NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness, which is great place to build a career, if you know what I mean) has a program for the mentally unbalanced like me to go and give testimonies (and free advertising for NAMI).
|Unless you take offense to the way we treat you|
Without knowing much about the actual program, I sent in my app and received a call from one of the honchos running the program. She was looking forward to seeing me. Two weeks later when I showed up, she had not only forgotten who I was, I looked up and down the table and didn’t see a name card with my name on it.
You don’t do that to me.
I had already applied for a job there that I was well-suited for – communications/outreach. Heck, why not? I worked at 5 daily newspapers, had a radio talk show, worked for three Federal government public affairs shops, AND – Bonus! I’m whacko bipolar 2. Did I mention I have extensive public speaking experience?
I never heard anything from my app until that initial meeting where they introduced the guy they hired. Unsurprisingly, he was half my age, thin, pretty and deferential and damn happy to have this job. Geez, I could have accepted it if they had just interviewed me.
Well, the woman who didn’t remember talking to me, fussed around and made a hand-written name card which she plopped in front of me, and pulled an unused seat from the corner of the room for me to sit in.
Ever feel like Charlie Brown in real life?
Oh, I should also mention that for the last five months I had been coming to this room for a support group meeting for people with bipolar illness and their friends and family. My input was genuinely appreciated by the parents who were going through such a rough time. I wanted to do what I could.
I wanted to get involved.
So now I’m sitting here like a dork with my hand drawn sign, looking around the room and seeing many of these people already know each other (like a club) and then the moderator slaps a packet of information in front of me that was sitting untouched at another table.
Welcome to NAMI. Want a cookie?
At the first break, I left, but not before I wrote a little clue for the staff on the back of the form. Basically, I said, here I was, a guy with bipolar2 and social anxiety and you TALKED TO ME two weeks ago, promptly forgot who I was, lost my application, acted like I was an interloper of some kind, never apologized – do you wonder why I left? We’re not supposed to treat our own like this, don’t you think?
I never got a response and I never heard from the support group again – not even an email asking where I was nor a newsletter.
Blacklisted by NAMI. Well.
In the end, it was just as well. What became clear in looking at the materials I was given is that NAMI would strictly control what we would say about ourselves when out in public. Remarks had to be structured to a prearranged formula which needed to be covered from A to B to C. And the class would drill this formulaic speaking into you and make sure you followed the script by sending more senior speakers with you on your speaking engagements.
You know, to see if you’re reliable.
If I’m going to talk about my illness, it’s going to be on my terms on my time. Picture a stand up comedy routine married with a TED talk. Sort of. I’m good at it. I used to entertain thousands before I pissed off the cops and politicians by telling the truth about them.
But being well medicated and understanding my history, no one would have any worries about my public speaking.
But I will not get in anyone’s straight-jacket. Yes, that’s intended.
I guess I should not have been surprised by what went down. It’s happened before in other venues. I’ve read comments in Psychology Today and other mags bemoaning why is it that the people in the ‘helping professions’ are such Machiavellian assholes to their co-workers and within their profession? I’m picking on NAMI here, but I’ve heard the same thing about other organizations where careerism overcomes service.
Mentally ill people are not ‘props’ to expand the empire of a local MI (mental illness) organization or public profile of that MI organization’s executive leadership. They are autonomous individuals with hard won pride and dignity whose ‘stories’ do not fit into any speech outline.
They are also people who should be treated with the utmost respect by members of those MI organizations. After all, they’re the reason for your expense account.