Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Still more nightmares with Social Security Administration

This has been going on for over a year now.

When I received a letter last fall that said I was, "not disabled" because I had made too much money in one month (October, 2013), and that I might owe over $14,000 I could have simply killed myself rather than go through the nightmare I have gone through to fight it. But I fought it. Like I always do.

I've been on Social Security Disability since 2000. I'm not ashamed to admit it, because I actually am a disabled person who deserves her benefits, although this is a fact the staff at the SSA fail to understand.

When I first started getting SSDI, my benefits were around $600 a month. I lived in Alexandria, VA, which is basically like living right in Washington D.C., one of the most expensive cities in the U.S. Try living there on $600 a month. Now, you might understand why I resorted to what I resorted to for money. I literally had no choice, since I was and am both physically and mentally unable to work a full time job of any kind, as I have been all of my life. At that time, I was also unable to work a part-time job of any kind that required such things as filling out an application, going to an interview, and following a schedule for which I had to show up. That is because I was floridly psychotic, and manic, at the time, and remained that way for seven solid years of my life, undiagnosed, and unmedicated. Further, I had zero family support. So, I was left to my own devices, and there weren't very many of them to use.

In 2006, as I became more stable (still having auditory hallucinations and delusional thoughts all day  every single day, but "more stable"), I began to work part time. YOU ARE LEGALLY ALLOWED TO WORK PART-TIME WHILE YOU RECEIVE SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY BENEFITS. The only thing you are NOT allowed to do is make too much money. It doesn't matter to them how many hours you work or what kind of job you do, what matters to them is how much money you make.

I used to make less than $800 gross per month, since I needed to stay below the limit, but I also needed things like an apartment, a car, electricity and food. So I worked part-time, which I was, and am, LEGALLY ALLOWED TO DO.

Last fall, after I got that letter, which was not the first time I received a letter stating that I had gotten an "overpayment", but was the first time I received a letter stating that I was "not disabled" and that I owed the government of the United States over $14,000, I began  my fight. I immediately went to the office in person. I filled out the paperwork and sent it in, with detailed pages, written at great length explaining my life and my symptoms and what my illness is like and precisely how mentally disabled (and physically disabled, but that is not the primary problem most of the time), I am.

I explained that at no time was I aware I had made too much money in October 2013. The amount of "too much money" I made was approximately $100.

For $100, the Social Security Administration decided I was (perhaps, as it was left up in the air for a year of my life) not disabled. And that I was never disabled for years. And that I owed them back all of the money that I had received.

So I sent in my paperwork, and more forms were mailed to me. I filled out those forms, and I sent them in. I went to the office. I called the woman I met at the office repeatedly on the phone, as my benefits were about to be cut off, which would have left me unable to financially survive, so I needed this taken care of immediately. It was NOT taken care of immediately. It has now dragged on and continues today.

When my paperwork reached "DDS" the Disability Determination Services office, they wanted me to fill out another bunch of forms about my work, what kind of work I do, etc., and I did that and, as usual, added extra letters with it. I faxed them and it cost me about $45 to print and fax that paperwork from FedEX, money which I did not actually have.

I then waited. And waited. And waited. I had been told my benefits might be cut off forever, although they were being "temporarily" continued, and that I might owe over $14,000, none of which I possessed.

They did not make a decision, so finally, this past summer, I got a "representative". This is a person who works for a law firm, although she is technically a paralegal and not a lawyer, and she was recommended by someone on the NAMI board to help me. Legally, under Social Security rules, she cannot be paid to help me fight to retain my benefits, so to take my case she would have to do so for free. I knew it was up to her to decide whether she had the time to do that, and I was IMMENSELY grateful when I met with her in her office, handed her my piles of paperwork, and she said right off the bat, "I am going to help you, Jennifer. This is WAY too much for you to be dealing with on your own. This is ridiculous".

She then started dealing with it for me, but in August or September, or sometime around then, I got a horrible phone call from someone at the local, Clearwater, Social Security Office, who I wish I could name here, but I will not, for fear of being sued. This woman was so rude and so patronizing to me, it was unbelievable. The conversation stopped after 20 minutes, when it became clear to her that she really had no idea what was going on with my case, and she needed to look into it further on her computer, and call me back. This happened on a Saturday, when I did not even think they were open, and if I knew it had been her calling, I would not have answered the phone. I told her that I had a representative handling my case, and she told me, "You don't need one of THOSE, for THIS, they aren't going to do ANYTHING." Legally, she was supposed to have contacted my representative, not me. But she would not do so, which happens to be against the law.

She called me back 20 minutes later, and then we had a conversation that lasted half an hour during which she accused me of lying about having ever been disabled at all to the Social Security Administration, having never told them I worked (I have told them on the phone, in person, and in writing, that I had part time jobs every single time I worked, repeatedly), and that I had purposely "not sent in pay stubs of all your pay checks" which she claimed I was supposed to have done since 2006. I told her that at no time, in all of my many dealings with the SSA, had anybody EVER said anything to me about having to send in "pay stubs", to which she said, "EVERYBODY KNOWS YOU HAVE TO DO THAT!". She talked to me like I was an idiot.

I am not an idiot.

I immediately emailed my representative and told her about the phone call and gave her the woman's name. She said that woman was legally supposed to have contacted her, especially when I ASKED HER TO CONTACT MY REPRESENTATIVE, not me, and that they were not supposed to be doing this to me. She said that she was going to call that woman's supervisor that Monday, and discuss this. She said that everything that woman said to me made no sense at all.

What that woman said to me was that the Social Security Administration decided I did NOT owe the $14,000.

That was the good news.

But what she also said was that I DID owe over $1700, for reasons which she COULD NOT EXPLAIN. I specifically asked her to explain it, and what came out was some ridiculous rambling of a technical issue regarding the dates when some paperwork was filed.

It made no sense AT ALL.

So my representative started dealing with it from then on.

I was at that time, already in a severe depressive episode. I did NOT need this added stress, nor do I need it today.

I called my representative from the hospital a few weeks ago, and asked her what was going on with the $1700. She said that she had appealed it, but no decision had been made yet.

I got a letter last Saturday that said, evidently a decision had been made (the letter made no mention of a decision or the reason why I owed the money), that I would receive no disability benefits for the next two months.

In other words, I will have no way to pay my rent, my car payment, or my car insurance, or my electric bill for two months.

That is not something I can live through right now.

I immediately emailed my representative, and she told me to send her the letter by fax or scan. I went to the library that day, scanned it, and emailed to her. She called me yesterday morning. She said, "Jennifer, the only thing that you can do to resolve this immediately is go there in person right away, and tell them your situation. I wish I could go there with you, but I do not have time this week. Tell them how you are about to become homeless if they take away your benefits for two months. Tell them that you just spent a month in the hospital. Tell them that you NEVER GOT A WAIVER to be able to appeal this decision before this decision became final."

I freaked out of course, ever since Saturday, and I'm still freaking out right now. I called my case managers. One of them does not know anything about disability benefits, a fact which she herself stated (both to me and to the lady who works at the SSA). She is my main case manager, fresh out of college and very new at her job. The other case manager is more experienced. She knows how disability works, but she didn't believe me when I told her about the letter I got because she said, "they cannot legally do that and they never do that". So I emailed her the letter. She wrote back, "Take your hospital discharge papers with you to that office". My main case manager, the one who knows nothing about Social Security, met me there this morning, which I needed someone to do, because:
 #1 I am on the verge of a breakdown and
 #2 I need these people to understand that I REQUIRE WEEKLY VISITS FROM CASE MANAGERS because that is how ill I actually am, whether they choose to believe it or not.

So, I wanted her there to tell them that, which she did. I also wanted her to tell them that my apartment was such a disaster that the case management department had to, for the second time, pay someone to clean it for me while I was in the hospital, so I would not get evicted, because my activities of daily living were so poor that it got into that bad of a state. But she never mentioned that to the woman at Social Security. I wish she was more experienced, so she could have understood how important it was to explain the extent of how sick I've been. She is kind, and I appreciated her being there, but she was really unable to be of much help since I know more about all of this than she does.

The woman at Social Security was at first very friendly, on the surface level, much more so than the woman who has been handling my case and who, my representative had found out, is on vacation this week, thankfully. However, she was also, just like all of them, completely patronizing to me. She also clearly knew absolutely nothing about my case, which has gone on for over a year, except the notes that the horrible woman, who my representative has herself referred to as a horrible woman from her own dealings with her, has left in my file. She lectured me about how, "Disability benefits are for people who are physically unable to work".

No, disability benefits are for people who are PHYSICALLY OR MENTALLY unable to work.

During our conversation, she tried to claim such things as "You are on SSI", which is patently untrue. I have not been on SSI for many years, and I told her that. So she looked at her computer again and said, "Oh, well you were on it in 2001 and 2002, but that's not what the money you owe is for."

I mean, can we get any more stupid than this?

I pointed out to her three or four times that I am legally allowed to work part-time while being on Social Security Disability, as long as I do not make too much money, a fact she apparently thought I was going to be too stupid to know, because she kept saying, while looking at my case manager (not me, as if I was too dumb to grasp this stuff) that "Disability benefits are for people who are UNABLE TO WORK". Wrong. Disability benefits are for people who are unable to work full time jobs, but people receiving SSDI are legally allowed to work part-time. I kept repeating this. She knew it was true, but she apparently wanted to pretend it was not.

The end result of this was that she blamed my representative for the fact that my benefits were about to be canceled for two months, claiming some form that had been sent in by her had not been initialed,  and lectured me as if I was a complete newbie at this, which I obviously am not, as I have been on SSDI for 15 years, until finally,  I had to fill out a form agreeing to pay back money that I should not legally owe at all. However, the agreement was to pay it back at $23 per month, until it is paid off, so that I would, IF THIS FORM IS APPROVED, get my checks for the next two months.

But there is NO guarantee that this form will be approved.

I wrote down a lot more on that form that the woman wanted me to write. She said, "What are you doing to me Jennifer???!!! I told you just to write that you owe the money and you will pay back $23 a month! What are you writing???"

If I am signing a damn form, you bet your ass I am going to write the facts on the form before I sign it. I wrote that I have Schizophrenia (SSA is too stupid to have heard the term "Schizoaffective" and does not know what it means), and that I had just spent a month in the hospital for being suicidal, and that if I do not get my benefits next month, I will become homeless. I wrote that I did not know what I owed this money for, and that I had been fighting with SSA over it for over a year, and the stress had been so bad for me that I had to get a representative who is now handling my case. I wrote that I have a job, which is low-stress because that is all I can manage, that I have to work part-time because I cannot LIVE on $878 a month, which is how much I get from Social Security, and that I have a job that accommodates me by letting me take a month off to go into the hospital every year. It has actually happened more than once in the same year before, and I should have mentioned that too.

I then wrote, I agreed to pay $23 a month in order to keep my benefits.

I signed the form.

She read it and looked shocked. "OH! YOU ARE INTELLIGENT!!" She said, in a most ridiculously patronizing manner. She obviously thought that the word Schizophrenia meant stupid. While she was typing she also lectured me on how ridiculous it is to kill yourself, because "life is beautiful and there are people with cancer who have it a lot worse than you". She also said, "Look, I got this little cut on my hand this morning, but do you think I decided to kill myself over it?". She literally said that to me, and to my case manager. I wanted to scream.

When she walked away, I looked at my case manager and said, "Mental illness does not make me stupid". She said, "I know", and rolled her eyes.

After leaving there, I immediately called my representative, and gave her the information on exactly what the woman said, which according to my representative made no sense whatsoever, regarding some form that supposedly had not been initialed, which is why I was getting all my money taken away, as that form was not a form I would have ever needed to turn in, according to my representative (because I was taking notes as this lady was talking to me, and I wrote down the number of the form she said was not initialed). My representative said, "I am calling her today, and I am going to follow up in writing on Monday, and if we have to, Jennifer, we will take this to Congress, because you have documentation, and I have documentation of everything that they have ever said to me and every person I have spoken to there about your case."

I told her that the woman had left me with the advice to, "immediately return if you do not get your check next month, and bring your rent bill to prove that you are about to become homeless, so we can see if there is anything we can do."

I explained to my representative, this will not work for me, as my rent is due the day after I am supposed to get my check, which will not be in my bank account for the rent to be paid if I do not get it.

As you might imagine, I am quite upset right now.

My case manager said that she would speak with the other case manager, who I also called myself and left a voice message for about what happened. I told her to please talk to the housing department at the agency where she works, which is the agency that owns my apartment, to see if I could avoid becoming evicted next month if I do not get my check, and she said she would try to do that.

I am extremely anxious now, because I will not know until December 3rd if I am getting the money or not.

So I am supposed to live until then wondering if I will lose my car and my apartment and not have money for food or electricity for two months, until December 3rd.

This is a little too much stress for me, having just come out of the hospital.

The patronizing lady at Social Security told me that I was beautiful, so there was no reason for me to want to kill myself.

I should have said, "Oh that makes my illness completely go away now!".

I hate the Social Security Administration. They have put me through hell countless times, and I despise them, and their bureaucracy, and all the people I have dealt with there who are so completely ignorant about mental illness that they patronize everyone who has a mental illness and do not consider mental illness to be really disabling.

All I can do now is hope for the best.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Stigmatization. Being Ostracized Again By Family Members due to Severe Family Dysfunction. And Anger is Part of this Post.

The image below is not the same exact image. In the one I am about to discuss, the patients are actually in the cafeteria, and Jack Nicholson looks much more "crazy". It is an incredibly stigmatizing image. The caption reads: "Being popular on Facebook is lke sitting at the cool table in the cafeteria of a mental hospital".

Two days ago,  my stepmother posted that image on Facebook with the word, "True!" as her comment.

That was two weeks after yet another one of my psychiatric hospitalizations, of which she is well aware. She is also well aware that I was there because I was suicidal, and that my best friend had called the police thinking I was dead.

I made a comment under her Facebook post. I said, politely, "Images like this are very offensive to me, and not remotely funny. Especially considering I just got out of a mental hospital two weeks ago, and you are married to my dad."

I made another comment, because I wanted to make a point since someone had already, "liked", her post, "If anyone in my family wants to know how funny it actually is to live with a mental illness, try asking me about it. I wrote a published book on Schizophrenia, an essay on my illness in another book, and have devoted the past eight years of my life to the National Alliance on Mental Illness precisely because jokes like this ruin the lives of people like me, if we are not dead by suicide already".

This did not lead to an apology. She removed her post and sent me a text telling me she "had no idea" it would offend me, and then went on a long rant in defense of herself, telling me, yet again, as she always does, how incredibly stressful her life is.

I have spent about seven or eight years now listening to my stepmother talk about her life every time I see her. And I have never once heard her ask a question about my life, ever. In fact, at every single opportunity, when I go to my dad's house and he leaves the room, she puts me in the role of her personal therapist, telling me in detail about their supposed financial problems (they are wealthy and know nothing about what real financial problems are like; I live in poverty), their legal battles with my dad's second wife over money, my stepmother's worries about her liver enzymes and any problems whatsoever in the lives of her two perfect daughters who she endlessly talks about every time you communicate with her, my dad's health problems, my dad's drinking, about how they don't have enough money for her to go on enough vacations even though she travels out of state at least once every two months, my sister who she dislikes and who she point-blank tells me she dislikes even though that is my own sister she is talking about and I have no reason to be more loyal to my stepmother than my own sister (my half sister), my brother who she dislikes (my half brother), any wrongs anyone has ever done to her, including one time when she told me how a former employee of my father's who got angry and quit working for my father then stopped being friendly to her and stopped clicking "like" on her Facebook posts (yes, she considered that a legitimate life problem that I was supposed to care about). She was serious. 

My dad has no idea about any of this, because I allowed her to treat me as her confidante, and I listened to her crap even though it literally drove me batty, and I put up with her selfish, completely self-absorbed way of never once asking me about my life, whilst she rambled endlessly about her own and everything that was wrong with it.

She is a woman with no job. As soon as she married my dad, even though her one daughter was already in college and the other was about to graduate high school, so she had no children to take care of, she quit her job as a preschool teacher, so that she could live entirely off my father's income, and not have to work. She is that lazy, that she doesn't feel the need to work, as an adult with no disability whatsoever who claims to have tremendous, horrible financial problems.

She is a woman who lives in an upper middle class subdivision, in a three bedroom house that has a pool and a jacuzzi in the back, and a remodeled kitchen and living room she had done when she got married to my dad.

She is a woman who buys her groceries at any grocery store she pleases, at any price they cost.

She is a woman who has never experienced a serious illness of any kind.

And yet, I am the one who has listened to her litany of complaints about her life, every single time I have been around her, for all these years. The reason for this is that my dad literally cannot stand to listen to her talk, so when I go to his house to visit my father, he goes outside on the porch and watches TV there, leaving me alone with my stepmother, and then she starts ranting.

This has gone on far too long. But it was the joke about mentally ill people on Facebook two weeks after I got out of the hospital that was the straw that broke the camel's back.

Her text to me defending herself for putting that post on Facebook said that anybody might make a slight lapse in judgement "when they are under as much stress as I am".

And that was it. I had it.

So this is exactly what I wrote back, verbatim. I am going to type it for you, because I want the honest truth here for myself in case I ever want to look back at this event:

"I am under just as much stress as you. You do not mind telling me all your problems every time we communicate. I never tell you what it's like living on disability because you hear voices in your head all day, suicidal depressions for 25 years, and you also have a debilitating physical condition no one in your entire family wants to know exists. You do not know what it is like to get your food from food pantries or sleep in a car or a homeless shelter because no one cares about you. You do not know what it is like to be raped while psychotic on three occasions. I have an insane mother who I have been taking care of for 40 years and a father who barely knows me at all. You tell me all your woe is me stories all the time. There are a couple of mine. My income has never been higher than $17,000 a year in my entire life. Every night hookers and drug dealers get arrested in front of the building I have lived in for nine years because unlike you I cannot afford to live anywhere else because unlike you I am medically incapable of working full time and always have been. You do not visit food pantries with homeless people regularly. I do. And I am tired of hearing of how hard YOUR life is. You have never shown one speck of interest in the realities of my existence and you can try crying poverty to someone who is not ACTUALLY LIVING IT.":

The result of this was me shaking uncontrollably for three hours at work, and an argument that went on via text all night.

At no time in that discussion did she say, "I am sorry to hear you were raped three times", even though I told her that she was the only person in my entire family I had ever shared that information with. And even though that is what made me shake uncontrollably, wishing like hell I had my Ativan with me and had not left it at home, for three hours at my job.

I continued to detail my life problems at great length, as she continued in her defensive mode of operation. I wanted to explain exactly where I was coming from. I thought, perhaps, she would see the light, get my point of view, regret the way she has behaved and treated me.

One of her comments towards the end of the conversation was another stigmatizing insult about my mental illness: "I thought you were somewhat rational on your meds but obviously you are not", because if I am angry in my family, it means I am crazy and not that I am angry because an injustice has been done and I have every goddamn right to be angry. I had sent her so many details of exactly why I had every right to be angry, a compassionate human being who read my texts would have been in tears, not in self-defense mode. Not in insult-the-mentally-ill model.

I told her that I had no parents who cared about me, how my dad had not spoken to me for an entire six-year period in my 20's, and how I had to resort to working in an illegal activity that I cannot discuss on this blog but which you can probably figure out because a lot of women in poverty have to resort to it, to survive during that time. I told her what it was like to have to raise myself, raise my mother who was and still is emotionally and verbally abusive to me, and raise my brother and sister because my dad was absent as a father.

I told her all of that, and still, she was not compassionate towards me.

She told me I was unwelcome in my father's home for the holidays, and insinuated that I leave my father's life completely. I told her that if my father wants to kick me out of his life (which he is barely part of as it is), he will have to do so himself, because it will not be done by her.

In the end she told me that she believed nothing I said about my dad, because after I mentioned the fact she does not work, yet claims to be broke all the time, she got very angry. That was when she called me "irrational". I told her Walmart is hiring and maybe she could try operating a cash register, so my father who is disabled (by a car accident injury) wouldn't be forced to work in physical agony in order to support her. I told her that I knew she would have my father disown all of his children if it were up to her, and I also told her that we can't stand her any more than she likes us. That is another fact.

Yes, this is mean of me. I was angry. But I was justifiably angry. And the reason I am angry is her complete disregard for the realities of my life, my father's complete disregard for me as a human being, and their completely callous self-centered behavior and pervasive ignorance about mental illness. The reason I am angry is that I don't even EXIST to them. 

The reason I am angry is that I don't even MATTER to them.

She told me that she tries to get my dad to have a relationship with me but he doesn't want to. Whatever. That may or may not be the case. It doesn't make me like her, even if it's true.

I cannot stand her now.

I never want to be in the same room with this woman again as long as I live. 

And that means, basically, I just lost my father.

So this has been a difficult couple of days for me emotionally.

And it all started with stigma against people with mental illnesses. It all started when a family member who has steadfastly refused to have anything to do with NAMI, even though I've been involved with NAMI for eight years, and even though most of the people involved in NAMI are people who are FAMILY MEMBERS OF PERSONS LIKE ME, had to say ignorant, insulting, stigmatizing things to me, and show callous disregard when I divulged to her a secret I have held for many years which was and is terrifying to have divulged and which I am hesitant to post on this blog, even though I have before at some time in the past which I do not recall, because when I do mention it, I evidently block having done so out of my mind. Kristyn told me I have told her before, while I was in the hospital. I have no memory of that conversation ever happening and no idea when it was or where it took place. 

But yes, I was sexually assaulted three times while being completely psychotic, by men who used my mental illness as a weapon against me as a human being, and no, the first family member I ever told did not show an ounce of sympathy about it.

Yes, I am angry.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Photos of Mindfulness Walks and Being the Hero of My Story

I have been walking through parks most mornings.

I want to come here to vent, but one of my therapy goals is to write a new story.

In my new story that I wrote in the hospital, I detailed in dozens of pages, things I had accomplished in spite of mental illness.

In my new story, I am the hero.
I am not just a victim or even just a "survivor".

I am the hero.

When I walk, I listen to folk music, and I breathe in joy and breathe out depression. I breathe in peace and breathe out anxiety. I breathe in order and breathe out chaos. I breathe in serenity and breathe out distress.

It is working.

When I went to therapy this week, Kelly remarked on how centered, present, and grounded I seemed. I was making a lot of eye contact, she said. Evidently, I do not usually do that.

Here are are some photos of nature, from recent mindfulness walks. I will start with the daisies, my symbol of survival. My nickname is Daisybee because they grow through sidewalk cracks and withstand the brutality of lawnmowers. 
And they grow.

"Life is indeed, many ills, but the mind that views every object in its most cheering aspect, and every doubtful dispensation as replete with latent good, bears within itself a powerful and perpetual antidote."
-Lydia H. Sigourney

"No life is so hard that you can't make it easier by the way you take it."
-Ellen Glasgow

"There are two ways of meeting difficulties. You alter the difficulties or you alter yourself to meet them."
-Phyliss Bottome

"Life is change. Growth is optional. Choose wisely".
-Karen Kaiser Clark

"I have not ceased being fearful, but I have ceased to let fear control me. I have accepted fear as a part of life - specifically the fear of change, the fear of the unknown; and I have gone ahead despite the pounding in my heart that says: turn back, turn back, you'll die if you venture too far".
-Erica Jong

 "You don't have to be afraid of change. You don't have to worry about what's been taken away. Just look to see what's been added."
-Jackie Greer

"I have fought and kicked and fasted and prayed and cursed and cried myself to the point of existing. It has been like being born again, literally. Just knowing has meant everything to me. Knowing has pushed me out into the world, into college, into places, into people".
-Alice Walker

"Heed the still, small voice that so seldom leads us wrong, and never into folly".
-Mme. du Deffand

"Make it a rule of life never to regret and never look back. We all live in suspense, from day to day, from hour to hour; in other words, we are the hero of our own story".
-Mary McCarthy

Monday, November 16, 2015

My Personal Mission Statement

I mentioned in another post that I was working on certain goals in therapy, and that one of them was to write a "mission statement" for myself. You, now, are the first people to see it.

My therapist will see it tomorrow.

I took out my last name, though it is quite easy to find my last name from this blog or find my blog through my last name, and there are people who know me in real life who read my blog. However, most people who read this blog do not know my last name, and, for now, I prefer to keep it that way. Just for now. There is a lot of very personal stuff on here. So in the below, I am known as "Jennifer R."

I hope you like it.

It took some work.

Jennifer R.'s Mission Statement 

November, 2015 

I, Jennifer R., promise to honor and respect myself for my tremendous strength and numerous capabilities. I vow to give to myself compassion and care, just as I would give to any other human being on this planet. I believe that I am worthy; that I am not a failure; and that I am an innately beautiful and valuable human being, just for being myself. 

I hereby reject the notion that I need to be perfect, to perform, to achieve, to be liked and accepted by others, or to reach any other unnecessary goals in order to consider myself an innately beautiful and valuable human being, worthy of love and care.

I promise to work towards loving myself, practicing daily self-care, and accepting myself with all of my flaws, and in spite of all of the many mistakes I have made in my life. I reject shame, and I refuse to carry the weight of shame on my being any longer. I am a radical feminist, and I fully identify my experiences in the realm of violence against women and survival by any means possible with the experiences of other women who have lived through those same circumstances. My soul has no space for shame. My soul has space for joy, acceptance, love, and most importantly, forgiveness. 

I forgive myself for all of my past mistakes, which made me ashamed for so many years. I forgive myself for all of my imperfections. I accept myself just as I am, as an innately beautiful and valuable human being who is worthy of love and respect. 

I reject my family's treatment of me, and I refuse to give any thought or care to their opinions about my Self or my life any longer. 

My goal is this:  
To be a happy, healthy, fulfilled, and centered human being. 

This goal involves intensive work, and I commit myself to putting effort into that work on a daily basis. I promise to practice mindfulness, positive self-talk, reading positive affirmations, creating and looking at my positivity scrapbooks for self-esteem, utilization of all my coping skills, reading poetry, writing, art therapy, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, in addition to taking all of the medications that help keep me stable, with the keen awareness that medications are only the ladder, and I still have to climb up the steps. 

I will continue to work on myself, and this will include working on no longer beating myself up at all about anything, for any reason, because self-hatred has already done enough damage to my life for the past forty years, and forty years is long enough. 
I accept myself.  

I am worthy. 

I am okay.  

I am not a failure.  

I am at peace with who I am.  

Who I am is a radical feminist, a former NOW leader, a mental health advocate, a NAMI board member, a social justice activist, an antiwar activist who has protested in front of the White House and marched on Washington, an atheist, a member of the Unitarian Universalists of Clearwater, a vegetarian (pescatarian), an animal lover, a wonderful cat mom, a funny person, a poetry aficionado, and an intelligent, creative, witty, insightful, knowledgeable, caring, compassionate, kind, loving, honest, and humble human being, who has many flaws, and also many talents. 

I will no longer sit in judgment of myself, like I am constantly on trial for a horrible crime. I have done nothing to intentionally harm other people. I have done nothing to be ashamed of. I have done nothing out of hatred. I am not hateful, and I am not harmful to others. I refuse to spend any more time observing all of my mistakes as if they are felonies of the greatest degree, worthy of the death penalty.  

I refuse to give up on myself. 

I refuse to give up on my life. 

I do not want to die, and I refuse to give into the desire to die, the depression that has haunted me since the age of 12, the thoughts that ending my life is the way to solve all of my problems, or the notion that I am unable to live. 

I believe today that I am able, and fully capable, of living, and I want to be alive. 
I commit myself to staying alive, to breathing the air that I deserve to breathe, just as any human being on this planet deserves to breathe, of not feeling guilty for breathing that air, of not taking on the guilt trips that my mother tries to put onto me, of not carrying the weight of shame that my family burdens me with, or the shame with which I have always burdened myself, for being imperfect and for being human. I am not ashamed of myself. 

I refuse to carry shame for having a mental illness. I live with a disease called Schizoaffective Disorder. It is a disorder in my brain that is biological, and I will not stigmatize myself for it any longer. I am a mental health advocate who has spoken publicly about my mental illness many times, for years, has written published works about it, has taught classes about it, and has helped others with it. I have no business internalizing stigma. I am not Schizoaffective. I am a person. A person living with Schizoaffective Disorder. I am not a disorder. A disorder is not me. I am a human being, with a disease. I am also many other things, that are much more important than this, as noted above. 

I am the woman who created the group DAISIES (Dedicated Advocacy, Individual Support, Independence, and Education for Schizophrenia, in the hospital shortly after being diagnosed in 2005). I am the 23 year old woman who launched a protest at the homeless shelter I lived in, when people were being mistreated there, and contacted lawyers about it. I am the woman who got into Smith College and won a scholarship at 23 too. I am the woman who has taken care of many cats, all their lives. I am the woman who helped start Code Pink in Washington D.C. and sat in a peace vigil, in freezing temperatures, in front of the White House, for months, to protest the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan, before they even started. I am the 15 year old who refused to eat meat anymore. I am the 8 year old who declared she would never get married, and put it into writing in notarized affidavits that she gave to her sexist grandfather to keep. I am the radical healer of myself. I am the woman who has been a friend to numerous people, including one who I have never met in person, but have kept in contact with for 20 years. I am a writer. I am a good writing tutor. I am a graduate of a community college. I am a college student. I am published. I am a person living with Schizoaffective Disorder. None of these are mutually exclusive things. I embrace all of who I am.

From this day forward, I commit to accepting myself as a person who deserves respect, love, compassion, forgiveness, and care. From this day forward, I commit to accepting myself as a person living with Schizoaffective Disorder, who will have it for the rest of her life and will never know what it is like to have a brain that works the way "other" people's brains work. From this day forward, I commit to stop envying others, and I reject jealousy and vanity. I embrace serenity and grace. From this day forward, I vow to honor, love, and respect myself in sickness and in health, for all the days of my life.  
From this day forward, I, Jennifer R., accept My Self.


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