Off-the-Wall-Street: the stigma of speaking truth to power (6-18-20)

When I felt called to write a blog on stigma, I ran it by the Opinions Page Editor of a major newspaper in my area who knew me from my days as a mental health advocate and also knew I had written for a local, competing weekly as a health reporter. She won national acclaim as a reporter for her coverage of mental health issues.

She thought it was not a good idea because of the stigma of having a severe mental illness in small towns in Montana. So she advised against it.

I did take her advice into consideration, but I forged ahead anyway because I felt called by a Power greater than myself to do so. She thought I could be ostracized in the small town where I now live and be an outcast.

I already am an outcast, as one who could find no barns where I could board my horse who is legally a service animal in the city I used to live. That is because I was a person who the former director of the mental health center said was the recipient of the worst stigma against a psychiatric patient he has ever seen.

He was my psychiatrist, as well. He had seen a whole lot in his many years at the largest city in the State of Montana.

It was he who ordered me to get a new horse after my former equine partner perished in a horrendous barn fire and I was blamed for it. That ended me up in the State Psychiatric Hospital, as I was committed in part based upon false testimony from a man with quite a rap sheet. I cannot speak to why he said I was hiding in his barn, all I knew is that I was not hiding. I was there to try to find my horse. He has a history of methamphetamine use and production (as he later told me) which can make even sane people become psychotic. So maybe he was hallucinating. I cannot say. Maybe he was just lying, because he can do that, as well. He is by his own admission an alcohol abuser, but it matters not. They were determined to commit me, although I was not a danger to myself or others. And they did.

Lesson learned, in truth because I did then have a lived experience. I was fully cleared of the allegations, and no charges were ever filed. None whatsoever, but the damage was done.

So when the psychiatrist later demanded I get another horse, that was not an easy prescription to fill. He said, “I want you to get another horse. There is nothing we can do for you here that can help you as much as Jack (my equine savior who died and was a treatment team member on my treatment team at the mental health center) helped you.” So, when a psychiatrist who has you committed and so fulfilled one of my worst nightmares–being committed to a State psych ward–gives you an order repeatedly, you do it. After all, he too was in the Army as was my father, who was also a doctor and whose voice could make the family dog cower in the corner with fear. I learned to obey.

Now I needed to find another place for my new equine partner to recover from two fractured legs and bone infection surgery and I could find none. So I ended up in a small town elsewhere and moved myself and him.

The trustee of my special needs trust refused to pay for a place for me, so I applied on my own to subsidized housing for seniors and the disabled. I qualified but it was not my first choice, but evidently a Power greater than myself had a plan, as well, in this move.

I would experience stigma here but not because of my psychiatric afflictions. I was told by a former neighbor that another neighbor had spread rumors about me that I was in a cult. So that was a new one for me, but what the hay, no experience is lost upon a writer, as my first journalism teacher taught me.

Now I know what it’s like to speak truth to power, and to be tried by fire of another sort. Just as my parents kicked me out of the house and made me homeless the first time when I raised my voice to her, so I know that to challenge authority I must be willing to pay the price or I ought not to open my mouth or write another word.

So when I broke my wrist, falling on the ice on the handicapped area of the slick sidewalk outside the senior housing where I now live, I wanted to use the experience to get back to work, not to sue, as other residents said they would if they were me.

I took a class on fall prevention at a nearby clinic and the Occupational Therapist who taught it was excellent and very informative. She said she would speak to the manager of the place where I lived and tell them of a product that could be applied to that place on the sidewalk to prevent another fracture by another resident. So she gave the manager that information as well as the owner of the building. They declined to follow her recommendation. I do not know why.

I had assumed it was expensive, but I did not know. So I asked her to send me a copy of the information myself so I could write about it, maybe for a senior newspaper in order for others to benefit. I stated to the manager the first time I met her, that it was my goal to go back to work. And so it was and remains.

I did not see myself as being a reporter again because the industry is in freefall and even top reporters are being fired left and right. The thing is, I still remain with that skill set.

It is just who I am to speak truth to power when I feel called to do so. I do not do it lightly because I know there is often a very high price to pay.

Now I am facing another eviction due to clutter, although a professional declutterer spent the day here and thought it should pass inspection. I guess that the standards here are higher ones.

Or maybe it is that I said I might write an article about the sidewalk treatment. Who knows? I have not done so. But I found the photocopied pages the Occupational Therapist sent me. The cost for the treatments she recommended? It was a range of $29.00 to $115.00, but labor was not included because the non-slip paint had to be applied. So I guess $29.00 may be too steep a price to pay to prevent a broken hip or worse.

Who knows the reason why the professional’s advice was not heeded? Maybe it was not necessary, but a neighbor who is 86 years old almost fell at the same spot after my fall. She was one who said she would have sued.

So I guess maybe the $29.00 is too high a price to pay to prevent a fracture–or not. Maybe it is just a management decision based upon other priorities. Are they wise or not? I know not.

All I know is that I have already been at work here. I am a mandated reporter of sorts, still. I am compelled by my conscience to speak truth to power. And I am willing to pay the price, whether or not I am eighty-sixed. I may get the chance to experience the eviction process because no experience is lost upon a writer and the standards here are high.

Game on. Keep tuned for an update. I have a feeling court may be in my future….

(time spent on this blog: a little over one hour, so not very fast still)

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