**there is now a page with a collection of posts on: About having been both a mental health professional and a psych patient
To be or not to be: professional or consumer?
This post started as a comment in the last thread, so some of you may have read the beginning of it, but I go much deeper into the issues it touched for me here.
I had a sobering experience the other day which makes me wonder about how I will proceed when I move on with my career. I was not “out” when I practiced social work and I was highly regarded and respected in general. The one instance where I did out myself I was treated like crap and badly.
The other day I made a comment on a blog of someones who is very well known in the internet world as a “bipolar expert” but this person themselves is a consumer who is also pro-pharma and in general in tight with the pharma hos that control this world.
Without forethought I left a comment on a post I took umbrage with. I chose not to use my pseudonym, but used my real name instead. I had never left a comment there so I was not doing anything to intentionally mislead and I didn’t even know when I started the conversation that I was going to pull the “professional” card which I do from time to time in any case under my pseudonym, but that is generally overshadowed by my identification as a consumer.
In the first comment made to this blog author I did not mention my professional history nor my “consumer” status. We got into a discussion with me arguing my point.
At one point I told this person, “in my experience as professional social worker…blah blah blah…” I might add we were talking about a population of “consumer’ of which I am not a part, so in essence I could only speak about the people the person was talking about as a professional as I don’t have personal experience with the issue that was at hand. So in that regard I would have presented myself in this manner, in any context, with or without my pseudonym or my consumer status.
Do you know what this person did?? They went back and CHANGED their post based on my speaking as a professional…had I had my pseudonym and my website attached to my name no such thing would have occurred.
It sickened and saddened me profoundly. I am so tired of putting my heart out on the line and being ignored as the expert consumer that I am.
And it frightened me too because it dawned on me for my own sense of sanity it would be much easier to speak from the closet with my knowledge of being a consumer, but AS the professional that I also am.
Part of doing this blog was about reclaiming myself. I spent 12 years as a social worker who did not reveal to most of the people I worked with my diagnosis. I was actually highly respected and my knowledge, collected mostly by personal experience was recognized, though not understood. They simply thought I was a thorough social worker with a passion for psychiatry. I never got a masters, so I dealt with a bit of an insecurity, but it was only mine. I was never hired for BA level jobs. From the very beginning (after doing volunteer work in the field) I figured out how to write a cover letter and ace an interview and get the coveted MA level jobs. All my colleagues were MSWs and LCSWs and licensed psychologists and psychiatrists. Once I got the job, people forgot about my formal education and instead saw how I contributed and how much I knew—most often a lot more then they did.
Oh, most interestingly, I had the ears of psychiatrists at my last job. They used to ask me for advice on treatment!! I was not as skeptical about the role of drugs as I am now, but I certainly advocated hard for my clients when they had bad side-effects and often got their cocktails changed accordingly and the docs realized I actually knew their patients better then they did. I spent hours with them after all to each 15 minutes they spent with them. I also supported people who refused meds and helped them manage to get what they want. Docs fucking listened to me and took my advice about treatment strategies…but again, they thought me unlabeled and therefore, clean.
Frankly I don’t know how I will reenter the professional world…I’m sick of not being taken seriously, but up until recently I assumed I would reenter identified as a consumer along with my professional experience. At this moment I don’t know if I have what it takes to deal with the bigotry in mental health circles no matter how enlightened.
I’m also now part of various “professional” email groups with the name Gianna Kali and my consumer status written into my signature in my emails. The holistic psychiatry group is horrifyingly silent when I share. They still suffer from much of the same crap the ordinary psychiatrists suffer from…not every one of them, but a large number and they, through their silence discredit me routinely—clearly showing they place no value on my knowledge and insight. It’s a constant reminder that if I go out into the world as I’ve done on this blog but instead be among professionals I will be judged in the workplace.
Mind you, I am not a different person. I WAS respected when I was in the closet, and now out of the closet wearing my consumer badge, I’m routinely NOT respected.
The other professional group is much more welcoming and they are mostly psychologists and in fact published me in their journal…but they have a lot of people like us in their ranks…labeled people who have recovered and gotten professional degrees.
Anyway…I’ve thought about reverting to my real name in some circles on the internet and starting to post as a professional, but that may also screw with my head too much. I truly am that professional but my personal experience informs my judgment in large part and damn it, I don’t want to hide again, but I’m also tired of being hurt and ignored by people who think they treat us like real human beings….and are completely blind to their hypocrisy when they blithely dismiss what we say and don’t even realize it or so easily rationalize their poor judgment that it’s not even noticed.
When I spoke as a professional on that blog I spoke with the same voice I use every day in my writing. The only thing that was different was the persons perception of who was behind the words.
Fuck prejudice and bigotry and that is what we are up against when we present as expert consumers.
My husband was kind of rough on me when I told him I thought I would go back in the closet for professional reasons. He said that does nothing to help dispel the stigma. And in some ways he is right. But is it my job to take an emotional beating each time I’m not taken seriously because I have a label? Can I not take the “consumer” point of view and nail it into people’s heads with my “professional” hat on?
I know that I will have to resolve this issue and most likely I wouldn’t be able to live in the closet again. But being that I’m tired of being bruised and beaten I can’t help but fantasize about being in a position of power and authority again where people don’t hesitate to listen to my point of view because as far as they know I’m a “sane” person. And gosh, if I’m one of them slamming their ugly attitudes about the people they treat, might I not accomplish something more? I don’t know.
Have at it in the comments. Tell me I’m full of shit to even consider going back in the closet.
I realize I may be thinking to much inside the box. Perhaps there is a place for me helping those of us that are labeled, but far, far away from the myriads of hypocrites in the field.