The Twenty-Sixth Annual NYAPRS Convention
One needn’t look deeply at the offerings of the 26th annual NYAPRS convention, held at the Nevele Hotel, in Ellenville, NY, to know that there was enough of quality, to serve all appetites. There was so very much fun, rewarding and enlightening, so much richness to reap great satisfaction, from whatever one’s perspective. In the few days was ample opportunity to create one’s own personal “magic carpet-ride.” This is the story of what I found most meaningful---of course, I’m telling my own experience...a hundred different tales are ready to be recounted, thanks to the New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitative Services. Here’s a tip of one iceberg:
I was most moved by the selection of my beloved friend and colleague, Rick Sostchen, now Executive Director of Baltic Street Advocacy, Employment and Housing---he was honored with the Brendan Nugent Leadership Award. Today, Rick heads up Baltic Street, an agency composed, primarily, of consumers of mental health services serving peers, who have needs, based upon their continued struggles with the illness. Baltic Street is at the forefront of the consumer movement, ever-gaining in prominence and effectiveness, under Rick’s leadership. I am proud to be able to boast that Rick Sostchen did service, gave pleasure and I know, derived personal satisfaction as PSYCHE IN THE LIGHT’s comedian. It was wonderful to have him on board! (He was a stabilizing influence---There was more than one occasion when his stabilizing effect was needed and he made it his business to make certain that his good sense was brought to bear, as needed. I am grateful to him for playing that role.) Baltic Street has offered so many consumers the opportunity to make use of their experience with mental illness and recovery by giving professional opportunities to serve our peers, through help finding housing, employment, advocacy of every type, as well as counseling to bridge the transition from state facility to the community. It was a joy and honor to work for Baltic Street for the years that I did and I was especially pleased to be there while our beloved Rick, with typical wit and charm, coached the crowd, amidst their appropriately appreciative standing ovation to “…not sit down! Keep it up! Keep standing and cheering!” (He deserves every bit of all our enthusiasm!)
My new employer, likewise, had a fine moment of glory. I’m working, now, for the Institute of Community Living, on their new East Brooklyn Act Team. David Kamnitzer and Tracy Coit (of ICL), along with Marc D. Kutzner (of the Center for Rehabilitation and Recovery) facilitated a workshop, in which a packed room of consumers and professionals kicked around the fundamentals of recovery from mental illness. The ICL panel brought the audience through the understanding of the process of revival of our minds and spirits from illness to wellness and the enthusiasm in the room certainly reached “revival-meeting fever pitch” as, those who participated, were left frustrated, I am sure, that the experience was too short-lived---so much needed to be said, to be added to the mountain of insight expressed. There is always next year!
Max Gilford’s Coffee Shop offered entertainment over two evenings. Max and Mike Skinner sang original, recovery-based selected music---both performed with brilliance--- beautiful, strong, dramatic. That they, and all the artists who performed during the events, are consumers of mental health services, serves as testimony that no standard of excellence is beyond our reach! Paul Chipkin’s PSYCHE IN THE LIGHT (my stage troupe), took up the latter part of the program. I read from my writings, from the eight books that were selling in the exhibition hall, to raise funds for New York City Voices. Three Baltic Street workers contributed flair and excitement--- Margie Colon (of Bronx HomeWorks) and Marty Cohen (of Lodge Bridger on Staten Island) proved themselves strong comic talents and Jeffrey Perry (of Kingsboro’s Bridger I) read selections of poetry, from his latest published book, Conversations with a Soul Brother (Soul Food, & the Arts of Screaming), published by Outskirts Press, Inc. Jeffrey’s readings added, powerfully, to the program’s dramatic impact.
In the exhibition hall, a Recovery x-Change DVD was available, featuring vignettes about stigma and mental illness. It is a creation of David Gonzalez and Marty Cohen. Another wonderful DVD was selling, with a discussion between Ed Knight (a prime consumer-champion of the recovery movement), Sheila LeGacy and Nancy Kehoe. On the final section of that disc is a discussion of the major role that spirituality plays in most consumers’ recoveries. Research indicates that ninety percent of consumers credit religion and spirituality as being significant in their recovery, yet only forty percent of mental health professionals see spirituality as helpful to mental health. Sixty percent of psychiatric professionals share the view that “religiosity is symptomatic of illness.”
I, personally, have been caught in the middle of this quandary for the history of my illness. Despite an incessant struggle against “the system,” I have found personal happiness, much as Dr. Knight has, through the answers to key life challenges (questions like these):
Who knows the order to the chaos?
Who sees the patterns through the random?
Who hears the harmonies to the cacophony of squeak and roar?
Who finds his destiny on the concrete sidewalk?
Who has discovered tranquility, though mystery be unpredictable?
Who has found so much satisfaction in life’s riddles, as to fear nothing?
Who dismisses evil, without a care?