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Too Big to Fail

Too Big to Fail

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One of my biggest mantras and theories around successful recovery is the idea of being too big to fail. I am borrowing this phrase from the automotive bailout under the Obama administration. Back during the automotive bailout, the president deemed the industry and critical companies ” Too big to fail.” These are industries too vital and essential to the economy to go out of business. Whether the companies employ large amounts of workers or are a symbol of American prowess, the auto industry, and all that stems from its existence, needs to be saved. President Obama believed then, as I continue to think now, that some things are too important to disappear or die off. 

Of course, I am drawing a comparison. I don’t own a major American company and don’t employ many workers.

Like the president of the U.S during the Auto bailout, I share the same belief that just like some companies are too critical to the country’s economic well-being to fail. I am too important to my friends and collaterals to allow myself to wither away and unravel. I have too many friends to care for and too much to offer the world. With this sense of self-importance and self-love, I am more likely to seek help when I am in danger or need something to move my recovery forward. 

Undeniably, our support systems, both natural and artificial, play a vital role in our health and capacity to heal from sickness. Our supports have several crucial functions in our recovery and ability to problem-solve challenging situations without incident. As a clinician and peer struggling with a significant mental health disorder, my professional experience has taught me that we are only as strong as our weakest support. The “weak link” in your support system may be a bad or unempathetic friend. Maybe the weak link is a poorly trained service worker (e.g., case manager or therapist).

The formula I am dispensing needs to signal to all people carrying a mental health diagnosis that proper and speedy healing means identifying your helpers and finding players who have a vested interest in your mental health.

Too Big to Fail.” I have been privileged in my recovery and healing in so many ways that I am grateful. Without these resources, I would not be able to conceptualize this idea of too big to fail. A big piece of this theory intersects privilege. Privilege comes in many forms that some folks will never be graced with and will need to be that much more resilient and creative when drilling for support. The more privilege you have available in your life, the more likely you will access available support in times of need. Of course, knowing when you need help comes before understanding how to access your supports. If you arent self-aware enough to know you are sick or need help, why would you even seek additional help? You wouldn’t. 

In my life, most of my recovery after first onset psychosis, I have always been blessed with a litany of helpers to guide and oversee my journey through the mental health system. When I was first diagnosed with schizophrenia, I had family visiting me regularly in the hospital with their everpresent gaze (watchful nurturing eyes) to ensure there was no mistreatment by staff members. In addition to my parent’s treatment participation, my family was a large part of my discharge plan back to the community and my rehabilitation from unresolved symptoms that weren’t “cured” quite yet at the time of discharge from the state hospital. I had the opportunity to witness countless patients without the same support I had from my family. I noticed patients without visitors, friends, or outside professionals visiting them in the hospital. Even worse, patients without a real home call their own in the community. Some folks are released after their recovery in the hospital to a group home and have no natural support during their recovery. 

Whatever the problem was during my ‘break.’ The hospital staff’s complaints regarding my behavior and treatment progress had an outlet. I had family for the team to lodge their complaints. I had friends visiting from time to time to ensure there was no mistreatment by staff, and I was relatively comfortable in the hospital. These supports and friendly visitors became unofficial members of my out-patient treatment team. When I re-entered the community and began out-patient treatment, my team of helpers was always there to advocate and facilitate my healing at every next turn in my recovery. In addition to family and friends, I leaned on my professional contacts to push the system along. There will be “stuck moments” with complex cases, and these complexities cause holding patterns before benefits or services can are dispensed to the patient in which many people slip through the cracks due to lag time. My regular contact with the more extensive system played a large role in getting the benefits I needed so I wouldn’t relapse and re-enter into the system at a lower level of care and lose ground.

Failure or a sense of defeat and isolation has never emerged on my landscape of health and healing. My horizon reaches beyond my immediate personal space into a large, unending pool of resources I continue to draw from when I feel like I am not making the progress I want to experience. There are external mechanisms that a valuable support system can fix to continue on healing and recovery. With this said, you want motivated helpers.

You want helpers proficient in designing the plan of care and your personal history struggling with your diagnosis. This way, your supports can operate without your immediate supervision if you are sick and act on their terms when you might not be available, given your priority is healing.

Too Big to Fail means you have so many people in your corner. You can fall back into a learning moment without losing ground in your health. It also means your problems also reflect on a more extensive stakeholder in the system so that your issue becomes, in turn, the systems issue. I have seen people move the system to work for them because of their interests and the key people that espouse shared interests. These shared interests may be a case involved with multiple agencies and on everyone’s radar. I have noticed the government is more motivated to squash “noise” and complaints out of fear patients might relapse without extra support or create an unseemly public display, which would jeopardize the veneer of hope the system is supposed to develop for those it serves.

Ultimately, there are limits to leaning on your helpers for support. Calling upon your helpers, whether it be friends or family, to do everything is not only unrealistic, it can become abusive. There are boundaries to be put in place with your helpers so their work doesn’t negatively impact your case or cause more harm than good. Your helpers should be understanding and accepting of your limitations. There is never a license issued for the next phase of your healing to be bound up in learned helplessness. Healing is a product of your strength in the end. It should reflect your work in recovery predominantly and not your helpers’ political, financial, or family obligation to be there when you need it the most.

About the Author

J. Peters

Bold 10 Under 10 award recipient Jacques Peters ’08, MSW ’12 . Through his work as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), therapist and disability rights advocate, Mr. Peters fights for those without a voice in various systems of care, such as the New York City Department of Social Services, the New York State Office of Mental Health or the city’s Department of Corrections. Jacques is the author of University on Watch: Crisis in the Academy, which he published under the pen name J. Peters in 2019, and First Diagnosis, published in 2020. Jacques refers to his stance on recovery in his journal articles as “Too big to fail.” No obstacle too big, no feat out of reach, Jacques let nothing stop him in his path to recovery and healing.
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