Where am I safe is my question of the moment. I got the fancy degree, I have the job that my degree qualifies me for, but it’s not enough. As someone who started struggling with mental illness in my pre-teens, as someone who has see more mental health “professionals” than I could possibly count, as someone who has tried litrally every medication under the sun, as someone who has been in and out of psych hospital units for 13 years, as someone who submitted to Electroconvulsive Therapy (shock treatment), as someone whose manic episodes scare those around me….as all of those things, most people who meet me would never know they’re part of narrative. Even those who “know me” might not know. Every morning I put on a costume, paint my face, and smile real big so no one asks questions and so I can put food on my table.
But that’s not why I do what I do. I do it because I am needed. Those who live with mental illness and haven’t been as fortunate as myself to get an education and experience that qualifies me as an “expert” need me. Because I’m not gonna tell you you’re sick. I’m not gonna label you. I’m definitely not going to judge you. And mark my words, I’m going to make your daily life involve more than sitting around a depressing unit all day, sleeping, watching TV, eating crappy food, and taking dozens of medications that make you what “they” want you to be: sedated, contained, and not causing “problems.” I will come wipe the drool dribbling down your chin. I will help button your shirt up. I will help clean your room or wash your clothes. And I will do it all gladly. Because if I can make just one person’s day a little better, if even for a moment, then it’s all worth it.
I hear you and I see you. The system doesn’t and it won’t. The system will tell you you’re flawed, defective, and need to be put far away from the “normal” people in the community. The system thinks you’re dangerous. And of course, the system thinks you’re crazy. So let me ask the system this: If I’m crazy too, how am I in this position of “power” putting in 10 hours a day to just be kind, show compassion, and have empathy? Because forget the medication cocktails that were forced upon me and others. Forget the conservatorship process that takes folks’ rights away from them. Forget what all the books and the research says. I can sum up what healing and recovery comes from in one sentence: STOP looking at us like we are sick and show some simple human decency! You don’t have any answers beyond involuntary psychiatric containment and meds that make our lives even more miserable. There was just one exception along the way of my journey who didn’t think like a doctor. It was her that I trusted and I knew she cared about me for more reasons than the fact that I was paying her. Would those doctors please stand up and say something?! I know it’s scary when you work in this field to disclose your own battle. I’m extremely terrified to even wear sleeves that don’t fully cover my arms because my scars aren’t something I can “hide.” BUT I SHOULDN’T HAVE TO.
The tattoo, down on my right ankle, the numbers 301.83…go ahead, google it now, I’ll wait. You might think that’s me perpetuating the labeling system but it’s not. My lifelong struggle with Borderline Personality Disorder is very near and dear to my heart and without it, I would not be who I am today. And today, I will hopefully make someone smile. I will have patience and tolerance for all of the idiots glued to their technological devices or weaving at high speeds through traffic because they just have to get to their destination immediately. I will find peace in my body when the person behind me in line is aggressively tapping their foot because them getting their groceries or prescription or whatever is definitely way more important than me doing the same. Go ahead sir, take my place. Maybe he had a terrible day. Maybe he’s getting a divorce or his boss butchered the project he spent all night working on. I don’t know what his life is about or what the snarky waitress’ life is about and I don’t claim to.
But just like treating mental illness, I’ll tell you what might help these folks: radical kindness. It’s becoming more rare because people seem to be racing through life, not stopping to smell the roses. Cliche or not, it’s the truth. When one of my clients manages to take a shower once every two weeks, that is an incredibly beautiful moment. Maybe my idea of beauty is very far off from yours and that’s okay. If you know me, you also know that in order for me to keep breathing I need to go outside, get lost in the trees, stare at the ocean, etc. So I guess to conclude, because I could let my fingers keep dancing on this keyboard for about 13 more days, I want to say that life is short, life is beautiful, and life is made up of every color, size, gender, and so on. But that doesn’t make us different from one another. Because guess what, shhhhh, your neighbor or your coworker or that stranger on the bus, might just be living in silence about something that we should all be talking, no, screaming from the rooftops about!
Clinical Social Worker, Psychotherapist, Case Manager, Nice Human Being
Axis I: Bipolar Disorder with Psychotic Features; Chronic Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder; Generalized Anxiety Disorder; Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Axis II: Borderline Personality Disorder
Axis IV: Problems with coming out of the closet in terms of Mental Illness
Axis V: Don’t give me an arbitrary number assessing how well I’m functioning! What’s your GAF, Doctor Person? Off the charts, right? Cuz you’re clearly well enough to tell me about my life.