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Selfless Living

Selfless Living

”soliciting my grandmother for money for a project and then, when she told my mother, I denied the event, blaming her misunderstanding of my behavior on her dementia…’

I’ve lived a rich & privileged life. In my youth I was resistant and disagreeable, at time challenging my peers, family, friends, and employers. Later, teachers, professors, and law enforcement. The richness of my life created opportunities for me expose myself to a tremendous amount of diversity, experiences, people, & systems. After my break, my ongoing disability would force me to accept a life of compliance with these systems I was either required to participate in, or adhere to out of fear I would either lose privileges and even my rights to live in the community.

As a therapist, many of my clients are curious about my lifestyle. Sometimes they even speculate, or think that I “side” or agree with their perspectives without soliciting my opinion. My peers do the same. I choose to share aspects of my life with clients, and peers alike, if its relevant to their struggle or problem or will help to shed additional perspective on their lives. Without getting into a monologue on regrets, I have made my share of mistakes too, but these mistakes are the learning moments which define not only my identity but has also been the point of departure in exploring my innermost demons.

One example was soliciting my grandmother for money for a project and then, when she told my mother, I denied the event, blaming her misunderstanding of my behavior on her dementia. Believe it or not, there is a learning moment to be discovered in such vile and shameful behavior. There is always a learning moment.

This discussion isn’t so much a catalog of learning moments it is a canon of cathartic epiphanies and the resultant circumstances I have discovered after battling chronic illness and ongoing misfortunes. Indeed, after my break, and requiring catastrophic round the clock medical care, I was forced to sign up for Medicaid and not have an income which exceeded the regulations around qualifying for state sponsored insurance.

In so few words, working, going out with friends & coworkers, anything that costs money is paid by the government in disability checks or my family who has been generous enough to fill in the gaps between my lifestyle, & the income coming in from the state. So, I pay to go to work. Or rather, so the state and my family pay me to go in, part-time, and work. Knowing full well after my break that I would never live a life generating substantial or even gainful income through my employer, I choose to live a life in which my work would be in the service of helping others, kindness, and respect for human life.

This is why I have chosen social work and treatment for people with chronic mental health conditions. Trust me, I wouldn’t trek into the South Bronx three times a week, putting my safety at risk each day I walk the streets, if I knew that leaving my privileged lifestyle for just a minute would improve the lives I worked with and touched with my presence.

J. Peters

J. Peters

Max Guttman '08, MSW '12, is the owner of Recovery Now, a private mental health practice. Through his work as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, therapist and disability rights advocate, Max fights for those without a voice in various New York City care systems. He received a 2020 Bearcats of the Last Decade 10 Under 10 award from the Binghamton University Alumni Association. Guttman treats clients with anxiety and depression, but specializes in issues related to psychosis or schizoaffective spectrum disorders. He frequently writes on his lived experiences with schizophrenia. "I knew my illness was so complex that I’d need a professional understanding of its treatment to gain any real momentum in recovery," Guttman says. "After undergraduate school and the onset of my illness, I evaluated different graduate programs that could serve as a career and mechanism to guide and direct my self-care. After experiencing the helping hand of my social worker and therapist right after my 'break,' I chose social work education because of its robust skill set and foundation of knowledge I needed to heal and help others." "In a world of increasing tragedy, we should help people learn from our lived experiences. My experience brings humility, authenticity and candidness to my practice. People genuinely appreciate candidness when it comes to their health and recovery. Humility provides space for mistakes and appraisal of progress. I thank my lived experience for contributing to a more egalitarian therapeutic experience for my clients."
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