For any of you who read my blog posts and think, “this guy needs to get a day job,” I’m happy to report I already have one. 🙂
I work in the mental health sector, and my experiences have run from one extreme — “some days, I can’t believe they pay me, I love this job so much” — to another — “if I spend another second here, I’m going to need to be put in a straightjacket.”
I first need to say that my risky choice of title is not meant to be disrespectful. I will tell you about Linda (name changed). She is one of the most difficult people I’ve ever worked with, and also one of my favourites. She has a sense of humour about her mental health, and I see that as a positive. I suppose some could argue that joking about mental illness might trivialize it and diminish its severity, but I have found that when people who have mental illness joke about it, it tends to put people at ease. If a person feels that someone with a mental illness can speak comfortably about their illness, that person is more likely to ask questions and learn something. I feel that having a sense of humour about mental illness — when used effectively and respectfully — can help to break down stigmas.
Things weren’t going very well for Linda and it became necessary for her to stay in the psychiatric hospital for a while. Like any environment where people come together — school, camp, retirement residence — there is always a good share of drama. I went to visit Linda and she began telling me all about her last few days in the hospital and all of the antics she had witnessed. She summarized the experience by saying, “it’s like a nut house in here.” Then a little impish grin crossed her lips and she observed, “well, it is a nut house.”
Another time, while consulting with a psychiatrist, the psychiatrist asked her if she “hears voices.”
“All the time,” she responded without hesitation. “I’m hearing yours right now.”
The title I selected for this post is meant to represent that, sometimes, people with mental illness need to be able to joke about it. Some days, it’s the only way to cope.
The hard days are made harder by seeing people crippled by depression or terrorized by delusions. I’ve watched helplessly while people have made catastrophic decisions when they weren’t thinking properly, only to discover the gravity of those choices later.
Sometimes, my colleagues and I are easy targets for anger and agitation. I’ve been viciously screamed at and had my life threatened. I haven’t been assaulted, though some of my coworkers have. And with all I have experienced, I know it has been even tougher for most of my coworkers whose positions have deposited them at the head of the front lines.
Another woman, Melanie (name changed), used to call me almost every day when I worked with her, and tell me how I was victimizing her by not complying with her every unreasonable demand. No conversation ended without her tearfully screaming at me. I felt like I needed Xanax every time I spoke to her.
These experiences understandably have caused me frustration. But in those moments when I am ready to pull out what little hair I have left, I always try to remind myself: imagine what it’s like living inside Melanie’s head for a day. To be so consumed by illness that everyone has been scared away. To feel afraid, victimized, isolated, unheard, unloved.
Today, I am thankful that my life has been touched by severe mental illness, so that I can be more grateful for not having severe mental illness myself.
Has your life been touched by mental illness? Please tell me about in the Comments.