I have a new post on Psych Central. The link is here. It would be great if you would pop over there and give my other blog some love. Thanks!
I try to ask my eighteen-year-old niece what it is like being a young woman studying biochemistry. She has no complaints. I try to engage her about being a woman in a traditionally male field, but she doesn’t see it that way. My niece is voting for Bernie Sanders. Most of the people I love are voting for Bernie, but I am voting for Hillary, and the reason is baseball.
At nine years old, I had three older brothers and a mother who worked full time. Our neighbors, an older couple, who lived across the street and down a few houses, treated me with kindness and went out of their way to spend time with me.
Mr. Carlson worked for the Department of Fish and Game, and he would bring me eggs from all kinds of birds. He would meticulously label them for me, much like my grandfather labeled rocks for me, and I had an impressive collection. My favorite was an ostrich egg because it was so big, but I didn’t pick it up often, afraid as I was of dropping it and having whatever was inside splatter all over the floor, and possibly, me.
Mrs. Carlson would invite me to their house and ask me to do her hair. She would allow me to put hot rollers in it and comb through the thin curls after they had “set.” While the rollers were doing their thing, I would look at Mrs. Carlson’s bell collection. She had hundreds of bells all lined up on shelves throughout her living room.
One day while I was styling Mrs. Carlson’s hair I told her my one dream was to play baseball. I wasn’t the kind of girl who dreamed of my future wedding, or going to Disneyland or being a princess. I wanted to play baseball like my older brothers even though it meant I would be the first girl in our town to play little league.
Mrs. Carlson laughed when I told her my dream was to be on a little league team. She told me that no girl who loved her would ever play baseball. It wasn’t something that girls do.
I had never given voice to my dream before that day, and I never would again. Silently and despondently I put the dream of baseball behind me.
Not too long after that, my mom got married, and we moved to another town. I would occasionally take out my baseball mitt and play catch with my new step brothers, or my biological brothers or neighborhood kids.
As I grew older, I never replaced the dream of being a baseball player. I wasn’t particularly passionate about anything.
When Hillary Clinton gets up to bat this November she is going to knock that ball out of the park and rather than be on the sidelines as a cheerleader, I am going to grab my mitt, get on the field and play whatever position I want.
That’s the way we do it now, Mrs. Carlson. Girls can finally do anything they want, baseball included.
acitivist, advocacy, Advocate, artist, culture, gang banging, gang members, hope, inspiration, mental health, mental illness, mentally ill, Pope Francis, stereotypes, stereotyping, street art, tattoo, writers, writing
There are a lot of young and beautiful women who have a mental illness and keep up a blog. I have read on some of those women’s sites that people have often said to them, “You can’t have a mental illness. You don’t look like you have a mental illness.” That statement bothers all of the women I have seen write about it, and it bothers me. What does someone with a mental illness look like? We all know we come in every shape, size, gender and color.
Although having an idea in your head of what people with mental illnesses look like bothers me, I was reminded this weekend that I do a similar thing to other people.
I am afraid of men who I think look like gang bangers. If a young man has tattoos on his neck and face, a shaved head, and wears long, baggy, hanging off the butt pants, my first inclination is to not catch his eyes and to move away from him. Why? Because of the stories I have heard from the media and from movies about what gang bangers do.
Do I know any gang members? I do not. Do I know any young men with tattoos on their faces and necks and that wear that type of clothing I described? I don’t.
This weekend at the resort casino my husband took me to we were sitting by the pool having a discussion about racism, discrimination, mentalism, and psychophobia. We were talking about the words and their meanings and how writers (who I call culture changers like all other artists) can change the words we use, and change how we see and perceive certain things – one thing we were talking about was how popular Pope Francis is but I know a writer who continually writes articles about his stance on gay marriage and women. While most of my social media is lit up with images of the Pope laughing with President Obama, this writer is taking swings at him because she doesn’t want us to forget that no matter how liberal and lovable the current Pope is, he still doesn’t completely include everyone as equals.
We also talked about book banning in our public schools and how sensitive kids are today with the fact that they need trigger warnings for almost all difficult topics – topics we read about in the classics we studied in school without any protection or warning. The classics were simply a part of our education. While we were talking my husband looked at two men sitting next to us, and asked one of the men, “Hey, are you an artist?”
He said, “Yes, and I have been listening to your conversation. I agree with you about artists changing culture.”
Then he proceeded to tell us about his life as a gang member in the 90’s in Los Angeles. He was a street artist and he told us the history of tagging streets and creating real pieces of art in public spaces (he said the only spaces you could paint on without getting beat up were abandoned buildings, trains, freeway overpasses, and a few others – it was a code you lived by, or possibly died by. Private property was off limits).
He was a lovely man, and we exchanged business cards. He got out of the gang world some years ago and became a manager at Home Depot and raised his girlfriend’s kids. Now that the kids are in college, he is back to doing art. He does tattoo work, and people commission him to do portraits of their loved ones and pets. He was an interesting, smart, talented, and nice person.
He used to be a gang banger, and I never would have known that unless he told me.
I need to take my own irritation at people for the stereotypes they have about people with mental illnesses and check that irritation at the door, because I have stereotypes floating around in my world about people too – stereotypes I picked up from the media and movies just like people do about schizophrenia.
Next time I see a young man with tattoos, a bald head, and baggy pants hanging off his butt, I’ll think about Luis, the artist, who was interested in our conversation about artists changing and influencing culture.
We can change and influence culture too. Write and speak your truth, it just may change the stereotypes someone is hanging on to, and that can change the world, one mind at a time.
acitivist, advocacy, Advocate, bipolar, Blogging, community, culture, homeless, institutions, involuntary treatment, mental health, mental illness, mentally ill, prison, psych wards, psychology, schizophrenia, streets, writers, writing
The mental health community is actually quite small. I see the same names turn up over and over again on various mental health websites. In my estimation there are less than one hundred popular authors and bloggers who seem to be all over the place. Then there are ten thousand or more people who follow these popular writers and each other.
I like to read what other people who have been diagnosed with a mental illness are saying. And I noticed a few things; many of the authors and bloggers are much younger than me – some are in their twenties and many are in their early thirties. I will be fifty next month.
I believe all of these writers have important things to say and that each one can contribute to the conversation about mental illness in a beneficial way. I have noticed a difference between most of them and me though, and that is many of them are far more negative and angry than I am. They also tend to focus the details of their writing solely on themselves and not look at the bigger picture of institutions, prisons, community care, involuntary treatments, etc.
I don’t know why these younger representatives for mental illness seem so angry. I’m not angry that I have paranoid schizophrenia. I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me, or to look at my life stories, and say, “You are amazing.” I’m not amazing. I am living the best life I can live with a mental illness, and I believe most people with a mental illness are striving to do the same thing. What good does it do to complain, to look for sympathy, to be angry (unless that anger pushes you to act by writing letters, calling senators, and representatives, corporations and anyone else who has the power to change the treatment of the mentally ill)?
I think a certain amount of acceptance, grace and gratefulness comes when you have lived with a mental illness for over two decades, and survived. By the time you are fifty you realize that terrible things can happen to you – psychosis, living in the street, living in a state hospital, losing everything, going to prison, being denied treatment. If those things are not currently happening to you, then you can feel grateful in a way that is both heartbreaking and a huge relief. When I think of mental illness, I think of how much worse my situation could be, and how I want to change the worst conditions for the people who are experiencing them.
I’ve noticed these younger writers have an edge to them – they have no problem using slang and swear words, and they are frequently dissatisfied with one thing or another. I have read many excellent writers among this group, and I know they have the potential to contribute thousands of articles and essays over the life of their careers. I can only hope they will look deep inside and see their ties to the less fortunate and turn their personal anger into anger for the benefit of others.
There are times when I feel I have more in common with people in the streets shouting at voices only they can hear than people sitting behind a computer typing how tough it is at the doctor’s office, at the hospital, or at the grocery store. If you ever get the feeling I am trying to convince you that my life is “just too hard.” Please tell me to take a walk downtown and see the people sleeping on the streets or to open a newspaper and read the headlines.
I’m not amazing. I’m lucky, and at fifty, I want to use that luck to change the world for others who have never had luck or had luck and lost it.
I can’t hold thanksgiving and anger in my heart at the same time.
7 Billion Others, Art, compassion, creative nonfiction, culture, families, Humanity, inspiration, medical, mental health, mental illness, mentally ill, poverty, psychiatry, schizophrenia, travel, war, world
There are times when I need to look out the window, see the man working in my neighbor’s garden, and wonder about his life. What is it like to work hard out in the hot sun all day? Does he make enough to feed his family, if he has a family? Does he have to work two jobs? Who is that man? What is important to him? What are his struggles? What gets him out of bed? What does he dream about? Is he happy, or does he want more? Once I have thought enough about him, I need to think about the other people I encounter. Only in this way do I keep from feeling sorry for myself, see the struggles of those around me, and get out of my mind long enough to care about the people who surround me. No matter how little we appear to have in common, no matter how good someone else has it, we are all aware of our limited days. We are all going to die, and that knowledge alone should bind us together to celebrate our every breath, our every heartbeat, our every step. The fact that we will all die, should break our hearts open with compassion. It’s hard to know there is a finish line and all of us will cross it.
Yesterday, my husband and I went to the photography museum. There was an exhibit called 7 Billion Others. We listened to women talk about how they had no idea about nutrition and vaccines until Doctors Without Borders came to their villages. We listened to a woman from Rwanda talk about how her baby was thrown in the air and cut in half by a man wielding a machete. The same men that participated in the murder of her child (in front of her eyes) cut off her arm, and pierced her in her upper chest (a wound that went all the way through her body). They also jumped on her and stripped her naked. We listened to a miner (without any teeth) talk about how dangerous his job is, but that he does it every day to feed his eight children. We listened to stories about famine, wars, diseases like polio and malaria. We listened to the struggles of many people we share this planet with.
We also learned about people around the world and their fears (one man’s greatest fear was that God didn’t exist, another man’s great fear was that God does exist). We listened to hopes, dreams and what people think the meaning of life is. The people interviewed talked about love, and laughter, they talked about family.
It brought me out of myself.
I have clean running water. I am never truly thirsty or hungry. I have a refrigerator and air conditioning. I have a comfortable bed and access to laundry facilities. I rarely drive, but I do have a car, and I have the ability and means to take public transportation. I have Internet access. I have a cell phone. I have clean clothes. I have at least a dozen pairs of shoes. I have a roof over my head. I have access to medication and doctors. This is a short list of all that I have.
I also have paranoid schizophrenia. I battle my symptoms every day. I deal with social isolation , a lack of motivation, social anxiety, panic attacks, paranoid thoughts, and long periods of inactivity. Even with all that, I live a privileged and easy life compared to many people on the planet. Even when you throw in psychosis, and the terrors and suicide attempts it doesn’t come close to what some people have experienced.
Today, I refuse to give space to me and my struggles. I will give space to you. I will think about you, wherever you are. I will think about how much you’ve seen, how hard you work, how you try to keep your child fed, healthy and alive. I will give you a place to be seen and heard in my heart and head.
May all of us find a way to help each other, to lighten the load, to lessen the fears, to increase the laughter, to grow our hearts, and to share the gift of the life we have been born into so that when it comes time for us to pass away, we can know that maybe there were times when we were lonely, but we were never truly alone. It’s our journey, let’s find every possible way to live it together.
Early this week I posted a trailer from the interview I did with SeaTread Studios on my Facebook page along with a new video of an opening they created. Since the posting of those videos my friend list has dropped considerably.
I use Facebook almost exclusively to network with other writers, and 90% or more of those writers don’t know me in person. When I post to Facebook it is usually a status update about a rejection or acceptance I received for a piece of writing I submitted, and occasionally I will post a link to an article that I had published.
There are some things about my diagnosis that I have posted on Facebook but I don’t do it often, and people who have recently accepted me as a friend, would need to scroll way back to see any reference to mental illness.
I have read from many writers on my friend list that they lost many followers and friends on Facebook when they turned their profile picture into a rainbow in support of marriage equality, or if they posted something in support of the new interpretation of law.
I also read that many people lost friends around their reaction to the shootings in Charleston.
So, I was aware that some people won’t associate with you when you support LGBT rights or an end to racism, but now I also know that there are people who won’t associate with you if you have a mental illness.
I wonder if it is just schizophrenia though, because I often see writers post about their struggles with bipolar disorder (many of the people on my friend list write about this) and I have never seen them post about losing friends and contacts over it.
All I know is that we have a long way to go in terms of acceptance, tolerance, and equality in this country and it isn’t just a fight for the LGBT or people of color. The mentally ill are discriminated against too.
If there was a new law about the treatment of people with a mental illness would millions of people change their profile pictures in order to show their support?
Sadly, I think we are the last and the least; an overlooked, misunderstood, stigmatized and marginalized group of society who often has a hard time discovering or using our voices.
For me, silence is no longer an option.
I am overwhelmed, teary and disturbed this morning. Yesterday I did something I should have never done. I watched a video with a graphic warning that showed the killing of Kelly Thomas back in 2011. Once I started watching the video I should have stopped, but I kept saying to myself, “This will end now, this will end now.” Then my thoughts changed to, “This has to end, right? Please, when does this beating stop?”
The video is long and Kelly’s cries for help are horrible. I don’t recommend that anyone watch the video, because even though Kelly lived long enough to make it to the hospital, he died shortly after that, so you would essentially be watching people kill a man. It is…words fail me.
Kelly had schizophrenia. Not unlike the video of Jason Harrison, who also had schizophrenia, and was shot in front of his home when his mother called 911 to ask for assistance.
This morning I started to research how many people with mental illnesses are killed every year by police officers. The numbers have been increasing since the 1980’s when, as a country, we deinstitutionalized the severely mentally ill. The source for this information is in an article written in the Portland Press Herald. The article is long, but worth the time.
I need to take some time this morning and just sit. I am not the kind of person who hates law enforcement. I respect the uniform. I respect that the police put their lives on the line every single time they get a call to respond. I would be the first to look to an officer for help if I needed it, but something terrible has gone wrong when the mentally ill and people of color (some of whom are also mentally ill like Jason Harrison) are being killed so frequently.
I understand the Black Lives Matter movement and some of those black lives are people who have the same illness as I do. I want their lives to matter too. Of course, I want all lives to matter, but I can only truly speak as a person with a mental illness. I want our lives to matter, black, white, brown, and every other color of skin.
People are saying it is dangerous to walk while black, or to drive while black, or basically live in a black man’s skin. I can’t speak to those experiences, I have to listen and learn, but I know it is also dangerous to have a psychotic break (something a mentally ill person also has no control over).
Think about psychosis for a minute. The person who is psychotic is not interpreting reality correctly. They may be hallucinating. They may be delusional. They may be terrified and thinking the world is out to get them, or even kill them. They may try to defend themselves from the threat they perceive. Handling a person who is suffering from psychosis is not a job for law enforcement (unless the person has a gun).
I’m not trying to take anything away from the Black Lives Matter movement, I agree, black lives do matter. I’m only trying to point out, that the mentally ill encounter some of the same hostile feelings and negative outcomes for no other reason than that they are mentally ill.
As with all people who have been marginalized, there is some common ground here. I’m just pointing to it and saying, “Look, this matters.”
Here is an article I wrote for The Mighty. I love the people that work there, they are so supportive of people with a disability.
Fellow mental health bloggers, please see the end of the article. They are asking for stories like ours. Please consider submitting your story to them.
Having an episode of psychosis or mania is hard, and trying to put the pieces of my life back together afterward is brutal, but the things society says to me every day cause me to lose a piece of myself even when I should be repairing the damage.
The things that I do while psychotic and the things that I say to people cause me great shame once the episode is over and I can think rationally. Not only do I have to live with things like telling people I was Jesus, or telling people how the government was out to get me, or that I was being filmed or recorded, or any number of other delusions I may have had during an episode, I also have to live with the day to day barrage of messages that tell me that I am dangerous, that my illness is something to make light of, or even make fun of. I have to live with the stigma, and if you don’t believe there is a stigma associated with mental illness, spend an hour on social media and you will see it.
I am not going to go into all of the jokes and memes and things people say on social media every day that chip away at my self-esteem, because I have written about them before. But I will say that even people who like to call themselves progressive, and think they are so loving and accepting join in the “fun.” People who would like to think they are sensitive to social situations, and the people who are marginalized, toss out words like insane, nut-job, lunatic, and pass around cartoons depicting a “crazy” lady with PMS.
When I see those words written from people who claim to like or love me, all I feel from them is a lack of understanding and hate. Yes, I literally feel as if they are sending hate at the mentally ill, and at me. Everyone in my life knows that I have schizophrenia. Anyone that cares what having schizophrenia is like can read my book, Pills, Poetry & Prose: Life with Schizophrenia, they can read my blog, or even more amazing, they can ask me.
If someone were to ask me what having schizophrenia is like, I would tell them it can be like going to a place that has your worst fears, and having to live those fears out for days, weeks, and possibly months. Are you afraid of being tortured? You will believe you are about to be tortured. Are you afraid of going to jail? You will believe you are going to jail. Of course, during psychosis you will even be afraid of things you didn’t know you were afraid of. I can think of nothing more appropriate to call it, than hell on earth. It really is like the popular images and thoughts on hell. In the beginning psychosis is usually pleasant for me, but it always turns to terror over time, and that terror is total and complete.
So, if you ever wonder what you can do for someone with a severe mental illness, I have a suggestion; you can help build them up. The world is constantly tossing self-esteem battering information their way. You can be the change in their lives. You can help them see their talents. You can help them see their strengths. You can point out their positives. You can be kind to them, because it is tough. It is so damn tough, and we all get tired. It’s exhausting to constantly try to tell yourself you are okay when the world has another message for you. It’s almost impossible to fight the world on your own. Be an ally. Spread the love.
Lately, it seems wherever I turn, there is an article about schizophrenia. Recently, I read one in the New York Times, the Huffington Post, and the LA Times. I am happy and thankful that schizophrenia is getting so much mainstream attention and it isn’t all bad.
One article was about how hard it is to make friends when you have schizophrenia. Another article was about what dating is like with schizophrenia. The third one was terrible news about a young man whose family had tried repeatedly over the years to get him treatment and then, during a psychotic episode, he tried to kill his parents. Now he is getting his much needed treatment, but it happens to be in jail. The last one is not a story most caregivers or people with schizophrenia want to read. We don’t want to read it, because we know that getting treatment for a family member who desperately needs it is at times frustrating, and nearly impossible. Of course we also don’t want to read it, because it reinforces the stereotypes and stigma of a severe mental illness. We aren’t all dangerous.
After reading these articles in the last week or so, I asked myself, what would I like the world to know about schizophrenia? If I could write these articles what would they be about? Well, I love the articles about friendship and dating, because they humanize people with a mental illness and they help chip away at the stereotypes. When Hollywood started casting more people of color in films (they need to work even harder at this) it helped everyone see a more diverse America, and help expand our ideas of what is beautiful. Seeing people of color on the front of magazine, as CEOs, and of graduates of the best schools, etc. helps end stereotypes, it helps change perceptions. It is beneficial to all of us. The same is true about seeing people with schizophrenia in magazines and movies (as long as the increased coverage doesn’t just use stereotypes of stigma). So, yes, yes, yes in terms of seeing those of us with schizophrenia as more human. I love these articles.
But, there is another thing, a lifesaving thing that I would love to see covered on a regular basis in the media, and that is psychosis. The most difficult times for a person with a severe mental illness is during a psychotic episode, because that is when they are most likely to be hurt, or hurt themselves or someone else. We need to have a conversation about how to talk to someone who is psychotic.
When someone is psychotic they are more likely to have an encounter with the police. If the police ask that person to put up their hands, or get down on the ground, the psychotic person may not comply. They may not understand the action they are being asked to take, or they may be having delusions about being injured, or tortured, or in some way being harmed. This puts the person who is mentally ill at great risk of being injured by police who are concerned about their own and other’s safety.
I would like to have an open, and public, discussion with psychiatrists, caregivers, and people with schizophrenia how best to communicate with a person suffering from psychosis. I would like to have people properly trained to deal with a person who is psychotic so they could prevent that person from hurting themselves, hurting someone else, or being hurt by police. It is so important.
I have thought long and hard about what to say to someone who is psychotic to help ease their fear, or paranoia. I don’t know exactly what would help. It may be as simple as asking repeatedly, “Are you okay? Do you need to see a doctor?” I’m honestly not sure of the best way to reach a person suffering psychosis, but together we may be able to come up with answers that would definitely save lives.