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

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Opinion: Why would our chapter decline funding?

In my time on the DBSA Albuquerque board, twice has our chapter declined large funding opportunities.  It might seem counterintuitive for a self-funded volunteer organization to turn down any donation, much less sums of $35,000 and $50,000. These were in no way easy decisions for our board, and both instances and board decisions are predicated on a single inescapable principle:

DBSA Albuquerque is first and foremost a peer support group, and anything that potentially threatens the safety, confidentiality, and fidelity of the group must be discouraged.

This can mean any number of things. In the past, we’ve dismissed disruptive peer members who were so obnoxious and bullying they were driving off other peer members. This is a very clear and easily-understood concept and rationale.

But what about funding? How does money threaten the safety, confidentiality, and fidelity of peer support groups? The answer might be surprising, although it is equally clear and easily-understood.

It depends on where the money is coming from.

Let’s talk of the $35,000 our chapter declined and why. First off, the funding was being obtained from a “grant writer”, and the grant writer was taking a percentage of the amount collected. This is horribly unethical. Grant writers traditionally and ethically write their fee into the grant.

Secondly, we were not allowed to meet this grant writer, nor were we given information on what grant or grants were applied to in the name of our chapter. So, the source of the money was a mystery.

After some careful, discrete inquiries, it turned out this money was being spearheaded by a state politician who supported and helped draft legislation unpopular with peers, namely Assisted Outpatient Treatment, AOT, aka “Kendra’s Law.” Many peers hear “AOT” and reflexively say “Forced Treatment.”

Through board discussion, we agreed that accepting these funds was tantamount to stating DBSA Albuquerque supports AOT legislation, and by extension the peers attending DBSA Albuquerque support groups. As a board, we have no right to speak on behalf of peer attendees to our support group.

The DBSA Albuquerque board felt accepting this funding was the same as buying peer endorsement of legislation either unpopular with or harmful to peers.

A similar logic was applied to the $50,000 offered our chapter. While the intent is pure and the cause noble, this funding was made available through a court settlement in relation to why the Department of Justice is auditing and monitoring Albuquerque Police Department use of force treatment of peers in crisis. Again, accepting this money can be seen as peer endorsement, and more importantly . . .

Through negligence or circumstance, APD will be held over the coals for a use of force violation in relation to a peer in crisis, and this has great potential to raise the visibility of our chapter and by extension peer support groups in media and meetings.

In addition, numerous peers at our groups have had poor relations and experiences with law enforcement, and if these peers feel our chapter is in direct collaboration with law enforcement, they will not come to our support groups any longer. I can say this with 100% authority. A group of peers left DBSA Albuquerque and formed their own peer support group because of my personal involvement with APD training.

Peers come first. And the purpose of DBSA Albuquerque is to hold peer support groups where peers feel safe talking openly in an environment free of public scrutiny and attention.

I’m uncertain if prior DBSA Albuquerque administrations gave this magnitude of consideration to accepting donations and funding. I feel it is a necessary debate and is a respectful consideration of the peers who attend our support groups.

If peers don’t feel safe and welcome, they won’t attend. And that defeats the purpose of DBSA Albuquerque peer support groups.

Steve Bringe, Vice preisdent, DBSA Albuquerque

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Friday March 30 is International Bipolar Day! Come Laugh About It!

This Friday, join us at 6:30 PM at the Taylor Ranch/Don Newton Community Center before our support group for a special presentation of the Stand Up To Stigma education event “Laugh It Off.”

“Laugh It Off” is weekly presented at Turquoise Lodge Hospital, as well as individual events over the last year. Oddly, we’ve never actually presented to DBSA Albuquerque. So, what better day that International Bipolar Day?

DBSA Albuquerque president Sarah Salway and DBSA Albuquerque vice president Steve Bringe will be our comics for the night. The idea for “Laugh It Off” is to laugh about the horrible things that have happened in our lives as a result of our mental health symptoms, and if you can laugh at the horrible things, it takes away some of the power these horrible things have over us.

“Laugh It Off” begins at 6:30 PM and ends at 6:50 PM.

Our regular support groups at 7 PM, as usual.

I’ve been led to believe DBSA Albuquerque treasurer will have cake for us. Yum! Cake!

 

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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 courtesy of Steve Bringe at Steve’s Thoughtcrimes.

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Cathal Smyth of Madness…. you got it miserably, irresponsibly so very very wrong.

Knowing me as you do, one of my favorite bands in the entire history of ever is Madness. The Nutty Boys, the Camden Cowboys, the Magnificent 7 (and for reasons forthwith, fortunately minus one Cathal Smyth, aka Chas Smash, aka Carl Smyth), the patchwork of my youth into the not so youthful is tacked together with a square of Madness here and a worn piece of fabric there.

Back in 2012, Madness released a brand new album entitled “Oui Oui Si Si Ja Ja Da Da”, with the namesake lyric being baffling in its inclusion and inception, really. However……. never has Madness penned lyrics that reek of such blatant ignorance.


MISERY by MADNESS

Word and Music by Cathal Smyth

www.youtube.com/watch?v=h1J47BnR0bU

Misery loves company
That’s what the wise man said
Don’t come to me for sympathy
If you can’t raise your head
Stand up and see
What your life could be
If you wore a smile instead
If you keep misery as your company
Then you might as well be dead

Why don’t you go suck on a silver spoon
Buy a spaceship and fly over the moon
See the colours in the flowers and the tree’s
Take a lesson from the birds and the bee’s
Why don’t you go skipping out in the park
Give yourself a chance to make a new start
Try and focus on your health and your heart
Accept the present and let go of the past

Misery loves company
That’s what the wise man said
The remedy to be happy
Well it’s all inside your head
Shift infinitessimally your perception and see
Your life could be better led
Don’t keep misery as your company
Or you might as well be dead

Why don’t you go suck on a silver spoon
Buy a spaceship and fly over the moon
See the colours in the flowers and the tree’s
Take a lesson from the birds and the bee’s
Why don’t you go skipping out in the park
Give yourself a chance to make a new start
Try and focus on your health and your heart
Accept the present and let go of the past
Don’t come to me for sympathy
If you can’t raise your head
Stand up and see what your life could be
If you wore a smile instead
If you keep misery for company then you
Might as well be dead


I could go through a cornucopia of harmfully specific lyrics word for word. Instead, I am going to laser in on just four of the roughest with brutal peer analysis:

  1. Don’t come to me for sympathy / If you can’t raise your head
  2. Stand up and see / What your life could be / If you wore a smile instead
  3. The remedy to be happy / Well it’s all inside your head
  4. If you keep misery for company / Then you might as well be dead

Now, in better spirits, I would toss this off (ha!) as a mere purged rainbow, but because it is so disgustingly irresponsible, I’m calling this spitting venom.

Why? According to Mr. Smyth, it is a personal choice to suffer from depression, not a malfunctioning brain defined by specific mental health diagnoses. Just raise your head, smile, and accept that the reason you’re not happy is because you willingly stay depressed unaware of an on/off switch in your head. Please refer to my prior article that elegantly explains the true peer experience of debilitating, unavoidable depressive symptoms.

Because, yes, I haven’t tried willing my bipolar symptoms away by just smiling and deciding to be happy, I’ve not thought of this in the past three d3cades living with bipolar depression. I feel foolish and dull minded. Thank you, Chas, the wise man who said. I’ve been dealing with this off and on (the nature of cyclic bipolar) for coming on 30 years. Thank the stars above that you came along to steer the clinically depressed to paradise on earth. Bounce your lyrics off your contemporary Adam Ant (he’s true pals with your mutual friend Boz Boorer, if you need an introduction), see if he’s pleased with your pseudo-erudite take on a medical disease.


If it was as easy as saying “I’m not going to be depressed” there would be no depressed humans walking the globe.


What is hands-down the zenithic MOST IRRESPONSIBLE LYRIC IN THE ENTIRE HISTORY OF EVER in the realm of behavioral health is his “if/then” statement saying if you CHOOSE to have a mental illness and not CHOOSE to cheer up, then suicide is a valid option, to rid the world of peers who are so intellectually deficient they can’t pull themselves out of a crippling mental health crisis. Lyrical eugenics, courtesy of Mr. Cathal Smyth (formerly of Madness). Rid the world of mental illness through the grandest of uneducated simplicities.

Let me be very clear of my interpretation of Chas’ lyrics:


If you’re too stupid to realize that depression is a personal choice, then suicide is a dictated result..


And let me be very clear of my condemnation of Mr. Cathal Smyth:


Chas, we’ve chatted on several occasions, traded emails, and I’ve stated that your song “Victoria Gardens” is a gem of a song both lyrically and musically. But in this instance, bad boy, Chas. Very bad bad boy, and very very irresponsible.


Back in 1981, guitarist Christopher J. Foreman penned a tune called “Madness (Is All in the Mind)”, a fun ditty that pokes a backwards “V” for “vuck you” to those judgmental of differing behavior. Chris and I have spoken at length about this tune, in part because it is his favorite song from Madness that he authored, and in part because I revealed to him many years ago that I have bipolar disorder (to help him understand why it is that I disappear from the world for a year or two at a time… isolating, you see). Let’s see the comparative lyrics:

MADNESS (IS ALL IN THE MIND)

Words and Music by Christopher J. Foreman

I’ve never had much cause for worry
And I’ve not got a lot to say
You’ll never find me in a hurry
Because I live my life day by day
People say that I’m crazy
But I’m not that way inclined
I know what I know and I’ll happily show
That madness is all in the mind
Twenty-four hours is all that I care for
I believe that’s the only way
Twenty-four hours is all that is needed
Because I live my life day by day
People say that I’m crazy
But I’m not that way inclined
I know what I know and I’ll happily show
That madness is all in the mind
I’m happy the way that I do things
Continually feeling okay
I’ve no worries on what tomorrow brings
Because I live my life day by day
People say that I’m crazy
But I’m not that way inclined
I know what I know and I’ll happily show
That madness is all in the mind
Well some men seek answers in bottles
And others in degenerate ways
But I don’t care much for the question
Madness is all in the mind
Madness is all in the mind
Madness is all in the mind
Madness is all in the mind

Cheerful and encouraging lyrics, yes? Yes. Just be yourself. to hell with the critique and concern of others. I’ve always liked this message as a teen and moreso after bipolar symptoms manifested around 1986.

So why am I only commenting on this miserable song now, some four years gone? The reason is tied entirely to a lengthy depressive episode I’ve been contending with off and on (there are manic episodes as well) the last four years.

I didn’t want to listen to a new Madness album and not enjoy it.

That would be a sure sign of how cruddy I was really doing.

That would suck the mighty suck if my bipolar symptoms kept me from enjoying a Madness album. It would most likely trigger worse symptoms (I’ll talk about “Ted” another time), and I couldn’t risk it.

So, heading out to SoCal for Thanksgiving with my Dad, in the Toyota with Razzie, Slater, Bailey and Bennett, cruising through Death Valley, I finally felt the joy necessary to rip the plastic wrap off the CD and delve into a long-delayed jaunt with “Oui Oui Si Si Ja Ja Da Da”. I loved it, I felt joy, I shared my joy with my friends (including Nicky who wrote two songs on the album – Kitchen Floor and Leon – via Skype), and I’m glad I waited. Overjoyed I delayed. There is joy associated with the album. It only took four years to get there, a truly short span of time for someone who lives with the challenges and triumphs of bipolar disorder.

I feel joy… excluding the mirthful anger I feel with the song “Misery.”

Calling Dr. Smyth. Dr. Smyth, learned soul of everything and all psychological, please proceed to the “Ignorance Is Temporary” wing of the hospital. I’ll be waiting there with any number of peers who live with clinical depression by design, not by choice. We are prepared to educate. It’s not an inconvenience. Truly.

And please, Chas, pen a song where you deride people whose arms sponraneously fell off to just pick up their deparated arms, dust off their sleeves, and get on with their day.

Reprinted courtesy of Steve Bringe at Steve’s Thoughtcrimes.

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OPINION: “High Functioning” is such a crock of nonsensical categorization by those who don’t understand what it’s like to have mental health issues (aka crock of shite)

Reprinted from Steve’s Thoughtcrimes by permission of the author Steve Bringe.

Today, I negotiated with the City of Albuquerque for DBSA support groups venues and a venue for our SUTS (Stand Up To Stigma) May Mental Health Education Fair.

I also wrote a letter declining a sizable donation after much consideration and board discussion. I wrote a letter thanking a prior support group venue for their hospitality and that we unfortunately are moving venues because of severe safety concerns, also after much consideration and board discussion. Neither of these letters were easy or a pleasure to compose.

I paid my bills, marveling at how much water can cost per unit and vowing this is the year I build a cistern for gardening. I contested a recent billing from my insurance company. I questioned an unknown fee on my phone account.

Recently, I endured a nine hour deposition in the Walgreens suit that did not include a lunch break. I then had to review the deposition transcript for any errors, another four hours of my life in a nearly 300 page transcript. This is difficult stuff, having to relive the trauma of being nailed in the back of the head by a huge sign at Walgreens (not my error, t’was theirs).

I’ve been grieving the loss of Clare, the idiocy of her family and friends, and recovering.

I’ve been vocal about my treatment concerning MHRAC and have learned people I once respected are documented liars. So there’s something else that self-empowerment dictates I care for.

Seems like a lot to juggle, yes? Seems odd that a peer can take on so much, yes? Why, I must be “high functioning”. That’s the term used for me, both in conversation and in medical records.

You should have seen me last year, in particular last August and September when I was paranoid out of my head that the police were going to break into my home and throw my arse in jail. For what? For nothing. I was paranoid because I had low potassium. Hypokalemia. I was hospitalized at Haven for that. And then I was hospitalized again at Pres because my hands and legs stopped working. Again, low potassium. Hypokalemia. Entirely unrelated to bipolar, by the by.

Was this “high functioning”? I have a solid command of the English and French languages. I get by pretty well with ASL. No false modesty, I’m really smart. I’m a very good public speaker. So I’ve been accused of being “high functioning.” How am I labeled when symptomatic? How am I when I cannot do any of the so impressive tasks that make me “high functioning”? Is there a medical category for “temporarily not high functioning”?

It’s an insulting turn of phrase, much like how I had to untrain Muggles at meetings from telling me “You’re so articulate FOR A PEER.” Yes? Well, you’re so ignorant for someone who works with peers daily.

There’s a commonality in saying to me “You are so articulate for a peer” and “You are so high functioning.”


There is an implication that having a mental health diagnosis holds a great potential for being intellectually deficient.

Phrased in inarticulate, low functioning terms, statistical “baseline” peers are stupid until proven otherwise.


I learned a lot from my Care Coordinator girlfriend, Clare Castellano (angel above), about the classification system used by Molina New Mexico for peers. It’s based on a tri-level system of NEEDS. When I’m at my best, I have no need for care coordination. When I got out of Pres and Haven, being on a walker, unable to drive, unable to cook, unable to get to my provider appointments and retrieve my medications from the pharmacy, having difficulty talking and concentrating, I was a HIGHER NEEDS peer, a Level 3 at that. Now, I have no needs for care coordination once more.

Did I change as a person when having Level 3 needs? Did I become “stupid”? Incompetent? Low functioning?

Nope. I was still Steve Bringe, and I was struggling, and I needed additional help. And I could still be in a place where I am struggling and needing additional help. Thankfully, I’m recovering and continue to noticeably recover both mentally and physically. I always ways and will forever be Steve Bringe. Other than for helping define treatment parameters and billing purposes, don’t box me in, baby baby.

Clare worked with Level 3 peers in the field (and was fucking excellent at her job from what her peers shared with me), and these were not stupid, incompetent people. They are people who need additional assistance to complete tasks. They just happen to have ailments like bipolar and schizophrenia. That’s on the behavioral health side of things.

On the physical health side of things, there is also Care Coordination. What’s the difference? None. Because Clare pointed out that Care Coordination is Care Coordination, and separating BH from PH is impossible in getting her “little members” all the assistance and services they need. Lacking a mental health diagnosis, the same attention to higher needs is offered and achieved.

I’m not blind to the fact some peers will most likely have higher needs for much longer than I did. However, these are not stupid people. These are people who need assistance with everyday living because of the way their mental illness affects them. Not because they are “low functioning.”

It’s the go to move to say “Would you say someone who needs help getting to dialysis or someone who needs physical therapy after a car accident or someone who is literally blind and can’t drive to the pharmacy is ‘low functioning’?” If you answer anything other than “no” then you are making excuses for playing into an embarrassing stigma. Embarrassing for you, not the peer.

While categorizing peers in terms of level of service needs is not ideal, it is also not euphemism, and it is very much practical and infinitely more honest than generalizing peers as “high functioning” and “low functioning”. Like EVERYONE on the planet, sometimes we need a little more help than other times. And just because I can out-lawyer the lawyers at behavioral health meetings doesn’t make me “a high functioning peer”. It makes me a person quicker and more logical than a lawyer I’m going toe to toe with.

Hey, maybe I am stupid. I just ended a sentence with a preposition. I’m sure there are some split infinitives in here, too. Sue me. I dare you.

– Dedicated to Clare Clarissa Nina Castellano who taught me much about Care Coordination and what it truly means to be a person who cares for PEOPLE.

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An observation of APD CIT training: “Because we didn’t know how to reach out to you without making it worse.”

Far too often lately (over the last year and a half), with the multitude of hardships I’ve faced, I’ve not garnered the sorts of sympathies one would expect from friends or even colleagues.

The leading excuse for saying nothing at all has been . . .


We didn’t know how to approach you and thought we’d make things “worse.”


I must assume this is because I’ve been a peer in crisis. I extrapolate this from “thought we’d make it worse.”

Er . . . So because I’m a peer in crisis, naturally I should be treated differently. Almost as if stereotyping and stigmatization are the best choices for handling a colleague on an advisement board like MHRAC.


What the heck have I been training you guys to do when it comes to deescalation of peers in crisis?


This is a topic I’ll be exploring, considering I won’t be resigning from any of these committees I’ve worked so hard to develop.

Think of it in these terms:


How can I feel confident officers in the field are usung the skills I’ve trained them for if they can’t employ these skills with a peer they know and work with intimately? And how can I tell peers who trust me that APD CIT training is working without being hypocritical?


It’s a crisis of faith, with a parting nod that I did not include persona non grata in the CIT training.

Think it over. This is a topic worth exploring.

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And then I realized, using the word “Peer” makes me a hypocrite

As a peer . . . I have to ask myself, how many times do I open a blog or insert into the blog somewhere . . .


“As A Peer”


And how often do I complain that Muggles see me as a something (not someone) different, something other, something to be o upon a different yardstick measured in gradations of “How crazy does he seem compared to ‘normal’ people?”

I realized something.


Simply by saying time and again “AS A PEER” I am differentiating myself as something other and different.


And this makes me a hypocrite in some sense or another.

I’m a dude who lives by the mantra “It’s not enough to define the problem. What am I going to do to create a solution?”

And honestly, right now, I’m not certain exactly how to compose my blogs so I can yet retain “as a peer” so folks know the premise and foundation from which I write, and also convey I’m no different than anyone else. Even my teasing little word “Muggle” sets up the same perplexing quandary.

I suppose a very wordy solutions is to simply write . . .


As a peer and a person who is essentially the same as you who aren’t a peer, let me tell you about the peer experience that is essentially the same experience you have only I have mental health issues that aren’t something you contend with but with your diagnosis of hemorrhagic fever I’m sure you can relate when people choose to steer clear of you for fear your disease is contagious, which is how I’m treated…”


What a hot mess. And how endless it can become , how eternal the love for wordiness that can go very awry so very quickly for a dude like me who loves exposition. I suppose a shorthand way of encapsulating this sentiment is …


We’re all individuals with our own individual issues. Some of us share similar issues and collectively we identify as “peers.”


The silly thing is I fought hard in New Mexico to exchange the word “peer” for “consumer”, the latter sounding like an economic unit defining a person who uses (consumes) mental health services.

A change in the narrative and lexicon is at the forefront of any revolution. If you read historical texts (primary source) of our country, you’ll notice a pre-Civil War reference to our country as “The United States Are” and a post-Civil War reference to our country as “The United States Is”, a shift in conjugated being that speaks to true unity of our country.

So that’s what I’m aiming for in massaging the narrative for behavioral health. It only took two years for “consumer” to fall out of favor. Let me try to rustle up a word that speaks to individualism framed in unity with respect for collective similarities.

This is going to be a fun Rubik’s Cube of a lexicon shift.

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In Loving Memory of Clarissa “Clare” Nina Castellano, Dearest Friend and Provider Advisor to DBSA Albuquerque

On October 29, 2017, the behavioral health world said its saddened goodbyes to Clarissa Nina Castellano.

Clarissa Nina Castellano

Clare (as she preferred to be called) graduated from the University of New Mexico and New Mexico State University with degrees in Psychology and Social Work, the first member of her very large family to achieve a Masters degree. Her naturally strong work ethic was noticed and commended by all, first at CYFD working with the children under her care and also at Molina New Mexico as Care Coordinator 3 and mentor to two care coordinator teams. It was at Molina that Clare shone brightest, working in the field with higher needs peers, many of whom attended our DBSA Albuquerque weekly peer support groups. The kind care she provided these peers (who she called her “little members”) was always a highlight of what they shared with our group. The amount of love and care these peers received from Clare is a rarity in the New Mexico behavioral health community. She didn’t merely go through the motions. Clare became a trusted person in their often confusing and chaotic  lives.

Clare was licensed as an LMSW in New Mexico, and with her vast knowledge and on the “front line” experience, when she accepted our request to bring her personal and professional acumen to the management of our peer support groups and education programs, our chapter and our community were instantly all the richer.

Clarissa Nina Castellano

The best way for DBSA Albuquerque to remember and honor Clare is to share a few anecdotes of why she is such an amazing person, and how her passion for helping others empower themselves was not a career, it was her calling.

Clarissa Nina CastellanoEarly in Clare’s collaboration with DBSA Albuquerque, she brought to our attention the need for transportation for many peers who would attend our groups if they could only get there. Working with Clare, we were able to be considered a “provider”  (we are not, we are a volunteer peer-run organization), and with this status many of her “little members” began attending DBSA groups using their MCO (managed care organization) medical transportation benefits. For the first time, these peers were able to come from all parts of our community to our three weekly venues that for them were always too far to travel by foot. Many of these peers continue to attend our support groups.

Clare also took part in helping to develop the SUTS (Stand Up To Stigma, in collaboration with our chapter) Laugh It Off program by attending our weekly presentation at Turquoise Lodge Hospital in Albuquerque. If you are unfamiliar with Turquoise Lodge Hospital, they are a facility dedicated to helping peers with substance issues, many of whom have an underlying and often undiagnosed behavioral health component to their daily challenges.

Clarissa Nina CastellanoLaugh It Off is a program where our SUTS peer presenters (we recruit those peers with co-occurring life experiences) stand up before an audience and do . . . stand up comedy, centered on essentially making fun of ourselves based on the horrible things that have happened in our lives as a result of our diagnoses and symptoms. As Clare put it, “If you can laugh at the horrible things that have happened to you, it takes away the horror and gives you back your power.”

At Turquoise Lodge Hospital, because we are at an inpatient facility with peers who are struggling, rather than doing a question and answer session after the comedy routines, we spin the program into a DBSA peer support group. Clare’s admiration for the successful implementation of this model got her thinking of what else we could do to make the experience as positive as possible for the patients. Because many of her “little members” contend with  co-occurring challenges, she had several recommendations for Laugh It Off.

Clarissa Nina CastellanoThe most important recommendation that was hard-fought to garner was not limiting the choice of words for the patients during the support group; at Turquoise Lodge Hospital, cursing is not allowed from the patients. Taking this recommendation/request to Jackie West of Turquoise Lodge Hospital, and combining Clare’s advice with Jackie’s insistence that providers not be in the room during Laugh It Off (including Jackie), the support group portion of the program became an open, welcome, and safe environment where many of these inpatient peers talked about very personal topics they had never shared anywhere before. They connected and realized (for many) that they were not alone in their struggles. Clare’s recommendation gave a one hour reprieve from word choice restrictions because, as Clare put it, “How can you express what is in your heart if you are constantly worried you’ll get in trouble for saying how you really feel using the words most natural?”

Clare’s calling and passion for helping others wasn’t limited to places like Molina and Turquoise Lodge Hospital. There was no “off switch” to her heart. One such illustration of this happened at Tiguex Park in Old Town Albuquerque. Having lunch with DBSA Albuquerque president Steve Bringe, Clare and he met a young couple who had just arrived in Albuquerque from Santa Fe. They were experiencing homelessness, and the young lady was in her third trimester of pregnancy. They came to Albuquerque because they knew there were better services in Bernalillo County than Santa Fe. They just didn’t know where to obtain these services.Clarissa Nina Castellano

Clare and Steve spent Clare’s lunch hour writing down notes, numbers, services, contacts, facilities . . . any and all of their combined knowledge they knew would be helpful to this young couple, this forthcoming young family. Later, Clare said, “I totally forgot to tell them out an MCO postpartum benefit! We need to go back to Tiguex Park and find them!” And that’s exactly what happened, although it wasn’t only information Clare and Steve returned with. Blankets, a backpack, and a picnic dinner accompanied them, and what was intended as a moderate amount of time spent getting to know the young couple and ensure they had as much helpful information as possible turned into an all-night camp out playing games and sharing stories.

A pet project of Clare’s we never had the opportunity to develop is literally a pet project. Clare’s dog, a Chihuahua named Hamlet, brought her such joy and comfort that she felt peers living alone would also benefit from having a canine companion. Clare’s wish was to partner with the City of Albuquerque to match shelter dogs with peers. This is still a project for our chapter to pursue, although under her guidance the project would have come to fruition much sooner and would have been successful right from the start.

Clarissa Nina CastellanoClare’s tenure as DBSA Albuquerque’s Provider Advisor was far too short in terms of the amount of time she served. In terms of the manner and magnitude of her contributions to our chapter, our peer members, and our community, Clare has changed DBSA Albuquerque deeply and eternally. It is not an exaggeration stating Clare Castellano is the finest provider advisor DBSA Albuquerque has had the honor of collaborating with in the three decades we have been a DBSA chapter.

Our community is left with a void that will never be filled. When Clare passed last October, our chapter did not lose a colleague, we lost our cherished friend and the kindest soul. Clare Castellano, among all her wonderful qualities, is irreplaceable.

May angels lead you in, Clare. Thank you for being you from your friends at DBSA Albuquerque.

 

 

More wonderful words for Clare Clarissa Nina Castellano at Steve’s Thoughtcrimes

And more wonderful words for Clare Clarissa Nina Castellno at Steve’s Thoughtcrimes

Steve’s Thoughtcrimes

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