Friday, October 28, 2016

Ayelet comes out. In the Bronx. Does that count?

On Thursday, October 20, I flew to California to participate in a weekend of healing for survivors of sexual trauma. It was amazing, and I can't really write about it. Too huge. Very glad I went.

I landed the next Monday morning and stepped into a whirlwind of activity. Classes, conferences, meetings, I was all over the place. And that Thursday, I went to a conference at the Bronx VA.

The topic was holistic mental health recovery. Attending were clinicians, veterans, and peer specialists--people with lived experience of mental illness who then work with other people dealing with mental illness. They spoke openly and frankly about their struggles, side effects, and experiences as patients in a system that thinks eliminating symptoms is enough.

It's not. Recovery is about having a full like you enjoy, with friends, a nice place to live, and meaningful activity (paid or voluntary). And the psychiatrist on the panel kept droning on about how people with mental illnesses need to take medication, some people who have bipolar or schizophrenia, they need medication, blah blah blah. The peer on the panel respectfully noted that psychiatrists minimize even quite draconian side effects.

I raised my hand.

"I'm a clinical social worker, and I've spent a lot of time discussing side effects with clients," I said. "Mainly because their psychiatrists haven't. We don't have perfect medications, but we do have more than one option. I take three medications, and they work--pretty well. But not perfectly. Psychiatrists need to maximize the client's quality of life. If they gain weight on Zyprexa, give them Haldol with Cogentin! Think outside the box!"

Did I just come out as someone with a mental illness?

I was exhilarated and terrified, which involve very similar physical reactions. My heart was pounding; my head felt light; my breath was quick and shallow.

Did I just tell a room full of strangers and clinicians and colleagues that I have a mental illness?

Fortunately, they were the second to last panel, and the last panel was brief. After the conference concluded, I went up to the organizer. He's been trying to get me to go to one of his events for a while; after having to cancel twice, I finally showed up. How would he react?

With warmth. And a smile, and a handshake with a slow firm clasp. "Thank you so much for coming today," he said meaningfully. "Will I see you at the event on November 4?" (Sponsored by a different veteran organization.)

"I'll be there," I said. He smiled again.

The reaction was similar from the social worker who runs the local VA's suicide prevention/crisis line. "I'm so glad you spoke up," she said.

"I felt like I needed to," I said. "The peers were so brave and honest, sharing their experiences. I felt like I needed be honest as well." She's also looking forward to seeing me on November 4.

I'm not sure who else I'm going to tell, or when. But when I publish my incest article, I will use my name and photograph. One of the other survivors on the weekend is also a writer. She introduced me to World Pulse. I can tell my story there.
Copyright (c) "Ayelet Survivor"