My Upcoming Talk

I”m giving the talk referenced above with the Queens Library on the internet via a virtual event that you can attend.

To register use this Queens Library link to obtain the URL or telephone number and the pass code.

I’ve memorized the talk I’m going to give. As well I will be reading an excerpt from Left of the Dial.

Two doctors from the Zucker-Hillside Hospital will be joining me on the panel discussion.

It’s going to be a treat for audience members.

I will be taking and answering questions at the end.

My talk will be about 8 minutes.

I’d love to have blog readers join in.

Grazie.

Remembering Robin Hugh Cunningham

Robin was my mentor. Not that I asked him to take on this role.

He simply gave of himself freely that way without having to be asked.

In 2005 when I started writing the Recovering Together column for SZ magazine I called up NAMI-New Jersey where he was on the board. I told the woman who answered that I was interested in having Robin be a featured panelist for the Q&A on hot topics in recovery. I gave her my telephone number.

Exactly one half-hour later Robin called and said Yes. I had been talking to him ever since 2005.

Robin Cunningham lived to be 77. He died in December 2019.

He lived to be 77 even though he took schizophrenia drugs for 64 years–ever since he was 13 years old and first diagnosed.

For the first 10 years he heard voices that the pills couldn’t quell.

His doctor tried every new medication that came on the market. Ten years later Etrafon stopped the voices.

Robin recommended me to his boss at HealthCentral. In 2007 she gave me a job as a Health Guide along with Robin at their schizophrenia website. I held that job until September 2015.

The exclamation point – ! – is that Robin didn’t die 25 years earlier like news accounts claim that people diagnosed with schizophrenia do.

Robin had a full and robust life. He had a daughter and a wife. He was full of kindness and compassion.

Robin obtained an MBA and rose up to be the CEO of a corporation.

He told me stories about his life which I soaked up. I was eager to learn how a person diagnosed with schizophrenia could do these things.

We talked on the telephone from time to time.

I installed his memoir on my iPad. You can buy Descent into Chaos on Amazon or special order it from a bookstore.

Robin’s life journey was a testament to having a never-broken spirt in the face of adversity.

In 2000 after retiring from his business career he was a pioneer in becoming an Advocate for his fellow peers.

Robin Hugh Cunningham is gone. He should not be forgotten.

Keeping a Goals Journal

While working through the Changeology 90-day action plan for my goals I track my weekly progress in a journal.

I buy the hardbound journals in Rite Aid. You might be able to pick them up in Staples too.

Tracking Behavior starts in Step 2 Prep and continues after that. I write in the journal as often as needed and re-read the entries every few days.

There–you can see in black-and-white–or in blue or black ink how you’re coming along.

So far I’ve achieved one 3-month goal. I’m in Step 5 or Persist which lasts the rest of your life.

This requires that you get honest with yourself about what’s going on that is derailing you from achieving a goal.

Measuring a behavior could tend to improve a behavior. When you’re accounting for what you’ve done the tendency is engage in the goal activity.

Keeping track of what you spend money on for example could be the natural segue for spending less.

The goals journal should be a separate one from a regular day-to-day journal.

Using hardbound books motivates me to go back and flip through the pages to see how I’ve improved.

In the coming blog entry I’m going to talk about finding a mentor to help you out in your life and career.

In Step 2 you mobilize your support team. In Step 3 and beyond you rely on these helping relationships.

My stance is that peers should empower each other not be jealous of each other. Jealousy is a form of self-stigma.

Instead of being envious of others I’ve always wanted to “pick their brains” to see what enabled them to succeed.

One mentor was instrumental in my life and I’ll talk about him next.

Creating a Goals Binder

In 2000 when I started my librarian job I bought a black binder with clear sleeves. On the front cover I inserted an index card that I typed my life goals on. On the back cover I inserted the Theodore Roosevelt quote about daring greatly.

I used each tabbed section of the binder to insert different worksheets. One section houses pages that list my goals for each decade of my life. Another section is where I placed the Accomplishments lists. A different section contains sheets of life guidelines I typed up.

Every so often I re-read the binder. When I showed the binder to a woman who was an LCSW she was astonished that I wrote down my goals in vivid detail.

I recommend creating a goals binder. Skimming through it might give you comfort in this time of the pandemic where everything has been halted.

At first you might read the contents every week. I read my own binder every two months.

In tandem with this approach I recommend keeping a goals journal. I’ll talk about this in the coming blog entry.

Combating Self-Doubt

Confidence and self-doubt go hand-in-hand. The point is you can thrive even when the doubt comes on Persisting in the face of self-doubt is possible.

Years ago I did this very thing by creating a list of everything I accomplished in my life by the time I was 50. I was 51 when I typed up this list.

The arrow point is that everything counts whether a big goal or a tiny action either way.

The times when you think something can’t be done are when you can refer to your list of achievements.

In lieu of accomplishments you can write a list of things you like about yourself that you’re proud of.

The goal with either of these lists is to free-write and number each item as it comes to you.

The list doesn’t have to be long.

My list featured 33 items. They were as simple as joining the St. George Library teen writing group to obtaining a driver’s license and as big as traveling to Italy.

Try to keep going until your writing hand can’t go anymore.

Re-read the list when you need a shot in the arm of confidence.

In keeping with this exercise I’ll talk in the next blog entry about novel ideas I have for getting confidence to tackle goals.

Using Traits and Strengths on a Job

I’ve been told that I’m the exception. This doesn’t make me feel better. And it’s simply not true.

I interpret that shopworn comment as a barb that discounts the role of a person’s personality–who they are and their traits and strengths–in enabling them to recover.

In the April 2015 issue of Current Psychiatry an article stated the people diagnosed with schizophrenia can hold jobs.

Who are you going to trust–a medical journal or some outsider on the street whose opinion is conjecture and not rooted in fact?

Recovery appears to each of us in different guises. Our recovery is as individual as our thumbprint.

Celebrating differentness is the first order of the day.

Those people who view peers in terms of our illness and symptoms are setting us up to believe that recovery is a dim star.

Aside from other people not being able to see beyond color or gender to the person inside:

Peers living with mental health issues are often not seen as our true selves apart from our diagnosis.

The premise of my memoir Left of the Dial was that I healed when I was able to use the creative process on my job and outside of my job.

The point wasn’t and isn’t that everyone living in recovery should be able to have an M.S. or L.C.S.W. or J.D.

The exclamation point [!] was that I recovered because I found the job I loved that enabled me to use my traits and strengths.

I recovered when I stopped buying into the myth that I had to do what everyone else did–have a corporate office job and a normal life [average or ordinary; conforming to a standard or type].

In daring to go down a path that differed from the norm I was able to recover. This was my road. Your road again will be different.

!!!

In the next blog entry I will talk about a written exercise I created to heal from self-stigma when a bout of doubt had come on.

The point is you should take pride in who you are. You should figure out the kind of job that will best use your traits and strengths.

Decorating Your Workspace

Your desktop serves a function. Too I think decorating your workspace with flair can give you the emotional energy to tackle the day’s tasks. I’ve learned that a desk devoid of personality can make a person ill.

In the time of social distancing I’ve been set up with a computer at a temporary table in a meeting room. It is debilitating to be surrounded by white walls. After being relegated to this set-up I started to think of interior design. How it affects a person’s mood performance and creativity on the job.

In a corporate cubicle it might be harder to decorate with “cutesy” items on your desktop. Having a plant on your desk could improve your health. I’m going to buy a plant to place on my new table.

I think any architect planning the interior design of any workplace–be it an office or not–should be innovative in their use of lighting furniture and paint color.

On the fabric wall above my regular desk I hung two 5″x7″ pieces of artwork. On the desk cabinet below I stuck refrigerator magnets. One has the quote: Leap and the Net Will Appear. Another is a David Bowie Heroes magnet.

I will be happy to return to my desk where I can talk with coworkers every day. I’ll end here by saying that sprucing up your workspace goes a long way in improving your mood performance and creativity on the job.

Yes–I wish someone had thought to paint the meeting room walls sky blue. While I labor at this table I’ll bring in the plant to improve the air quality. I’ll clear space on the table for the plant.

My Strong Belief

My strong belief is that a person can only talk about their experience taking or not taking medication as a factor in their recovery.

A Peer Specialist should not tell their patient to stop taking medication. They should not give advice on how to wean yourself step-by-step off medication.

Any Peer Specialist who is telling their clients to discontinue medication is in effect practicing medicine without a license.

In most states in the U.S. only an M.D. can regulate the use of a patient’s medication or determine that a patient doesn’t need medication.

I’ve been in remission from schizophrenia for over 28 years precisely because I take medication. I credit this as the number-one factor that enabled me to go to graduate school obtain an M.S. and find a career I love.

For others they might not have to take medication. Everyone is different and what their body needs or doesn’t need is going to be different.

To recap: a Peer Specialist should not be practicing medicine without a license.

Creating Workday Rituals

More on creating workday rituals:

Right now, I prefer to talk about creating rituals. Using the word self-care has become trite. Too often the need for self-care is impossible to live up to. This is because a person could feel poorly when they’re not engaging in self-care to the degree they think they’re “supposed to.”

Twyla Tharpe the American dancer wrote a book about the creative habit—about learning it and using it throughout your life.

The number-one takeaway I always remembered and practiced out of all the tactics she listed in the book was this one:

Engage in a warm-up habit before doing your task. In her book Tharp talked about the routine she engaged in before going to the gym to work out every day:

Take a shower. Get dressed in her gear. Hail the taxi to take her there. Get in car. Tip the driver before getting out. Walk into gym. Exercise.

In this regard having a workday ritual could help.

In the morning when you wake up you could engage in a habit as a warm-up to get you ready to go to your job.

This could be doing 5 sun salutations of yoga.

This could be scrambling eggs and cutting up an orange.

(I don’t recommend having boxed cereal for breakfast. Nor do I recommend having orange juice. I prefer to scramble eggs with veggies and have an orange.)

This could be taking a shower.

The creative habit you choose to use in the morning—and in winding down at night—is up to you to try out and decide if it works. My ideas above are suggestions. You might find other rituals to engage in that suit you better.

Sometimes it can be jotting 5 things down in a journal that you’re grateful for. Or lying in bed and resting and doing breathing exercises.

A British M.D. in his book How to Make Disease Disappear listed this breathing technique:

Breathe in for a count of 3. Hold your breath for a count of 4. Breathe out for a count of 5.

I use this breathing technique silently wherever I am to cope with stress.