Back in 2014 I was invited to take part in a program called “Stand Up For Mental Health,” a gig developed by a dude named David Grenier from British Columbia, Canada. The idea was to train a bunch of peers to be “funny” and tell jokes, and more importantly to give peers a chance to tell their stories of recovery to an audience seeking to learn more about what it’s like to have mental health symptoms, all the through the mystical magical medium of stand-up comedy.
NAMI Albuquerque was the funding organization (and really the organizational spearhead led by Felicia Barnum). Scoring a grant from Isora, NAMI Albuquerque was able to find a venue, pay David for his services, and do all the promotion for the show.
When I state “do all the promotion for the show,” I mean this is the reality, this is what occurred, and it was (again) Felicia Barnum who made all this happen. This included securing a radio interview on KKOB 770 with Terrie Q Sayre (sadly, Terrie was taken from us far too soon). Felicia was tapped by NAMI Albuquerque to visit 770, and seeing as Felicia is one of my closest friends (and her husband John, too), she asked if I would go with her as one of the peer comics.
Totally way rad, dude! Of course I’d join her. This was going to be so much fun! Yay! Besties on the radio!
Quick stop: Here are two expositional nuggets important to know about this radio interview for Stand Up For Mental Health:
1.) Felicia hadn’t experienced a radio interview previously.
2.) This interview occurred within a few months after the James Boyd incident (you can Google this if you want more information).
The day arrived, I met Felicia at the Downtown KKOB station, and I had a few words of encouragement for her. Remembrances of my first radio interview at the BLM sprang to mind (this is detailed in an earlier blog entitled “Forced Treatment: A Peer Commentary etc…), so I shared the same words of encouragement given me prior to my BLM interview:
Now, let me speak to Terrie’s character and constitution for a moment. She had always been a strong advocate and supporter for NAMI Albuquerque, and like anyone else, she has a boss. Maybe more than one boss. Mostly likely. And each of these bosses have stockholders to answer to, and a board of directors with cool acronyms like CEO, CFO, C3PO, CIO, CCO, CET (this one is for you, Jimbo), CCC, OCC, OCD, KFC, etc. We call that a bureaucracy. It is bureaucracies that are the source of all ineptitude, inefficiency, and inferiority within an organizational community. Wait. Where was I?
Right. Terrie was a very good, very kind person, and left to her druthers I wager she wouldn’t have focused in on Boyd. But she has bosses, and media thrives on sensationalism, and the perfect vehicle for sensationalism is helping the public to know what to be scared of what to be mad about. At that specific time in Albuquerque, the James Boyd incident was so perfect as a community scratching post. Scary crazy guy falls before overzealous law enforcement. You couple this with Felicia and I representing folks from the mental health world (and Boyd was a well-documented mental health case study) and there was zero possibility we wouldn’t be ambushed with something about Boyd and APD.
We were greeted by a wonderful gentleman by the name of Danger Dan Goss (or just Dan), and he led us up to a waiting room before our segment. He went over what we could expect in the way of segment duration, what the booth equipment would be like, and practical information of that sort. He would be in the booth with us, and he said we should relax and have fun. Most definitely. Radio interviews truly are fun. I enjoy them immensely. The listening audience, not so immensely. I intended to have fun all the same.
About two minutes before our segment Dan took us into the booth to meet Terrie. I’ll reveal that upon meeting her I could see why she was named Miss Nevada earlier in her life. Charming, sweet, funny, engaging… a natural public figure perfect for radio (I felt she’d be better employed as a television personality). She asked Felicia and I how we’d like to be introduced. Felicia was treasurer for NAMI Albuquerque and I’d been newly appointed to the board as a peer representative. Felicia organized the gig, I was one of the peers roped in to do stand up comedy.
Dan counted us down… and we’re live! Terrie introduced us, Felicia read a prepared statement about Stand Up For Mental Health and Isora, and then Terrie asked us her first question… that had nothing to do with Stand Up For Mental Health.
I don’t recall exactly how it was phrased. I do recall the question was framed in such a way to elicit comment on the Boyd thing that would be critical of APD. I wasn’t working closely with APD in early 2014. That was toward the end of 2014. I did know it wouldn’t be good to bad mouth the cops, although not because I was afraid of retribution in the way of parking tickets while I’m parked in the driveway in front of my own house, 24 hour spying on me in the shower with antiquated Get Smart technology, or whatever it is that cops do when they don’t like what you said about them on the radio. That didn’t concern me.
What concerned me was throwing proverbial gasoline on the proverbial fire. Things were already burning quite brightly on their own with public sentiment poised to burn APD in effigy, and if our city was to heal, mental health advocates like Felicia and me would be irresponsible looking backwards rather than forwards.
The query was out there. What did we think of APD? Did they do the wrong thing? Poor Felicia. She couldn’t find the words. We were holding hands in the booth for tangible moral support, and her hand starting clenching a bit. Got it. My turn.
This situation needed to be facilitated away from APD and back to Stand Up For Mental Health. So I said something along these lines:
“Terrie, what’s happened in our city shouldn’t have happened. Still, the way I like to look at these things is that we can use this as an opportunity for education and understanding for all involved.”
There was not a follow up question prepared for this dead-end political wordsmithing. I’m good. Felicia was relieved. What’s coming next?
Terrie: “Let’s go to the phones where we have Wayne waiting by to talk about mental health in Albuquerque.”
Sigh. Pre-screened caller. What’s this going to be about?
And here comes Wayne. I am so going to condense this because it quickly became apparent Wayne was selected because he could really use a handful of my meds every hour on the hour.
I’m a peer. I can make these jokes.
“In Albuquerque there are so many problems. The police don’t understand, there isn’t enough money for the homeless, and one big one is that we don’t have enough hospitals. Lovelace inpatient has closed…”
All this sounds reasonable…
“And do you know why Lovelace closed down? Because they were experimenting on the patients. I was in Lovelace many times where they would do stuff like…”
There it is, the reason Wayne was chosen. Facilitation time! Here’s my part:
“Wayne, you bring up some great points. Can we focus on the lack of services? We definitely do need more inpatient beds. I’ve been to Kaseman, where I prefer to go for inpatient help, and they’ve been so packed from lack of beds that I got bused in the ambulance over to UNM Psych, which is not even close to my second choice. I, too, have had bad experiences inpatient like you.”
And here we are, facilitated past Wayne, and coming into the commercial break. Whew! After the break we’ll have two minutes to talk about Stand Up For Mental Health.
Terrie said, “Wayne, we’ll come back to you after the commercial break.”
Sigh. What to do now?
Terrie was great. We had a wonderful conversation during break, and she shared that in her family there are mental health issues to contend with. It was fun getting to know more about her and why she held a vested interest in mental health issues. And then she offered a cliche statement of mutual understanding:
Perfect. I got it. Here we go, counting into being live on air once more. I only needed to kill a little more than a minute.
“Terrie, before we go back to Wayne, I’d like to comment on something you said during break, and that’s that you can’t catch a mental illness like you can catch the flu. It’s interesting you bring that up, because there has been some research into viral mental illness.
“We have two common vectors for the influenza virus. We have birds, and we have pigs. We’ve recently heard a lot about the ‘swine flu,’ and we’ve had a lot of press attention for the ‘avian flu.’ Well, this new research suggests that there is a form of viral mental illness that’s being termed ‘avian bipolar.'”
There we go. There’s something more interesting than Wayne. And Wayne, if you’re out there, come by my place, buddy. We’ll get you some of my meds for you to try. I’ll grab a handful and you open your mouth. I’ll huck the handful at you, and whatever gets in there and you swallow, that’s the proper dosage.
I’m a peer. I can make these jokes.
Avian bipolar. This got Terrie’s attention straight away. There were questions, I had plausible sounding answers, and I was watching my phone to see when that one minute was about to be breached. And then I let her off the hook.
“Terrie, I am so messing with you. There is no such creature as avian bipolar. And when you come to Stand Up For Mental Health, this is exactly what you can expect.”
The poor producer in the booth missed the traffic cue he was laughing so hard.
Tada! Wasn’t that a fun ride? I love telling stories, I love messing with people, and I love mental health advocacy. Still, let this be a cautionary tale that you shouldn’t invite me on your radio show and expect that I’ll follow the breadcrumbs to a toasty brick-fire roasting oven. Or is it a basement filled with after-Halloween Target discount candy and a tear-stained mattress? I so don’t know my Brothers Grimm.
Terrie Q Sayre really was a wonderful person, and I felt immensely guilty for messing with her like that. There was some joy involved, though, and to say I don’t have a nasty strain of avian schadenfreude would be disingenuous. The point is Terrie had her bosses, and she truly was a friend to mental health advocacy.
Stand Up For Mental Health was a huge success. Felicia is owed the bulk of the congrats and kudos for the event. And I got hit on a lot afterwards. Heap many phone numbers and requests for coffee. Autographs, too. It’s fun being a metaparaquasi-celebrity for a night.
Dude… I was born for stuff like this. I won’t apologize for art.
Many of you know that we lost Terrie to complications from influenza. This article isn’t meant to make light of her passing. I’ve been debating whether it would be in poor taste or disrespectful to publish this online.
Thinking things through, I feel this anecdote celebrates the person Terrie is, and the person I met that day in Downtown Albuquerque. I had the good fortune to sit with her at the 770 booth again before her passing, and she was just a darling. Our community is the lesser without her, and I hope folks can read this article in the spirit of which it is intended, and that is my fond remembrance of an exciting morning with a wonderful human being.