Sunday, August 13, 2006

Deja vu

(Sugar cane burnoff, Maclean NSW)

I wrote this a while ago, left it up for a day then took it down again. Due to public demand (i.e. Katya wanted to know where it went) I'm re-posting it. I took it off because I thought it was too heavy and self-obsessed. But I suppose blogs can't always be friendly fluffy reports on the goings-on of the nation's aquaria and the gardening practices of the North Coast... we would all die of boredom.

I had what is euphemistically referred to as a 'nervous breakdown' a couple of years ago, after a client, a teenage Chilean-Japanese girl, tried to cut her own head off with a chainsaw. As an occupational hazard, I've known many people to try and kill themselves over the years - far more than one should know, in the regular course of events, I now think. Several have succeeded - the usual cluster of overdoses and wrist slashing (although that's not usually very effective), and an elderly lady who doused herself in petrol and set herself on fire. For some reason this beautiful frail child was the finish of me. The mental health system is such that to be moved by a client's death or near death is to be 'unprofessional,' 'overinvolved,' and 'lacking boundaries'. Long ago, after the elderly woman's immolation, I tried to get staff debriefing. The staff counsellor and I played telephone tag for a month, until we caught up and made an appointment six weeks in advance. When the day came, I didn't bother going.

The damaged girl was flown to Brisbane in the Westpac emergency helicopter, and I went home crying. Clearly she was having the worse day. I got home at two in the afternoon and said to Lovergirl, 'I'm not going back.' I think we had signed our mortgage about two weeks earlier. She blanched slightly but recovered, barely missing a beat. I can't remember what she said but it was very low key and non-reactive. I don't think I even told her why for a couple of weeks. I lay in bed for the next three months, only getting up to do yoga, during which I would howl silently while I contorted my body into poor imitations of bipasana and guptadasana*, the accumulated grief of fifteen years of second hand trauma leaking out though my red eyes and snotty nose. The best thing about it was losing heaps of weight. Fifty-eight kilos I weighed, what a dream!

One day Lovergirl said, quite casually, 'You know, you're really hard to live with at the moment.' It's funny, that was a real turning point. Maybe it's just that her timing was exactly right. But I started to think about people around me again. You know, making an effort to have conversations, trying to notice when maybe Lovergirl was having a bad day and wanted some attention for a change.

I believe the girl survived although I think she's in a nursing home now.

I've just had dinner with a couple of 'consumer activists', Neil and Rick, together with Jonathon and Jill from work. A consumer, in a mental health context, is a person who uses mental health services. It's a terrible term. I always think of little pac-men (remember them?) bleeping across the screen, devouring everything in their path. But it's an evolution from 'patient' and even 'client', which as they (consumers) say, implies choice where often there is none. Rick and Neil are outspoken firebrands, constantly harassing mental health services to do more and better. They'd just come from a meeting with the Qld health minister. Neil's serious, slow speaking, a bit intense. Rick's wild and edgy, with a raucous laugh. I like him a lot. He was the lead in an Australian movie about 15 years ago. I haven't seen it, I'll have to get it out. I think he's the first movie star I've ever met! You see, I'm a bit thrilled, even though stardom was long ago. I asked him about his movie career tonight. He says he was discovered by the producer father of a friend while at high school, made the movie, the movie came out in May and by August he was psychotic & locked up in Melbourne's Larundel Hospital. After he got out he ran away to live on an Aboriginal community for a few years (he's not Aboriginal). And that was the story of his movie career.

One of the great things about this job is meeting really powerful, interesting people with psych diagnoses who are out of the closet and angry about getting decent services and decreasing stigma. I'm ashamed of getting depressed for three months. Imagine what it's like to have a real mental illness.

*I'm making those up, I can't remember the pose names. There was one that would ALWAYS make me cry, it involved sitting on the floor, legs wide apart, and bending right forward until my chest touched the floor


Danel Haszard said...

Well said,i applaud your blog, mental health consumers are the least capable of self advocacy,my doctors made me take zyprexa for 4 years which was ineffective for my symptoms.I now have a victims support page against Eli Lilly for it's Zyprexa product causing my diabetes.--Daniel Haszard

Katya said...

Thank you for reposting this. I wish everyone else responded so promptly to my requests - for example despite repeatedly saying to my 5 year old today'can you PLEASE eat your lunch a bit quicker?' it still took him three quarters of an hour to eat half a sandwich.
Also, 'The Women's Room' was written by Marilyn French, and I would so NOT bother reading 'The Line of Beauty', I thought it was a turkey.

sophier said...

Excellent work at reposting this entry. I work in a very similar area and unfortunately self care and de briefings are romantic ideas that we all cling to in the hope of staying sane. This needs to be talked about more openly and internal wounds need to be worked upon sometimes more vigorously than the wounds we can see. HURRAH to you!!