We Are Now Qualified to do Anything, with Nothing

Jen Padron, Ed.M, CPS, CHW, QMHP-CS
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I attended Milt Greek’s educational opportunity at Cooper Riis’ The Farm last February 25, 2013 and it was especially fortuitous for me.

I learned a great deal from his perspective.  Being friends with Dr. Dan Fisher, I have discussed “Open Dialogue” with Dan enough to know and learn about this work in Finland, but this was entirely different.  I have had to “wrap my brain” around the concepts and it had to sit with me and settle, but the more I’ve had time to think about it, this is what I came up with, and I’m pleased to write a little about it from my vantage point; the view of a person living with Bipolar (Depression) I Disorder as a health issue since 1996.

Sitting in the Art Barn at The Farm with fellow Cooper Riis comrades this past Monday, I did a lot of thinking about what I’d like to participate in at Cooper Riis during my year-long Volunteer term, and while I attended to listen to Milt Greek, I reiterate whole health and wellness solutions and stress these for hope and recovery.

Part of Milt Greek’s introduction yesterday at Cooper Riis was the statement that he was not particularly proud of his Schizophrenia. I found that particularly ironic but accept this as I accept people for where they are and that is certainly Greek’s experience.

For me, I’m not at all proud of times where I have acted out; where I am negative, childlike, flat out mean, selfish, self-centered and deprecating. I am the first to admit these are character flaws that are deeply rooted in my bipolar and my inabilities to properly and appropriately deal with it in a better light are things I’m actively working on.  I also am the first to admit that my bipolar is the root cause for moments of random brilliance… those momentary catches of very real madness where my music, art, film, photo, friendship, intimacy, love and work goes the distance where perhaps were it not would I be status quo?

What I was able to glean from Greek’s presentation, in short, was that it shook me up.  It’s taken me a while to get to this very moment to admit that I also have experienced psychosis that I don’t know how to profoundly frame within a context of vision questing or my burgeoning spiritual growth.

I have experienced instances of my own bipolar depression psychosis and I’ve managed to hide them from others by neglecting to mention them in my recovery story, but no longer.

I’ve been very sick, too, as I struggled initially with this relentless illness.  In 2003 while working with the State of Texas Rehabilitation Commission (State of Texas Department of Assistive & Rehabilitation of Services (DARS), as a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor, I was putting in cool 60-hour weeks, running hard, drugging, and had worked myself into a good delusional state. I place much of the blame on the primary stressor of HB 2292 (2003-04 State of Texas Health & Human Services Commission Reorg bill).  HB 2292 was especially brutal, cutting significant services which catapulted Texas into a slippery downfall.

Unwisely, I was also managing a caseload hovering near 190. Being quite competitive, I had just started graduate studies at the University of Texas at Austin carrying a full-time load and I also pushed myself to remain in the Top 3 in the South Austin Field Office by maintaining excellent benchmarks.  I had much guilt that while at least 90% of my caseload was at least psychiatric, none of my hard work was working and my outcomes were pathetic, notwithstanding, were most attempts of TRC for individuals living with mental health issues seeking vocational rehabilitative assistance at the time.

Not surprisingly, I crashed and burned.  I ended up in the ER, was treated at Seton Shoal Creek Hospital in Austin, though was at work the next day denying that I was ill.  I did up in long-term treatment (3) times during 2003-2006.  Sometime following, my depression entered the worst state that it had ever been.

My psychosis was long-standing.  I began to hear voices and I also began a custom of hearing increased musical accompaniment every Christmas. To this day I obsess on musical composition and hear extra notes, extra tonality which in my opinion, improves the overall musical impression.  This typically only happens at Christmas, however I very much enjoy music year-round.  Whenever the added-benefits of my Christmas auditory hallucination “musicality” does occur (often with the Boston Pops), I simply tell myself it’s part of my bipolar and I continue.  I tend to enjoy it and I seek it out.

Music is very important to me and always has been.  I learned piano early on in Denmark when my father was stationed in Kolding, when I was 8-14. I learned how to read by ear because I could not read music if my life depended on it.

Nowadays, I enjoy taking jazz, samba, ambient, standards, and tend to obsess on a piece or song by focusing on it with multiple artists and variations until I get it out of my system.  I noticed that when the musicality revisits during Christmas it occurs similarly.  I count it up to my obsessiveness and smile about it.  It drives my friends and girlfriend a little nuts to hear the same songs over and over but with numerous variations.

I began invasive ”clinically, medically necessary” ECT to treat my ideating depression and endured it for 2.5 years, which I regret as I still have no memories of the years 2004-2006.  I crawled out of that darkness and that nightmare and vowed that I would never experience that in my life ever again.  I took baby steps.  I couldn’t talk at first.  The ECT was quite painful physically for me.

Being very physically resilient, it took four (4) times the anaesthesia to put me out than the normal person.  That’s when I got hooked on quad espressos to pull me out of the anaesthesia following each treatment, into a normal state of awareness.  I still drink quads every morning on the way to work, out of habit and an acquired taste.  The bitterness reminds me of the pain that has pushed me into this point of my recovery.

My mental health advocacy has increased from the local to the state to the national networks.

After my work in project management with The Hope Concept Wellness Center + HOPE Project in DFW’s Metroplex for the last 1.75 years, I am proud to have taken a sabbatical in order to be a part of Cooper Riis.  I look forward to learning about philanthropic models which can help me develop my person-centered medical home wherever I land following North Carolina.

I’m completely and utterly dedicated to learning about peer-respites to aide in medication optimization.  Bob Whitaker, Will Hall are leaders to me but then so again are the residents in 85Z and those who I met at The Farm.  I hope to visit Gould Farm and the developing Soteria Project in Vermont shortly.

I am, at best, a Peer.

After my experience in the State of Texas, which is 53rd in the U.S. even behind the Territories, everything is looking up for my personal hope, recovery and peace.  And last but not least, my favorite quote which should give you an idea as to my intent here at Cooper Riis:

“We the willing, led by the unknowing, are doing the impossible for the ungrateful.  We have done so much, with so little, for so long, we are now qualified to do anything, with nothing.”   Mother Teresa of Calcutta

5 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Jen, Thank you for mentioning me in your post; I am sorry for the hardship you describe and wish you the best for you to fully heal from the hard times you endured.

    I was informed by a colleague that you discussed my presentation at CooperRiis in this post and I checked it to sense your reaction. I apologize that I failed to communicate my feelings about having schizophrenia well, and I need to clarify that.

    For many years at my worksite and elsewhere in mainstream society I introduced myself like this: “My name is Milt Greek; I have schizophrenia.” During discussions about this I would often say that “I am proud to be schizophrenic.” I know this is mysterious and seemingly contradictory to many people, but for me I see my condition as an indication that I am a sensitive person who deeply cares about humanity and the Earth who underwent environmental stresses which resulted in experiences called “psychosis”. I like being a sensitive person who cares about humanity and the Earth, so if that means having to undergo psychosis to live in this world, I am glad to have traveled this path. Psychosis also changed me for the better, so I am grateful for the experience.

    When I indicated that I no longer say I am proud of having schizophrenia, I was not being unclear. I regret this. In the past few years I have become aware of the importance of humility, following Buddhist and similar practices. For that reason, I no longer say that I am proud to be a schizophrenic, but only because I seek to not experience pride in any quality of my self. It is more accurate, with my present viewpoint, to say that I am grateful for having experienced psychosis, of having been given the gifts that it gave me.

    Were I still in the mindset where expressing pride was part of my normal communication, I would still say, “I am proud to be a schizophrenic”, which I see as a parallel to the statement that we need “Mad Pride”. I realize that the terminology I use is strange to many, but for me, the statement “proud to be schizophrenic” translates as “proud to be a sensitive, caring person who has undergone trauma.”

  2. I think I understand what you are saying Milt. The problem lies with all the shame around mental health issues, and how to talk about it without alienating others through their prejuidice. Perhaps one could say “I am a sensitive, caring person who has undergone trauma and for me there is no shame in that” ??

  3. Jen,

    Thanks for sharing your story with courage and self-compassion.

    I, too, was really touched by Milt Greek’s presentation, in so many ways. As someone who has studied Buddhist and similar practices, I do believe I understand Milt’s concern that his desire to embrace and celebrate his unique gifts not be mistaken for false pride or egotism. I also sympathize with the Mad Pride movement which, perhaps, has not run its course as self- and other-directed stigma regarding mental health challenges and diversity is still so pervasive. Sometimes the pendulum has to swing wide to correct an imbalance and bring us all to center.

    What impresses me about you both, Jen and Milt, is that you have used both your suffering and your gifts, to enrich other’s lives significantly.

    We should all hope to live lives this full. Thank you both for sharing your hearts and lives.

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