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Brainstorm Newsletter

Straight from the streets and the heart of Santa Monica, Brainstorm brings you “everything you don’t know”. The writers are all Step Up on Second members who meet every Tuesday, here at Step Up on Second to discuss the issues affecting those living with the mental illness and write articles to bring these issues to the attention of the community. It is their hope that these articles will foster greater compassion and awareness, and help take away the stigma surrounding mental illness.

Click to download PDF copies of the latest issue, and archived back issues:

  Volume 4, Number 1 — March, 2011 (PDF)

  Volume 3, Number 1 — July, 2010 (PDF)

  Volume 2, Number 2 — August, 2009 (PDF)

  Volume 2, Number 1 — March, 2009 (PDF)

Adobe Reader Download Acrobat Reader

Here are some samples of our authors' work:

Step Up on Second Writers' Anthology

By Ian Hrachovec

Modern life looks so easy with all its conveniences, tools, and opportunities. We are, it seems, in the driver’s seat of our own destiny.

Life used to look that way to me, with little to complain about and a heavenly song of hope.

And then, mental illness struck. Clawing through it, overcoming it, life became a daily struggle.    Read more...

A Model of Volunteerism
By Phil Glosserman

Recently, President Obama announced United We Serve, a nationwide call to service, challenging all Americans to volunteer in their communities. We salute those who selflessly contribute their time, abilities, and money to help others. Behind the scenes, many of those who are beneficiaries of community services, are active volunteers.

Every week, I facilitate a writing class at Step Up on Second, a Santa-Monica-based organization that provides housing, meals, and an array of support services to individuals who have a mental illness. I have been impressed and inspired to find that, despite their own considerable personal challenges, most of our writers are active volunteers in the community. Marsha volunteers at the gift shop of a local hospital, Larry runs a bingo group at a seniors living facility, Alan writes and directs plays on skid row, Les teaches computer skills to people with mental illness, Craig feeds people who are homeless. And the list goes on.

One of our writers, Jacob Ramsey, is a model of volunteerism. For the past twelve years, Jacob has been a leader, a teacher, and source of inspiration for hundreds of people who have come through the doors of Step Up on Second.



By Daniel Concharty

First, a hush…
The blow, so low and hard
You outed me to everyone
And now the burden’s mine
Now my mental illness walks the streets
And pimps my story to friend and foe alike


From a Family Member

You are the brave and courageous warrior, this illness your relentless adversary.

I know this adversary too.

But, not nearly as intimately as you.

Not even close.



Awakening from a Dual Diagnosis
By Pauline Chamberline

I strongly believe in being of service to those around me. Allow me to explain.

I lived in the streets for 32 years and I have a dual diagnosis: mental illness and addiction. I have schizoaffective and bipolar disorders, anxiety, and PTSD, plus I am a recovering alcoholic and drug addict.

I now run a group at Step Up called AA Awakenings. In this group, I try to the best of my ability to educate others who feel lost about their own dual-diagnoses.   Read more...

Heeding the Spirit’s Call
By Alan Evans

In 1982, I came home from work and whined about my job. My wife Jeanine listened up to a point, then told me, “Go down to the convalescent home on the corner. Talk to three of the residents there. Then come back and tell me about your big problems.”

I did as she recommended. At the nursing home I met an elderly gentlemen named Dave. He showed me an Airstream RV sitting in the parking lot. He had hoped to spend his retirement traveling across our country, but instead, his family put him in the home and the keys to his RV were kept locked up by the staff.  Read more...

Gratitude from My Perspective
By Les Jones

On Sunday mornings, we here at Step Up have a class in Gratitude. We write what we are grateful for and share what gratitude means in our life. I’ve discovered that no matter what is going on, gratitude is the "magic switch" to help turn life around. Much like when you flip on the light switch, without knowing the principles on how electricity got there, the light goes on.

I have compiled my own gratitude list. 

Reach Out
By Marto

Life is a box of chocolates—it has its sweetness, but too much self-absorbed living can make one sick.
In the course of human events, service will suffice.
Just do it—it will warm your proverbial cockles.
Dutiful labor in the service of others is the most divine of services.
It refreshes and renews.
It can and will pull one from the depths of depression.
It can and will give one vent to undiscovered perspectives and possibilities.
So in short, each one reach one.

Man in the Mirror
By Alan Evans

My father grew up in Middlesex, England. He would often say in a tone of exasperation, “These bloody Americans. They’re always looking around and about themselves for what they can only find inside themselves, chasing after the next shiny thing that comes along, with no more presence of mind than a dog chasing a Frisbee.”

I used to be one of those Americans. 

Step Up to Vote
by Les Jones

The 2008 election season was something, the likes of which we’ve never seen in our country. It was especially rewarding for me, and what I experienced will stay with me for the rest of my life.

I am a member of Step Up on Second, a Santa Monica organization that provides housing and support services for the mentally ill. Step Up has been my home and my solace for the past 2 ½ years. I am honored to be one of two members who serve on Step Up’s board of directors.

A couple months ago I had a discussion with another board member about the changes and challenges our country faces in the months and years ahead. The next morning I woke up with a burning idea about getting Step Up Members, many of whom were totally disengaged from politics, involved in the election process. And so, “Step Up to Vote” was born.  Read more...


True Wealth
By Allan Evans

I saw a woman bring her family onto the bus. She played with her two beautiful children as her handsome husband looked on. As I watched, I felt my chest well up with joy for their great fortune. Then I became a little disturbed as I asked myself, “How could I have ever felt true wealth was anything other than this?”

Starting Within Me
By Allan Evans

I can’t change this whole wide world
But I sure can change my own
Starting within me
I can shed this skin I wore yesterday
Starting within me
Just like today, I’m all brand-new
Starting within me
I know it’s work that will make my dreams become real
And peace in my life can only be
Starting within me


Editors Note: Last fall, renowned author David Foster Wallace committed suicide. According to his father, he had struggled with depression for over 20 years. In this poem, one of our writers contemplates Wallace’s depression and death, making references to quotes from Wallace’s novel Infinite Jest and Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Year of the Trial-Size Dove Bar
In Memory of David Foster Wallace
By Marto

He “had that within which passeth show”
A quick-turned phrase with golden afterglow
And sloweth not a tared cause…
…of intellect’s host from narrow roads traveled
A modern rebel without a pause.

Through trivial noises, he soon gaveled
But the wrench of Satan’s grasp
The dark and deep-down ditch
Closed up around his glowing light.

To dowse a light so bright and sure
Upon a rocky shoreline
From high up within a vain and clouded jest
He died alone at the dark lord’s behest.

And as his spilled-out life suggests
His torn and sundered wife’s only relief:
The joy he spread before this selfish grief.

Stamp Out Stigma!
By Jacob Ramsey

Those of us who suffer daily with mental illness face additional suffering: the pain we feel from being judged, excluded, and avoided by others. I’m talking about stigma, and take it from me, stigma hurts. Stigma destroys the spirit of not just the mentally ill, but everyone—it eats away at the common bond of our humanity.

The Random House Unabridged Dictionary defines stigma as “a mark of disgrace or infamy; a stain or reproach, as on one's reputation.” The root of the word comes from Greek, meaning a mark or puncture, especially one made by a pointed instrument. That’s certainly the way stigma feels to me and my mentally ill brothers and sisters.  Read more...

A Day in the Life of Manic Depression
By Daniel Concharty

Part One – At Home

I’m adhering like an unglued band-aid to some basic routine to attain a semblance of normalcy. It’s difficult to comprehend that in sticking to something as fundamental as daily work, my biochemistry doesn’t comply.

Ten voices clamor in my head every morning. The eleventh is just too much to handle. It takes so very long—inordinate amounts of time—to screw my head on straight, and even then I fall apart.

I have these wild mood swings, rendering me incapable of doing almost anything, except dealing with the mood swings themselves. The circuitous route with many detours—the vicissitudes of the terrain I must navigate—overwhelm me.

It’s hard to imagine, and equally hard to explain, what my mind and body go through with each mood swing.   Read more...

Panhandling: A View from the Streets

In light of the City Of Santa Monica’s recently announced anti-panhandling campaign, the Brainstorm writers group has had several intense and often heated discussions surrounding the subject of panhandling. What I’ve discovered is that panhandling evokes the same array of emotions, arguments, and prejudices in the community of the street as it does in the general population. Here are some of the views from the street. — Phil Glosserman, Brainstorm’s editor and advisor

Why I Hate Panhandlers
By Mike Gutowski

I hate panhandlers. Well, that’s not entirely honest. The truth is I hate the way I feel when confronted by panhandlers.
. . .

Confessions of an Ex-Panhandler
By Allan Evans

I am writing this letter to all the well-wishing people who unwittingly gave in to my exaggerations and downright fabrications when I asked for spare change.



Thank You, Santa Monica
By Mike Bandit

On behalf of all of us who have ever been down on our luck, I’d like to thank the generous and compassionate people of Santa Monica: For taking me in and keeping me going when I was ready to give up. For assisting me with food, clothing, and spare change, which helped me through a long period of mental illness and desperation. And finally, for helping me find a place to live and providing an incentive program to help me pay for the things I need to survive. Thank you Santa Monica for helping me when no one else would. Keep up the good work!

Robby the Wire Bender (a True Story)
by Mr. Anonymous

He would come around, but never talk. We knew his name was Robby, but not much else. We would talk to him and try to bring him out of himself, but he would never respond. He always carried a shopping bag filled mostly with bits of wire and wire hangers, and when he wasn’t sitting quietly listening to his “voices,” he would twist the wire and create beautiful rings, which he wore on most of his fingers. On rare occasions, he would twist wire into a word. Sometimes the word meant something only to him, and sometimes it would be a request. “Food” meant he probably hadn’t eaten for a long time. One morning when I was feeling low, I sat next to him and started a monologue that I was sure he couldn’t hear or understand. I spoke about the “futility of it all,” about how things never seemed to change no matter how hard some people tried, about the injustice, which permeates and cripples so much of life. He sat quietly, twisting his wire and handed me a word: HOPE

Work and the Mentally Ill
By Mark Klein

Work is important for everyone, including the mentally ill. Work is of special interest to me because I am a recovered mental patient returning to the workforce.

I recently interviewed Dr. Robert Liberman, Director of the UCLA Psych Rehab Program and Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry at UCLA. Dr. Liberman believes that work is a key prescription for wellness for people with mental illnesses.


Musings of the Vagrant Elite

After I Ran Away From Samoshel #1

I Am Warm
By Laci Vitriol

A cold reign is falling
Hard upon the city,
Hitting harder on the homeless outside,
Beyond my limited, cataracted view,
Beyond the dimness of my protective cave
And its broken, crystal-spattered windshield
Backed by obsidian sky.


Homeless for the Holidays
By Les Jones

The holidays are a time for gatherings of family and friends. It is a time of sharing, food, and football. But if you are on the streets, the holidays are, at worst, a time of guilt and loneliness, and at best, a holiday “photo-op” for the local paper’s annual “feeding-the-needy” article.

The feelings of guilt are ever-pressing. They spur on feelings of inadequacy and shame—shame for not being productive or “good enough” to figure out what is wrong. In the battle for worth in our lives, loneliness is ever-present. In the battle for our hearts and minds, we feel like the loser.  Read more...


A Dream Fulfilled
By Les Jones

My life has changed for the better over the years and my dreams reflect that change.

When I was young, I was shy and afraid of others. I spent most of my time alone. My dream was to be a radio DJ because I thought it would be great to work alone and “be someone else.” I worked as a DJ in Dallas and Houston for nine years. I loved the idea of the radio business, because over the air, people might like me. My self-image was that bad!