Tag Archives: mental health

little by little

i got promoted at my job not long ago.

cue applause and ‘congratulations!’ banner.

ok, it’s not as special as it seems. i’m still working as a mental health counselor and my job description has not changed a bit. the only difference now is more hours.

not as glamorous as the opening line suggests, eh?

more hours means more time spent with my clients and that’s a pretty awesome perk since they’re pretty awesome. they all make me laugh, think, feel and understand. it’s some of the best living i do. we get to live life together and experience the up’s and the down’s.

the up’s can be really good. there’s a treasure chest of reward helping people live better lives. i often wonder who is getting more from our interactions – them or me.

but the down’s can be bad. deep and dark at times. at times it’s hard to remind myself of the up’s when the down’s are pretty depressing. i don’t feel this way for long, as things change pretty rapidly.

frustration.

psychosis frustrates me. it gets under my skin more than i care to admit it. i’m supposed to be used to it’s ways by now, right? i’ve been working with dozens and dozens of people who dealt with psychosis. this is nothing new to me.

it frustrates me more today than it ever did before.

why?

i’m not sure. i’m writing right now to figure that out.

i search my brain’s data banks from my psychology studies in university hoping to find the answers i want. nothing. i comb online psych journals looking for a glimmer of hope.

still nothing.

i know the things people say when they are experiencing a psychotic episode isn’t really them. i know this. i know that the insults, threats and names that are spoken aren’t coming from their heart but from their delusions and disjointed thoughts. i know they don’t mean what they say.

i know all this and still it frustrates me.

there is no reasoning with psychosis.

maybe that’s my problem. maybe that’s what frustrates me so much. maybe my own understanding of mental health needs to change then.

i want to be able to compartmentalize everything in my life. there’s a sense of control in that. when everything fits nicely into it’s little box that feels comfortable.

control and comfort.

pride and selfishness?

i can’t compartmentalize mental health, especially not psychosis. that’s what probably bothers me so much. there’s no comfort and there is definitely no control over it. psychosis operates on it’s own terms and doesn’t care a rip about anything else. it doesn’t care about the mind it is corrupting and the negative feelings it is causing, both in the host and the surrounding people.

one of my client’s struggles with psychosis. i can seen the pain on their face as they struggle to understand and be understood in a confusing world full of delusion and debilitating paranoia. i see and feel the anger that is born from their cognitive difficulties to piece together the disjointed reality thrown at them.

even though they have many people around them on a day-to-day basis – family, friends, support workers – i can still see the loneliness on their face.

and it eats me up inside little by little..

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burgers to bunyan

burger
my bus was late as usual.  i regretted running the two and half blocks as i turned the corner to see no bus in sight.  it was good and well that i didn’t miss the bus but getting me to work late was not.  good thing drew, my coworker had things well under control at the group home.

‘sorry for being late,’ i explained as i walked through the door.  ‘i think my bus driver was on sunday afternoon driving mode.’

‘it’s all good.  jack and rebecca (not their real names) are out with family for dinner.  tony is still napping.’

tonight i’m on dinner duty since drew is taking tony through his pre-dinner routine.  homemade burgers and fries are on the menu.  this can either go really well or really, really bad.

pessimistic or just keenly aware of my cooking deficiencies?

lets just say that i don’t think the cooking channel is going to be calling asking me to show the world a thing or two anytime soon. unless it’s to show my famous french toast, and if that’s the case i’m saying ‘no!’

ain’t nobody getting that secret.  i’m taking it to the grave with me.

well, the burgers turn out pretty darn good, i must say.  when jack and rebecca get home they gobble it down and give me the thumbs up.  tony has some too, though a bit differently than the rest of us.

thirty years ago tony was a 35-year-old husband and father to a beautiful wife and daughter with another baby on the way.  goofing around with some buddies on a long weekend, tony accepted a dare to climb a telephone pole.  he hit the wires and fell onto his head.  they saved his life but he would never be the same man again.

after tony came out of a long coma, he had to learn how to walk and communicate again.  he had to have all his food blended up so he could eat.  he had to be helped with going to the bathroom and showering.  his wife couldn’t take care of two children and a husband who needed constant help learning to live with a different rhythm.  he was placed in a large group home before coming to our small options group home.

i take one of the cooked burger patties along with some cheese, fries and ketchup and place them in a food processor.  tony is going to have burgers and fries with us too, a la pureed.

he gives his sign of approval too – a crooked thumbs up and big smile.

maybe that call from the cooking channel will coming afterall.

drew takes rebecca out to grab a coffee while tony and i watch duck dynasty in the living room.  we both laugh and enjoy the silly antics of hillbillies blowing things up and shooting ducks.  if only life were that simple.

the big hockey game comes on.  tony loves hockey so we turn on the game in his room where he can relax and watch it.  equipped with a boost milkshake and a delicious pudding snack, tony watches and cheers as his team kicks butt.

tony wants to get up to go to the bathroom.  i was told to let him get himself up out of his chair.  the more he does it himself the stronger his legs will be.  the whole ‘if you don’t use it you lose it’ line of thinking.  it makes sense, only problem is that he doesn’t want to get himself up at times and holds his hand out for help.

‘help up?’  he asks, his words slurred together.

i’ll admit i’m a sucker most of the time.  he probably knows it by now and that’s why he wears that huge grin as he asks me.  maybe he sees ‘sucker’ tattooed on my forehead.

drew leaves early to get to the other group home he works at.  jack and tony are in bed early while rebecca and i watch tv in the living room.  rebecca is a 65 yr old woman with schizophrenia who loves doing crafts, drinking coffee and watching gilmore girls.

apparently i love watching gilmore girls now too.  go figure.

rebecca tells me about the new shoes she got and how much walking she is going to do in them.  two hours a day.  she goes and gets them to show me.  she puts them on and show how she will walk in them.  good form.  i get another compliment on the burgers i made for dinner.

i’m going to milk this accomplishment for a while longer.

11pm comes quickly and my replacement arrives ready to take on the overnight shift.  i say goodnight and run to catch my bus home.  i walk through my front door, drop my keys on the small, white ledge i’ve haphazardly screwed to my old plaster wall, kick my shoes on to the mat in my hallway, and collapse onto my chair in the living room.

i’m tired but happy.

an old quote by john bunyan runs through my mind.

‘you have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.’

i’m not sure i necessarily agree with bunyan on this but i’m willing to accept it for tonight.

i lived today 🙂

cool.

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community heals

nothing like a good day lived in community to pick up my spirits.

street soccer was great the other night.  good mixture of young, talented foreign players (who actually passed the ball) and our street guys.  everyone seemed to have a blast.

i had an opportunity to talk with kal tonight for a while.  he has been coming out for the past 5 weeks and wowing everyone with his talent and skill.  he’s a resident of the shelter i worked at last year.  after recently graduating from a local university in engineering, his mental health failed him and he found himself forced to stay in a homeless shelter.

his story, as sad as it is, happens more than you know.

that’s what happens when the majority of people in our society are so ignorant in regards to mental health issues, and when the province spends less than 4% of the health budget on mental health services.

back asswards.

i don’t feel like i’m talking to someone who has a severe mental health issue. kal speaks intelligently, articulately and without any weird social ticks or abnormal behaviors.  his reasoning not only sounds good but is sound.

kal is from the middle east.  born in palestine, raised in syria, he moved to canada more than a decade ago with family.  soccer was one of the only constants in his life.

i asked him about his family and friends back in syria (he didn’t have any in palestine anymore).  the pained looked on his face was hard to miss.  communication with many of them had been cut off.  he had no way of knowing how they were doing.  no idea whether they were dead or alive.

his solution: going back.

i had no response to that.

what am i supposed to say in that moment?

am i supposed to tell him that his country is being decimated by a ‘civil war’ that has lasted just over two years?  am i supposed to tell him it’s too dangerous to go back there?

(it’s my opinion that it’s not a civil war but a proxy war between the west and the middle east.  the documented support of the syrian free army by the west and mercenary soldiers from west-friendly middle east governments paints a pretty clear picture.  i digress.)

he probably knows this much better than i do.  he has been able to hear from some relatives back home in syria.  the story they tell isn’t a pretty one.  the  mainstream media in the west doesn’t accurately represent the situation over there.

big surprise.

i try to put myself in his shoes.  what if it were my family and friends caught in the middle of an illegal, proxy war?  what would i do?  how would i feel?  what would i do with those emotions?

my problems don’t seem so big when i think about what kal is going through.

street soccer goes later than usual.  no one wants to stop playing.  for kal and a couple of the other guys, they can’t stay too late or they risk not having a bed down at the shelter.  it’s become warmer out but still drops well below zero at night.  not having a bed for the night would mean a sleepless night.  when you’re dealing with mental health issues, going sleepless is the last thing you need.

kal gives me an apologetic goodbye.  i tell him not to apologize.  i understand.  a warm bed is more important than playing the final couple of games.  he thanks me, we pound fists and he leaves.

rest well, kal.

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keeping promises

‘i promise i won’t hit him.’

these were the first words i heard as i entered the new place i’ll be working at.

welcome to your new job, lucas.

yesterday was my first day working at colonial community living, an organization that runs small options group homes (independent living facilities) across halifax.  i’ve been hired on as a mental health counselor to work with individuals who suffer from developmental disorders, mental illness and intellectual disabilities.

i was told during my interview that clients can be aggressive with counselors.  one female counselor had her jaw recently dislocated by one of the guys.  it’s not his fault nor was it hers.  aggression, though not typical of everyone who has autism, is found to impact many lives of people who deal with the disorder.  many times it’s the reason people come to live in group homes, as their families find it hard to live normal lives with the aggressive nature of autism.

the words of my new client ring in my head as he comes over and gently shakes my hand.  his hand is a bit limp and quite cold.  he smiles bashfully and turns to run back up the stairs.  my first meeting with tony (name changed) is pleasant.  i hope his promise holds up.  at least for today.

i sit at the kitchen table with two of my co-workers as they describe the job to me.  there’s a lot to know.  each guy that lives there (there are 3) has a million things to know about them.

crash course at the kitchen table.

tony rejoins us, this time showered and ready for breakfast.  my co-workers tell me he’s like clockwork.  his body will wake him out of a deep sleep in order to eat.  he’s much more structured that way compared to the other guys.  getting tony to eat is as simple as putting the food in front of his chair.

kinda like me.

tony and i get talking.  his nervousness disappears quickly.  he’s skinny and has salt and pepper hair.  he smiles and laughs a lot.  i like that.  he tells me about his paper route that he does on wednesdays.  he delivers 200 papers to the local neighborhood.  he has to roll the newspapers and bag them before he delivers them and he’s not fond of doing that.  i tell him that i’ll help him and he smiles big again.

sam joins us a little bit later.  the counselors have a tough time waking sam up in the morning.  he bangs around upstairs for a while

before pulling up a seat at the table to eat breakfast.

‘hello, lucas.  my name is sam.’

sam puts his hand out to shake mine.  his shake is solid but friendly.

‘hi, sam.  pleasure to meet you,’ i reply.

‘how old are you and when is your birthday?’ sam asks me.

‘i’m 30 and my birthday is on march 27th.’

without a moment’s hesitation, sam replies, ‘you were born on a saturday.’

whoa.

(i called my mom last night to confirm.  it was a saturday!)

my manager told me about sam during my interview.  he can compute numbers in his head faster than a calculator.  i ask him how he did that so fast and he just smiles at me, like he knows some secret trick that he won’t divulge.

tony begins becoming a bit agitated and acts out a bit.  he apologizes and apologizes some more even after we tell him we forgive him.  he cries very loud and then stops.

‘i cried crocodile tears, lucas’, he tells me as the last tears fall from his eyes.

‘yes you did.  do you feel better? i ask him.

he smiles.  ‘i sure do!’

we shake hands again.

next, we head downstairs to where the medication is kept so the guys can take their morning meds.  the process is very thorough to keep mistakes to a minimum.  keeping the guys leveled out is sometimes the difference between a few mg’s here or there.  they down their meds and head back upstairs.  this is simply routine for them.

my co-worker gives me a tour of the house.  it’s a beautiful, open-concept home that has a lot of room for the guys.  their bedrooms are decorated like little boy’s rooms.  action figures, finger paintings, crafts and disney posters line their rooms.  lots of framed pictures of them smiling and laughing.

after lunch, the four of us (tony, sam, myself and the other counselor) head out to deliver newspapers.  a storm is coming so we need to get them delivered soon.  the gusting wind tells us we don’t have long.

sam and i team up to deliver papers down a few streets.  he’s distracted with something in his head.  he can’t figure out why he got last sunday confused with monday.  he keeps asking questions but i don’t have any answers that satisfy him.  my co-worker tells me he does this to himself a lot.  he can’t accept that he makes mistakes.  he beats himself up (sometimes literally) because of his small internal errors.  he can’t give himself any grace.

we talk a bit more on our walk.  i can tell he’s somewhere else mentally but he’s responding enough for back and forth dialogue.  at one point he grabs my hand and looks at me.

‘lucas, i really like you.’

it’s one of those classic moments you see in those tear-jerking, sob-fest movies.  i don’t tear up by inside i’m touched.

‘i really like you too, sam.’

my manager told me that the guys really like having other men around.  most of the counselors are women so they don’t get to interact with men very much.

after we finish delivering newspapers we head back to the house.  a quick snack and its time for music therapy.  a young, twenty-something women brings in a guitar, tambourines and some shakers.  for an hour, her, sam, tony and myself rock out to all kinds of old songs that sam really likes.

it was really fun.

matthew finally gets home around 330 from work.  a couple of times a week he heads into one of the adult resource centers to work, doing small duties around the center.  matthew greets me with a big smile too and a hearty handshake.  he is set on getting some food and talking with the other counselor.  we will have to talk more another time, as my shift is almost over.

tony sits on his giant swiss ball bouncing up and down in the living room.

‘are you leaving now?’ he asks me.

‘yup.  i gotta go home, but i’ll be back on friday.’

‘i hope so.’

sam waves goodbye from his perch on the stairs and tells me to sleep well.

i love my new job.

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and that’s a rap

i made sure i was ten minutes early for the interview since everyone knows that punctuality on the initial impression is as vital as water is to a fish.  the building wasn’t marked well.  no signage, no nothing to indicate it was anything but a random building.

i knocked on the side door hoping it was the right one and heard footsteps.  a guy in line cook garb opened the door.

‘what can i do for you?’

i begin second-guessing my door choice.

‘is angela here?  i’m supposed to be meeting with her at..’

‘right in and down the stairs to your left.’

old halifax basements were never meant to accommodate men of my height.  pipes and beams made me duck and dodge my way through the basement to a series of offices hidden in an elaborate labyrinth.  part of me started thinking i’ve been duped and i’m going to be locked in a dungeon and sold into slavery.
‘you must be lucas’, said the woman with a soft handshake and a warm voice.

phew!  no slavery.

another woman greeted me as well, then both left the room to allow me to fill out a short essay question before doing the interview.  i thought i was done with essay questions.  bah! the question had to do with a clients mental and physical health and how i would approach the situation. it makes me think back to working at first united in east van and a few of the dirty situations i got into.

some memories are best forgotten.  ugh..

the interview went off without a hitch.  we ended up sharing stories about working with clients who deal with mental health, laughing at a bunch about different scenarios we had found ourselves in, and generally had a good time talking.  at the end of it, angela abruptly added, ‘we don’t usually hire on the spot but we think you’re perfect for mental health counselor position.  it’s yours if you want it.’

isn’t that what we all want to hear at the end of a job interview?  are there any better words?

i can’t think of any.

i thanked the ladies for their time, shook hands again and treated myself to some tim hortons.  donuts always make great celebration food.

after eating my celebratory food, i made my way down to gottingen to visit grace street ministries.  the place was packed and lively as i pushed my way through the front door.  jovial music was playing from the laptop, people were eating lunch and talking, tasha circled around the room with her mop hunting for wet spots, and patty waving her hands around trying to get my attention.

‘i’m SO close to getting my 9 months!  please pray i make it, lucas!’

i’ve seen a lot of patty’s ups and downs over the past two and half years.  addictions rob life of what it is supposed to be.  patty is no exception to this rule.  but, after almost 9 months (her longest period of sobriety) i think she may have found the strength to move past it.

‘you know i’m always praying for you,’ i reassure her.

she smiles a big smile and sits back down on the leather couch.

a fight breaks out outside the front door as we are in the middle of a group discussion.  people are anxious and agitated.  some run outside to see what’s happening, adding to the spectacle.  two drug dealers using fists to settle their disagreement.  not the most creative way of problem solving.

cop cars pull up minutes later and the crowds disperse quickly, because they either don’t want to answer questions (and be labeled a rat) or because no one likes the cops around here. i don’t blame them.  the cops here might be even more corrupt here than back in vancouver.

that’s saying something.

group gets refocused and continues on.  my mind is still dwelling on the fight.  the guy that was attacked was ‘dinky’ (not sure his real name).  he used to come to grace street back in the summer when i was leading group there.  a polite guy around my age with a big heart but mixed up in the wrong lifestyle.  in a violent halifax subculture in the hood, he could be the next guy to make the 6 o’clock news shot or stabbed to death.

i pray that doesn’t come to pass, but i realize i don’t have much say in it.

after grace street i head down to hope cottage to have a meal with some friends.  rock, patty, richard and goula entertain me while i eat a delicious plate of shepherds pie.  the fishing boat that capsized off the coast was from richard’s small home town.  the fishermen who were lost at sea were friends of his.  we give our condolences and say a quick prayer for the families and community left behind.  the silence that follows visibly makes people at the table awkward.

death has a way of doing that.

as kat and i are walking back from hope, a car that doesn’t see us almost runs us over on the cross walk.  we’re able to move out of the way in time and i give the car a boot with my right foot to show my displeasure.  you read that right.

i booted it good, too!

he doesn’t even stop.  this has to be the 6th or 7th time this year that has happened.  halifax drivers are atrocious.

now i sit here in my favorite chair with my laptop on my knees, feeling angry, sad, encouraged, disappointed, excited – i’m a bit wound up and all over the place emotionally.

just another day in the life of luke.

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