Ashley’s Pandemic Story

Ashley S. Atlanta Georgia

Living with a mental illness is challenging in itself with the stigma and managing recovery. Since the coronavirus outbreak I watched more of the news broadcast than ever before. This pandemic is nerve wrecking.

When I heard of the news for Georgia residents to shelter in place I did not know what that meant and hoped for life to return to normal. Generally, I am isolated and work from home, while my son is in school during the day.

Accordingly, I set in place another routine. We walked our neighborhood frequently and kept doctor appointments. The coronavirus disrupted our routine but also enhanced bonding time between me and my son.

We walked, played card games, and watched more movies. Sometimes this new norm felt suffocating, but the walks around the neighborhood while keeping therapy appointments helped me maintain wellness.

Kurt’s Pandemic Story

Kurt S. Bronx New York

Next week will mark for me the 3rd month of the pandemic—as far as the many changes I have had to make in my life. I have been extremely fortunate that I either did not get the virus (or if I had it a mild case which only consisted of severe vomiting) and I have been able to work from home 4 days a week.

The 2 major hardships are that I am not allowed to visit my son, who lives in a group home (even though he is only 5 minutes away) and that once a week I still must take the subway (I use a face shield which gives me a pretty good level of comfort).

My mental health has been surprisingly good during this time, I believe most likely because the pandemic has allowed me to appreciate the smaller things in life.

My Pandemic Story

Christina B. Brooklyn NY

I’m learning to be patient with myself when I fail to attend to self-care. I’ll use the exfoliating scrub only 1x per week when the directions state “use 1-2 times per week.”

Sometimes in your life and in recovery you can only do the bare minimum.

For the last 3 months I’ve been mostly staying indoors in my apartment. Going outside I risk running into a bunch of yahoos in my neighborhood that walk around with open faces not covered up.

I treat myself to Petit Pot organic chocolate pudding when I order my weekly groceries.

Every day I record on a weekly To-Do pad the lunches and dinners I’m having to track how well I’m eating.

At the start of the outbreak it was harder because it was winter and gloomy.

It’s gotten better except I have a dial for compassion that can’t be shut off. Watching the memorial service for George Floyd on TV I was heartbroken.

To cope I’ve turned to using my 3 blogs to speak out.

Artists and Authors like I am can use our emotional energy to create words and images that move people to action.

Storytelling

My 82-year old mother told me three weeks ago:

“There is nothing unless there is truth.”

How right-on that statement was. Her fortune telling was eerie in light of the future protests.

We are moving from the age of lies and misinformation to the Age of Truth telling.

If I cannot be honest in the blogs then how will I be able to make a difference?

Bravery is called for. The courage for each of us to speak the truth and tell our stories.

Peers living with mental health issues should not feel guilty or ashamed for having an illness.

No human being living on earth should live in fear of any kind.

This goes for fearing what people think of you. It goes for fearing that you could be killed.

In this blog I’m going to post peer stories and essays.

Individuals speaking their truth is how the needle shifts in society towards love and acceptance.

Telling our stories gives others permission to do the same.

 We’re all together as human beings living on earth.

My first foray into Storytelling will be to post a blog carnival of first-person accounts about living through the pandemic.

Wise Words in a Time of Tragedy

For decades I’ve been taken in with fashion and other magazines as a source of joy inspiration and information.

In fact I’ve learned a life lesson after reading the April 2020 issue of Harper’s Bazaar which can seem like an unlikely font of wisdom.

In the magazine Taylor Swift interviewed Taurus fashion model Gigi Hadid whose candid response illuminates a viable mode of “flying into action.”

I’ll quote Gigi here:

“I’ve realized over time that I feel the most free when I express myself, whether through action, writing, or talking it out.

Being honest always leads to something good, even if it takes a hard or awkward moment or conversation to get there; you can never go wrong with telling someone how you feel and speaking your truth.

And you always learn something from it.”

Isn’t this approach–honesty–the tonic for our time?

Nothing can be changed unless it is faced. An action plan is required.

New York State lawmakers have created a law criminalizing cops that use a choke hold. A cop’s disciplinary records will no longer be sealed from view.

In this case outrage provoked action.

People expressing their feelings through protest had the power to influence those in power to execute changes.

8 Minutes 43 Seconds

That’s how long the three other cops stood by without intervening.

The murder of George Floyd changes everything.

I’m upset like I haven’t been before. The death of Eric Garner in 2014 had set me off like you wouldn’t believe. How foolish to think it wouldn’t happen again.

Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo killed Garner in a choke hold on Bay Street on Staten Island.

The barest crime Eric Garner had committed was selling loose cigarettes.

Pantaleo’s defense attorney claimed Garner’s health–he had a medical condition–caused the death not the choke hold.

This must be why Garner’s murder upset me greatly:

I have a disability that could be used against me when I’m a victim.

Cops who respond on the scene kill people with schizophrenia.

I’m not so foolish to think that living in an affluent neighborhood I wouldn’t be shot dead by cops coming to my house.

This is why I have empathy for victims of police brutality:

It could happen to me. It could happen to any of us.

Racial justice and disability justice are allied movements.

Those of us with disabilities have not been exempt from police brutality.

It’s time to join together with Black Lives Matter to lobby for justice for our comrades.

Getting in Gear with a “Career”

Once I read from my memoir Left of the Dial at an event for peers and family members.

The host was raffling off 10 copies of my book for audience members to win.

To my delight one peer who won a free copy of the memoir had told me they liked reading inspirational stories. They had told me this at the start of the event even though they didn’t have a job.

At the end the peer won a copy of Left of the Dial.

I talk about this because the idea of what constitutes a “career” is open for interpretation.

Decades ago in the now-defunct SZ magazine that I wrote a column for there was an article on what you could do when you have negative symptoms of schizophrenia and couldn’t hold a job.

To wit:

You could bake cakes. You could play guitar in a band. You could go to a coffee shop for breakfast and have a latte and read the newspaper.

Having worked with a person who didn’t have a mental illness [and who was rude and hostile] I can tell you that it’s possible for anyone with a pulse to get a job.

Having a job or not having a job is NO indicator of a person’s worth.

It’s why in my original Flourish blog I sang the praises of Rite Aid cashiers.

Those cashiers bust themselves standing up every day for hours ringing up orders.

I refuse to use the automatic payment machine to check out items on my own at Rite Aid.

I don’t want the cashiers to lose their jobs to a machine.

Every day for years and years Rite Aid cashiers have been ringing people up with a smile. For years and years it’s the same cashiers.

For some of us our recovery is a full-time job. Managing our mental health should be the prime focus.

My contention has always been from the very start of my advocacy efforts that I recovered because I had first found the job I love.

I didn’t find this job after I had recovered. It was the other way around–I make this distinction–finding the job I love enabled me to recover.

This is why we need to expand the definition of a “career” for the purposes of recovery.

A multitude of career options exist in the world for everyone living here.

Should my rude and hostile coworker have been exalted because he has a job? While a mental health peer who is compassionate is looked down on because they don’t have a job?

Exactly.

In coming blog entries I”m going to talk more about goal-setting.

About how engaging in goal-seeking behavior–regardless of whether your goal is to get a job publish a book or go on vacation–can make all the difference in how good you feel.

Thoughts on Goal-Setting

In the New York Times circa a year or two ago Venus Williams the champion tennis player wrote an article about goal-setting.

To this day I remember her wise words about the topic.

Venus said she would ask herself: “Do you feel good?”

In the time of living through the pandemic my goals have been put on hold. As most likely other people’s goals are beyond reach right now for a lot of us.

Venus was prescient then in shifting the needle in terms of what constitutes success and achievement.

Taking inspiration from this star athlete I too ask myself: “Do you feel good?” and “How do you feel about what you’re doing right now?”

In 2002 I first started my “career” as a mental health advocate. So for going on over 18 years I’ve been talking about my recovery.

My aim has always been to empower peers that you can have your own version of a full and robust life living in recovery.

In a coming blog entry I’m going to riff on the idea that what constitutes a “career” is different for each of us.

Having been around the block in recovery I’ve come to want to talk about next-level ideas I have.

Along with Venus Williams I think the endpoint is irrelevant.

You might have a JD and be miserable and unfulfilled at your attorney job. Maybe it’s the kind of career you thought you originally wanted.

Or maybe you don’t have a professional job. Or have no job right now. You might just want pointers about living life in recovery.

Living through the pandemic I’m confident that this has been a trial and a challenge for everyone.

Like Venus I think feeling good should be the ultimate barometer of whether you’re happy with how your life is right now.

Goals can wait. Sometimes they must wait.

Next in the blog: getting in gear with the “career” that’s right for you.

Our Common Thread

Our Common Thread is also the title of the June/July 2020 Vogue devoted to Creativity in a Time of Crisis.

Photos and quotes of actors photographers fashion designers and others detailed what they were doing living through the pandemic.

Here’s what my quote would be:

Christina Bruni – Brooklyn

I take joy in cooking meals. I feel better when I eat well and break a sweat.

As consistently as possible I exercise 2x per week. Going outside for walks I stay far away from people who haven’t covered their open faces.

My joy is thinking of the coming summer. The chance to talk walk outside even though I might have to use a bandanna to cover my face.

Little things count for a lot like cleaning the bathroom once a week.

My goals have been put on hold. I have the privilege to be indoors doing what it takes to be well so as not to get infected with the coronavirus.

Grocery workers and hospital workers are on the job every day. Their robust efforts make it possible for someone like me to be healthy.

What I’ve thought while life has turned around like a Tilt-a-Whirl ride through this uncertain time:

Be grateful for what you have. You have everything right inside you that you need to succeed. Respect the natural world and the human beings living alongside you on this green and glorious earth.

Each of us gets only this life to live on this one planet. Live for today. Focus on the present moment before it’s gone.

Today is the greatest day. Only today matters.

The past had an expiration date–it ended. The future isn’t guaranteed.

Today is a gift to open and rejoice in.

Pay attention to the birds singing on your fire escape. Listen to the song of life.

There’s no safety in playing it safe. The path of least resistance leads to a dead end.

Other Psychiatrist Questions

Other Doctor Questions:

  1. What is my diagnosis and how did you come to that conclusion?
  2. What medication do you propose to use? (Ask for the name and dosage level.)
  3. What is the biological effect of this medication, and what do you expect it to accomplish?
  4. What are the risks associated with this medication?
  5. How soon will we be able to tell if the medication is effective, and how will we know?
  6. Are there other medications that might be appropriate? If so, why do you prefer the one you have chosen?
  7. What are the side effects of the medication? How long should I “wait out” any side effects before calling you?
  8. Are there other medications or food that I should avoid while taking this medication?
  9. How long do you expect me to be on this medication?
  10. How often will I be seeing you until the medication takes effect?
  11. If I’m taking more than one drug, when and how often should I take each one?
  12. How do you monitor medications, and what symptoms indicate that the dosage should be raised, lowered or changed?
  13. Are you currently treating other patients with this illness?
  14. Is there an alternative to medication like CBT or other therapy?
  15. What are the best times and what are the most dependable ways for getting in touch with you?
  16. What do you consider an emergency if I have to call you after hours?

Feel free to ask any other questions that come to you that aren’t listed above.

To quote the 1990s SYMS clothing store commercial:

“An educated consumer is our best customer.”