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The Prosumer

The Prosumer

We, the undersigned, are declaring our unique identity among ‘mental patients’, psychiatric survivors, and the many plurals(s) (yet singular), and very heterogenous, dynamic shades of people with lived experience with mental health diagnosis. 

It may help to think of the document as a flag. Within the margins is our essay signaling our protected status. We are far too vulnerable given the current status of Mental Health Affairs in the US, and Western Europe. Ultimately, consider this as a call to arms for all people marginalized, ‘othered’ and existing without the privilege of the norm. 

The irony is that the ‘mental patient’ is the farthest thing from the norm. And yet, within the history of emerging identities in the mental health movement, are more dominant, accepted, and known subsets and subgroups of the greater population of people with lived experience. 

We live in two worlds, to start. Of you are going to count and get very specific about things (this essay is going to become far too abstract to do so so don’t even try) we live in many more worlds than two, and even occupy some shooting stars and meteors in the vast constellation of disordered, sick, and needing mental health treatment.

Parts of these worlds are bound up in persistent illusions, intrigue, paranoia, and certainly the seductive pull of every symptom suggesting our health has been compromised at some point in our lives. Our worlds were eclipsed at one time. The changes were unwelcome. The challenges we faced were partly meaningful and party disturbing. This may depend on which, when, and how you ask about each change, as we transformed into our prosumer identity.

For us, the undersigned, we experienced what some term as first-episode psychosis. We have the right to use, speak, and think in clinical terms, because on the other side, in that other world we share, we are professional and very savvy with our knowledge of mental health as professionals in the land of social work, psychology, and all the intersections of health and health from a scientific lens. The spiritual awakening we passed through is not one insight, or two, into any disorder, but into ‘being’ as it pertains to the transformation of life.

This is a declaration of independence from our peers and conversely, an olive branch of goodwill and promise of support, even if the feelings to date have not been mutual. Historically, we have been caught in flux, and this is a space as toxic and hazardous as the inside of a locked asylum. Even worse, it is a space of betrayal, disillusionment, and chronic rejection. 

Ya Basta! Enough is enough!’

We need and demand independent and protected status among peers. After all, psychotherapy and medication aren’t enough for the common, ‘mental patient’ so why should we go without peer support? Something has been missing for many of us prosumers. Between understanding our diagnosis, accepting it radically, and beginning to separate our personality from illness, reconceptualizing and actualizing the self.  Most of our waking hours continue to be consumed by persecution, hatred, and jealously. 

At that very moment, I realized healing wasn’t just a matter of doing. That being proactive is not the only catalyst to create a space for healing was the first step in our path to providence, independence, and debunking the greatest myth of all in recovery. Healing comes from a shift, over time, narrating and re-building our personal future through invention and imagination. The myth is so hard to unearth because it sits right next to the truth. Yes, that (re) part is the myth. For there is no ‘re’ anything in recovery. 

‘Re’ suggests a reversal or looking back. Recovery is only forward, and always further along in our history from the moment when illness overtook us and wreaked the havoc that made us who we are today. 

This document is just that, ‘us’, or we prosumers maintaining our right to a  future. After all, we too, have a lifetime of healing ahead. 

If taken seriously, we social workers are appealing to the language. Our core beliefs are undefined and require mutual partnership. We are doing more than appealing here. Nay, we are demanding that our integrity and the merits of our research, practice, and experience be heard and accepted among the already defined and written mental health patients and professionals out there in the system. 

Social work in the strengths-based perspective is a language of healing. Lived experience is a language of imagination and the capacity to see our healed selves during the process and the charting of our recoveries. 

All people deserve a future. The right to build, plan and make visible a personal road map through recovery at the intersection colliding with our life & history.

We are prosumers. While so many activists in mental health reform 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 from thereto. 

The story of our mental health disorders, and the tenure of our recovery, weren’t depicted in the film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Our state hospitals were appointed with big-screen televisions, computer rooms. We had the works! The state hospital was had a first-class lounging area to relax. 

I wasn’t chained to a twin bed on a metal frame in a 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; the people around me fear me. I am not talking about the system’s operants or the powers that be in the operation of care.

The knowledge and professional license we have continue to be a threat to the powers that be in the mental health movement. Reformers will say that I have ‘signed off o’n the system of repression.

Well, our interests or careerism are not in question. We prosumers have witnessed from both personal experience and professional, what works, what doesn’t, and have been a victim of a system of oppression.

This dual position also means we have bold ideas. Bright Ideas of what needs to happen, and what isn’t happening in the mental health system. What that looks like for people like me and those I serve in the mental health system.

When our ideas are put into play and given air time. People thrive, diagnoses are understood as what they are, and the system shifts for the better that much further.

This potential is what I think is in crisis. 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 system of care. I will no longer let these folks derail and pollute my vision or the purposeful steps I take to bring people lightening speed knowledge. To truly change the system, we must pass through some trauma, so it does not accumulate and harm others.

Our lasting promise to the movement is to always be true to our authentic selves. We have seen all too often the danger and damage to the mental health discourse when authenticity becomes an endangered species in the system.

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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