Newton MA — Today I’m attending the 1st Annual Conference of Progressives MA. As we’re finishing up the first morning panels, I’m struck by how incredible moments like this are in the life of an activist. I’ve spent the morning talking up my concerns about the mental health system here in Massachusetts, after my experience last week and my with my history of diagnoses, I’ve gotten more vocal about the need for strong services, well-funded departments, and public education about mental health issues. I’ve been able to talk openly about my disorders (Bipolar 1, mild OCD, schizoid tendencies, and panic disorder) since I was about 16 or so. Until then it was difficult and I refused to get help, to open up to my family about my struggles, or to do anything other than self-medicate. By the time I hit 21 I was an experienced, functioning alcoholic, drinking and taking pills rather than face the fact that I needed help. Three years ago I got healthy and over a year ago I started getting professional help for my disorders. Last year, through my work with queer youth I got interested in and involved with the fight against homelessness here in Boston (~40% of the unaccompanied homeless youth in Massachusetts are LGBTQ).
Last week when a homeless man attacked me in broad daylight, on a busy downtown avenue, I had a bit of a ‘lightbulb’ moment. This man didn’t attack me because he wanted money, because he was homeless, because I had something of value (at least as far as I know). He didn’t attempt to take anything from me, to get anything from me, or seem to have any real goal at all. He lashed out, and I happened to be there; as someone who has had violent reactions to stimuli, how has had manic attacks turn physical, I can understand better than nearly anyone. And so, my ‘lightbulb’ moment: we need to do more about mental health in Boston. We need to do more than have a state insurance program (we need to make it affordable and integrate mental health into it), we need to do more than open pack more beds into shelters, more than cut some programs to save others. We need to properly fund statewide services, we need to properly educate police and first responders and the public, we need to work with the schools, the homeless population, the shelters, the hospitals, and the activists to make change happen. We need to do these things now.
And so today strikes me as an incredible moment in my life as an activist because I’ve had the chance to discuss this direct problem – the high prevalence of chemical & mental disorders in the homeless population & what we can do as a state/policymakers to affect that – with some of the highest elect officials in the Commonwealth. I got to ask Dr. Donald Berwick about mental health integration into the health care system. I got to ask the Research Director of Health Care for All about funding issues at the state level. I’ve had the opportunity to discuss the court system with a criminal defense attorney who is now running for State Representative in the very district I was attacked and where I work every day. City Councilors have heard me out and listened to my thoughts for action, solutions, and my fears. Friends who are running for office across the state have expressed surprise to learn I’m mentally ill but admiration at my dedication to the issue.
So, today I feel blessed. Today I feel like we’re making progress.