally metal cool and his adoptive family is quite envious of his innate abilities.

Is the analogy sinking in? If you don’t have a mental health diagnosis, you don’t (and can’t) understand what it’s like to live with a mental health diagnosis. Only other Peers can. We Peers are not weird, we Peers are the magical ones, we Peers have special talents, and we Peers are remarkable. And all because we live with the challenges and triumphs of a mental health diagnosis.

When Peers use the word “Muggle” to describe others without a mental health diagnosis, it is empowering because for once we’re not the outcasts and we’re not the bizarre people in the room. Stigmatization? Misdirected envy from anyone who doesn’t have a mental health diagnosis. The feeling of isolation? Replaced by the unity and acceptance of Peer Support.


Living with a Mental Health Diagnosis is a Gift, Not a Curse.


So, over the past few years DBSA Peers in New Mexico have been inserting the word “Muggle” into the narrative, and from direct conversations, for the past few years a good number of providers, politicians, policy-makers, etc., have taken umbrage with being referred to as “Muggles.”

What is an explanation of their distaste for the name “Muggle”? I’ve been told it’s belittling, and it serves no purpose other than to separate Peers from everyone else, and it gives the impression that Peers hold a station above everyone else.

Here’s the thing. We’ve already been separated from everyone else by the reality that we have mental disease symptoms and others do not. And by and large, we often feel we are on the bottom of a deep, endless pit looking up towards whatever sunlight might grace our diminished presence. I even heard a state senator proclaim proudly at a public meeting “Real change comes from the top down.” Top: Legislature. Bottom: Peers.

And, there’s even a wonderful name placed upon us that describes those with a mental health diagnosis who utilize services:


“Consumer.”


We didn’t choose this name, and talk about belittlement. “Consumer” makes us sound like an economic unit for wealth-producing throughput. Take a Peer, put him through psychiatric services, pull him out on the other end, bill the insurance. “Consumer.” Ick.

Considering Peers have a label like “Consumer” that, to we Peers, is belittling, dismissive, bland, presumptive, and DISEMPOWERING, I’m uncomfortable discouraging my friends from using the word “Muggle” that turns that disproportionate notion on its head.

Really, why would I discourage a one-word communal concept that generates so much community worth? That makes very little sense at all. My peer advocacy has always been transparent. I’ve never had huge aspirations to lord over New Mexico behavioral health upon a throne forged from the skulls of my slain mortal enemies (good thing my mortal enemies are parakeets and hamsters). What I’ve always strived for is to help my friends empower themselves. “Muggle” is a perfect, effective empowerment tool for Peers.

As a peer dealing with bipolar symptoms that have robbed me time and again of my dreams and my happiness, that one word like “Muggle” can help me make sense of my recovery journey and can help me regain some of my forgotten strength, value, and abilities makes “Muggle” an amazing word with an amazing worth.

Other Peers? At DBSA Albuquerque peer support groups, the word “Muggle” is a topic that can immediately and immensely change the dynamic of the conversation. Bring up “Muggle” in group and it’s an automatic reminder that we are special, remarkable, and valuable. It is a testament that we are not alone in our recovery journeys. We are magical.

Look, Peers saying those without a mental health diagnosis are “Muggles” is not meant to hurt feelings or lessen our gratitude for those who dedicate their lives to helping us make our lives better. Still, isn’t the point of meds, therapy, exercise, WRAP, advanced psychiatric directive, support network, coping skills, self-awareness, personal responsibility, peer support groups, and all the other stuff we Peers make use of every second of every day designed to help us make our lives better? Since “Muggle” is such a positive and simple additional way for us to take charge of our dreams, happiness, and destiny, where’s the harm in Peers adding the word “Muggle” to our recovery & wellness toolkit?


Muggle… for all its simplicity, it is immeasurably empowering for Peers. Quite the magical word indeed.


Reprinted with kind permission of Steve’s Thoughtcrimes.

A short conversation with two clumsy dudes who inadvertently delve into a much grander examination of stigmatization and how to direct ignorance where it belongs

S: How’s the foot, clusmyboy?

B: I’m ok. Hurts like a bitch. How are you fool?

S: My bones crack easier. Turns out my low potassium level ends up leaching potassium from skeletal bones. Cracked my thumb brushing my teeth. No biggie.

B: I hate these diseases that are more on the rare side. They are painful and people don’t understand them.

S: Long ago I stopped trying to explain myself, particularly mental health, to anyone outside of my education programs. Being met time and time again with “But that doesn’t make sense” or “Have you JUST tried this or that” is wearisome and time-wasting. And, I’ve got a precious reserve of moral outrage, so why waste it on something so Google-friendly?

Instead, I point them to a website or more often a single word to Google. I then invite them back to ask any questions they might have after some independent, critical secondary research.

I’ve got nothing to prove. Right now, I’ve got hypokalemia. If interested why I’m dragging my arse around with a pimped out walker, look it up.

Very rarely does anyone come back with questions. Their academic curiosity was merely cleverly-disguised gossip-mongering. If they do return, it’s often with the same flavor of questions . . . “I heard what you said, I read WebMD, and that still doesn’t make sense” . . . at which time I invite them to have the disease themselves or work towards a PhD in biochemistry to answer their own non-germane, non-erudite, non-eloquent questions. Have at it.

I don’t have anything to prove to people like that. They don’t want to understand anyway. My experience is they want to prove your suffering is a hoax.

Bosh.

B: I agree. Most people want to prove that it is a hoax.

(final words…)


But they suck.


Reprinted with kind permission from Steve’s Thoughtcrimes

Kickin’ it in the ER waiting room is a good thing

Once (many times), when my misbehaving-brain symptoms were in full swing, I was at home trying to do two things:

1.) Take care of myself and manage my symptoms.
2.) Debating with myself if I was bad enough that I should go to the emergency room or not.

So this one time I did this instead. I went to the ER, or rather, I went to the ER waiting room. Preemptively. I didn’t go to the desk and ask to be admitted. When I was asked by a hospital employee why I was in the ER waiting room and hadn’t checked in yet, I said, “Because I wanted to be close to the ER just in case I needed to check in.”

What did this accomplish? I was able to focus exclusively on taking care of myself and managing my symptoms. If things got bad enough I was already right there and ready to check in. No need to drive to the ER when in full-blown crisis, no need to call 911 and say I’m in crisis. If things progressed to crisis, I was where I needed to be to get crisis services.

In practical terms, I took the energy-consuming and wellness-distracting debate of whether or not to go to the ER off the table.

I never checked in. I was there all night. I focused entirely on applying my strategies in my WRAP where I know I was safe and could get immediate service if my symptoms escalated to crisis levels.

And you know what? It was so much easier to work my WRAP while not equally weighing if I should or should not go to the ER. And you know what else? This revelation was borne of wisdom and life experience.

I know with 100% certainty that I pushed myself into an unnecessary crisis situation so many times by fixating on whether or not I was in crisis and needed to go to the ER.

Just because you’re in the ER waiting room does not obligate you to checking in to the ER. Just pretend it’s as if you’re camping out in front of the Staples Center all night to get first shot at Demi Lovato tix.

Cool, yes? Yes.

Reprinted with kind permission from Steve’s Thoughtcrimes.