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Well done is better than well said. – Benjamin Franklin

Feathers in the Wind: A Story of Awareness and Apology

by Jenifer Strauss

While speaking at the Northern Lakes Community Mental Health Annual Recovery Celebration in September, I was telling a childhood story that I had shared before but not with the mental health community. While telling the story, I was caught up in the memory of being an energetic eight-year-old child on my way to a friend’s house to go on an adventure. I heard the words leave my lips, “I rode my bike like a crazy person over to Marty’s house,” and I was immediately horrified to discover that I had just used stigmatizing language to tell this story. I did not mean to hurt anyone with my words. I was well aware of stigma and I knew better! It just came out that way and right then and there, I had to do some stigma-busting on myself.

The most difficult and embarrassing part of this was that I am not new to speaking or to the mental health community.  I am a consultant who uses story to help people connect, communicate and achieve their goals. When I present, not only do I need to know my audience well but I must also know their mission and the language used by members of the group.

I have been giving keynotes, trainings and workshops for mental health providers and consumers for nearly ten years. My interest in mental health began with members of my own family who were suffering with symptoms of anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder. I started to help people tell their mental health recovery stories for healing, stigma-busting, and to inspire others in recovery.

Years ago, I learned how stigmatizing language can cause stereotypes and misunderstandings about people living with and in recovery for mental health issues. Through my Turning Points Process, I have helped people in recovery put a voice and a story to their lived experience to increase awareness and break down the stigma attached to mental health. As a public speaker, I always try to remember what I learned from the book The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. The first of The Four Agreements is to Be Impeccable with your Word.

So, what happened that day when I allowed stigmatizing language to enter into the talk I was giving? I was not being mindful enough. I was too caught up in telling the story and was not careful enough with my words. It took me several days to forgive myself for this blunder. I know that I am not alone in making a mistake like this from time to time so I decided to turn this regretful experience into a lesson and share what I learned with others.

Stigmatizing language is damaging, not only to people in recovery for mental health issues. It is damaging to us all. The most important tools we can use to bust stigma is education and awareness of how our words can negatively affect others. We can look at our behaviors, open our minds and hearts and make every effort to carefully choose our words.

More recently, I have also learned about person-first language. A mental health diagnosis is just a part of a person’s life story but it does not define the whole person. I also realized that I had been talking about my father as someone who was bipolar and depressed instead of a person who had symptoms of bipolar disorder and depression. People living with mental health issues are not defined by their diagnosis. It is just one part of their life story, but not the whole story.

This recent experience was a valuable lesson and reminder of the power of our words to help and to harm. And so, I would like to offer my sincere apology to anyone I may have offended at the Annual Recovery Celebration and leave you with an old Jewish Folktale that speaks well to this lesson. It is called Feathers in the Wind.

 A Jewish man is nearing the end of his life.  He tells his rabbi that he wants to make amends to all those about whom he has spoken ill.  The Rabbi instructs him to take a bag of feathers and put one feather at the doorway to the homes of everyone he has slandered. Thinking this a pretty easy task, the elderly man gets a bag of feathers and places a feather at the entrance to everyone’s home of whom he has spoken ill.  Having completed the task, he asks the Rabbi what he should do next. The rabbi tells him to return to each home and retrieve every feather that he placed at the entrances. But he can’t.  The feathers have floated off to the four winds.  In the much same way he cannot retrieve the ill words he has spoken about others.  The gist of this story is that there is no limit to where our negative talk about others can spread.

Life is not about waiting for the storms to pass…it’s about learning how to dance in the rain. – Unknown

Recovery Celebration: Treasure Your Happiness!

Our annual Recovery Celebration held recently at The Barn Hall in Manton was a grand success, with a record turnout! The theme was Treasure Your Happiness and we had lots to be happy about! We honored several staff (Lauri Fischer, Ruth Pilon, Pen Scott, Pat Munsell, Alicia Drum, Linda Hawkins, Lynda Hogaboom, Amanda North) with You Made A Difference Awards.  We also presented Leading By Example Awards to people we are privileged to serve (Courtney, James, Doug, Doris, John, Tommy, Robert). We recognized those who represented their counties at the annual Walk A Mile In My Shoes Rally with Power To The People Awards.

We presented our special annual Stigma Busters Award to Certified Peer Support Specialist Beverly Preston-Weekly, for her efforts during the last year to change the world by speaking out in public about her experiences. We also presented our very special “Each One Reach One” Award created in honor of the late Ernie Reynolds to Carla in Cadillac.

Carla receiving her certificate from CEO Greg Paffhouse

Carla received the special Each One Reach One award for being living proof that recovery is possible as well as for all the many gifts she has shared with people with mental health challenges and staff alike at Northern Lakes Community Mental Health. She has demonstrated that recovery is possible through living in the community,  quitting smoking after more than 50 years, and many other things. She has given the greatest gift of time by getting involved in the art shows, volunteering at the office, working at Club Cadillac, attending groups, providing art for the office hallways, and being involved for many years in the Recipient Rights Advisory Council. She has promoted hope and inspiration by telling her story to others and sharing her story in the National Council of Behavioral Healthcare Magazine. She has practiced providing encouragement and uplifting others by telling jokes, making others laugh, getting involved in Club again, and showing through her own life that great accomplishment is possible. Congratulations, Carla!

We also had some great speakers, including our beloved CEO Greg Paffhouse; Colleen Jasper, Director of Consumer Relations at the Michigan Department of Community Health; and Jenifer Strauss, of Story Be Told Productions.

A packed house enjoyed the day!


Our fantastic MCs, Recovery Specialists Katie Deller and Windy Near!

Our Journey Newsletter October Issue Here

Read the Our Journey October 2014 Issue to learn about a regional education day, our annual Recovery Celebration recap, the special opportunity to participate in our upcoming Photobiography group to learn to tell your story, and some information on our upcoming 8th Annual Art of Recovery: The Human Journey Show!

The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot. – Michael Altshuler

It is better to light the candle than to curse the darkness. – Eleanor Roosevelt

Courage does not always roar. Sometimes it is a quiet voice at the end of the day saying… “I will try again tomorrow.” – Mary Anne Radmacher

Change always comes bearing gifts.
 – Price Pritchett

Warning Signs of Suicide

If someone you know is showing one or more of the following behaviors, he or she may be thinking about suicide. Don’t ignore these warning signs. Get help immediately.

  • Talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Displaying extreme mood swings

Get Help

If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1.800.273.TALK (8255). Trained crisis workers are available to talk 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

If you or someone you know is at immediate risk of seriously harming themselves or someone else, call 911.


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