Jargonizing the Stigma Concept:
Stigma is a mysterious external process that becomes internal that all message receivers face. Though stigma works in many different ways, I think it is particularly astounding and deceptive that it is not considered part of the definition of all forms of schizophrenia disorders. In my mind including it in the definition is a way of acknowledging and respecting that part of the negative outcome for those who suffer is the way society and our culture defines and treats the phenomenon of special messages. Acknowledging the role of stigma suggests that the outcomes of people becoming resigned to isolate, to sit and smoke all day in a board and care setting, is not only the result of their internal choice or abilities but the systemic interplay of individuals and the community that surrounds them.
For example, having myself transitioned from being treated like a hard-working, conscientious social worker who inspired social change, to a mental patient who needed to be locked on a ward for my own safety, I know that the power of this concept first hand. The transformation was profound! Suddenly my strengths were no longer defined by me. As I walked in circles on the floor to maintain my need for exercise, the only strength my psychiatric nurse gave me was that my family, in spite of all the hurt that I had experienced over the past fifteen years, was good family support. Two years later stigma still dogged me as a deli worker who worked under the constant threat of being fired. Now, fifteen years later, in spite of the fact that that I have a house, a wife, and a job where I am appreciated, I still battle with a sense of being slandered and rejected while my work remains unacknowledged. While I have not let stigma ruin me, I work with people who are extremely undervalued who are fighting the same demon. I write notes that diminish their efforts so the organization I work for can get paid.
When people seek mental health services from me, I routinely break what was once a cardinal sin to me early on in my recovery; I review my diagnostic history. I do this with love in my heart to help inspire recovery, however, in the process, the “s” word, “schizophrenia,” will bubble up.
I do this habitually in the outpatient program I work in. I have done this by redefining the medical model definition of the word so that it more accurately reflects the shared internal process that we with “schizophrenia,” or “schizoaffective,” or “bipolar,” or “depression,” or hosts of other diagnoses experience.
Nine Social Skills I Developed for Myself:
Though in developing these social skills, I initially took a stab at writing from a universal perspective, I have had enough experience running them by people in groups to recognize that many of these are personal. Mad people are very diverse. As a result, the following are meant to be helpful in helping message receivers consider social skills that they need to penetrate the cultural enclave of their choosing. However, it is a wide world with very distinctive individuals and cultures so message receivers need to be constantly exploring their social skills even if they are neuro-divergent, like me, and struggle to do so.
I, for example, have learned to adapt to a ghetto culture and am somewhat comfortable in these contexts, however, have a difficult time switching so that I can be in mainstream culture without losing my social skills. When I feel excluded or sense gossip and slander, I withdraw and lose my ability to socialize. Thus, my ability and sometimes willingness to overcome deficits varies.
The following are set up to help me survive and overcome hostile environments. I’d argue that all message receivers need to consider adjusting social skills to overcome stigma and work together to help each other be successful. Perhaps some of what I have put together for myself may help message receivers and their helpers spot these issues in others and better reflect on the social skills they need to use to replace their retaliation reactions. The goal is to build relationships instead of break them.
Social Skill #1: Learning lessons from being punished or unjustly victimized
Continue reading “Nine Social Skills Continued” →
To avoid punishment, message receivers will need to build relationships with people who socially sanction the message experience. Social functioning will often require that the message receiver engage in relationships that are in the culture of the “normal” consensus reality. In fact, by the time many message receivers make it into a group many are taught through the mainstream system of care (and perhaps through internalized stigma) to deny their symptoms and play it normal. Indeed at the onset of group, it can take a long while for many group members to share message experiences not only because those experiences are traumatic, but also because they fear being persecuted for doing so. While there are message receivers who stick to their guns especially early in their message crisis, many experienced message receivers already know what it takes to survive in a world dominated by storm troopers. Often, it is anger and emotional desperation that makes them act out their symptoms when in crisis. The game becomes to contain these experiences so that there is no punishment. People may notice something is up with some of us, but social sanctions forces people to contain themselves when they can. Often times the way this is done is silently disdained. And still there are very different degrees of social skills as message receivers do this.
For me personally, learning to submit to this process was very challenging without medication. I do not consider myself to hold good social skills on the whole. In addition to struggling with messages, I like many message receivers have been diagnosed with dyslexia, ADD, and consider myself to be influenced by a mild level of autism. My whole life I have gravitated towards people who are different who might give me a chance. Thus, message receivers who are likewise neuro-divergent might also struggle with basic social skills like looking people in the eye etcetera. While I do my best to accept what I perceive to be the bullying nature of a great deal of social interaction, I do not like the fact that social groups exclude and differentiate themselves from other groups. For me, genuine cuddling is very difficult. As a result, I tend to come from the vantage point that social skills are very difficult when this may not be the case for all message receivers.
January 7, 2017: I sit stunned in the wake of the tragedy of yesterday’s Fort Lauderdale shooting. As statements appear in the press that insinuate that these evil acts need to be avenged, I grieve for the senseless loss of life. I grieve and I also wonder if anyone cares to understand the dilemmas that people like Esteban Santiago-Ruiz face. Having just endured another holiday season as a mad person, I am reminded of the importance of giving social scapegoats a space to celebrate their otherness. As a licensed psychotherapist, I create safe places where the untold story can be heard. I know that a state of victimhood can be transformed to a celebration. I see it happen every day. It helps me exponentially.
Having caught a fever, I spent Christmas day in bed in victim mode, reflecting on the way I feel scapegoated. Instead of working through the pain like usual, I lay incapacitated, overcome. I thought of my project design that could bring specialized groups into the county service system. Turns out eighteen months of pro bono work only further smeared my reputation. I not only am left unnoticed, I know there are rumors based on past politics and current ones that I can do nothing about. I reflected how, when I recently shared these ideas in a survivor work group, I only felt further marginalized. This hurt, as did the fact that my award winning memoir isn’t selling.
Jargonizing the Social Sanctions Construct:
Consider this construct a commentary on the ineffectiveness of punishing retaliation reactions with irrational and endless social sanctions. In jargonizing this construct, I have had a lot of success in uniting message receivers behind the idea that their history of treatment experiences basically feel like punishment. Sure some can evade it. Too often this takes privilege or gifted abilities. But those of us who have made it to social rehabilitation might need to acknowledge the advantages we had, advantages that we may have taken for granted during the process due to our intense suffering. And additionally it can help to know ways that you are gifted. Doing this helps one be helpful to others.
Whether primarily appearing to be paranoid, grandiose, somatic, spiritual, religious, catatonic, disassociated or other the tendency of the mainstream to disagree and reject divergent views hurts message receivers in a way that may even open old wounds. And the goal of getting the person into a hospital or a jail and medicated feels initially like suppressive cruel and unusual punishment.
Jargonizing the Retaliation Reaction Construct:
This chapter’s construct consists of natural reactions that come up for message receivers as a result of acting as though their message experiences are the dominant reality.
Retaliation reactions can be as minor as a facial response: a glare, or a laugh; and in more dramatic occasions can involve actions that put the message receiver or the public at risk. In the course of this chapter I will provide some examples from my experience. While I certainly have observed the actions of others as most readers have too, I will limit the examples within, to my experience. Perhaps doing so will help make a case for group leaders to demonstrate their wellness by being able to take responsibility for their own complex behaviors.
Jargonizing the Trickster Concept:
The symbol of the trickster in Native American Navajo culture is the coyote. The coyote is a revered as a con, a sign of witchcraft, or a type of bad omen that will lead you into trouble and is very powerful. A trickster, as I am using it, is a predictive message that attaches to unconscious and conscious divergent views that are not proven to be true but that can become a powerful truth if it is trusted. Tricksters can become true via the mechanism of negative self-fulfilling prophesy. Becoming aware of this spiritual reality is very important to understanding trauma that gets experienced in a message crisis. Indeed, unless a message receiver can see a way out of very stark circumstances they may get sucked into a meat grinding machine that can make them disappear; they may end up lacking a social role and living in unhealthy circumstances. Understanding the trickster involves understanding how to overcome this social prediction.
Thus, thinking that others are going to exclude or institutionalize you will lead you to put negative energy out there that may help your fears come true. If helpers learn and believe in the power of this trickster spiritual trap, they may learn to practice techniques that trick the tricksters! Instead of receiving a double bind experience, let helpers trap message receivers into no way out but to win situations. This can help jostle a message receiver out of the trickster trap. This might need to be achieved repeatedly for a while before the message receiver learns to trust the helper. If a message receiver has been victim to trickster realities for ten years, one would not expect them to be healed from one intervention.
Self-Fulfilling Prophesies in All Aspects of Culture:
The spiritual concept of the positive self-fulfilling prophesy, which represents things like prayer and faith, is pivotal for message receiver and arguably for anyone dealing with trauma. As many people I have worked with have pointed out, the concept is present in the Bible and, I believe, in other spiritual traditions from the major world religions to the local indigenous practices. Whether this is true or not, I’d argue that the concept of positive self-fulfilling prophesy is also clearly present in modern music (I heard it in a John Mellencamp song) in self-help books (“The Law of Attraction,”) modern spiritual videos (“The Secret,”) and in the foundations of positive psychology. I am essentially arguing that this is a major cultural phenomenon that message receivers are simply denied in the current system due to labels and prejudice which they ever so desperately need!
I argue that the institution and wider culture fail to teach it to message receivers when it is so particularly needed in message crisis. Indeed, somehow social goals associated with self-fulfilling prophesy get permanently dropped when they need to be first and foremost on the helper and messages receiver’s mind. It is hard when someone is locked in a warehouse with nothing to do to teach such a concept. Still, some recovery minded helpers manage to help message receivers focus on activities in some stark circumstances.