This page is an idea that I’ve had for a while now. Too many people have notions about what mental health is, how it impacts those afflicted, and what it’s like to try to help someone that has struggles. I hope to help dispel some of these ideas, and give a real perspective from the trenches. I must admit, that this may actually be a therapeutic process for me too. But I hope that in venting my frustrations, and telling the stories of those the community ignores (out of sight, out of mind), the positivity outweighs that therapeutic process which some may feel is selfish.
I welcome you to read- if you want- and see how the thousands of individuals in your community live, how they function, and how they struggle. Maybe you know someone that is mentally ill. Maybe you are mentally ill and want to know you’re not alone. I hope to change some minds on the matter, maybe answer some questions, and maybe even inspire you to be kinder and judge less. We tend to be afraid of that which we don’t understand, and that’s okay. This blog is my effort to make a small impact on that understanding (and I mean very small). With that being said, I’d like to share a story of my first day meeting a man diagnosed with Schizoaffective Disorder (this link could help you understand what that entails: https://goo.gl/R5XKxF Thank you, Google!). Little did I know he would be one of the most frustrating individuals I have ever met. Yet, working with him led me to grow in ways I didn’t know I could; as I learned the value of the human spirit, and how each of us have worth, regardless of appearances and perceptions.
When I first began working in community mental health, I had no idea what it really meant. I had some thoughts based on TV shows and movies (I know, right?) and quickly learned how wrong I was. Community mental health is not meant to replace counseling or psychiatry, it is meant to work alongside these in the home and in the community itself. You see, the clients are the most severely mentally ill individuals in the community; in YOUR communities. So severe in fact, that they required up to a dozen hours of one on one help a week to maintain some stability, and work to have the quality of life all of us deserve.
My first visit with Peter (clearly a pseudonym, as all names will be, HIPPAA and all) involved and argument, being bossed around, air deodorizer, and a drink afterwards to process what in the hell I had just experienced. I arrived at his home in a semi-bad neighborhood and knocked on the door. A man that some may describe as a little thug-ish came to the door.
“Hey, uh, is Peter in?” I was a little nervous.
“Who are you?”, he wasn’t Peter.
“I’m his worker?” I answered in question form, okay, I was really nervous- so nervous in fact, I forgot my job.
“Oh, how are you doing man? I’m Joe (Not Joe).” He shook my hand, “Come in.”
He shut the door and yelled for Peter to come down. The home appeared to once be a nice place to live. Now it was what appeared to be the site of a tornado. I was astonished at the condition of the house as I followed Not-Joe to the living room, stepping over trash, beer cans and God-knows-what else. Peter came in from the kitchen, eating a large bowl of plain spaghetti noodles. I later found out he ate bowls of noodles regularly, partly because he apparently loved noodles, partly because they were a cheap meal. I introduced myself.
“Yeah”, he responded.
Shit, I thought, this is going to go well.
Once “introductions” were made, we sat down- he comfortably, me cautiously- and simply begun to speak. He was very hesitant, I was trying my damndest to treat him the way I would treat anyone. Our conversation bounced from topic to topic, he trying to both, impress me and throw me off, and me trying to build rapport. When I got my job, my dad told me to “treat them like people”. My father has an ability to be friendly and build relationships with anyone- something I admired since I was a young’un, as they say. I tried my best with Peter. I had some difficulties for various reasons, including judgement. The first thing anyone notices about him is his disheveled appearance, and the malodor he can exude- things I judged him for. Why couldn’t he just make an effort to help himself? Now, this was something we often battled about because he had the ability and the access to a shower; he just didn’t give a shit. I didn’t understand.
Now, I didn’t address his hygiene on the first day, or the first month for that matter, because I was attempting to apply the core principle my father thought would be essential: the relationship, a surprisingly helpful tip. Our first conversation lasted little over an hour, and he first began with explaining that he was in the Army, and a Paramedic. Neither true. We also discussed his interests- he cited exercise, movies, music. All true! All surprisingly normal. I liked movies, music and exercising too! That was my in. I would use these activities as therapeutic tools and relationship builders. I didn’t know how we would progress, or how I would truly help him. That came later.