Hi! It’s Friday! (Friday…Friday…gotta get down on Friday…[You’re welcome]) Welcome back to the MHMRWNSJM!
This morning’s post comes from Nicci of Changing the Universe. Nicci is one of the first people I remember following on Twitter. We’re both Boy Moms and PPD/A ass-kickers. She did a clothing challenge with her son, Aric, that is boatloads of cute. (Seriously. Go look at those pictures and tell me your heart doesn’t just explode with happy!)
Nicci’s here today to talk about what it’s like when someone who works with mentally ill patients also suffers from a mental illness.
When the helper becomes the helped.
Join me in giving her a NSJM welcome!
I was lurking around Twitter one night when I saw Miranda asking for guest posters for her Mental Health Blog Rally. I knew I had to throw my hat in the ring (that’s how that phrase works, right?) and tell my story, since I have a unique view.
I’ve worked in the mental health field in some way since I graduated college. I started at a treatment center for at-risk teenage boys and moved to my job now, working with adults with developmental disabilities, brain injuries, and severe and persistent mental illness (SPMI).
I love my job. I love the clients that I work with. I love teaching them how to cope with their illness or disability so they can live normal lives in the community. I’m never shy from telling a client they need more assistance, and then either providing that assistance, or working with them to get the help they need.
I can’t diagnose or prescribe medications, but I work with those who can to develop treatment plans to help my clients feel like themselves again.
The types of mental illnesses I deal with on a daily basis range from schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, various anxiety disorders, major depressive disorders, and even some personality disorders. My clients functioning ranges from extremely high functioning (living on their own, holding a job, accurately managing their budget, etc) to extremely low functioning (living in adult foster care, group homes, can’t work, have no ability to live within their means, etc).
Being surrounded by clients like this, and doing the work that I do, you’d think I would have been more in tune to my mental health. But oh my, you would be wrong.
My son was born in November 2009 via emergency c-section. I am convinced that that was the beginning of the depression for me, the failure to deliver my child like billions of women before me, but maybe that depression was always there.
It was January of 2010 that I was diagnosed with postpartum depression. January 19th, to be exact. That date is engrained in my memory. It was the day I realized that I’m no different from my clients.
You see, working with clients with very severe mental illness made my view of postpartum depression look like a walk in the park. Well sure I feel sad, and sure I have visions of a drive by shooter coming and taking my son and me out of our misery, but I’m nowhere NEAR as bad off as my clients, I would tell myself. I’m not hearing voices, it’s not affecting my way of life, I don’t need hospitalization. I’m fine. I can do this on my own.
I provide the help. I don’t need the help.
On January 19th, 2010, I cried the entire way to the doctor’s office, and the entire way back. I was given a prescription for Lexapro and phone numbers for therapists in my area. I cried looking at the scrip. Lexapro. My clients take Lexapro. My mentally ill clients take Lexapro. What kind of counselor would I be if I was on the same medications that they were?
It took me three more months before I called one of those numbers for a therapist. I don’t need therapy. My clients need therapy. What kind of counselor would I be if I was in therapy, too? I’m supposed to be the strong one, the one that has it all together. I’d be a liar if I went into their homes to help them manage their lives when I can’t get a handle on my own.
It took a year of therapy for me to be able to step outside myself and see what I needed to see. I work so hard being an advocate for my clients. I needed to be able to do that for myself, too.
Now I can take that experience I went through (and am currently dealing with, but in smaller doses) and it helps me better understand where my clients are coming from. I KNOW the soul crushing feeling that my clients feel when their depression takes over. I KNOW the apathy they feel towards cleaning their house when they don’t even want to get out of bed. I KNOW how it feels to be stuck in the fog and have no clue how to get myself out of it.
I have a different point of view now. I feel like I have a better understanding of my clients and I know new ways to get to them, to help them.
It’s HARD accepting help when you are the one who usually provides it. It certainly made me feel like I wasn’t good enough any more. But in the end, it was totally worth it. I’m working on myself and dealing with my issues, and in turn it’s helping me provide better care to my clients.
It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do, if you need help with your mental illness, you need help. Please don’t be afraid to do what you need to do to make yourself feel like YOU again. And remember that your therapist knows a whole lot about what they are helping you with. They might even know on a personal level. So trust them. They know what they are doing.
Nicci writes the blog Changing the Universe with her husband, Tim. They are huge fans of baseball and their son, Aric, has pooped in the Tigers’ dugout. Twice.