Thursday, May 8, 2014

SM Johnson ~ Mental Health Month ~ 5 things

empty coffee cups are sad

Okay,  I read a lot of blogs, so I've become aware that May is "Mental Health Month." What's kind of fascinating, though, is that in these blogs that are making me aware of Mental Health Month, I'm reading a lot of stuff about mental illness. Which, frankly,  is not exactly the same thing as mental health.

So... what's up with that?

Not that talking about mental illness or is a bad thing, or that being aware of mental illness is a bad thing, or trying to de-stigmatize mental illness is a bad thing. No, all of these are good things. But the reality is, probably a lot of the people in your life have no idea what's up with serious chronic mental illness. They see the news reports of school shooting, they read the stories about the woman who gave birth to seven infants and killed six of them (the first having been stillborn) and kept their little infant corpses boxed up in the garage. They've heard about people so mired in postpartum depression that they kill all of their children... men who keep women locked in their homes or the shed in their back yard for decades...  a lot of bad, bad stuff happens in the world, we hear the reports about the mental illnesses behind those bad things.

Some of that reporting may even be true.

But how much exposure to actual mental illness do your office-mates have on a regular basis? How many have friends or family members who talk to clocks, write long, elaborate math equations all over the walls of their apartment, are convinced the people on television are speaking directly to them, are so disorganized that if they tried to cook something, they'd probably get distracted and burn the whole building down? How many people do you know who have been arrested at the big box store because they were really paranoid about this, that, or some other thing, to the point that they called 911 to report a store employee, and refused to leave the premises until the police arrested someone, and then that someone turned out to be them, for disturbing the peace or disorderly conduct, or what have you.....

This is the face of mental illness.

When that person ranting and raving at the big box store gets arrested, he doesn't go to jail, he comes to the acute care psychiatric unit, which is a little like jail, in that the doors are locked and people can't just up and leave when they want to.

And this is where I work.

So. I am very, very, very aware of mental illness.

I have no answers except that, currently, there are no answers. Nationwide, I believe mental health systems are broken. There are not enough inpatient beds for those that need them. There are not enough outpatient services to keep people with severe chronic mental illnesses out of hospitals. Community-based living, while outwardly eschewing "quality of life" (versus institutionalization at state hospitals) - just doesn't seem to be a viable option for many people who live with mental disorders. I'm talking people who are violent to the point of being a constant danger to other residents and staff, people who flee their group home situations and then are disorganized, confused, and sometimes dangerous to the general public... there are just people who don't fit into community based living.

And some of these people sit in the hospital for months waiting for a new placement, while their counties scramble to find dollars so they can offer a high enough stipend for this person's monthly care to make accepting this resident seem attractive. Your tax dollars at work, America. Yay.


This isn't even where I was going with this topic. I've hijacked myself.

I guess what I want to say is... 99% of the people I meet at work will never be headlines on Fox News, or the Huffington Post, or even legitimate media outlets.

They are confused, demented, schizophrenic... they are off their medications, they are on drugs, they are struggling to continue to exist on this Earth while fitting in nowhere, while being accepted nowhere. They are often the people society wishes it could forget. They are people who need a safe place to be, for a short time, or for a longer time.

And they are artists, and visionaries, and the guy with the IQ of 168. They are inventors, and song writers, and poets, and piano players. They are, for the most part, people who will WOW you. All of this, while having a serious mental illness.

You think you're strong?

These people are strong. These people are admirable.

I am honored to be just one of a group of incredibly skilled staff members who take care of people with kindness, compassion and respect. We meet people at their worst, at the lowest functioning times of their lives, at their saddest moments, when they are falling apart, when they've driven every single person in their support network away with their erratic behavior. When they're been humiliated, have lost all hope, and just want to end it all. We meet them when they are outraged that the whole world is against them, when they are terrified that everyone else is out to get them, when they haven't eaten in two weeks because the water's been poisoned, or the food is rotten, or they just plain out forgot that bodies need fuel.

We all need love and care and a safe place sometimes.  Some of us are just lucky enough that we'll find that safe place, that love, among our support network.

Okay, so... for actual Mental Health Month, I'm going to list five or however many ideas that I believe contribute to being mentally healthy.

(in no particular order)

1. Eliminate toxic people from your life. If you dread having lunch with that person, talking to them on the phone, or giving up a single minute of your free time to hang out with them - then STOP doing it. Just be "busy" - or, even better, piss them off in such a way that they never want to talk to you, ever again, like say, push them down a flight of stairs. (Yes, this would be passive-aggressive, and no, not at all healthy. It was a joke. Really. A funny joke. So laugh.) (Have you heard/seen that little ditty on Facebook? The one that says "Some people are like Slinkys, not good for much, but still fun to push down the stairs" ?) Okay. Moving on.

2. Do the thing you love most, as much as you can. If you must have a day job, get one that allows you to arrange your schedule around your passion. This is so important, I can't even tell you. If you're dying forty hours a week in a cubicle, get OUT. Climb out of debt and simplify your life so you can afford to work less. Or suck it up and do what you need to do to get the training/experience so you can do what you love. Whatever it is. If it's kids, find kid-related work. If it's nature find nature-related work. If it's art, find a way to make time for it. You will be happier. Trust me. (As a writer, I love writing more than anything. I say "no" to almost anything that demands my free time. I go out with friends infrequently. I stay home as much as possible doing what I love to do. I stay up late sometimes and I get up early sometimes. I write on the computer. I write in a notebook. I daydream a lot. A really lot.)

3. Remember that we are here for a short time. Don't ruminate too much on the past or spend your "now" looking forward to what might be in the future. You have this moment, today, and that's all you know. Which is why #1 and #2 are so important. We always assume we'll have tomorrow, but there are no promises.

4. Refer sort of to #3. If it's a beautiful day and you're torn between housework and the beach, choose the beach. Every. Time.

5. Puppies. Puppies make life busier, but damn, they're really, really cute - and maybe you remember what puppies smell like, but I sure didn't, and they smell AMAZING. Like life. Like love. (They also chew up absolutely EVERYTHING and pee EVERYWHERE, so you have to sort of be prepared for that nonsense. It gets better.

Peace out darlings. Happy Mental Health month. (does that sounds as weird to you as it does to me?)

Ps - if you're viewing the blog from an iPhone, sometimes the pictures are upside down. I have no idea why this is. Maybe the phone just wants to see you do the head-tilt thing.

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