Stigma and Discrimination Where It Hurts the Most: The Local Mental Health Consumer-Run Drop In
Some of you think Allison Strong is strong, but I hurt and bleed, just like you. I’ve actually bled alot this week.
I’ve had bipolar disorder for 26 years. I tried to commit suicide as a small child by drinking alcohol. Obviously it didn’t work. For the first ten years after I was diagnosed I had a high profile career as a major market alternative disc jockey and nationally published music journalist.
When my anti-depressant stopped working, I was under the impression that it was the ‘drug I was to take the rest of my life.’ That’s what the doctor’s at the neuropsychiatric center I was at for 60 days had told us all at family week. It’s what we all thought! At the height of my career and happily married, I was already cutting corners by getting my meds from my general practitioner. All of a sudden, and on a daily basis from the moment I opened my eyes each day, I wanted to disappear, or die. By my own hand if I must.
In terror, I pressed her: “What should I do, Dr. __________? I’m scared to death!” She looked up from her chart with the wide eyes of the truly panicked. “I have absolutely No idea.” She didn’t suggest I see a therapist or a psychiatrist. She just closed my chart and moved on to the patient next door. You’d have thought that she was the one with depression. I’ve since learned to be on a team player with my shrink and my mentor at the Consumer-run Peer Drop-In Center.
I’ve been involved with the local drop-in for ten years. I have nurtured successful self help groups, and put hours assisting other individual’s programs as an ‘official volunteer.’ I used to bring ‘Dual Recovery Meetings to the inpatient psych ward on a weekly basis, which required a high degree of clearance.
Five years ago, I fell into a deep, long term depression and struggled vainly with treatment resistant tardive Dyskinesia from my antipsychotic medication. I fell off the grid, and was taken off the volunteer rolls. I was at the same time struggling with treatment-resistant Tardive Dyskinesia . Happily, both are behind me.
I want to be reinstated as a general volunteer and especially bring a gentle, beginning ‘Pilates Mat’ class to the center. I’m in a ‘well’ cycle. Or, at least I think so. The women on staff who make those decisions do not. One of them is 400 lbs, and at the time of my eating disorder meeting a few years ago eyed me up and down and declared publicly, “I’ve chosen to be sane and heavy rather than skinny and crazy.” This was an unsolicited indictment of my medications and their effectiveness. Not being able to take medication, I am not as sedate as others. But believe me, with the antipsychotics I take, I struggle with an oversized appetite and body too! One time I walked into the center and was happy to see the project director. I must have raised my voice.
I said, “Hi ___________, with a huge smile at her. ” She fiercely barked back at me, “Don’t shout! If you want to voice a concern, or make a complaint about something, let’s go in my office and sit down.” That day confused me, for I didn’t have any concerns. All I wanted was to show enthusiasm for our leader. This project director, who has a diagnosis of her own, leveled with me when I asked her about the other girl, who was pulling power plays in jewelry class.
“I think that _____________is triggered by your mania, Allison. She takes a lot of medicine for that and doesn’t think you take enough. Of course, it’s not her call. As a team, we’ve decided you’re not stable enough to volunteer here again, Allison. We want to see you WIN here. I’ve always won there before. Giving back to other mentally ill people is like being a wide receiver. It’s total teamwork and feels great.
There are other ‘volunteers’ who call me on the phone, complaining that the CIA is after them and can we meet where our phones aren’t bugged? How about the legendarily lecherous volunteer who covertly slid me a 100ct bottle of painkillers under my arm out in the parking lot, unsolicited. He simply knew I had back pain and said ‘try this, it should work. Let me know,’ got in his car and drove away. Another ‘volunteer’ was referred to me by the drop in center to do some paid computer work. She didn’t show up, didn’t call to cancel, twice. (She had told the center she was ready to work and needed the money. They people get to keep their badges, rejoice at official ‘Volunteer’ parties and bat around suggestions for new groups to be formed, while I keep my mouth shut about the bad apples, and am again, a lifelong theme for me, on the outside, looking in.
What would you do?