Not my diagnosis


A couple of weeks ago I attended a meeting of peer specialists, mental health survivors and advocates. Many of the participants were fed up at what they considered the slow pace of change in the Milwaukee mental health system. Some discussed acts of civil disobedience they were contemplating if things didn’t improve very rapidly.

Our struggle to become recognized as mental health professionals along with clinicians has been very painful for us. Our access to peers can vary tremendously depending on the site and the clinicians with whom we are working. We may end our shifts feeling marginalized or thinking “yes! I made a difference!”

Ironically, one of the things I most remember was how many times the participants mentioned their diagnoses. I became aware of this phenomenon halfway through the meeting although I did not comment on it. Instead I thought about something I heard regarding a mental  health activist who had been given a grave diagnosis of schizophrenia that he didn’t find particularly enlightening. He went on to prove that the diagnosis was only a snapshot of his life from long ago, and a particularly fuzzy one at that.

So I typically avoid saying anything about what kind of disorder the psychiatrist might have thought that I had. For one thing most of what he diagnosed was based upon my self-reporting. I was very motivated in those discussions to explain why I was down on my luck instead of using my undergraduate and graduate degrees. “Mr. Yamel, why exactly and what  are you angry about?” Good questions, doc. If I  knew the answers I probably wouldn’t be here.

As the memory of that horrible period in my life recedes, I take on new memories. I remember the stories of people who succeeded in making very difficult changes in their  lives.  I think about making difficult changes in my life. I think about the road ahead. The old saying attributed to Satchel Paige, don’t look back, something might be gaining on you, seems especially relevant.

The old picture of an angry black man has been replaced and where I’m going no diagnosis could predict.

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