Milwaukee Area Technical College (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In our report to Milwaukee County regarding the impact of peer support on our agency, we mostly counted numbers. I had worked with X # of people and made referrals in certain areas. In the next phase they will look at the number of people being assisted but equally important will be the results. I ran around and got people excited about DVR, but now, we some some who are coming off the waiting list. I will be working on higher level activities like working with vendors. I would like to see some people get jobs with my assistance by June. And we will be able to look at what resources they were able to access. Milwaukee County made give us more resources, too, that make an impact on our work.
Education is another major area where we should begin seeing some results. There could be a new category: number of students enrolled in various programs. Ideally we will have people at more than one MATC based program. And they will probably consider retention at some point, as well. Do the people who started during the winter engaged in serious recovery efforts continue into the spring and summer? And do those efforts deepen? Quantity and quality of effort. These are things I will be looking forward to measuring. I must be a nerd.
I just listened to the story about the federal suicide prevention hotline for veterans. Face with a growing suicide rate of veterans and active duty personnel President Obama called for increasing the telephone support available. When I visit the VA the signs are everywhere promoting the hotline. Veterans are encouraged to Call the Veterans Crisis Line (1-800-273-8255 and Press 1) or chat online. Suicide has emerged as a greater threat to our military than terrorism as people weary from repeated deployments and family stresses take their own lives.
In a very real way this can be seen as blowback from the global war on terror which includes the longest war in American history. I know that the blowhards in the Bush administration who championed the Iraq and Afghanistan wars never gave a second thought about the impact of these wars on the troops and their families. They were brazen in their ability to ignore cries from across the globe to stop the wars before they began.
And now, after 4 years, these are President Obama’s wars. We have the low grade occupation in Iraq with socalled advisors and then there is the increasingly unpopular Afghanistan War that he thought that he could win. He too ignored the maxim of never fighting a land war in Asia. (The night shift arrives and the calls keep coming)
I think about the despair that must have carved holes in dozens of lives from returning combat veterans who were horrified by what they had done and witnessed. The upcoming battle over the nomination process for the secretary of defense will provide another opportunity for those who seek to continue the bloodbath to voice their opinions. They will say that the president must be prepared to back up the feverish rhetoric on Iran with the very real threat of launching an attack on people who pose no threat to Americans. And the secretary of defense must share that same passion for war.
At work last night in the mental hospital I heard Bob Dylan’s song Blowin in the Wind. There were those chilling words “too many people have died” referencing the wars we had fought up to that time. And yet a new generation has come and the wars keep coming and so do the calls to the suicide line.
I know that based upon the title of this blog some people will be turned off. How could I possibly connect having a higher power with having a mental diagnosis? How could anyone not believe in a higher power? I had a wonderful talk last night with a friend of a friend who called me during the storm. We seemed to have a lot of common interests like jazz, plays and being involved in the community.
We were both divorced and enjoyed one another’s conversation. So I decided to call her tonight and unfortunately the conversation went into that dark alley of religiosity that I always avoid. And it died there. I talked with the friend who had referred her to me and found the same problem. It seems that I landed on the wrong planet and there were all these religiously oriented black women wanting to talk with me about their beliefs. Give me a break.
I don’ t care what Jesus did or didn’t do. I don’t care what the psychiatrist decided about you after a few weeks. I care about recovery. Some people find spirituality helpful in their recovery and some ministries reach out to people in recovery. I tend to focus on the things that people do, not their professed beliefs. I was getting on the bus at 27th and Center yesterday with two young women: a white girl with very short shorts probably a high school student and then a black woman modestly dressed. Nothing unusual so far. As we stood aside to let the departing passengers off the bus, I noticed an old black man eying the white girl. And I told him that he was old enough to be her great grandfather in order to shame him. The black girl had a laugh.
That goes under the category of treating people the way we would wish to be treated. We have much more in common than our differences in religion would make you think. We need women to feel safe traveling the streets free from harassment. We need men to act their age and to stop trying to pick up random women on the street. We need to see people as friends not as church members and non church members. We are all part of the community
Never underestimate the power of the human brain because it will astound and confound you. I just saw a repeat episode of 60 minutes which focused on the life and work of Apple co-founder Steven Jobs. But it was the story after the interview with Jobs that peaked my interest because it showed that one of Apple’s signature devices, the I-pad, had helped people living on the autism scale gain a sense of independence that many would have never imagined for them.
There was a picture of a brain of a Temple Grandin, a woman who is on the autism spectrum compared with someone who was not on the spectrum and the difference was impressive. Temple is a very intelligent woman with many accomplishments in spite of the picture her brain presents. The 60 Minutes story included a young man who is able to communicate his wants and desires successfully. There were other young people whose vocabularies were hidden behind a wall of non-speech who were now finding their voices.
The diagnosis still remains but because we keep looking for answers, it no longer limits people on the spectrum the way that it used to. I’m encouraged and optimistic. I have a nephew on the spectrum and I liked the struggle with this order to the fight that people have with mental illness. The diagnosis of schizophrenia or other disorders can present challenges but it should never tell us to abandon all hope. Not as long as our brains are active.
The story interested me on a personal level because my nephew has a son who is on the autism spectrum. I sent a note to my sister, his mother, to ask whether my nephew has an I-Pad. I can remember reading about something called facilitated communication used to help break through barriers. But nothing spoke about the possibility of using computers. I am hoping that by republishing this blog entry I will hear stories from people about I-pads and other technologies being used to assist people overcome their challenges.
Among the things I packed into my suitcase for three days in Madison was the Christmas tie. my devoted readers (yes, you two in the front) will recall the stories I wrote inspired by my nephew John and his daughter Grace. Well a lot of the tangible Christmas gifts I received were clothes. But one in particular stood out the most: a tie.
Now, peer support specialists aren’t usually called upon at work to wear ties. On the occasions when I wear my sport coats, people almost have orgasms. I figured that if I wore a tie, I would be wiping off santorum for days. And the dry cleaning costs would soar through the roof. Even on dates Ii only wore a sport coat once this year and the Christmas tie remained safely tucked away in the closet. When I went to the 19th Street coffeehouse for New Year’s Eve, I heard a wonderful song The First Christmas Away From Home. It seemed ironic thinking about that song at 60, many years away from my family.
My wordpress links are going wild because they finally realized they have no idea what the hell I am talking about. The blog host sent me a message “we can’t send you any more articles to link to your blog because we’re afraid, actually, pretty well convinced, that you’re full of shit but we can’t admit that we do.” So they just suggested a bunch of random pictures of blacks and whites and said “click on one, asshole.” The host is so full of itself, tonight.
But meanwhile I had the problem of what to do with the tie that I had packed especially since I have the worst trouble tying one on. I even watched a youtube video about tying a tie. I always tied a tie by using a door handle. However, if you use cheap ties made out of synthetic material, it will still look like shit. That was why I handled the Christmas tie so delicately. It was a decent brand and it needed the proper tie and place.
That turned out to be Monday and Tuesday at Empowerment Days. The tie made the outfits, kind of like Superman and his cape. I stood at the podium looking polished and cool and thinking “this is what I used to be like” and it was grand. Just imagine what might have happened if I had not gone home. I probably would have forgotten to wear my pants.
V.I.D.A. (Photo credit: Pensamentos Filmados)
This may seem like an oxymoron but often the best response to crippling mental illness is to work. When we were reviewing information about peer specialist programs, the things we saw about the impact of work really jumped out at us. It turned out that one of the best things to do in recovery was to find or seek employment. I have a friend who got into the school system and began a career that offered her help when she needed it and has been able to survive the budget cuts that have eliminated positions at so many public schools. I used to go to meetings where the benefits that the school system offered its part-time employees were called “cadillacs.”
That is to say, there is no private sector equivalent to treating workers with respect. Naturally, the first thing Scott Walker did was to attack those very benefits that help workers stay on their jobs.
So here I am years and even more than a decade after our divorce I am still thinking about mental illness and recovery from a woman who taught me more about either than any psychologist or psychiatrist I ever consulted.There is a stigma attached with mental illness at a time when there are more people than ever being diagnosed. And there are stories of those who are receiving benefits for mental health disability who are struggling and seeking employment finding their benefits eliminated or greatly reduced and facing hardship as a result.
Those of us who are working as peer specialists are facing hard times as prices for the things we need rise more than the benefits we receive. If you are poorly paid, food stamps can help you keep food on the table, but the cutoff point eliminates benefits for the near-poor in order to shelter billionaires from their fare share of the tax burden. And there is a wide gulf in between being assisted by what remains of the social safety net and the abyss into which we send people who are not deemed worthy of our help under the current social welfare system.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Time flies when you’re a little off but it drags on when you’re perfectly normal. I just discovered I have been a peer specialist in Milwaukee for eight years. My anniversary date was last week. During that time I have faced down accusations by co-workers, program participants, outside agitators and collaborators. In fact I have seen stuff that would set your hair on edge. And yet I’m still standing while many of my accusers have moved on, lost their jobs, housing and respect from me.
I was in the first peer specialist training group in Milwaukee but I was actually hired in April 2004 to be part of a group that designed the training. A group of us met at the Milwaukee County Mental Health Complex to discuss how Milwaukee and Waukesha County were going to implement this new concept. We looked at different models including Georgia, Madison and Arizona.
Arizona had the most compelling story as a group called Meta Services re-designed its multifaceted programs to become recovery oriented. Meta Services, now known as Recovery Innovations, had a thoughtful well-organized curriculum for integrating persons who had experienced mental health issues into their work force. I reviewed my Peer Employment Training Workbook recently when I was studying for the Wisconsin Peer Specialist Certification Exam. Happily, things went well and I received my certificate last week.
The rich foundation I received by undergoing the training was later reinforced when I studied Human Services at Milwaukee Area Technical College. I interned at the House of Peace, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Community Advocates, IndependenceFirst and with Sister Ann Catherine. It has been a long, rewarding journey. And one that continues as new opportunities are being created for certified peer specialists.
What are things I have learned while on this trip? 1. Peer specialists are not friends of consumers in the pure sense of the word. I remind anyone who asks that I am not there to be in their lives other than as a professional. I don’t seek to be liked or disliked and as far as possible I keep my emotions out of our relationship. 2. I do best when I continue to work on myself and developing a life that extends far beyond the work environment. 3. This too, shall pass, is the attitude I take towards my accusers because I’m very comfortable with my judgment and I know what I have and haven’t done. 4. I am never responsible for any consumer’s relapse because I only have control over me. 5. My mother did not raise a fool and I rarely make the same mistake more than once.
I may not be working for this same agency for the rest of my career but this is the field I have chosen and it’s a very good fit. On to 15 more years.
- Re-designing mental Health (kenyatta2009.wordpress.com)
- Linking consumers is the goal (kenyatta2009.wordpress.com)
It Gets Better Project: 2011 NYC Pride (Photo credit: Jason Pier in DC)
J. Reuben Clark Law School (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
bullying (Photo credit: annavanna)
I just wrote about and shared the video that Brigham Young University students did for the series It Gets Better. And I realized that an important part of the struggle young people face is bullying and I’m here to say you can overcome bullies because I did. I was bullied in my old mostly African-American neighborhood and in the white community where my family moved. I was a small, skinny dark boy with glasses and acne and I was definitely a target. I didn’t sound or act like anyone else.
Some guys boasted about girls, smoked and wore the right clothes. I preferred going to the library, finding a book and reading. I identified with the character in the book Loneliness of a long distance runner.
So what did I do to survive and how can my experience help anyone else?
- I had an involved mother. She recognized that I was having trouble with the kids in my neighborhood and even took them to court to force them to leave me alone. Eventually she moved us to protect me from them.
- I had a younger brother to whom I was a role model. I helped him fight his battles and that meant I had to stay strong.
- I recognized that I had talent. Despite the discouraging comments of teachers and other students I discovered that I was smart, a good writer and athletic. Later on I became a listener. Listening became especially important when it came time t develop a career.
- I learned as Gordon Parks said that I had a choice of weapons. I could stand my ground and fight, run away get help from the American Civil Liberties Union or seek out people whose ideas were similar to mine.
- I was not always available. We had just one house phone when I was growing up and I didn’t give out my number to a lot of kids. It’s hard to imagine the days before facebook, twitter and cell phones which keep us connected to friends and may make us vulnerable to enemies. Today I ask people who seem vulnerable why they gave out their phone numbers to so many who mean to harm them.
- We had fights where we made our points but we didn’t go out to kill one another. The one time that I was pounding a kid’s head into the ground surprised and frightened me.
- I developed allies. I have written a few times about the importance of my first white friend in school. When you are lonely and small you are more likely to be cornered and beat up. So even if you are “a nerd,” someone who likes to study, read books, write poetry and go for walks, there’s probably someone else in your school who likes doing those same things. It’s a matter of picking up on the subtle things they may say or do. In my case, I discovered that my friend’s sense of humor resulted from memorizing several Bill Cosby albums.
- Start dating. I think that there are some many positives from dating they outweigh almost any negatives. For me, it meant that a girl had found me attractive. Even though I was not good looking to the kids who disliked me, I met a wonderful Irish catholic school student at a political campaign headquarters not far from where I lived. She played guitar, sang and was a wonderful girl. She liked the features tat my detractors found so repulsive. While some people prefer the small thin lips that a lot of white people have, she enjoyed kissing my dark, full African-American lips. Trust me on this, because it’s part of self acceptance. As you learn to develop who you are and what you believe, you will find romantic opportunities available.
Seal of Milwaukee County, Wisconsin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The Front of the SAMHSA building at 1 Choke Cherry Road in Rockville, Maryland. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In my blog about the problems presented by the limited means of obtaining non-crisis access to the Milwaukee County Mental Health System, I contrasted my success in obtaining assistance from the Veterans Administration. This may come as a surprise because so many people living on the streets in Milwaukee are veterans.
Nonetheless I feel there is a level of support for veterans through the VA and community organizations that promotes crisis stabilization and recovery. I will explain the process as I experienced it about six years ago when I approached Vets Place Central. I was an angry, confused man having lost my job, house and marriage in rapid succession. I was becoming desperate after living for a few days in a rodent infested overpriced so-called recovery house. It was time to overcome my reluctance to approaching anything relating to the US military. Despite the chaos that was overcoming me, I still had important documents including my birth certificate and Army discharge papers.
It was easy to locate the Vets Place Central which is located at 34th and Wells Street in the old Family Hospital. When I visited the center I was I had to wait for intake as there were several people ahead of me. It took all morning to wait my turn and be interviewed and receive a determination about my eligibility for assistance. Among the most puzzling aspects of my situation were my lack of combat related disabilities or substance abuse issues as obvious causes of my homelessness. How can one explain black rage? Does it simply explode?
At the time I had begun falling apart I was apparently quite skilled in my ability to hide my deterioration from friends. I became argumentative, slept less, piled up parking tickets and became increasingly unable to care for myself. These were the things from which I needed to escape.
In the thirteen months that I lived in Vets Place Central I was able to re-establish relationships with my family and friends. I wrote a grant proposal for my older sister who had started a minority health coalition in Buffalo. Although the proposal was unsuccessful, we learned a lot about one another from the process.
I was diagnosed by a VA psychiatrist and opened up for the first time to a psychologist. These were both people who were stationed at Vets Place. In addition I obtained a primary care provider who helped me begin to control my high blood pressure. My case manager set up an appointment with a free dental clinic for me. A lot of the stress I had been living with resulted from the way I had neglected my body which in turn had made me worry that I would suffer a heart attack or a stroke. With this pressure relieved I could sit down and map out an employment and education plan.
- Work and mental health (my.psychologytoday.com)