Monday, June 29, 2009

Using my voice

Someone left a comment that she was looking for a post about my speech and how it went; so here you go.

Last Tuesday, as a member of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), I participated in my county's Crisis Intervention Team training by giving a speech about my life with mental illness. I took all your comments on this blog about what you would like the police to know into consideration, and I whittled down my 45 minute speech into a 20 minute one. I started out with descriptions of my life in the early days of psychosis, when I was 24 and had no idea I might be hallucinating or experiencing delusions. I went on to describe my many hospital trips, my horrible symptoms when I was completely psychotic, and my dealings with the police in various places where I lived.

I made a couple of key points that I wanted to be clear about: One, people with mental illnesses are far more likely to be the victims of crime than they are to commit a crime. Two, a person can seem completely fine even when she is psychotic and definitely not fine. Three, a person can be intelligent and psychotic at the same time. Four, mental illnesses make people (and women in particular) easy prey for criminals who will victimize us. Five, I can stand in front of a group of 50 police officers and describe my battle with Schizoaffective Disorder, and make logical sense, and clarify misconceptions, even while I still have Schizoaffective Disorder.

I didn't number or outline these points in this way, but these points were interspersed in my speech and these are some of the main things I wanted to convey. I also made the point that being psychotic is being terrified all the time, every day of your life (in my experience). I told them that I was always afraid of the police (which I still am, actually), and that when I was spoken to by police officers during situations that arose, I was often able to pretend as if I was not sick, because I knew enough to not discuss certain things most of the time in those situations. But I also told them, when I almost shot myself and was taken in handcuffs by the police to a hospital under the Baker Act (Florida law for involuntary hospitalization), and then kept hospitalized for nearly six months, that this was the best thing that ever happened to me. That hospital trip saved my life, as I was in the hospital long enough for the medication to begin working. And once it began working, I began to feel more, and more like myself.

I told the police about some assaults that happened to me, and I was very nervous, particularly about mentioning that. I told them about the car I stole because the voices told me I had to do it, and I had been nervous about mentioning that too. While I spoke, my hands were shaking. When I was finished, I tried to get a soda out of a machine and couldn't hold the money still enough to put it into the machine, as I was still shaking! . However, people in the audience told me I did not look nervous. Everyone who commented to me about my speech said I did a great job; that was nice to hear.

In the women's restroom, after I was finished speaking, two Sheriff's deputies said to me that I was brave, and that they couldn't have done what I just did if they were me. Then one of them told me about her sister. She said her sister is 34 years old (my age), and has Schizophrenia. She is nearly catatonic, and unable to care for herself, so she lives with her mother. This officer said that hearing my story gave her hope that her sister might be able to get better some day. This made my day! I will remember that comment for the rest of my life. The picture at the top of this post is the two officers I just mentioned, and myself at the 10th anniversary celebration and graduation for the Crisis Intervention Team training last week.
At the tenth anniversary of our CIT program, the chiefs of all local police departments (or most of them, anyway) were present as was the sheriff of the county. The officers who took the training I helped with were from Pinellas County Sheriff's office, Largo police department, Clearwater police department, and Pinellas Park police department. The chief of Pinellas Park's department gave a speech, in which she described incidents when people with mental illnesses were shot and killed by police officers who did not have the training to handle situations with people who have mental illnesses properly. She made the point that CIT saves lives. And that is why I wanted to do it, and am really glad I did. If they ask me to speak again in the future, I will do so.


  1. Congratulations Jen on having the courage, intelligence and just plain decency to get up in front of an audience (of police officers no less) and speak about your illness. I am really proud of you!

  2. I just checked your blog and was so glad to see that your talk with the CIT went well!! My son had a first psychotic break in Dec and ended up in an awful awful jail where the officers were abusive and didn't realize he was sick. I have since joined NAMI and very involved already.The CIT training is so important and you are so awesome for telling your story. I am very proud of you! Thank you!


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