Sunday, September 14, 2014

An interview with Craig Lewis - The Author of "Better Days: A Mental Health Recovery Workbook"

Back again!

Recently, I wanted to do something a little bit different and out of the ordinary and decided to interview someone who perhaps is a part of the scene but makes interesting and insightful contributions in their own way.  I interviewed Craig Lewis is the author of Better Days: A Mental Health Recovery Workbook as well as You're Crazy: Volume 1.  Both stories focus on helping those who suffer from mental illness or in recovery of such while giving them useful tools on how to improve their quality of life for good.  Craig also gives a glimpse of his background, his experiences, as well as how he got to where he is today as a Certified Peer Specialist at Boston Medical Center. Consider giving Craig your support by checking out his work and his books plus the open discussions and spoken words he takes part in across the country in major cities.

Run Don't Walk: For starters, tell us a little bit about yourself! Some of the readers would certainly be interested in who you are, what you do, and perhaps your story? Lets start there!
Craig Lewis: My name is Craig and I am a 41 year old punk rocker, author and peer mental health counselor. I live in Salem, MA with my loving and supportive family. Life was not always so good though. As an adolescent, I spent years living in mental hospitals and residential group homes. I was put on all sorts of medications and told that I was mentally ill and this was what my life was going to be. I got into punk in the spring of 1988, mere months before I was put in the mental hospital for the first time. My first show was WRECKING CREW in 1989 and my life was changed forever from that point on. Punk rock, hardcore, metal; whatever it was, and for me it was often an amalgamation of all three. Once I turned 18 I was more or less turned loose into the city of Boston, completely unprepared for life and society. I was immature, socially inept and my life was a disaster. I started doing drugs and hanging out all the time yet my life only got worse and worse, not to mention that I was still taking tons of psych medicine that I now know was a main cause of the degree of dysfunction I was experiencing. I spent the 90’s booking tons of shows, putting out ‘Upheaval Fanzine” and playing in a bunch of bands. Things became drastically worse toward the end of the 90’s into the 00’s. The next few years had me hitting rock bottom and wanting to be dead. I wanted to die. I hurt so much and life was never going to get better and I was worthless. Yet somehow I pulled through and got my life on track for the first time ever. I had always hoped for a better life but had no idea of how to achieve it. Over time, I got a new therapist, who was wonderful, got into school to become a peer mental health counselor, fired the terrible psychiatrist I had been seeing since 1991, became certified to work as a Peer Specialist, got a job at a group home, I hated it and resigned, then got a job at a peer led program (it was disaster) and then got laid off, started having girlfriends, went to college, got the job I have today that I have kept for almost 5 years, had more girlfriends, went off of the terrible psych drugs  I had been taking all these years at the urging of my new psychiatrist who said that it was the medication  that was making me sick and that I had trauma (PTSD), felt a million times better, then became extremely angry having realized that I took psych meds for 25 years for conditions that I never had and that in fact it was the medication that caused me to be so unstable and out of control, which throughout my life led to horrendous social issues and conflicts, then I learned to deal with my anger through hard work on developing coping skills, I graduated with an associate’s degree in human services,   I began giving talks in the community called ‘Punk Rock, Mental Illness and Recovery’, then I decided to put a book together of a bunch of work I had done in the past facilitating support groups, the book is called “Better Days – A Mental Health Recovery Workbook’, then  I started traveling all over the US and Canada giving my talk, found a new girlfriend who I have been with since and love and cherish very very much, compiled an anthology of first-hand accounts of punk rockers who deal with mental health struggles, addiction and trauma called ‘You’re Crazy’ and now I am speaking a major mental health recovery conferences throughout the country giving workshops about the ‘Better Days’ workbook. Life is great on most days and sometimes I struggle. I do my best and that is all any of us can do. Every sun rise is a new beginning and I take those reins and live life to its fullest.
RDW: You wrote a very well received book called Better Days: A Mental Health Recovery Work Book, which may help those who deal with mental health issues such as depression, and more. Tell us about that, how you started it, and why you wrote it? What types of advice could one benefit from in that book?
CL: ‘Better Days – A Mental Health Recovery Workbook’ began as a requirement of my internship when I first went to school in the late 00’s. I began to give support groups that I developed based on my personal struggle to learn coping skills so I could have happier, healthier and more satisfying life. Over time I facilitated the group at different jobs that I had and then on a volunteer basis, each week creating a new passage and worksheet based on whatever it was I was struggling with at that moment. I then stopped giving the group as I became too busy and all the pages sat in a drawer unused. I then decided to try to put it into book form. It was edited, a wonderful cover was designed and I then self-published the book. ‘Better Days’ teaches people how to better manage the situations in their lives that have been causing them trouble. When we use effective coping skills to handle all the stuff life throws at us on a regular basis, this stuff no longer keeps us from being happy, healthy and well. ‘Better Days’ honors each person as being the best expert on themselves. The workbook empowers people to help themselves and puts them in charge by empowering them to make choices for themselves that will result in outcomes that they prefer and desire and thus experience less disruption and unhappiness.

RDW: What has the feedback been thus far from those in your circle or just in general who have read it?
CL: The feedback has been overwhelmingly awesome. ‘Better Days’ has been embraced by punk rockers, social workers, psychiatrists, peer specialists and adherents to radical mental health care and many others. I suggest that anyone who wants to have a better idea about what people think about the workbook to google ‘Better Days Recovery” on Amazon; the reviews are awesome!!!
RDW: Tell us about your job as a Certified Peer Support Specialist. Would you consider your job ordinary day to day or something as no ordinary day? You also travel across the country to speak and much more about your life experiences. Do you find the feedback you get from others rather helpful after doing so?
CL: I work as Certified Peer Specialist. I have been trained to use my personal lived experience for the benefit of those I serve in a professional capacity. However, without being glib; I do all the same things an outreach worker, case manager or social worker does, but better, haha!!!! My days at work are never ordinary. I love having a job where I can be myself and I don’t have to hide that I have had mental health struggles myself.  To be able to tell a person who is suffering that I have been in a similar place of struggle and I can relate to a similar sort of pain and share with them that although it was very difficult, that I got through it and that over time, my life got better; there ain’t much better than that for me in this world. I get to make a difference in the lives of very worthy people, many of whom have slipped through the cracks of the system, just like I did, and never were told that people like us can get better.
RDW: How has punk and hardcore music played a part in your life and your story? Have you found it rather beneficial to you and the things you have dealt with in your life? Do you recommend musical therapy of some sorts to other people?
CL: Hardcore punk has been a huge part of my life for as long as I can remember. For many years, going to shows was one of the only things that made me feel alive. Throughout the 90’s, booking shows for bands from all over the world provided me with a crucial sense of meaning and purpose that I otherwise would not have had, which would have been dreadful and most certainly would have resulted in me taking my own life. I love punk to this day. I listen to music as much as possible and I am still am obsessed with foreign and obscure punk bands, but, truth be told, way before it became cool, haahahaah!!! I hope that most people out there have an appreciation for music of some sort. I ain’t no critic – listen to whatever makes you happy or helps you feel better; that is music therapy and it is beautiful.
RDW: That’s it for questions from me! Do you have any final words? Feel free to add any links, web pages, etc. for what you do! Thanks again, Craig!
CL: Thank you very much for doing this interview with me Nick. I appreciate having the opportunity to spread the message of recovery and that we get better to my peers in the punk scene and beyond. In order for people like us, people who struggle, we need to talk about this stuff. We need to talk about our mental health; our substance use; and our trauma. The more we talk about it openly and the more we understand about ourselves and others, and the more we support each other and offer each other empathy and non-possessive love; the more stigma decreases and the happier all of our lives can be or become. Please remember, we get better and I am living proof of this. Keep fighting for the life you want! Keep trying to live a healthy and happy life, you can do it! Recovery is real! We get better!!
Please check out the ‘Better Days – A Mental Health Recovery Workbook’ here: WWW.BETTERDAYSRECOVERY.COM
 Please check out ‘You’re Crazy – Volume One” and other punk rock stuff here: WWW.PUNKSINRECOVERY.COM
 To contact Craig directly go here: 


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