Peer Specialist Speaks From Experience for Those With Psychotic Disorders
One in an ongoing series
Jason Tapscott is a peer specialist in the inpatient psychiatric unit of Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia.
He is also a Lorax, as he explains in an essay:
I am from a children’s book by Dr. Seuss. I am a Lorax. The Lorax spoke for the trees because they could not speak for themselves. I am a Lorax because I speak and advocate for those living with a severe psychotic disorder who cannot currently speak or advocate for themselves.
I’ve been there. I live with schizoaffective disorder, a serious psychiatric condition with emotional and psychotic aspects. However, I have found a way to manage my symptoms and am working as a certified peer specialist on the inpatient unit here at Einstein to share the coping skills that worked for me with others who have similarly debilitating conditions.
In the essay presented in May at Voices of Einstein, an employee story-sharing event, Tapscott explained he’s not only a Lorax, he’s also a Once-ler.
The Once-ler, in the same Dr. Seuss book, held the seed to replant the trees after he destroyed them. . . I call myself a Once-ler because I have been silent for too long, and because I am part of a movement that holds the seeds of a new level of social accountability regarding people with serious psychiatric disorders. These seeds represent the hope of an enhanced understanding of people living with such disorders, and of improving society’s reactions to them.
Tapscott, who turns 40 later this year, has worked at Einstein for close to two years. He leads group sessions with patients, and stays in touch with them after discharge.
“Jason has been an incredible addition to our staff,” says Angela Cantwell, MSN, RN, administrator of Einstein Behavioral Health. “He shares his gifts of strength and empathy in truly meaningful ways as a Certified Peer Specialist.”
Tapscott wants to show by his example that recovery is possible.
In my time working with adults with mental health conditions here at Einstein I have met many individuals who really want to move toward recovery. They want to be seen as “normal,” and to be included. Are we going to deny them that because of our prejudices? Or are we going to understand and accept them as they are, with an enhanced level of compassion?
Tapscott traces the chaos of his life to being sexually abused by a daycare center operator when he was 4 years old – and being relentlessly bullied throughout school.
His teenage and young adult years are a jumble of hospitalizations and homelessness. “I don’t remember the events in sequence,” he says. He knows he lived in his car for a time and in group homes and cheap motels.
Throughout his journey, Tapscott was punished for aberrant behavior fueled by mental illness and wound up incarcerated at least twice. Ironically, his year-long stint in a Philadelphia jail turned out to be the impetus for his recovery.
“The whole experience was very empowering for me,” he says of that time in jail. “I developed better social skills and coping skills because I had to survive.”
But when Tapscott was discharged, he relapsed. He was hospitalized twice and attempted suicide.
“Why was I doing so well in prison and why not now?” he says. “Because I didn’t have a community around me.”
Tapscott was moved into a residential facility where he regained the momentum for his recovery. Now he’s part of a church community, lives on his own and has many friends.
“There’s never going to be a moment when I’m not living with schizoaffective disorder,” he says. “But I’m at a place where I can manage the symptoms and I know what to do to take care of myself. I’m as well as I’ve ever been.”
There were stable periods amid the chaos of his life when Tapscott attended college. Through stops and starts, he eventually earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology. He’d like to return to school to become a licensed therapist.
Meanwhile, he wants to enlighten society and improve the treatment of people with mental illness, by telling his story.
We who are in recovery from severe psychotic disorders are trying hard to make some positive changes in our lives, but we cannot do so without society’s support and understanding. Society’s denigrating view of us — its disbelief in our ability and chances for recovery and normalcy — does not help. It reinforces a false reality that it is impossible to get better. Who knows how many of us will give up because we sense that society does not believe in our worth or value our potential contributions? I cannot stand by and do nothing about that. We need the hope of a community that can, in some way, include and accept us.