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

So Many Apologies: Certified Peer Support Worker Training with OPRE

DBSA Albuquerque readers and members,

This is Steve Bringe offering you a HUGE mea culpa and HUGER apology.

The article for the Certified Peer Support Worker training that was supposed to be posted here on our chapter website, with a great amount of information on the training and OPRE, was not posted … quite obviously.

This article was not endorsed by our chapter.

What was posted was an article I had drafted for my personal website StevesThoughtcrimes.com. If you briefly cruise by the site, you’ll see that the content once posted here to the DBSA Albuquerque website is much more fitting to the Thoughtcrimes website. In fact, it was written for the Thoughtcrimes website entirely.

To any members, OPRE folks, or just anyone who might have been offended by the lack of professionalism and by my personal error, please accept my sincere apologies. In no way was it endorsed by our chapter, the fault is entirely mine.

Best of mental health to you,
Steve Bringe

Spring is coming, and so are DBSA Albuquerque get-togethers!

The temperatures are warming, the sunlight is hanging around a little longer every day, and if it weren’t for the winds today and the impending spring winds of New Mexico to come, we could do pretty much every event outside. But we won’t, because their are cool things inside, too.

Here’s a small sampling of the things we’ll be offering our community, with the single idea of:


Let’s allow the friends we make while at group to meet each other, learn more about each other, and enjoy each others’ company with folks who won’t judge or expect you to be symptom-free to enjoy going out.


DBSA Albuquerque events:

  • Weekly Bosque Walks
  • Sunday visits to any of the Albuquerque and New Mexico museums and parks.
  • “Laugh It Off” performed weekly so our community will under what it is like to live with mental health challenges… and we’re always looking for new comics!
  • Monthly education nights around the city that focus on practical information peers, friends, and families can use.
  • A tour of the 911/242-COPS Call Center (this is a way cool one!)
  • Periodic out-of-city geology and history tours led by Steve Bringe – This requires coordinated transportation.
  • Visits to our state’s National Parks, including our own local Petroglyph National Monument. – We are organizing a talk from NPS employees on the Access Card and how to obtain one.
  • Bowling Nights.
  • City Park barbecues.
  • Peers performing our education programs, “Laugh It Off”, “Milestones In My Recovery Journey”, and “You Cant’ Always See It” to live audiences, with questions and answers afterwards.
  • Our established weekly Game Night, of course.
  • Health Fairs where YOU can come help represent our chapter and our peer community.
  • A Peer Wellness Conference in September. This is going to take a lot of work and we’ll need your help to make it a success.
  • And so so so so so much more!
  • This is just to give you an idea of what we’ll be up to as a chapter this year and into coming years.

    The other main reason for all these events, beyond education, beyond companionship, beyond having fun… For those with mental health challenges, it’s so easy to stay home in bed and isolate. We really want to offer folks a reason to get out of bed into the world. Come to any group. There’s not a one of us who hasn’t isolated because of our symptoms.

    Whew! That’s a lot, although when you think in terms of I’ve been putting this stuff together and planning everything for four years now, it’s not as overwhelming of a task as it might seem.

    Let’s get out when the sun is high, have some fun, and get to know each other better outside of group.

    Let’s get out because it’s great for our wellness and recovery.

    Let’s just get out!

DBSA Albuquerque: We’re looking for guest writers!

How would you like to write something for the DBSA Albuquerque website? And how would you like to see it published with your own personal byline?

Well, we’re hoping you’re willing to share with your chapter just anything you want to share. You can share your stories, thoughts, and ideas about your own mental wellness; you can share that your band is playing a gig this weekend; you can share your poetry; you can share a description and link to your business; you can share and display your art.


The idea is for we peers to show our community that we’re much more than just our diagnosis, our symptoms, and our challenges.


And your help is greatly needed! So please consider contributing to your DBSA Albuquerque website!

If you’d like to contribute to the DBSA Albuquerque website, please email steve.bringe@dbsaalbuquerque.org and your chapter board will work with you to share your article.

Best of mental health to you!

PS: We’d love to have Muggles contribute to the site as well!

A mental health diagnosis is only an explanation, not an excuse

Let’s be 100% clear. Mark this down, come back for reference, let it sink in, accept it as truth, and realize this is the central theme of this narrative.


Everyone on this planet has the same social contract with everyone else on this planet.


I’ve got bipolar, and I’ve done some really stupid-ass stuff when symptomatic, particularly when in the throes of hypomania. I had sex with five different girls in one day. I got myself convicted of 4th degree felony embezzlement. I did all sorts of crap that got me fired from job after job.

In each instance, there were consequences. The latter is self-realizing; I’d get euphoric, I’d get charismatic, I’d get irritated, I’d get angry at a co-worker… and I’d get fired. The middle critter is a blog of its own. And the former is a source of such shame and guilt that I’m going to use it as the example of how I broke this social contract with my fellow planet-mates.

Back in my New Mexico Tech days (late 80s, early 90s), we’d have this thing called 49s Weekend. It’s a mining thing, the Miner 49s of the 1849 California Gold Rush, and it was a tenuous connection to New Mexico Tech which was originally named New Mexico School of Mines that wasn’t founded until 1889 while New Mexico was still a territory. The 49s were a forty year memory by the time our school was founded, and not in California. I tangentialized there, and it won’t be the last time in this blog because this is really difficult to write.

Shame, guilt. I was a halfway decent looking guy with halfway decent social skills at a school where nerds and geeks came to learn and perhaps breed. That’s not good. I’m not going to erase the “breed” word because it’s yet another ploy of severity-diversion that is untoward for this topic. It was just that sort of flippancy that permeated my thinking while manic.

It was 49s Weekend, and each year the school rolled in the War Wagon, a Budweiser panel truck that opened on each side to reveal a good dozen beer kegs with free taps for all. There were lots of intoxicated nerds and geeks, and there was a festive flair that lent itself to impeded critical thinking from kids who came to this university on the strength of their critical thinking skills. I loved 49s Weekend because, in retrospect, it would trigger an incredible euphoric hypomania that was rife with exaggerated charisma/charm and a huge drive to get laid.


Hypersexuality


Hypersexuality is common for people with bipolar. And this sypmtom of hypomania was not a good combination for the planet. For me, it was a great combination in theory and not in practice. For the five girls who fell victim (and they really were victims) to my unchecked, undiagnosed bipolar disorder, it characterized my modus operandi towards having sex. What it manifested was heartache, betrayal, and a casual flippancy of “So what? You agreed to go back to my dorm room.”


“So what? You agreed to go back to my dorm room.”


How romantic and charming. Five girls. One day. Cashing in on charisma and paying out in shame and guilt. And it was earned shame and guilt. Because it didn’t end well for anyone.


One girl was a virgin. And three days later she killed herself.


Better still, she named me by name in several paragraphs of her suicide note. I did this. This was my doing, this was my fault. I might as well have poured the poison down her throat myself.

It didn’t matter that her suicide note was sixteen pages long and all handwritten, both sides of the college ruled notebook paper. It was those several paragraphs that pointed to my culpability that grabbed my attention. I did this. I took her virginity, and because I didn’t care about anyone but myself, this young woman killed herself. Because of me.

Five girls wasn’t an accomplishment, it wasn’t bragging rights, it wasn’t anything but complete disregard, disrespect, and, worst, disinterest in the welfare of these women.


It was just something to do. Nothing wrong because it’s simply what I wanted to do and how could that be wrong?


It’s difficult to talk about this. I’ve shared this at APD’s Crisis Intervention Training, an audience of a few dozen. I’m putting this on the interweb as a mea culpa that might be read and might not be read. It’s difficult, and this is part of my recovery journey, and it’s something I’ve been forced to own as part of who I am now.

In 1999 I was finally diagnosed with bipolar disorder by trying to do myself in. Only in retrospect do I understand what I understand now. I can try to gloss this over and say:


“I wasn’t diagnosed yet” or “I can’t be blamed because the bipolar made me do it” or “When I’m manic I can’t make any promises.”


Let’s go back to the core of this blog. Let’s bring that first concept up to the front of the class again. What were the words I shared? Oh, yes. Copy & Paste:


Everyone on this planet has the same social contract with everyone else on this planet.


It doesn’t matter if I was symptomatic and unaware and egocentric because I have bipolar. My behavior wasn’t kind or thoughtful. It was cruel and damaging. That’s not holding up to my end of the bargain. Behavior like sleeping with five girls in one day is not what the rest of the planet considers acceptable behavior. I broke my contract.

Since then, particularly after I was diagnosed, I’ve learned a few things. First, and most important, is that people kill themselves for their own reasons that are much deeper-seated than losing their virginity to an insensitive cad like me. There were some fifteen additional pages to her farewell narrative that also played into what might not even be the root cause of her suicide. It wasn’t my fault (try convincing me of that… 18 years of therapy hasn’t done much more than help me accept this in the most academic of terms).

Second, romantic fidelity was crucial in my relationships thereforth. It was a “scared straight” event that had me key in on one girl and one girl only after that, and perhaps the penance is I married this girl and now have the PTSD to bear because of it. No longer was I going to treat women like disposable, broken toys.

Third, I am responsible for my behavior, aware of the bipolar or not, and ESPECIALLY because I am aware of it now. I’m as responsible for my behavior as anyone else on this planet, so I don’t get to say “I can’t be blamed because the bipolar made me do it” or “When I’m manic I can’t make any promises.” I have to be constantly aware and constantly vigilant of my symptoms because I refuse to harm another through romantic indifference and infidelity.

Here’s where I’m going with this. I’m sharing this very difficult to tell story because I feel the same way about criminal behavior in peers. As a peer, I don’t get to say “I can’t be blamed for breaking the law because the bipolar made me do it” or “When I’m manic I can’t make any promises I won’t break the law.” Same social contract, and I face the same consequences as everyone else on this planet.


Peers do not get to say “I can’t help it because I have a mental illness” as a get out of jail free card.


I’m an executive board member on the Bernalillo County Forensic Intervention Consortium, a collaborative of community stakeholders dedicated to diverting peers to services rather than jail time. The idea is that those peers who are only first becoming aware of their detrimental behavior deserve an opportunity to treat their symptoms to be sure not to break the law again. That’s a good balance that places the responsibility on the peer in exchange for the community’s help in obtaining services. I firmly believe we are all responsible for our own behaviors, and I also firmly believe peers do deserve a chance to seek treatment to help themselves and keep their social contract with the community.

For me and those with bipolar, it’s more specifically called “playing the bipolar card” to get out of trouble or justify lies or explain away responsibility for how I treat others. It might be harder work for me than others on our planet. I take meds and have to be aware if they’re working. I have to make use of psychiatric services and trust the guidance of my providers. I have to find coping tools and symptom-management skills that will help me keep my detrimental bipolar symptoms in check. And more than anything, I have to make this promise:


I promise that I’ll stay diligent in treating my bipolar symptoms so my actions won’t harm others.


This was really tough to write. This promise I make through learning lessons in the most harmful of ways. And it’s the same promise that everyone else on the planet makes to me. We’ve all got the same social contract, and having mental health issues is no excuse to break this contract.

by Steve Bringe

February 15, 2017 – Happy Behavioral Health Day, New Mexico!!!

Of this past week, Wednesday, February 15, 2017, can be considered the day that the State Legislature of New Mexico truly stood up and declared that the stigmas surrounding and permeating mental health issues will be a thing of the past. It was on February 15, this week, that Senate Memorial 83 (SM0083) passed through the Senate of our New Mexico legislature, and this day will henceforth be known as…


BEHAVIORAL HEALTH DAY!!!


Introduced by Senator Mary Kay Papen, the memorial strives towards understanding, education, hope, and innovation in our state’s behavioral health community. Senator Papen has long been one of our strongest voices in the state legislature, and this was a much-earned personal victory for her endless efforts towards making the lives of peers and their loved ones as joyful and successful as they can be.

DBSA Albuquerque’s Steve Bringe (awardee of the 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award from the New Mexico Behavioral Health Planning Council) and his father Stanley Bringe, along with other BHPC awardees and personnel, had the distinct pleasure of being on the Senate floor during Senator Papen’s speech on SB0083, and as it subsequently passed unopposed.

Later that afternoon, the House Memorial for Behavioral Health Day also passed unopposed.

February 15, 2017 – New Mexico Behavioral Health Day. Superb.


NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE SENATE OF THE STATE OF NEW MEXICO that February 15, 2017 be declared “Behavioral Health Day” in the senate and that the senate recognize the many people who devote themselves to public policymaking on behalf of the thousands of New Mexicans who live with behavioral health disorders; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the theme for “Behavioral Health Day” be behavioral health in New Mexico — innovation in action;


“APD Not There To Diagnose” by Marion Crouse

Originally published in the Albuquerque Journal, August 15, 2011, as a letter to the editor.
Republished by permission of the author.


“APD Not There To Diagnose” by Marion Crouse

I am a member of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Many times at NAMI support groups, the Crisis Intervention Team unit of the Albuquerque Police Department is mentioned.

It is my understanding that the APD does all that it can to bring nonviolent people with mental illnesses to hospitals instead of to jail, and it is my understanding that the APD does all that it can, with the Crisis Intervention Team, to determine who has a mental illness and who, of these, is nonviolent.

I joined NAMI-Albuquerque in 1998 after having been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in 1997 while I was serving in the U.S. Navy. My purpose for joining NAMI was to seek support, to learn information about managing my mental illness, and to help reduce the stigma of mental illness on a larger scale.

My having schizophrenia does not alter my morals; I am still the same person as I was before I got sick.

For good or bad, having a mental illness does not change people’s hearts, although it can alter their minds.

So, if I do not wish to be judged as hostile simply for having schizophrenia, by the same token, if I were to commit a crime, I also could not be judged as peaceful simply because I have a mental illness. That’s a call the police would have to make in seconds, while they are approaching me to arrest me for any crime that I would be committing.

The police officers do not wish to become heroes for justice by dying in the line of duty. Unfortunately, sometimes the call “officer down” is made.

It is my opinion that it is not the responsibility of the APD to determine which criminal needs mental evaluation and which criminal is deemed legally sane when officers of the APD are threatened by an adult.

It is the duty of the APD to defend law-abiding society, and sometimes that means defending themselves.

Laugh It Off: An excerpt from the new DBSA Albuquerque mental health education program

“Laugh It Off” is one of five new mental health education programs DBSA Albuquerque is offering, beginning this June with full roll out by September. We’ve given four presentations for “Laugh It Off” now, and I’ve been asked by a few folks to give an idea of what kind of jokes our comics are sharing.

I don’t have the go ahead from the other comics to share their material, so I’ll share one part of my set. Here goes.


There’s a group of peers in our community who don’t get a lot of recognition, and that’s kids growing up with a parent who has mental health issues.

I’ve got my own son, Scott, and he’s the greatest kid ever. Still, it was rough on him having to live with me as I struggled to get the bipolar stuff under wraps so I could be a parent to him.

Of course, sometimes it was a lot of fun for both of us. We’d play family games like “Cat vs. Electricity” and “Will Your Head Fit Here?”

And sometimes it wasn’t so great, like when I’d tell him that when the ice cream truck was playing music it meant they were out of ice cream.

My kid is smart. Even at 4 years old he knew enough that I was full of crap about the ice cream truck. And, he was his own form of sadist.

One morning, I woke up to take my meds, only I didn’t find my meds, I found big, melty wads of ice cream stuff into my med bottles instead.

My kid comes sauntering in, and he said to me:

“Dad, when you hear the ambulance siren screaming up the street to drag you off to the hospital it means you’re out of medication.”


If you would like more information about “Laugh It Off” and how to schedule a presentation, please contact Steve Bringe at 505-514-6750 or steve.bringe@dbsaalbuquerque.org

Beyond Support Groups: DBSA Albuquerque visits MEOW WOLF in Santa Fe

DBSA Albuquerque on the Town! Red Light Cameras at MEOW WOLF in Santa Fe was a hoot and a half, and here’s some photos to prove it!

The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance Albuquerque is starting up the Spring/Summer 2016 season with a ton of special field trips and weekly events for members (and their friends, and their families, and our community) scheduled for the coming months.

Join our DBSA Community Beacon (sign-up form just to the right of this article) for the latest news on events and happenings in our communities.