I’m on a committee that goes by the name Mental Health Response Advisory Committee. It’s an advisory committee that collaborates with the Albuquerque Police Department in developing training, policies, and procedures as part of the Department of Justice settlement agreement. More on this another time.

Yesterday, I sent an email to my colleagues on the committee apologizing for my behavior at the June 2016 MHRAC meeting. I also thought it’d be a good time to talk about peers are undependable. Sounds bad, right? Not really. Read on!

MHRAC members:

My behavior at our June meeting was less than professional. For that, I extend my apologies and ask for your understanding. In order to understand better, I feel this is a good time to talk openly about a part of the peer experience that comes down to the concept of dependability.

As an explanation, but in no way an excuse, for the past few months the symptoms related to my (partial) diagnosis of anxiety have been holding more sway in my behavior than I prefer. The lengthy precipitating factors aren’t that important, other than to say that due to a knee injury a HUGE wellness and recovery component in my life has been absent. That component is exercise, and lots of it, in the order of hiking roughly 30 miles a week and running an equal distance. Without that focus that comes with consequential endorphins and goal accomplishment, anxiety, irritability, and outright anger has been manifesting. Again, this is not an excuse in the least. I am just as responsible as all of us are for my behavior, particularly sitting on an important (and public) committee like MHRAC. It simply takes a little more work to manage the symptoms of a disease that directly affects behavior to live up to that responsibility.

The unfortunate issue peers live with is often this detrimental behavior is only visible in hindsight, after the fact, and beyond being able to manage the symptoms at that time. While I knew my irritability and anger had been escalating, I took directed measure to prepare myself the week in advance of the meeting to employ many of the strategies I have in my WRAP. I visited with my p-doc and adjusted medication dosage the week prior. The main topic of conversation with my therapist of four years was preparing myself for professional events in the coming weeks (not just MHRAC). I’m very aware of the symptoms of my anxiety, bipolar, and PTSD diagnoses, and have had great success managing these symptoms so I can function in society without being disruptive.

Although I felt well-prepared, even with this acute awareness, and even with this preparation, my detrimental behavior still manifested at our meeting. And it’s only in hindsight that I can properly identify and assess this behavior. Trust me, if I could do so with 100% success in real time, I wouldn’t be writing this note.

At the beginning of this email I mentioned “the dependability of peers.” Stripping away the negative connotation of the word “undependable,” being objective this is a truth of the peer experience, and I know it is part of my reality. Not being dependable isn’t a matter of not following through with promised work product or making it to appointments on time. The dependability I’m speaking about is being able to assure others that my behavior won’t unexpectedly be derailed by the symptoms of my diagnoses, or that even with awareness and preparation these same symptoms still won’t affect professional behavior.

I will confess that I almost didn’t attend the June meeting. It was a difficult toss-up. I had made a commitment to MHRAC and our community, but my symptoms had been manifesting off and on over the last few weeks. Retrograde-responsibly I should have weighed on the side of caution and recused myself for the evening. Instead, I made assurances to myself that I would remove myself from the meeting if I felt my symptoms were beginning to manifest. Obviously, that self-facilitation didn’t happen. And, because of this, I was horribly unprofessional towards our co-chair Danny, and I was ultimately disrespectful of our committee.

Many of you have heard my talking point of “we all have the same social contract” and this is something I firmly believe and practice. What would have made things easier for my decision last month is if I had a dedicated back-up for my committee position, and this peer must be fully versed in MHRAC business. Tomorrow, I respectfully request of MHRAC that Rasma Cox being inducted as my stand-in on MHRAC, in the same fashion as John Barnum standing in for Felicia Barnum. Rasma is our co-president of DBSA Albuquerque, and she was instrumental at every stage of development (beginning in autumn 2015) for the two hours of CIT training peers present with Dr. Rosenbaum and Detective Tinney. She is also a valuable peer presenter for these two hours of training, and more importantly, she attends each MHRAC meeting as well as helps me facilitate the peer focus groups we have between MHRAC meetings. She is more than qualified to sit on MHRAC. Heck, I actually believe she’s more qualified than I am.

To close this off, I want to ask a favor of my colleagues on MHRAC. If ever you believe my behavior at professional MHRAC events is being compromised by the nature of my diagnoses, you have full authority to approach me and let me know. We are open to public scrutiny, and having a peer experiencing detrimental symptoms reflects poorly upon what we’re accomplishing. And, it sets a bad example for my fellow peers. You have my personal promise to recuse myself in the future “to be on the safe side,” and allowing me the escape-hatch of having Rasma available to step in for me is one way I can keep this promise to our committee.

I sat on this email for the past two weeks to send the night before our July meeting… just to be sure I got it right, and to do a personal assessment if I was ready for tomorrow’s meeting. This time, I strongly believe I am better prepared, and if not, Rasma will be at the meeting just as she is every meeting. Again, sincerest apologies to MHRAC, and a very directed mea culpa to Danny.

Steve Bringe