A peer presenter with Stand Up To Stigma passed along a meme for posting to our site. Rather than just post the meme, it’s better to write out the dialog, which comes courtesy of Autistic Not Weird.
Dude #1: “I’m autistic, which means everyone around me has a disorder that makes them say things they don’t mean, not care about structure, fail to hyperfocus on singular important topics, have unreliable memories, drop weird hints and creepily stare into my eyeballs.”
Dude #2: “So why do people say YOU’RE the weird one?”
Back in 1997 I took my son, Scott, who just barely turned three years old, on a cross country trip to Boston. The thought was I might salvage the grad school offer a severe one year bipolar depression effectively sabotaged for me. By that I mean i didn’t return any phone calls or official letters, etc. Instead, I crawled inside my blanket fortress and waited for the blissful moment I blinked out of existence.
My wife suggested (read: threatened to divorce me if I didn’t try to get my academic career back on track) I get my lazy arse out of bed and get a meeting at Harvard. Hmmm. The parenthetical read a lot like the non-parenthical. My wife loved me so much she always reinforced her threats with threats. That’s just good operations research.
It continuously escaped her that the one year depression coincided with my senior year at New Mexico Tech, where I perfected the safety factor of 34,770 on my blanket fortress. I didn’t get out of bed, I didn’t go to class, I didn’t graduate. It was going to be a tough grad school sell in Cambridge lacking the BA sheepskin. Smart girl considering how stupid she was. Definitely a sharp-dull lass (read: She was drowning in a sea of her own oxymorons).
I’ll snip the story a little here to get to the good stuff. I never went to the meeting at Harvard and instead turned the trip into a vacation for Scott and me. I dig the National Park Service, with most on the East Coast being historical in theme. Beacon Hill, Charleston, Orange, NJ, Valley Forge, Fort Maswik, Cumberland Gap (that’s a cool meteor impact that punched a hole in the Appalachians), Harper’s Ferry, Antietam, Gettysburg, Fort Smith, Lexington-Concord… we hit a ton of sites with all the spare time generated by not begging Harvard to take me in. By the by, I hated Boston and North End Italian food is one rung below Chef Boyardee’s arm pit stains on his Chef Boyardee chef shirt. So there.
Cool photo, yeah? Are you digging that frothy puff of follicles I used to sport? And how cute is my kid? And how cute am I? Shit, I’m wearing Tevas. I swear, I wasn’t a Greenpeace warrior throwing myself in front of harpoons and chain saws. I don’t care about whales or spotted owls in the least, although it’d be funky seeing a flock of spotted owls feasting upon a beached whale.
Okay, the photo is cool for a much better reason. This photo was taken at Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This photo taken at a very specific room in the Pennsylvania State House, later renamed Independence Hall. This building holds a special place in the history of the United States of America. It’s where our country was born. And Scott and I are standing EXACTLY where our founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights, and Constitution. We are standing where our country was born.
Usually, you can’t access this part of the room. It happened that the day we were there, the period pieces, artifacts, and other historical paraphernalia decorating the room had been taken to Washington DC for cleaning and restoration. So, the National Park Service was allowing tourists to enter the room and stand where our country was born. EXACTLY where the United States of America was born.
A really sweet college lass offered to take a photo of Scott and me, and that’s what you see above. What wasn’t photographed was me feeling a great swell of overwhelming significance, where I dropped to my knees and proceeded to weep openly in front of my three year old son and about 40 tourists of various miscellaneous assorted nationalities., along with a smattering of Americans. The sweet college lass ran to me and just held me in her arms. She started crying, too. And two other American came over and started crying. And the various miscellaneous assorted tourists of other nationalities chuckled and took photos.
YouTube was still a decade or so off, and that really sucks. I wish I had a video of that moment. I’m actually misting up right now thinking about that day. I’m going to go ahead and squirt a few salty drops out of my orbs. Pardon me for a few moments.
It’s so sad my son was too young to remember that day. It’s Bringe Family Lore all the same, and that photo holds a place of pride on the wall just under the baseball mitt my dad had in high school when he was pitcher. If you ever drop by Chez Steve, I’ll give you the tour.
And to close this out., that was a real emotion I was gifted that day, not some bipolar “overreaction.” And what’s non non non non non heinous is that moment of patriotic pride is what finally jump-started my brain out of its one year bipolar depression.
Those plaid Caddyshack shorts, I remember those. I tore them getting out of the Dumbo ride at Disneyland a few months later. Probably for the best. 1990s fashion mistake went unnoticed while I was weeping openly and publicly in Philly, After trotting about the Magic Kingdom for the day, I had to toss the shorts in the trash at home, being ripped beyond repair. I had to keep hiding the rip with a $40 Mickey Mouse sweatshirt tied backwards around my waist for fear of exposing my root to a bunch of kids at Disneyland. I think I would have been crying different tears having to register as a sex offender. Such an unfortunate placement of the rip.
Oh! One more story. Did I mention we stopped in to Valley Forge? Yes? Okay. While the Minutemen and such were outside freezing for the winter, General George Washington took up board in a cute little farm house, a two story deal where the general slept upstairs in the one room up a very narrow, low stairwell. I went up to check out the room, and on the way down I nailed my forehead on a wood cross beam and landed on my arse, totally from reflex than head injury. It’s a soccer thing.
Anyway. The National Park Ranger, dressed in period garb and trained in period lingo (she told me “Thar be leeches, goodsir” when I was splashing around in the stream outside in my Tevas… stupid Tevas), totally dropped character and gasped, “Oh my God, are you okay?!?”
I’m 6 foot 3. General Washington was 6 foot 5. Without missing a beat, I said, “That was so cool! I nailed my head where the first president of the United States of America must have hit his head a billion times!”
I’ve had pet rabbits for a number of years. Barson, Frito, Bailey, Emo, Bennett, and Happy to date. All good bunnies, a lot smarter than I thought they’d be (I got my first rabbit in college and had no life experience with the critters), and mischievous as all get out, each and every one of them.
Let’s talk about Emo. She was a tiny rabbit, and she died of kidney failure. There were no signs of illness in her, although the vet said she had been sick for at least a month. As the vet explained it, prey animals instinctually “hide” their illness until they just can’t any longer. Why? Because in the wild, a prey animal that shows illness betrays itself as easy prey for lazy predators who pick off the young and the weak (an instinct of predatory animals, as it is).
Something about this vet’s explanation of why it seemed Emo got sick “overnight” got me to thinking about how many times I’ve been fired over the years. Think about this. I new I was starting to get symptoms. They were getting worse. However, I had a young son and wife to support, and if I took the time off necessary to treat the upwelling symptoms, then I would also be betraying myself as “sick” to my coworkers and boss, and that ran the great potential of being “let go” for some reason that had nothing to do with the actual illness per se, but definitely I would be “let go” based on stigmatization associated with mental illness. Don’t argue with me on this one. It’s true.
So what was my option? I hid the symptoms as best I could, all the way until I couldn’t any longer, and then I was in now in crisis with severe mental health symptoms necessitating inpatient treatment regularly.
Emo hid her illness by instinct, and had I known when her kidneys were first having troubles, there are medications that could have helped her live a longer life. Rabbit instinct is to hide it until it’s essentially too late to reverse the damage.
I would hide my illness similarly, because I didn’t want to lose my job, until it was too late to reverse the damage . . . and I lost the job anyway.
This is not an uncommon story amongst peers. And when it hit me that many current employment models are built on the foundation of staying well to accommodate the job (such as to be able to keep a productive 9 to 5 position), it also hit me that jobs should be available to peers to accommodate their symptoms.
As usual, let me give you an example. When I was chairing Local Collaborative 2 in Albuquerque, I hired a young man with a mental health diagnosis as my administrative assistant. He was to maintain my schedule, manage my communications, set up my meetings, etc. The thing is, one of his worst symptoms was a sleep hygiene nearly impossible to maintain. So, I hired him, and I told him, “You need to be at every meeting. Other than that, do the rest of the work when you’re awake.” Boom. I created a job for a peer that ACCOMMODATED HIS SYMPTOMS rather than forcing him to stay “well” in order to do the job. And get this. He took initiative at every turn. He made my life easy, although managing LC2 was incredibly taxing on me personally.
With programs like OPRE’s CPSW training and the jobs being made available to CPSWs, there are more and more job models that work on the premise of getting help for the peer long before crisis occurs. The recovery from crisis, in my experience, is so much harder than getting additional help when my symptoms become harder to manage. And, keeping me outpatient is much less traumatic . . . and ultimately less expensive for insurance companies, if you need a practical fiscal justification.
Still, the pervasive employment model of forcing a peer to stay “healthy” to keep their job is so similar to prey animals instinctually hiding their illness until it’s too late to help them . . . it’s almost instinctual for a peer to think in terms of “I have to hide the symptoms and force myself to e ‘normal’ so I won’t lose my job.”
Or lose custody of my son.
Or lose my girlfriend.
Or lose my family.
Or lose my et cetera.
The models are wrong. Accommodate the peer’s symptoms, don’t force the peer to hide being ill. It’s the humane thing to do, and all the cool kids are creating new job models like the singular one I did. You want to be one of the cool kids, right? Sure you do.
We’re people with skills, talents, and intelligences like everyone has to offer. Don’t force us to behave like a rabbit with malfunctioning kidneys. If that sounds ludicrous, it unfortunately isn’t. Be one of the cool kids.
By the by, we at Stand Up To Stigma are creating education programs to help employers develop peer-accommodating employment models. We’re part of the cool kids.
In the interest of encouraging others to share their art here is some of mine:
dedicated to my Aunt Brenda
Some say there was a woman who valued patience
She sat on a stool for three days and nights
Waiting for an egg to hatch
No food, no water
She had the patience of a saint
But she was not like this one.
Some say there was a woman who valued beauty
She painted her lips red as ripe raspberries
Her eyes she lined with kohl
Blacker than a raven’s back
Beauty she surely possessed
But she was not like this one.
Some say there was a woman who valued nature
She tied feathers into her quilts
So skillfully, so carefully
She became one with the birds
Nature was her lover
But she was not like this one.
For this woman used patience, beauty, and love to create art
She was the wisest
For she with all art comes patience, beauty, and love
Great art does not add to these traits.
Merely recognizes that they are all there
Within the Earth,
If one is willing to look.
When I first attended behavioral health meetings, there were two things that irritated me in conversations I had with industry employees and politicians. Want to know what irritated me? Consider being told (as a compliment):
You are so articulate for a consumer!
You are very intelligent for a consumer!
What’s the worry here? I was being paid compliments. I’m articulate. I’m intelligent. These are kind words, not at all disparaging . . . if not for this one qualifier:
For A Consumer
Putting aside that I’m not fond of the word “consumer” to describe peers – I was told this is because we consume mental health services – to be told that, amongst peers, I’m exceptional in being able to talk and think, well, this is insulting. To me, this implies that the “baseline” for peer eloquence and rationality is much lower than Muggles. It’s the concept that if you have mental health issues you are by default lintellectually deficient. Thusly, for a peer, being able to talk and think is such an exception that I am exceptional. Bosh.
Please note, peers do not share these “compliments” with each other. I don’t go to an MHRAC meeting and say, “Wow, for a consumer you are much more adept with words and thoughts than I am. In fact, you are a giant amongst ants.” These “compliments” aren’t part of DBSA Albuquerque check ins. “I just want you to know, you put the rest of us to shame with things about stuff and stuff about things.”
I’m (of course) being facetious, and it’s always more effective when instead of levying snide quips I share how such events leave me feeling. So, here goes. How did it feel when I was told – with genuine warmth – that I was “articulaye” and “intelligent”?
I felt lesser. I felt inferior. I felt subpar. I felt I had limited worth. I felt crappy.
This might seem contrary to intent, and that it’s “just me” and I was being “oversensitive.” There’s something you need to understand about behavioral health meetings. They are frequented by individuals who know each other on a first name basis, and they know where everyone works and their role in the community, and they are well-versed in the volumes upon volumes of behavioral health acronyms. It is not a peer-friendly environment and for me I’d walk in with a sense of intimidation and uncertainty. I barely spoke because I knew absolutely nothing about the behavioral health field beyond my personal experience with detrimental mental health symptoms. After years of systematic, purposeful abuse by my ex-wife (another story) I had lost view on the confident, informed man I once knew years ago. I felt alone, separated, and unworthy.
Summed up, I walked in already feeling scared and out of place. So, to be told that I was somehow an anomaly amongst peers, well, now I felt out of place at these meetings AND I felt out of place at DBSA Albuquerque peer support groups. The first time I attended a DBSA Albuquerque support group – October 14, 2010 – I FINALLY felt like I was with other people who understood me and I understood them. Did I stand out? Did I seem like I didn’t belong? Did my newfound peers feel I didn’t have anything in common with them? Crud. I just found a place where I felt accepted for who I am. Now I feel I’m don’t, and all as a result of being “complimented.”
After many years of attending behavioral health meetings, it felt to me that many in the behavioral health industry simply don’t understand the peer experience. Sure, I can paint art with words and I am academically talented. So why should it matter if I’m a peer? I went over a decade without a diagnosis. Never did anyone feel necessary to tell me I’m articulate and/or intelligent for someone from the general population. And what does it say of my friends with mental health issues who are not as verbose or academically talented? Does this mean they are “typical” for a peer?
Can you see where the disconnect is? If not, then I will state it explicitly:
We shouldn’t be underestimated because we have mental health issues.
Let me finish off with a few rhetorical questions to illustrate why such “compliments” are the epitome of stigmatization, however well-meaning and friendly.
Is it okay to say “You are so hard-working for a Mexican!”?
Is it okay to say “You are so moral for a gay man!”?
Is it okay to say “You are so mobile for a woman with MS!”?
Is it okay to say “You are so aware of your surroundings for a blind man!”?
Is it okay to say “You are so ethical for a lawyer working for disability rights!”?
Is it okay to say “You are so honest for a politician running for lieutenant governor!”?
Is it okay to say “You are so tall for a midget!”?
If all of these sound ludicrous and/or insensitive, then you have an informed grasp of how minimizing “complimenting” me as “articulate” and “intelligent” truly feels.
I close off with a horrible side-effect borne of what are effectively backhanded compliments (and I’ll give allowance for the backhanded component being unintentional). Coming from years of self-stigmatization and the PTSD I drag with me from my aborted marriage, the worst feeling that came from being tagged as “articulate” and “intelligent” was just this.
I already doubted myself. Now I doubted myself worse.
This final statement deserves its own exploration. Muggles, please understand. Peers are in every way the same as everyone else. And since I don’t like merely to point out issues, concerns, and needs, let me offer a request and solution:
Don’t treat us any differently than you would yourself.
That’s a standard anyone can appreciate with self-experiential empathy. And by the by, a less-attractive feature of my personality is I’m tenacious, stubborn, and competitive. I took reams of notes, googled tons of acronyms, researched individuals, and versed myself in every bill, program, and policy discussed at these meetings . . . which I then used to educate my fellow peers. This is the foundation of Stand Up To Stigma peer focus groups, which I conceitedly boast are entirely peer-developed, peer-managed, peer-run, and peer-driven. No other organization in New Mexico can boast this admirable endeavor.
When, if ever, do I “out” myself to my girlfriend/boyfriend that I have bipolar and/or depression and/or anxiety and/or schizophrenia and/or PTSD and/or fondness for disco?
First off, I don’t like the words “out”, “outed”, or “outing” when speaking of mental health symptoms. The implication is there is an innate shame having mental health symptoms, the implication is symptoms must be hidden . . . to the extent of not being able to hide mental health symptoms any longer and thusly falling into full-on mental health crisis. Not totally rad, dude.
Having mental health symptoms; c’mon, it’s not like being Patient Zero for having Herpes Simplex 3988 because I like “dating” green monkeys. It’s just a bunch of symptoms I manage that consequently affect behavior. Heck, if that was something shameful, my ex-wife should feel googols of tons of shame every time her “blood sugar dropped’ (she was hungry is her explanation), because her behavior got all fussy and grumpy when her “blood sugar dropped.” I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt and say in blanket terms she was always fussy and grumpy regardless of blood sugar level. An absolute angel I wanted to strangle with her halo, the ex-wife was.
I’ll give my reply succinctly, just as soon as I get done with things you really want to reveal immediately to a new or established lover.
You’re infected with Ebola
You like to date nursing students.
You like burying nursing students more than dating nursing students.
Are you a nursing student?
Have you considered going into nursing?
Okay, my answer. When to “out” yourself? Do me a solid and don’t say “out” yourself. Do me another favor. Answer the question for yourself based on what your heart tells you.
When? Whenever it feels right.
Look, regardless of when you tell someone of symptoms you may exhibit, either they’ll accept that it’s only a disease you have and it is not your identity, or they will schedule an operation to have their head surgically implanted in their rectum. And if they can’t accept that? Well, there are plenty of other people on the planet and chances are you’ll stumble across an understanding soul. And truly, if the person you’re with is saturated in stigma and can’t see beyond mental health symptoms, what are you going to do, spend the rest of your life trying to get them to understand? It’s their ignorance, not yours. You don’t have to accept their ignorance.
There’s nothing shameful about having mental health symptoms. It’s a lot of work managing these symptoms. And you are worthy of having someone in your life who accepts this and supports you regardless and unconditionally.
That’s what everyone wants, mental health symptoms or not. See? We’re not different in any w
Have you read the Harry Potter yarns? Did you see the flicks? Answering “no” means either you’re lying to me or you’ve been living in the deepest cave on a hunk of nitrogen ice and silicate rocks in the most remote region of the Kuiper Belt with your eyes sewn shut and your thumbs twisted firmly into your ears.
So, since we’ve all read Harry Potter books and/or seen Harry Potter movies, the term “Muggle” isn’t an unknown word to you. In the Harry Potter universe, a Muggle is a person without magical powers. Aunt Vermillion, Uncle Owen, Cousin Doodlebooper. Those guys are Muggles, and they will never understand magic because they have no magical powers. All they can do is observe magic. They’ll never know what is like to be a wizard or witch.
In the behavioral health universe, “Muggle” is a word shanghaied by my pals and I in DBSA Albuquerque to refer to a person without a mental health diagnosis. A Muggle is someone without a mental health diagnosis, a person who does not know what it is like to take medications, go to therapy, learn and develop tons of coping mechanisms, and maintain their behavior daily just to keep the symptoms of bipolar or ADD or depression or schizophrenia or PTSD or OCD or every flavor of anxiety at bay, to keep these symptoms from having hugely detrimental effects in their lives. A Muggle in the behavioral health universe can observe the symptoms of a mental health diagnosis but will never understand what it’s like to deal with symptoms of a mental health diagnosis. They’ll never know what it’s like to be a Peer.
In the behavioral health universe, who can be considered a Muggle? Many providers are Muggles. Politicians by and large are Muggles. Family members can be Muggles. Friends. Pastors. Musicians. Forest rangers. Police officers. My two rabbits (they are miffed I haven’t been talking about them enough in my blog). The neighbor next door whose tree I felled. Judges. Lawyers. TV hosts. Game show contestants. The CEO of Trump Industries. Authors. Poets. Lab techs. Girl Scouts. Men. Women. Children. Anyone who doesn’t live with the challenges and triumphs of having a mental health diagnosis is a Muggle.
While it’s a jokey, ha ha, flippant wholesale thievery of a word from a fictional literary source, the word Muggle has much more weight and significance than being an “inside-joke” for me and my pals. I’ve been watching the social progression and entomological evolution of peer usage of “Muggle” in support groups, at meetings, in classrooms, with providers, and everywhere else Peers insert themselves into our communities. What have I seen? What differences are noteworthy? What do peers have to say about it?
Peers Using the Word Muggle is Empowering.
An unfortunate circumstance of the Peer Experience is the symptoms of a mental illness often rob us of confidence, worth, and self-certainty. For me, time and again I was fired from jobs. My marriage shattered. I lost some of my closest, dearest friends. I was convicted of felony embezzlement. I flunked out of college one semester short of graduation. All of these life circumstances are life experiences 100% attributable to undiagnosed and unmanaged bipolar symptoms. I went from being the Golden Child of New Mexico Mineralogy (this was a nickname coined by others, not me) to being a pariah who couldn’t sell a 15 cent broken quartz crystal to a mineral collector anywhere in New Mexico, and many regions near, far and beyond New Mexico.
How did this make me feel about myself? Worthless. Unworthy. Deviant. Pointless. Shameful. Valueless. Lost. Powerless.
I made the statement Peers using “Muggle” is empowering. I know it’s empowering for me. How can a single goofy word from a literary Brit kids series be empowering? Think about it this way.
In the Harry Potter universe, the kids who are stalked by creepy owls (who most likely legally aren’t allowed within 100 yards of a school) with waxed-stamped letters are the special kids, the lucky kids, the kids who are remarkable. Of course, Harry wasn’t aware of this.
Harry, living with his Muggle aunt, uncle, and cousin was kept under a staircase. He was “weird” and had “weird behavior.” Uncle Vehicular even threatens poor Harry on a simple trip to the zoo that “there better be no funny business.” Uncle Verizon presumed that Harry’s behavior would be a problem, and Uncle Vroom had grand reservations that Harry’s behavior would ruin the day and embarrass the family. Sound familiarly stigmatizing, Peers?
The upside to the Harry Potter epic poem is Harry learns there are other kids out there with magical powers. He learns his behavior is not bizarre, it’s only that his adoptive family doesn’t (and can’t) understand what it’s like to live with magical powers. And he learns that having magical powers is totally metal cool and his adoptive family is quite envious of his innate abilities.
Is the analogy sinking in? If you don’t have a mental health diagnosis, you don’t (and can’t) understand what it’s like to live with a mental health diagnosis. Only other Peers can. We Peers are not weird, we Peers are the magical ones, we Peers have special talents, and we Peers are remarkable. And all because we live with the challenges and triumphs of a mental health diagnosis.
When Peers use the word “Muggle” to describe others without a mental health diagnosis, it is empowering because for once we’re not the outcasts and we’re not the bizarre people in the room. Stigmatization? Misdirected envy from anyone who doesn’t have a mental health diagnosis. The feeling of isolation? Replaced by the unity and acceptance of Peer Support.
Living with a Mental Health Diagnosis is a Gift, Not a Curse.
So, over the past few years DBSA Peers in New Mexico have been inserting the word “Muggle” into the narrative, and from direct conversations, for the past few years a good number of providers, politicians, policy-makers, etc., have taken umbrage with being referred to as “Muggles.”
What is an explanation of their distaste for the name “Muggle”? I’ve been told it’s belittling, and it serves no purpose other than to separate Peers from everyone else, and it gives the impression that Peers hold a station above everyone else.
Here’s the thing. We’ve already been separated from everyone else by the reality that we have mental disease symptoms and others do not. And by and large, we often feel we are on the bottom of a deep, endless pit looking up towards whatever sunlight might grace our diminished presence. I even heard a state senator proclaim proudly at a public meeting “Real change comes from the top down.” Top: Legislature. Bottom: Peers.
And, there’s even a wonderful name placed upon us that describes those with a mental health diagnosis who utilize services:
We didn’t choose this name, and talk about belittlement. “Consumer” makes us sound like an economic unit for wealth-producing throughput. Take a Peer, put him through psychiatric services, pull him out on the other end, bill the insurance. “Consumer.” Ick.
Considering Peers have a label like “Consumer” that, to we Peers, is belittling, dismissive, bland, presumptive, and DISEMPOWERING, I’m uncomfortable discouraging my friends from using the word “Muggle” that turns that disproportionate notion on its head.
Really, why would I discourage a one-word communal concept that generates so much community worth? That makes very little sense at all. My peer advocacy has always been transparent. I’ve never had huge aspirations to lord over New Mexico behavioral health upon a throne forged from the skulls of my slain mortal enemies (good thing my mortal enemies are parakeets and hamsters). What I’ve always strived for is to help my friends empower themselves. “Muggle” is a perfect, effective empowerment tool for Peers.
As a peer dealing with bipolar symptoms that have robbed me time and again of my dreams and my happiness, that one word like “Muggle” can help me make sense of my recovery journey and can help me regain some of my forgotten strength, value, and abilities makes “Muggle” an amazing word with an amazing worth.
Other Peers? At DBSA Albuquerque peer support groups, the word “Muggle” is a topic that can immediately and immensely change the dynamic of the conversation. Bring up “Muggle” in group and it’s an automatic reminder that we are special, remarkable, and valuable. It is a testament that we are not alone in our recovery journeys. We are magical.
Look, Peers saying those without a mental health diagnosis are “Muggles” is not meant to hurt feelings or lessen our gratitude for those who dedicate their lives to helping us make our lives better. Still, isn’t the point of meds, therapy, exercise, WRAP, advanced psychiatric directive, support network, coping skills, self-awareness, personal responsibility, peer support groups, and all the other stuff we Peers make use of every second of every day designed to help us make our lives better? Since “Muggle” is such a positive and simple additional way for us to take charge of our dreams, happiness, and destiny, where’s the harm in Peers adding the word “Muggle” to our recovery & wellness toolkit?
Muggle… for all its simplicity, it is immeasurably empowering for Peers. Quite the magical word indeed.
Dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is so much like gastrointestinal constipation. Think it through.
When constipated, you are trying to force strenuously useless shit out of your body, expending so much effort, energy, frustration, discomfort, shame, pain, tearing . . . sounds pretty traumatic, yes? You’ve been sorely log-jammed at least once in your life, perhaps after eating twenty pounds of raw cookie dough after your boyfriend gave your the boot, so painful with heartbreak, now so painful with perching on the porcelain throne. Will the suffering never end?
Now consider post traumatic stress disorder. You’re equally trying to force useless shit out of your body, only this time it’s shit in your head and not your bum. Where did the trauma happen? How did it get jammed up in your head? What’s it going to take to get all that traumatic shit out of your head? Will the suffering never end?
There is one important component where this analogy diverges. With constipation, you know exactly when the shit is out of the body, and you get to flush it away and never have to deal with it again. Unless all twenty pounds of recycled cookie dough comes out in one pipe-cramming massive wad, and then it’s either use the garden rake handle and break that wad up into discrete flushable chunks or make that embarrassing phone call to the plumber who also happens to be your ex-boyfriend . . . where was I going with this?
Right. There is definitive evidence that the suffering is over with constipation. With PTSD, peers are not so lucky. With PTSD, my ample experience is learning how to live with the trauma, developing the tools and tactics so the shitty memories and resultant emotions don’t shut down my ability to function or manifest as knee-jerk behaviors detrimental to my life. But I can’t ever squeeze out the PTSD and flush it away. Sadly, it’s permanently jammed up in my head and body.
So what’s my PTSD rooted in? My ex-wife and the way she treated me. Treated. There’s a kind word of euphemistic nonsense. She abused me. Physically, verbally, emotionally, psychologically, sexually. She’s the angel I want to strangle with her own tarnished halo.
And has anything occurred in my life that triggered severe PTSD symptoms? Yep. A woman named Paula Burton physically and verbally attacked me at an MHRAC meeting, in public with no recourse or consequence to her, and I was a wreck for over a year. It wasn’t the only time she had verbally abused me in public. She did so outside of The Rock at Noonday, angry that I wanted to bring a peer mentor from Santa Fe to teach new mentors practical instruction on running a successful Peer To Peer class. Because of that verbal attack, I was unable to put my NAMI training to use. And she verbally attacked me at a NAMI meeting, in front of other board members, which was humiliating and so reminiscent of my ex-wife. My reaction? Not fight, not flight. I froze. This only ever happened when my ex-wife abused me. Just great. And unexpected. Such is PTSD for me.
There is another unfortunate trigger that went along with Paula’s attacks. The one at MHRAC occurred in front of Albuquerque Police Department, and Paula was not held accountable. This harkens back to the one time (in the late 1990s) I called APD because my wife (at the time) had beat me so I was bruised and cut. One of the responding officers pulled me aside and said, “Man the fuck up and don’t call us again.” So I didn’t. This is also part of my PTSD.
For my mental wellness, I resigned from MHRAC, effectively removing myself from any additional opportunity to be triggered the same way once again. which s a true shame. This is another article to explore on its own merit, where I can expound on what it means for me to be a “wreck for over a year” because of PTSD I didn’t know existed in such an ingrained way inside me.
Is this an overshare? Has my sharing my story made you uncomfortable? Or are you stuck on the image of a basketball-sized half-digested wad of Pillsbury Poop and thus has thrown you off the weight of how serious PTSD can be?
Look, the analogy is a light-hearted way for those who don’t contend with PTSD to understand what it’s like. Everyone has been constipated, and I’ve learned that directly comparing a mental health issue with a physical health issue is the best way to educate others on the peer experience. It’s an inexact comparative model, and by definition that is what an analogy is. The model works, though. So it’s one method I use in Stand Up To Stigma presentations. The more vivid the word art, the better . . . and the more illuminating for the audience . . . and the more self-empowering and re-empowering for me. Everyone wins.
Notice that the word “analogy” has the word “anal” in it. The universe isn’t lazy enough for coincidence.
Once (many times), when my misbehaving-brain symptoms were in full swing, I was at home trying to do two things:
1.) Take care of myself and manage my symptoms.
2.) Debating with myself if I was bad enough that I should go to the emergency room or not.
So this one time I did this instead. I went to the ER, or rather, I went to the ER waiting room. Preemptively. I didn’t go to the desk and ask to be admitted. When I was asked by a hospital employee why I was in the ER waiting room and hadn’t checked in yet, I said, “Because I wanted to be close to the ER just in case I needed to check in.”
What did this accomplish? I was able to focus exclusively on taking care of myself and managing my symptoms. If things got bad enough I was already right there and ready to check in. No need to drive to the ER when in full-blown crisis, no need to call 911 and say I’m in crisis. If things progressed to crisis, I was where I needed to be to get crisis services.
In practical terms, I took the energy-consuming and wellness-distracting debate of whether or not to go to the ER off the table.
I never checked in. I was there all night. I focused entirely on applying my strategies in my WRAP where I know I was safe and could get immediate service if my symptoms escalated to crisis levels.
And you know what? It was so much easier to work my WRAP while not equally weighing if I should or should not go to the ER. And you know what else? This revelation was borne of wisdom and life experience.
I know with 100% certainty that I pushed myself into an unnecessary crisis situation so many times by fixating on whether or not I was in crisis and needed to go to the ER.
Just because you’re in the ER waiting room does not obligate you to checking in to the ER. Just pretend it’s as if you’re camping out in front of the Staples Center all night to get first shot at Demi Lovato tix.
This is another one of those articles I compose that could benefit from some gentle softening, but I’m not going to. This is important, and a feather is not the blunt tool required for a proper illustration.
Here’s the rub. To the Muggle Layperson, the following list of…
Common Things That People Say to Peers Who are Experiencing Major Depression Symptoms
…may seem reasonable, supportive and common sense. To the Peer, these time-honored polished turds are as useful as a magnetic colon in a shrapnel factory in helping us feel any better. No feathers here tonight, ladies and gents!
Here’s the thing about major depression. It’s a disease.
Let me try to explain. People with farsightedness would not choose to have farsightedness. People with leukemia would not choose to have leukemia. People with ulceratic colitis would not choose to have ulceratic colitis. People with major depression would not choose to have major depression. Making any sense? I hope so.
I suppose the guiding principle when reading this list is:
There is a Huge Difference Between “SADNESS” and “DEPRESSION.”
What is this difference? Fair enough. Here’s the difference.
Sadness is a natural reaction that’s the result of something traumatic happening eliciting a real emotional response, such as your favorite cat passing away or Pineapple Fanta being discontinued.
Depression is a result of a malfunctioning organ (The Brain) that only looks like sadness in behavior and is not the same in cause.
Peers, this list will be far too familiar. Muggles, please remember that no one chooses to have major depression. The list will make a lot more sense that way, and it’ll shed some light on why these aren’t the best things to say to someone experiencing major depression, no matter how pure the intent.
I mean, c’mon. Who would choose to have major depression? I’d much rather choose to have a magnetic colon in the shovel & rake aisle of Home Depot.
Just get over it.
Have you tried thinking happy thoughts?
You’re always so negative.
Did you take your meds today?
If you’d get out of bed and do something you’d feel better.
When was the last time you took a shower?
Drama! Drama! Drama!
You aren’t eating enough.
You’re eating too much.
If everyone else can get over their depression, why can’t you?
Do you want to talk about it? You’ll feel better if you talk to someone about it.
You’re strong. You’ll be fine.
Can you try to be normal?
Hey, life sucks. Deal with it.
I sometimes feel you like being depressed.
I know when I’m catching a cold and do something proactive about it. It’s the same for depression. (an executive board member at NAMI Albuquerque shared this bit of wisdom with me when I sat on the board)
Why don’t you just grow up already?
You look horrible!
It’s your choice to be depressed.
Happiness is a choice.
You’re not going to have any friends left if you don’t snap out of it.
I’m sure you’ll feel better after a good night’s sleep.
Are you sure your meds are working right?
Aren’t you sick of listening to yourself?
I give up! You’re impossible to talk to!
You’ve got everything so good, so what do you have to feel sad about?
Look, there are a lot of people who are a lot worse off than you.
What do you have to feel depressed about?
You are what you think. Think you’re happy and you’ll be happy.
It’s all in your head.
Geez, lighten up already!
Aren’t you feel better yet?
Take a really long shower. That always cheers me up.
You need to get out more.
It’s a beautiful day! Why don’t you go out in the sunshine?
Everyone gets depressed sometime.
You should get off those meds. They’re just making it worse.
You’re responsible for your own emotions.
We’ve all got our cross to bear.
Talking to you is pointless because you won’t listen.
Your psychiatrist isn’t doing you any favors.
Stop feeling sorry for yourself.
Big surprise, you’re depressed again. Aren’t you always?
I’m sure you’ll get some good poetry out of all of your suffering.
Get over it!
You want to know why you’re so depressed? Because you only think about yourself.
Have you tried some herbal tea with honey?
What you really need is something truly shitty to happen in your life and then you’ll finally have some perspective.
Just pull yourself together.
Depression is your way of punishing and pushing away everyone who cares about you. (Everyone, I’d like you to meet my ex-wife Susan)
Thanks a lot, you’re making me feel all depressed now, too!
You are such a buzzkill!
Get out in the fresh air and out of your bedroom.
Happy is as happy does!
Go dancing, go for a walk, go to a concert, go jogging, go to a movie, go to the bookstore, go for a hike, go for a drive, go to the grocery store and buy your favorite food… it’ll make you feel better.
You catch more flies with honey than vinegar. (You catch more flies with the shit you’re spewing out of your mouth than the decomposing body of a beached humpback whale… what’s your point?)
No one said life is fair.
You’re worthless. (Lovingly shared with me by the ex-wife Susan)
You are so selfish.
Can’t you understand I’m just trying to help you?
I’m sure if you wait it out you’ll feel better soon.
Ug, I’ve heard this all before.
Can you focus on something else?
Would you like to listen to someone who whines all the time?
What do you have to worry about?
That is so a non-issue.
Your so-called problems aren’t that big of a deal.
Get a hobby.
Dude, get a grip!
Dude, have a chill pill!
Dude, just get over it!
Dude, it’s not all that bad!
Dude, everyone goes through this!
Dude, you’ll be fine!
Dude, don’t worry so much!
It’s not as bad as you think.
Can you try a little harder?
Can you even remember the last time you were happy?
You’re making it up.
You need a boyfriend.
You need a girlfriend.
Just pull yourself together.
You think you have problems.
Get out and volunteer for something, that way you won’t have time to feel sorry for yourself.
What makes you happy? Do that.
It’s official! You’ll never be able to hold down a job! (Another gem from my lovely ex-wife Susan)
Everyone has a little mental illness.
Shit or get off the pot.
When was the last time you took a vacation?
Tell yourself affirming things about yourself and soon you’ll start believing them.
It’s your own fault you’re depressed.
Depression is how God is punishing you for all your sinning. (I had a pastor tell me this one time… I don’t think I like the God he prays to…)
Here comes the Tickle Monster!
You brought this on yourself.
You have absolutely no reason I can see for feeling this way.
I’m really disappointed. I thought you were stronger than this. (the lovely ex-wife Susan again)
You can do anything you want once you set your mind to it.
Once you start feeling better you’ll see how ridiculous you’re being.
Why should I care? You never listen to me when I’m depressed.
You’ve been taking pills for ages. Aren’t you supposed to be cured by now? (Saint Susan, the ex-wife)
You’re too young to think you have real problems already.
You’re the only one you’re hurting.
It’s always your problems first and everyone else second.
Get off your arse and doing something!
It’s no wonder your girlfriend left you!
Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger! (such a bad bad bad thing to even suggest to someone with depression)
Why don’t you laugh anymore?
Smiling uses less muscles than frowning.
I only loved you when you were successful. (And once more to the Saint Susan barrel of nonsense)
You want to be this way, don’t you?
Everyone has a shitty day every now and then.
Are you sure this isn’t just PMS?
You don’t look depressed to me.
Hey, buck up! It’s not as bad as you think!
Just don’t think about it so much.
Blah blah blah blah blah… cry me a river.
Dear Abby is getting sick of your flood of letters.
You don’t like being depressed? Then change it.
Really? You look fine!
Okay, attention-whore. Just calm down.
Hey, I know exactly what you’re going through. I was really super depressed for about a week after my cat died.
…and the Gold Medal goes to…
Have you tried not being depressed?
Sorry… that’s a knee-jerk reaction to composing this turbulent and trying list over the last hour. Let me share an alternative image that expresses the same sentiment.
Thanks for visiting! Hope you learned a little about the Peer Experience without getting too torqued about the delivery system. And I hope Peers were able to get a chuckle of recognition out of this. You all totally rock out with your socks out!