Editor-At-Large: As I See it
(Column: Editor-At-Large: As I See It)
Ken Steele, the publisher of this journal, doesn't know how happy he made me when he offered the opportunity to write this column for NYC Voices. I see it as an opportunity to express my feelings regarding the mental health system that I know so well.
For too long a period of time I have been in the mental health care system. Some times I blame myself, or the professionals, or just circumstances. For two decades I was in the revolving door. I just couldn't stay out. Sometimes I volunteered. For me, Bellevue was my second home. I know Bellevue's reputation, but for me it was my haven. I left the revolving door when I was put on lithium carbonate. I call lithium my miracle drug. I'm out continuously for nineteen glorious years!
I'm not saying the nineteen years have been a bowl of cherries. I've had my share of ups and downs. With all my successes, set backs, and yes, feeling suicidal, lithium has helped more than any other medicine.
What have I done with my freedom? I have moved very slowly. So many times I have been re-hospitalized for doing too much at one time. So I try to restrain myself.
I started speaking out about my illness at Barnard College. I spoke with AMI members on WBAI and WINS radio, even though I was scared. However, in my small way, I was de-stigmatizing mental illness. Since that time I have been on TV and in the newspapers.
The word, consumer, as we are called, or call ourselves, really doesn't suit us. When I hear the word consumer it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. I have no choice as to which program I can attend.
If we are "consumers," in the true sense of the word, we should pick our programs citywide. Regions should be abolished. Regions make the life of providers easier. Why shouldn't the system work for us? Let providers compete for consumers. Here's an example from the world of business. There are job fairs where companies compete, for new employees. Why shouldn't providers put their best foot forward?
Why shouldn't we interview providers and then decide what program we want?
I see this column as a dialogue between you and I. I would hope to increase your awareness of how the mental health system currently fails us. Change occurs with education and involvement. Even if our views generally are different, certain core issues bind us together as recipients of psychiatric services. I would to know about your experiences. Which programs worked for you and which didn't? What keeps you out of hospitals? What are your goals and dreams? Do you know of a therapist who deserves special recognition? Are you in a program that is unique? What would you like to see in the mental health system that doesn't currently exist? You can submit any materials and/or ideas to me by calling me at NYC Voices at 212-757-1350.
We must accept ourselves as good human beings. Yes, we have mental illness. However, that in itself doesn't make us good or bad people. We are human beings first. Our disease is secondary. We didn't cause our disease. We did not bring it on ourselves. Evil spirits, etc., etc., etc. are not the cause. Above all else, don't blame yourself!