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I will always remember this short exchange between myself and a big wig. This big wig was what I call a clinician-crat in the system of care. The clinician crat worked for a local mental health agency assigned to my case.

 ‘You’re not easy to serve,’ the director of care management said. ‘What? What does that even mean?’ I asked the director at the agency, one of the county’s big five mental health agencies.

‘You’re different. You’re high functioning…’ My mental health worker said inappropriately but unabashedly.

 The worker wrote me off!

I am a prosumer. Thinking back, it has been a long, long road. I’ve experienced mood disorder, depression, and anxiety since I was a teenager. I’ve had half a dozen experiences attempting suicide. Since then, I’ve graduated to full bloom psychosis, schizophrenia, and hospitalization after hospitalization – state, local, and everything. I’ve experienced recovery in my terms, more education, licensure, and practice within the same system that treated me throughout my years in the order.

Many mental health reform activists have changed the system for the better through their years of advocacy, hard work, blood, and tears. Their lives were at risk, and the fruits have been born. My mental health narrative and disorder are not depicted in the film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

I was first diagnosed with a significant mental health disorder as a teenager; I wrote a little synopsis of my life in a word document, printed it, and handed it to my therapist then. The title was ‘Re-named Randal McMurphy,’ because I felt like some character in Kubrick’s depiction of the Cuckoo’s nest film. But I was young, naive, a teenager. I had no idea so many people worked so hard, so that wasn’t my experience in the system. 

My uncle, my aunt, their reality and narrative was different. They lived in group homewards that were so deplorable Heraldo would have loved to do an exposé. My ward in the state hospital. Well, let me tell you something about its conditions.

We had a big-screen television, computer room, we had the works! The state hospital I was in had some high technology, not to mention a first-class lounging area to relax.

I was never chained to a twin bed on a metal frame in a ‘psych’ warehouse. Today, I have a job. I am happy, and I am a good advocate. 

I am also an enemy of the mental health system. Many advocates and providers fear me

The fear is troubling because, as advocates and providers, we all have the same goals, I hope, in the end.

My knowledge and professional license couldn’t be more of a threat to the powers that be in the mental health movement. Reformers will say that I have ‘signed off’ on the system of repression.

Well, my interests or careerism are not in question. I have witnessed from personal experience and professional, what works, and what doesn’t work.  I am a victim of a system of oppression!

This dual position or identity also means I have bold ideas—bright Ideas of what needs to happen and what isn’t happening in the mental health system. 

My ‘arrogance’ is knowledge. I am passionate about my ideas and their importance because I have seen what happens when they are given air time. People thrive, diagnoses are understood as what they are, and the system shifts for the better that much further.

That director I quoted earlier has since been fired. My decision to air out the meeting’s transcript on social media helped with that, I am sure. This ‘crat’ director may have categorized me, stigmatized me, ‘othered’ me. Still, I also knew what she was doing from the moment the meeting left the station. After all, I knew her type.

The potential we prosumers have to change the system. I have talked a lot about the disjointed mental health movement. I have talked a lot about what I see needs to change and how to go about it. I have also seen what this can mean for people in real terms.

People with a covert plan have tried to use me in the same way so many peers and people with lived experience have been co-opted into the care system. I will no longer let these folks derail and pollute my vision or the purposeful steps I take to reform the system. To truly change mental health, people with lived experience need to pass through and relive the trauma.

Authenticity is an endangered species in the system – this is why I question why someone’s plan may be at odds with mine. I will always bring the disparity or rift in opinion to the public’s attention to decide what is right. 

I learned from the movement that understanding the importance of choice, perspective, and doing what’s right–without restriction. What makes us human? How can we bring humanity to the system and personal view of your situation and interests?

We must throw roadblocks that seek to eliminate our choices and restrict our freedoms. Our voice matters! 

The mental health movement is too valuable, and it’s potential to do real justice in supreme injustice spaces right.

About the Author

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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