I write because…

I have stories to tell. I write because I want to make a difference in someone’s life. My head is full of ideas. Some are reality-based; they are the stories of people I’ve met who touched my life in some way. Some stories are what-ifs that swim around in my brain. I see something or someone that catches my eye and that sparks my curiosity. I wonder what’s beyond or why does it happen that way. Sometimes I see things and am overwhelmed with emotion, and I need to stop and sort it out.

I believe we all share a human experience and we learn from those who’ve gone before and even those who are coming up after us. Age does not give us all the answers. Everyone who crosses our path affects our life in some way. They leave something behind – either a gift or a lesson.

I have worked with people in different aspects of my life in various roles, and I have learned a lot about the human experience. If something I write helps one person take another look at a problem in their life, I will have served a purpose.
#everydayinspiration

Another work group to improve my writing.  Please bear with me.

Mental Health stories of courage and resilience Part 4

Y is for the true You inside

This post is the last of the Mental Health stories that I will share in honor Mental Health Awareness Month.  As I’ve written earlier, these are memories I carry with me from past experiences. I hope that in reading these snapshots, you can get a glimpse of the struggles for a  person who lives with chronic and persistent symptoms of mental illness and from that glimpse, gain understanding and empathy.  This mini-series resulted from the letter “Y” in April 2018 A to Z writing Challenge. If you’d like, you can go back to Part 1 and start at the beginning.  

I met Margaret as I did many of my clients, in a state-run psychiatric hospital to be a part of discharge planning.  As I had mentioned in my last post, Margaret was on the younger end of middle age. She had been married once and had a child, a boy named Shaun. The boy’s father had full custody.  Margaret had not seen her son, now a teenager, for many years.mother-daughter-love-sunset-51953.jpeg

Margaret carried a dual diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder with manic episodes along with Alcohol Abuse and Dependency.  Hospital records indicated that there was a family history of substance abuse by both parents and siblings. Margaret had lost contact with her family. She had lived “on the streets” or in psychiatric facilities for most of her adult life.

One of the first things that Margaret wanted me to know was that she “was not like the other homeless drunks.”  She wanted me to know she had lived in a big white house overlooking the Bay in a small posh town known as a summer retreat for famous people.  As she stuck out her arm in front of herself, she fanned her hand and wiggled spread fingers to make a point,  “and, I had di-ah-mends…”   

Whenever she was having a hard time, she would repeat the story to me with the same gestures and intonations.  She wanted me to remember. It was her dream to get back to that point in her life.  It was my goal to help her get as close as possible.  She was discharged to a women’s transitional residential program with seven other women and plenty of support.  The structure proved too much for Margaret.  There were curfews, chores and according to Margaret “the staff was pushy and some of the other girls were too young or too sick.” 

We started looking for safe alternative housing.  It was the 1990s. Margaret’s only income was Supplemental Security Income and the minimum allowance of food stamps. Today she would probably get a gallon of milk and a dozen eggs for that amount.  Without a housing subsidy, it was impossible for Margaret to afford even a room in one of the many rundown boarding room houses in the city.  We applied for a rental assistance allowance through a special grant designed for downsizing the state hospitals.  While we waited, Margaret’s boyfriend, Jean found a small attic apartment in an old triple decker. 

Jean was supportive of Margaret’s treatment and personal goals. We were able to adjust the subsidy request to use at that apartment.  With a place of her own, the primary thing on her mind was to see her son Shaun again. Margaret was able to open communication with Shaun and his father.  Now she could tell his dad that she had a safe place for him to visit.  Jean was able to borrow a car to meet her son for lunch near his home. It was the first time they had seen each other since he was a small boy.   She was so excited.  She bought a stylish blouse and slacks at the Salvation Army.  For Shaun, she purchased a gift from a local department store, precursors to Target or Walmart.   They tell me she looked fabulous.  It was very stressful, but she managed to get through it without hospitalization or too much disruption in her life.

It was a year later when Shaun got his driver’s license and a car, that he was able to visit Margaret.   From the moment she got the apartment, everything she did was with Shaun in mind.  Now, her little boy was coming for Christmas!  

Margaret and I would shop for her groceries and personal items at the beginning of each month when her Representative Payee would give her spending allowance according to her budget.  Margaret had planned and budgeted for Shaun’s Christmas visit for months.  She wanted to make sure she had enough for a Christmas tree.  She was extra careful shopping because she also wanted some ingredients for a special dinner.  After we secured her monthly staples, we were done, but with very little left for a Christmas tree. 

Margaret wanted a real tree for Shaun.  She didn’t want a dusty beat-up artificial one from a thrift store.  We searched high and low on that cold New England winter day.  Finally, in the back of a tree lot, Margaret spotted the perfect one.   It was short and lopsided, but not too scraggly and at least one hundred times better than Charlie Brown’s.  To Margaret, it looked like the one at Rockefeller Center. She negotiated and got it for eight dollars.  She cried silent tears as we drove home.

At my next visit, I saw the lopsided little evergreen sitting in the corner glowing brightly pexels-photo-264988.jpegfrom the lights and ornaments that Margaret had collected from around town – donation boxes, thrift stores, and friends.  The little Christmas tree did look like it belonged in a big white house by the Bay with strings of “di-ah-mends” to light it up.  Margaret had poured years of bottled up love for her son into decorating the tiny apartment for that visit. It was Margaret’s first Christmas in a long time as well, and sometimes she would become flooded with so many emotions. It was good to hear they had a lovely time.    

Margaret was a loving mother who also happened to struggle with distressing symptoms of a major mental illness.  I tip my hat to her this Mother’s Day wherever she may be.   

Each one of us has our own evolution of life, and each one of us goes through different tests which are unique and challenging. But certain things are common. And we do learn things from each other’s experience. On a spiritual journey, we all have the same destination. A. R. Rahman  (from BrainQuotes.com)

Please check out the links below for additional information for family supports as well.  Many times family and friends want to help but don’t know how. There is also information about Peer support groups and peer mentoring programs.  No one has to do this alone.

SAMSHA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration) at  https://www.samhsa.gov/

NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness (a grassroots organization run by families and consumers) https://www.nami.org/About-NAMI

Mental Health Stories of courage and resilience Part 1

A to Z challenge and the letter Y

A few days ago I wrote a whimsical post about the fun side of living on the edge of reality. As I wrote that post, I made a promise to myself and to the ghosts of past clients, that I would tell their stories of courage, resilience, and survival. I knew just where to put it. I was working on the April 2018 A to Z Challenge and I worked on the story while waiting for the letter “Y” because Y is for The You Inside and I haven’t forgotten. Because these are the stories of real people, I wanted to take time and be true to them. I will post each story as a different part this week.  I also decided to hold the post a few days because, since 1949, May has been Mental Health Awareness Month. This year Mental Health Awareness Week is May 14-20, 2018.

Case Manager Vs. Life Coach

In a previous life, I was hired by the Department of Mental Health to join an army of professionals and para-professionals. We were tasked with providing community services for persons with recurring and persistent mental illness as the push for deinstitutionalization continued from the previous decade. New medications were addressing the symptoms of their illness and we were going to help them return to their communities to find a “life worth living”. I was a Case Manager. Actually, I considered myself more of a Life Coach; I was ahead of my time. I can fill my days simply writing the stories of the men and women I’ve met. Instead, I will tell you of the snapshots that jump from my memory when I see the news or hear the debate about affordable healthcare.

For some reason, she wanted to die.

Time and again, I remember the day one of “the new girls” ran to our apartment crying and looking for my mother. They needed help because their mother had just eaten some rat poison. For some reason, she wanted to die. Days later, I accompanied my mother to visit the neighbor in the psychiatric ward. I didn’t remember seeing her before that day; she looked like death warmed over. We caught a glimpse of others on the ward; they looked the same, pale gray figures, walking in circles. It was scary. I was a just beginning my teens, it was the late 1960s.

Anne

I met Anne when she was in her late thirties. She had been a clerk for IRS when she had her first major “break down”. She had become angry and the police took her away. She was a tall, woman with a large build. Her short blonde hair was starting to turn gray and she glared at me with powder blue eyes. She explained that she had been angry because no one believed her story that the Mayor had raped her when she was a child playing with his daughter. We worked together for several years after that meeting and I learned her perpetual glare was more a sign of fear than defiance. She lived in fear, never knowing when “the cops would show up and haul her away for no reason.”

It was the mid-1980s. She had a long history of psychiatric hospitalizations precipitated by psychotic thinking and consequent irrational, uncontrollable anger; this was common jargon in hospital records back then. Her mother couldn’t confirm her rape story. No one bothered to corroborate it because it was considered a symptom of her illness. She carried the diagnosis of Paranoid Schizophrenia. She told me she had stopped her meds often because she didn’t like how they made her feel; she felt no need to elaborate. Anne had been discharged on an injectable medication to assure compliance. She agreed to move into a group home to increase her independent living skills. It was my job to get her an apartment in the community and provide support to get her out of the revolving door that kept her in and out of hospitals. Needless to say that it all sounded so much better on paper.

In our society, social drinking of alcohol is quite acceptable. Some people say it takes the edge off and they can relax. They feel more social. Unfortunately, we all know folks who are better off when they don’t drink at all. One particular year, things were going well for Anne. She had her own apartment in a nice part of town and had made friends with some neighbors who were not associated with her life as an ex-patient.  Sometimes, they would all go out to listen to a band and have a good time.

Y is for the true You inside

Anne and I would talk about how to stay safe in the city and about the risks associated with mixing alcohol and meds especially an injectable medication. Part of my job, of course, was to point out all she had achieved while on the prescribed medication. I don’t remember the exact conversation or the words I used but I do remember something I said caused her to stand up and stared down at me with her powder blue eyes, holding back her tears “you don’t understand do you? You never will. Those medications take away my YOU. THAT’s who I really am. Who I’ve been from the day I was born. It’s my dreams, who I want to be. It’s MY reality. The one on the medications, that’s not me. The one everyone says is doing soo well”, she added with a touch of sarcasm, “She is a product of the meds.”

Irrational thinking starting to sound rational

She went on to ask questions like who determines what’s irrational. Who determines what right and wrong, what is true or not? And then she started telling me that no one knows that Bill Clinton comes to visit her and loves her. She explained that they had to let Hillary stand next to Bill in her place in the news because she looks better for the TV cameras. A part of me could rationally understand what she was saying about her dreams and her meds.  I can’t begin to explain, however, what it feels like to watch someone lose their grasp on reality, know where it’s heading and feel powerless to stop it. It was her right to drink socially as it was her right to refuse medication and treatment. I’ll try to touch on the laws surrounding this in one of my other posts.
It was months before she ended up in the hospital again. Yes, the police were involved.

It was another few months before she was ready to go home again. Fortunately, we were able to save her apartment and she didn’t have to start at the beginning again, even so, it wasn’t easy to return to that place. Eventually, we found another apartment and she found another group of friends. I don’t know if she ever made peace with her You and her medications, but she certainly gave me an education that I could never repay.

Resources

You can find many more stories, resources to find services or general information for consumers and their families at the following sites:
SAMSHA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration) at https://www.samhsa.gov/
NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness (a grassroots organization run by families and consumers) https://www.nami.org/About-NAMI

Please look out for my other posts related to this topic.

Upside Down – A to Z challenge letter U

 

What happens when your world is upside down, and you feel like you are holding on to the edge with your fingertips? How do you manage to get back on top or at least get a better grip?

The other day I received a message from a young man who I hadn’t spoken to in about 30 years. The last time I saw him, he was 16 or 17, and I was his Youth Leader in church. Some of you may be doing the math and maybe don’t consider this a young man, but time and memory are funny that way. Your memory keeps those snapshots of the way it was, and in this situation, we both found ourselves the way we were.

He was never your typical Choir Boy or Boy Scout. In truth, he was the proverbial black sheep of his family, but he had a good heart, and one could tell he just couldn’t get out of his own way. Although his mother was a leader in our church, her son was out of reach to her and his immediate family. The rest of us tried to bridge that gap during those turbulent years and so when he reached out, I was there for him- his youth leader again.

He got straight to the point. Since I had last seen him, he had continued with his self-reported “craziness” for several years but when he met someone with “good sense”; he fell in love, and his life began to turn around. They’ve been married for twenty plus years; have three lovely children-already finishing college. He went back to church for a while, bought the house with the picket fence, the furnishings, the cars and the dog. A few months ago, without warning, his wife announced that she needed space and wanted to separate for an indefinite period. He felt he couldn’t go on without her; everything he’d accomplished had been for her. I reminded him that this was what he had always wanted and he achieved it. Not just for her, but for himself.

I listened carefully with my third ear, trying to hear what was actually going on. I don’t make assumptions, I don’t know his wife, and although I believe our core stays the same, the chances are that so much time has passed, that I don’t truly know who this young man has become. In my experience, things never come out of the blue.

When he was done, I asked a few questions. Some he wasn’t ready to answer, but he listened.  He was briefly able to step back and recognize some of the things I was talking about. Naturally, when it was too painful, he deflected, and we moved on. Put in on the back burner, I told him, and I shared some of what has helped me in times of trouble or distress.  The trick to survival is using your tools.

• Take care of yourself. Stay healthy. Get out and move – exercise. Keep your mind clear and grounded with mediation or prayer or both. If you know substances like alcohol or drugs are a trigger, don’t reach for that as your life saver. The chances are that you’ll go under to the dark side quicker.
• Be open to self-reflection but don’t beat yourself up. We all make mistakes, just be honest with yourself. Are you doing the best you can? Is this your best self?
• Try to walk in the shoes of the other person but don’t judge. Don’t take it personally. Each one of us is dealing with our own issues, battle scars, and fears. Yes, even your life partner may have difficulties communicating some things. Don’t push. Be ready to accept and respect the other person’s decision.
• Remember each day is a clean slate. We can make it what we want. Eleanor Roosevelt, one of my favorites said “With the new day comes new strength and new thoughts.” from Brainyquote.com

It happens to all of us. How do you get back on top when your world is upside down?

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AtoZ Challenge P is for PRECIOUS

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FROM MY MEMORY BOX

PRECIOUS GEMSTONES
(A Tribute to my mother)

Precious gemstones, sparkling blue-green
Embedded in chiseled ivory
Shimmering reflections of the sea
Vibrant and alive; brave and defiant.

Gold sun flecks, intricate details
Dancing on the waves of life
Hidden secrets of tales untold
Projection of love’s warm, gentle kindness.

Behind the windows darkness lives
Barely a flicker of light-hope
Hear the sounds, smell the smells, hands touch,
If only the window could open wide.

The looking glass is just a blur
Where did that young woman go now?
Long dark tresses, smooth satin skin,
Life of the sea and sunlight in her eyes.

I am here, alive in the dark
Behind the windowpanes of green.
Living life with other senses
Sounds of the sea, warmth of the sun, love’s touch.

This dark place has not smothered me
I am strong and willing to live
My loved ones still have need of me
I direct their paths and provide comfort.

The will was there, but the time had come
A Valley to cross, the River so deep
A choir in need of a new voice
Not my will but Thine be done, I bid farewell.

The dark shades were now lifted
The Saving Grace within her sight
At His gates, she marveled.