Motivational Book

Former New York governor David A. Paterson published his memoir Black, Blind, and in Charge: A Story of Visionary Leadership and Overcoming Adversity. His first-person account has no trace of pity, bitterness, or regret.

On page twenty-eight Paterson asserted that the root of his adversity was not the disability itself only his reaction to it. He offered a fiery condemnation of not owning every facet of your identity. That your disability makes you who you are has been a war cry I haven’t wanted to utter.

Why do I fear telling others that I have a disability? Ironically in my first book I limned this “secret sauce” that compelled me to become an Advocate. Left of the Dial was a graphic pager-turner that detailed my early recovery.

Only Governor Paterson said it better than I could’ve when he wrote:

“This may sound strange, but whoever you are, whatever you are, you should be proud of it. If you’re proud to be black, if you’re proud to be a woman, if you’re proud to be American, if you’re proud to be a New Yorker, you should be proud to be blind.

Even though it causes you problems, it’s who you are. It’s what you are. The question is, ‘What will you be?’ And you’ll never be anything until you resolve the fact that God created you the way you are and even if there are imperfections, this is who you are.”

Always I have thought that I succeeded because of having an illness not despite living with a disorder. Shunted into the mental health system I fought to get a job and live in my own apartment. Two things people with normal lives take for granted that they can have.

By dressing in my “Greenwich Village” garb I sent a clear message to anyone who saw me: I’m not giving up until I get what I want. My clothes were as radical as I was–free-form like my thinking. A Visionary, I thought recovery was possible even in 1987 when I was told it wasn’t.

“Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go” was T.S. Eliot’s famous quote. Often, I credit my sartorial risk-taking as being the genesis of my take-no-prisoners approach to achieving my goals.

According to Black, Blind, and in Charge, there’s a sixty-eight percent unemployment rate for blind people in this country. That David A. Paterson obtained a J.D. and rose to become a governor says it all–the fight is worth taking on.

Though this 55th governor of New York didn’t have a mental illness I recommend everyone read his book. In July I cohosted with Max Guttman L.C.S.W the Zoom workshop Editorializing Lived Experiences: Creating an Authentic Voice and Impactful Message in Professional Writing. At this event I told the attendees: “Don’t give up the fight.”

The reality is that fighting for our rights as individuals with disabilities has always been necessary. Stereotypes abound when you have schizophrenia or another mental illness. All too often mental health staff themselves persist in thinking that recovery isn’t possible.

Who are you going to believe–a person who tells you there’s no hope or someone like me that understands that recovery comes to each of us in different guises? Everyone’s recovery is as individual as our thumbprint. Bake a cake. Sing in a choir. Ride a skateboard. It’s all great whatever you choose to do.

If you ask me the bar has been set too high by outsiders as to what constitutes the definition of “recovery.” The average Joe or Josephine on the street doesn’t get half as much scrutiny as mental health peers do in terms of what we’re able to do.

For over five years in my blogs I’ve sung the praises of Rite Aid cashiers.. A lot of them have been ringing up customers’ orders for five six or seven years. Doing it with a smile every day. No one gives them grief for holding a minimum wage job.

Yet when a person with schizophrenia works behind a Rite Aid counter, suddenly they’re viewed with pity if not outright contempt. While a person like me endures an obstructive chorus telling me that I’m “the exception to the rule” because I was diagnosed with schizophrenia and have a Masters’ degree and work as a professional librarian.

You got a problem with a person with a disability who demands equity in society in whatever form their participation takes? That’s what I want to ask outsiders who don’t have lived experience with an illness who dare claim to predict our destiny in life.

David A. Paterson beat the odds that were against him. His book should be required reading. Whatever kind of disability you have, I recommend you think for yourself about what’s possible for you to achieve.

Born This Way

In an earlier blog entry I talked about finding the work environment where you can be yourself and thrive.

My aim here is to give readers a shot in the arm of confidence so that you can Be Who You Are Not Who the World Wants You to Be like a magnet I bought attests.

The term Born This Way is a manifesto that everyone should be proud of.

I’ve been told over and over that I’m “the exception to the rule.” I feel crummy when I hear this. As if there is a stereotype of how people with schizophrenia live and act and dress.

Mumbling on the street. In tattered clothes. And what if one of us appears that way? We shouldn’t be viewed any worse than others.

This is what I don’t like as an author and a human being: I detest stereotyping people. That is: viewing everyone of the same race or gender or ethnicity or disability as having the same characteristics. Simply because of your interaction with one person of that race or gender or ethnicity or disability.

In this “disability box” outsiders use our symptoms as the proxy for who we are.

Outsiders can’t see beyond illness to accept us as “individuals who” have schizophrenia. Often it feels like our personality traits and our humanity are discounted as factors that enabled us to persist in the face of emotional challenges.

Our road might be harder yet that’s no excuse top give up. At the end of this blog entry I’ll give a link to an online Zoom event I cohosted at the 15th Annual Peer Conference in July.

The workshop was titled “Editorializing Lived Experiences: Creating an Authentic Voice and Impactful Message in Professional Writing.”

The key word in that title? Authentic.

To claim and assert our individuality is the only way you and can succeed in life and in recovery.

Maybe I knew this all along when I showed up to that day program in 1989 wearing vintage pajama pants in the summer?

The YouTube video of the Peer Conference Workshop is 1 hour 5 minutes.

You can watch and listen to it here: https://youtu.be/ktH1ZRi19gc

On Not Being That Coworker

You know the one: who makes your life miserable on the job.

A coworker could be dastardly. That’s no excuse for joining them in a race to the bottom.

Taking the high road as the expression goes is what’s called for. Asserting yourself when it’s clear you’re being taken advantage of on the job.

The case is clear: you don’t want to be that coworker that causes trouble for no reason at all.

Scenario #1 for example: You have seniority in choosing vacation time. A coworker comes to you and asks you to allow them to take off in June so they can visit their elderly parent in Sweden.

What you don’t do is schedule your vacation in the exact week the coworker wants to visit their parent.

Scenario #2: You see that someone has changed your weekly schedule without your permission or knowledge. The person might have told you that you couldn’t have off that Monday because the firm was short-staffed. You’re told you can no longer have off on Monday. This person then schedules themselves off on Monday.

What you do is act assertive and talk to them. Instead of firing off an angry email to them or going ballistic toward them.

Why would this person not say upfront that they needed the day off and could you switch with them? Who knows?

Scenario #3: Someone is stealing your food from the refrigerator at work. What you don’t do is print up a flier that you tape to the refrigerator stating: “No Stealing Food.” This would likely be a real deterrent like the electronic noise in Rite Aid that goes off when you reach for the deodorant behind a clear panel.

Instead: You can ask your supervisor to send an email to staff asking them to bring their own food. Or have a salad for lunch. Chances are no one else wants to eat a salad.

True story: At one job I bought a glass to use in the workplace kitchen to drink water at lunch. It looked like a regular whiskey glass. Curiously it went missing shortly after I started using it at lunch.

What you can do: keep the glass at your desk until lunchtime. In shared kitchen space it might not be clear whose glass is whose.

The wind-up: act ethical and above-board in how you interact with coworkers.

The truth is I don’t think most coworkers or supervisors intend to harm you or are acting with malice. They are simply self-centered and acting in their own interests.

Which is something you should consider doing on your job: figuring out whether the same person is repeatedly acting dastardly toward you. Not allowing this behavior to continue. Speaking up for yourself assertively and confidently.

This points to a real irony: that self-disclosure on the job about your bipolar or schizophrenia often only backfires. Interacting with coworkers for eight hours a day you are already a huddle of personalities that can be too close for comfort even without throwing a mental illness into the mix.

I will talk more again about self-disclosure in the workplace. This is definitely a case of “Do as I say not as I’ve done.” A victim of accidental disclosure–and then my honesty about publishing my memoir Left of the Dial had a happy ending.

Simone Biles and You and Me

Simone Biles suffered sexual abuse while involved in the USA Gymnastics.

Her decision to bow out of the Tokyo Games should empower us mere mortals to make our mental and physical health the number-one priority.

In a world and in workplaces where a significant number of other people are only out for themselves.

In coming blog entries I’ll talk about how to assert yourself and preserve your sanity on your job.

Firing off outrageous emails and acting like a jackass towards your coworkers is not the way to go. Even though you’ll encounter dastardly coworkers who seem hell-bent to make your work life miserable.

At the end of this email I link to a Deseret News article about Simone Biles. She did the right thing.

The point is not that all coworkers will intentionally do things to sabotage you. Misunderstandings will often arise on your job. Sometimes it’s not clear whether the tactic was a clear-cut form of abuse or simply a simple disregard for you in favor of their own interest.

This is where establishing boundaries and expecting respect is integral.

Chances are you will hit it off great with one coworker who is kind and caring.

The fact is that each of us has our own quirks and personality traits.

How to differentiate quirky behavior from outright malice?

More on this coming up.

The Truth About Simone Biles