My belated Letter to the NAMI Albuquerque editor: Ms. Editor, please listen carefully to me. My RECOVERY JOURNEY doesn’t have a destination. I’m happy to explain this to you.

There was a seven month window in 2015 where I dedicated a bunch of my volunteer peer advocacy hours to helping out on the NAMI Albuquerque board. It was best of times, and it was the best of times. See how chipper and chock full o’ golden sunbeams I am?

Jim Ogle, the then president of our crew, was a tireless champion for behavioral health legislation designed to help peers and their families and friends. He’s the dude who brought me on to the NAMI Albuquerque board. Jim rocks.

Our first project together was the Community Engagement Team, which I will talk about at another time. Always with the “another time” rhetoric. Look, I’ve got a few decades of bipolar experiences tucked away inside of my Bag o’ Wisdom and the anecdotes aren’t going nowhere. Patience, Grasshopper. My Kung Fu is stronger than yours.

Tireless. Jim was tireless. He still is tireless. He’s a committee chair for legislation at NAMI New Mexico nowadays. Tireless. Without tires. Like the cliche redneck tireless truck on cinder blocks on the weedy front lawn where the ratio of weed to lawn definitely favors the weeds. Tireless. I hate myself for starting this article with a pun. Puns suck.

Apparently, I love to write. Steve’s Thoughtcrimes has been live again for about 12 minutes now and I’ve pumped out a good half dozen articles already, each rivaling the collected works of Charles Dickens in length and content, only people will enjoy reading my blog. Dickens also sucks because he relies heavily upon puns. “There’s more of gravy than the grave about you…” Idiot. Lazy writer and an idiot. Puns. Sucky sucky puns.

Back on target: During my tenure on the NAMI Albuquerque board, I submitted three or four articles for the recently-in-limbo NAMI Challenger, our affiliate’s physical newsletter that is in transition to becoming a reality again from what I’m told. The articles I submitted are good articles, with topics like the Community Engagement Team (mentioned earlier), Minds Interrupted (mentioned now), and NAMI’s Peer To Peer (also mentioned now).

I am proud my articles were chosen for publication. I am thrilled with how many folks still approach me at behavioral health shindigs to talk about what I wrote. It’s cool beans, the coolest of beans. However, here comes the “however.”

However, the editorial quality control was somewhere between indifferent to ineffective. Shall I explain? Let me do so through the magic of “The Letter to the Editor” I never got around to sending.

To be fair (because I am always the epitome of tolerance and justice), the editorial staff was in great flux during my tenure, and Felicia (our treasurer) was the only one on the board doing anything to keep all the balls in the air and all the plates spinning on sticks without any of it crashing to the ground. Sigh. Tired metaphors. The point is Felicia was doing tons of work and that there was no oversight of our Challenger editor is not her doing.

Okay, let’s get to my Letter to the NAMI Albuquerque Challenger Editor.


NAMI Albuquerque Challenger editor:

As an editor, you are tasked with handling words. That’s the distilled job description. Editors handle words.

I’ve been an editor many times through the years. Looking back, my first editorial position was stealing like/love letters from my 3rd grade classmates, spicing them up a bit (as a 3rd grader, “spicing it up” was akin to “and I want to kiss you on the mouth with our eyes closed”), and then giving them to the intended recipients. Granted, this was more “being a jerk” than “being an editor”, but how appropriate the unintended parallel between “jerk” and “editor” I made in third grade to how “adult editors” behave?

Let me give you an example from my own days as an editor of our college newsletter.

We had a dude named Chris Becker who was getting ready to defend his PhD dissertation, and he asked me if I could include his abstract in our school newsletter so he had something in print with the college’s name on it to send to his mom and dad. Sure thing! Chris and I played volleyball together, and he was a fellow geology student, so you bet, Chris, I’m thrilled to post your abstract to the newsletter.

As many editors are keenly aware, there are a finite number of words you can cram into the pages of a physical publication. Sometimes, snipping even a few letters here and there (not even whole words) can free up real estate on one page so words will fit on the next page. Handling words. I was handling words.

Part of Chris’ abstract dealt with iron oxidation and iron reduction in sedimentary lithologies, with localized iron reduction spots in rocks being the result of carbonaceous biotic material like plants and dinosaur poop.

There are two types of iron:

Fe+2 – Oxidizing iron – Ferric
Fe+3 – Reduction iron – Ferrous

Now, “iron is iron”, right? How can the type of iron make a difference, and more importantly, how can using “ferric” and “ferrous” make a difference? I mean, other than ferric iron carries oxygen to the myriad of cells in your body on its way from the heart (it’s red, and it’s ferric) and on the way back to the heart the blood is without oxygen and won’t counterproductively strip oxygen away from the cells during this return journey (it’s blue, and it’s ferrous), and that our ability to live is predicated on nature providing us ferric and ferrous iron, about the only real, important difference is “ferrous” is one letter longer than “ferric”. And since Chris’ abstract inefficiently uses “ferrous” four times, heck, total bonus. I can free up four letters for use elsewhere making the edit from “ferrous” to “ferric.”

I’m a brilliant editor! Four letters! Enough for a four letter word in another article! “Pump.” “Cats.” “Full.” “of.” “Lead.” All four letter words. Sorry, I took liberty with “of” which is not a four letter word. No matter. I’m editor!

The newsletter came out. I proudly delivered a copy to Chris myself. He read the article. He turned red (a ferric emotional reaction, perhaps?). Chris had many four letter words for me. So many. So so so many.

For scientific accuracy, the difference between “ferric” and “ferrous” is like the difference between “man parts” and “woman parts” when choosing a romantic partner. It matters. It’s not just an edit of a few letters here and there. It’s completely changing the purpose and credibility of the author’s intent.

Chris is my friend, and I felt so horrible. I had to take him out and get him drunk that night on my nickel so he would slur his words and I could no longer decipher which four letter words he was using any more.

Where did I go wrong? Let’s see. I changed the words of the author without asking, although as editor it was my job to handle words efficiently and this fell under my purview. More crucially, though, I didn’t check with Chris after I changed these words.

This is the perfect example of editing without self-oversight, and I learned two very important lessons about being a responsible editor from this experience:


Words matter to the author because words are chosen specifically by the author to express an exact message.


and also


Professional courtesy (and convention) requires an editor to give final clearance of the article to the author.


Had I followed these two rules of being a responsible editor, I wouldn’t have made such a huge blunder. And, I wouldn’t have had to use a good 500 characters in the next newsletter printing a retraction.

This ends the analogy and exposition segment of my letter. Let’s move to the issue I have with how you edited my article. Let’s move on to the point I’m making.

As a behavioral health peer advocate, I choose my words with great care and deliberate forethought. When I submit an article for publication, even though I’m exceptionally “wordy” and love things like nested prepositional phrases, I will all the same choose very specific words for very specific purposes to convey a very specific point to share a very specific message.

There is a huge difference between:


Recovery Journey


versus


Journey to Recovery


Since you seem unaware of how important of an advocacy talking point this is to me, and that I NEVER use “journey to recovery” in articles, public presentations, and behavioral health events, I’d like to educate you on this vital difference so you will not make the same error again with another peer’s article.

A “Journey to Recovery” implies that recovery is a destination, and if I work hard enough on myself I can reach recovery and be cured. To me, this is a ludicrous idea that does not speak to the reality of having a chronic condition like bipolar.

Conversely, my using “Recovery Journey” speaks to my managing the symptoms of bipolar. I do this through a proper medication regimen, exercise, diet, sleep schedule, playing my ukulele, tormenting my rabbits by shaving them and then petting them with steel wool (joke… I’m getting bored with writing but don’t want to take a breather), regular socialization, peer support groups, peer advocacy, and just keeping track of how my mood is doing.

Every day of my life for the rest of my life I am on this journey. Every day I’m in recovery. This is an important message I share with peers in my advocacy efforts. It is central to my advocacy.

It’s not an argument of semantics or “being touchy.” I am known and respected by our peer communities, and I am loud and obnoxious in my advocacy (some say “slash and burn” advocacy, although I prefer “If you people would stop and listen to me and my friends I wouldn’t have to drive my point home over and over and over” advocacy), and because of this I must be exceptionally responsible and aware of the message I present to my peers.

I am in a privileged position of being able to help guide my friends in their recovery journey through sharing my experiences in my own recovery journey. I speak regularly on exactly why I don’t use “journey to recovery” and insist on stating I am on my RECOVERY JOURNEY. Honestly. I’m a total, complete, and utter pain in the neck about this.

Do you know how I came to learn of your editorial error? A friend called me and said, “Steve, you didn’t write ‘journey to recovery’ in your Challenger article, did you? That doesn’t sound like you.”

This sentiment was echoed by quite a few more friends over the following week. Recovery journey, not journey to recovery. It is important to my message, it is important to my advocacy, and it is important to me as a peer with bipolar.

I have bipolar. I will always have bipolar. I will always have to manage the symptoms of bipolar. This is my recovery journey.

I need to be absolutely clear about this:


I NEVER say, write, or use “Journey to Recovery.”



I ALWAYS say, write, and use “Recovery Journey.”


Had you sent me your incorrectly edited version of my article prior to publication, this error on your part would have never made it to print.

I’m a solutions kind of guy and will be presenting a proposal on how to professionally and responsibly manage our affiliate’s Challenger newsletter at our next board meeting. I welcome your input by inviting you to the NAMI Albuquerque board meeting.

Kindest regards,

Steve Bringe
Chair, NAMI Albuquerque Peer Action Team
President, DBSA Albuquerque


Ed. note: I know this letter was kind of saucy and bordering on condescending (and I can’t fib and say it wasn’t therapeutic to an extent… even though my calmer head prevailed and I didn’t send this letter), although I ask for you to consider that the editor made this “revision” by request of another NAMI Albuquerque board member who knew it’d bug me.

Ah, to be adults and in love/hate.

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

Ben, The Kamp Kaseman Tech

My sis rocks. One of my fave Jimmy tunes recorded just for me. You rock, Sylvia Seren (Sarah).

By the way, this tech named Ben (I call him Ben the Tech) at Kamp Kaseman used to put Sylvia Plath “inspirational” quotes on the board every morning.

I told him, “Dude, this is a psych hospital. Sylvia Plath killed herself.”

And Techben (changed his name) said, “No she didn’t.”

So I said, “Google.”

And the next morning, no Sylvia Plath quote. Instead, Ben the Fool (changed his name) posted Kurt Cobain lyrics.

The point of all of this is being inpatient can be incredibly disempowering and outright scary. And sometimes, the staff is kinda dismissive of peers while we are feeling fragile. Ben and I were never going to be friends. And this time through Kamp Kaseman, I truly needed a point in the win column. Having a tech insisting he was “right” about Ms. Plath gave an easy avenue to self-empowerment. Score. Bonus score.

I used to see Ben when I’d visit Kamp Kaseman to present education programs. I’d say “hi” to Ben. He did not say “hi” to me. He did have to set up the DVD player for me. No documentaries on Robin Williams, thank the stars.

Reprinted with kind permission of Steve’s Thoughtcrimes.

Announcing DBSA Albuquerque’s partnership with Stand Up To Stigma!

DBSA Albuquerque is excited to announce our partnership with Stand Up To Stigma, LLC. This collaboration ensures our support groups and chapter members continue to benefit from the education programs Stand Up To Stigma (SUTS) offers to our communities, to help empower DBSA Albuquerque peers by offering their voices to the community, and to broaden our peer support groups to communities not currently served by our standing weekly meetings.

Stand Up To Stigma is a peer-run and peer-owned company bringing peers to our community to share their life experiences and stories living with mental health challenges through a number of education programs. The goal is helping others understand the peer experience because through education and understanding, the biases, prejudices, and stigmas surrounding peers are acknowledged as real and exposed as falsehoods.

We are looking forward to our continued close collaboration with Stand Up To Stigma and all the benefits this partnership brings to peers and our communities.

DBSA Albuquerque and Stand Up To Stigma strongly believe that . . .

Stigma Is Temporary

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

This week an article was posted to the Topeka Capital-Journal website concerning a program the Topeka Police Department has requesting citizens with behavioral health issues to voluntarily enroll in “Premise Alert.” The goal of Premise Alert is so responding officers will know ahead of time that there is an individual in potential mental health crisis, allowing officers to “make more informed decisions” because they know they are encountering a peer.

The goal is honorable. Safe, positive encounters between peers and police is what all of us want. However, I’m not pleased with programs like Premise Alert because I feel officers should be trained to deal with unique crisis situations and NOT an assumed predetermined threat. Education. I’ll say it again and again.

Following is my response to the article.

—–

Topeka police encourage those with behavioral health issues to enroll in Premise Alert program
http://cjonline.com/news/local/2017-04-02/topeka-police-encourage-those-behavioral-health-issues-enroll-premise-alert

—–

I am president of DBSA Albuquerque (Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance based in Chicago, Illinois) and sit on the Mental Health Response Advisory Committee, the DOJ mandated committee of community stakeholders who volunteer their time to help the Albuquerque Police Department develop better skills in engaging peers in crisis.

Our chapter collaborates closely with APD, including the 40 hour Crisis Intervention Training that was once a voluntary additional training and is now required of all APD officers. Peer involvement in creating those solutions that will protect both peers and police in crisis situations is key to successful, positive outcomes.

Many times, the topic of voluntary peer enrollment in a program such as this has been brought up at behavioral health meetings, and every time the concept meets with nearly instantaneous resistance to outright moral outage from peers. As one peer from our focus groups said last year, “Do they expect me to volunteer for a Tag & Release program?”

As an individual managing the symptoms of bipolar, anxiety, and PTSD, my reaction to this concept is also more than hesitant. The reason I share this is because often foreknowledge of a person’s behavioral health history can unduly affect a first responder’s attitude and readiness in a crisis situation. It may even have the exact opposite effect, something I can attest to personally. In one encounter with APD, officers focused entirely on asking if I was dangerous and not what help I needed.

Beyond the practical considerations of crisis response, there is a larger, more far-reaching concern among peers that has to do with the archiving and use of any database generated from an enrollment program. Let me share one example.

Say we have a peer who deals with alcohol misuse and schizophrenia (a condition the DSM V defines as co-occurring). Alcohol misuse exacerbates this individual’s schizoid symptoms to where police involvement is regularly required. However, when not misusing alcohol, this individual functions well and does not generate the type of crisis intervention needs.

Let’s say this individual voluntarily enrolls, under the auspices of “protecting all involved.” The idea doesn’t seem too horrible. Who doesn’t want to be safe?

Now, let’s consider this scenario:

A neighbor calls to report this individual’s yard is messy and the individual isn’t being cooperative in cleaning his yard. In fact, there was a heated argument over this to where the neighbor calls for the police.

The police arrive, already aware this individual has a prior co-occurring crisis history with police. There was an argument and police are dispatched “ready” for a situation where the individual.MIGHT be in crisis.

There are a few truths to consider:

1.) This individual is not symptomatic and in crisis.

2.) Neighbors get into yelling matches from time to time.

3.) They have been neighbors for 20 years.

4.) This individual experienced several crisis calls with police, and his neighbor witnessed this.

5.) The individual is 12 years sober.

6.) This happened to a friend of mine.

Granted, there was no enrollment program, and the foreknowledge provided police is from the neighbor of 20 years. But there was no crisis and responding officers treated my friend as if he was in the throes of co-occurring crisis. My friend is 12 years sober and only was a safety issue when drinking.

This illustrates striking concerns. How far does the enrollment record go back? How do you get yourself off the list once enrolled? What kind of information is collected and is this information guaranteed confidential? After all, the police are not medical providers and aren’t bound by mandates like HIPAA.

There are so many possible and real scenarios that all ultimately speak to one thing:

People with behavioral health issues are more than their symptoms and do enjoy significant recovery.

I’m not a sum total of my bipolar, anxiety, and PTSD symptoms. I don’t say “I’m bipolar.” If I’m trotting out self-proclaimed identities I’d go with I’m a father, I’m a son, I’m a geologist, I’m a boyfriend, I’m a peer advocate, and I’m a really great left defender on my soccer team. Enrollment in a program like this places symptoms I manage with exercise, medication, therapy, peer support groups, and personal responsibility above who I truly am. It’s too easy to mistake having foreknowledge as being forewarned.

The real, sustainable solution is education. Officer preparation doesn’t come from a list, it comes from training officers with the skills necessary to help peers help themselves to make good decisions. A single peer’s crises are not the same thing every time. Every potential crisis situation involves a unique individual under unique circumstances. Education is the key to being well-prepared. Crisis intervention training allows for officer safety, peer safety, and deescalation through a spirit of collaboration rather than predestined community peacekeeping.

Reprinted with kind permission from Steve’s Thoughtcrimes.
Originally published April 5, 2017.

So, Mainstream Media, do you feel fair & balanced, do you feel you’re reporting truth (if not fact), do you hold yourself above perpetrating and perpetuating mental health stigmas? My buddy Mr. Bovee and I are calling “Bullshit!”

The proto-missus and I watched Silver Linings Playbook a few nights back. It was her first viewing, my fifteen billionth. It is a favorite movie of mine for a very single reason:


The character Bradley Cooper plays and the character Jennifer Lawrence plays portray those living with bipolar disorder in a positive light, and showing that for peers recovery and self-discovery go hand in hand.


A major studio motion picture where the central characters are not only folks with mental health diagnoses, they are also not violent and scary and dangerous… check the left armpit of my ex-wife for icicles and her heart for slippery black ice (ha!) because I think Hell just froze over.

“The opinions of the misanthropical rest upon this very partial basis, that they adopt the bad faith of a few as evidence of the worthlessness of all.”

– Christian Nestell Bovee

Reprinted with kind permission of Steve’s Thoughtcrimes.
Originally published October 27, 2017.

Advice for Muggles concerning AOT

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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


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


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

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

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


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


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


This is the cornerstone of the SUTS education program

Peer & Police Safety


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

Reprinted with kind permission of Stand Up To Stigma.

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 Pok√©mon 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.


Reprinted with kind permission of Stand Up To Stigma.