Work In The Field

So today I was talking with my therapist, and he asked me why I wanted to be in the mental health field, and what I thought I would like to do if I had my choice. It was kind of an awkward situation, but I managed to put together an answer, and I thought I would try to replicate it here.

Mostly, I wanted to be able to interact people who are going through a tough time with mental illness. I know that my own story isn’t the worst or most terrifying, but it does involve 14 years of depression and two suicide attempts, and being able to talk to other people who had similar issues was extremely helpful. I think one of the worst parts of suffering from mental illness is the nagging sensation that I was doing it all on my own. That’s part of the reason that group psychology was the group I felt was most helpful at Menninger – because people were telling their stories, and trusting the others in the room, and that made others felt like they could tell theirs too – and letting that burden go, and sharing that loneliness, helped to lessen it.

I think it’s the stigma of mental illness that makes that happen, because I knew, rationally, that I wasn’t the only person suffering. But I was the only person I really knew who had been through serious treatment, and so it always felt like somehow I was alone in my treatment. It wasn’t until coming to Menninger that the groups we had there made me feel a connection wit other people who had similar issues, and realize that if they could manage their issues, I could manage mine, as well.

I want to be able to share my story, and as well as my story, I want to be able to share my experience with the recovery process. I want to be able to help others realize that not being alone is a powerful thing, and that the social network, the sense of community, that creates can be very helpful. Just because I can work to get where I am doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone with mental issues can, or that they can use the same methods, but it is being able to show people who are suffering that they can direct their own recovery and take charge of things in their lives, and possibly show others at least one or two ways to work towards that recovery, seems important.

Really, though, I think it’s just important to let people suffering know that there is strength in numbers, and they are not alone, 

Belief

Belief is an odd thing. By the dictionary (online, of course, since I don’t own a paper one currently, it is defined as: ‘1: a state or habit of mind in which trust or confidence is placed in some person or thing; 2: something believed; especially : a tenet or body of tenets held by a group; 3: conviction of the truth of some statement or the reality of some being or phenomenon especially when based on examination of evidence’. I have always considered belief to be something along the lines of thinking that something exists or has worth, even when there isn’t necessarily any evidence to support that; I don’t believe in god, for instance, though that has less to do with a lack of evidence than a loss of faith.

I don’t believe in a lot of things. As I have noted before, I tend to have a rather pessimistic worldview, and this probably affects the degree to which, and the amount of things, I believe in. Actually, I would imagine a lot of people don’t have a long list of things they believe in, but then it probably isn’t something that people really consider on a daily basis. I have been thinking about issues like this a lot lately, so of course weird things like this tend to pop up in my mind and hang on like a dog with a bone. I don’t know how usual or unusual belief is for most people, though I would be interested in finding out, especially from readers – do you believe in a lot of things? Anything that particularly strikes you?

In any case, since this is my blog, I figure I ought to get back to me and my belief. Like I said, it probably isn’t a long list. I skip the obvious religious beliefs, because I don’t have any anymore; when we covered religion and spirituality in groups, I always left those sections blank. But high on my list of things I believe in are my friends. I know it is probably tiring to hear over and over that I value my friends probably above everything, but corny or not, it’s true. I believe in them; I believe that, as my friends, they won’t do anything to actively hurt me and will try to help me if they are able, and I believe they enjoy my company; in return I try to do the same.

I believe, as weird as it sounds, in love. I’m not talking about familial or friendly love here, but the romantic kind. I believe that I have experienced it in the past, no matter how badly it went for me, and I believe that I will experience it again in the future. It’s not something real or material, so I can’t see it or touch it, but I know I’ve felt it, and I know it can cause both terrible pain and ecstatic joy. That’s weird coming from me, because my excited expression tends to closely mirror my bored or uninterested expression, but there it is.

I believe in change. I came to Menninger a broken person, just a month out from a suicide attempt, unsure of what I was doing, where I was going, or if there was any point to any of it. After two months there, and four more in a step-down program, I have a group of new friends, a support network of others to help me and keep me on the right track, I am living in a new city and looking for a job and living on my own for the first time in my life and I have hope for the future. None of that is stuff I would have predicted when I first went to Menninger; I was just going because I had nowhere else to turn.

Like change, I believe in hope. It was something that was almost totally foreign to me when I arrived in the clinic, because I hadn’t had any for so long. I can’t show it to you, but I know it’s there. I didn’t even know that there would be a future for me six months ago; I wasn’t actively looking to end my life anymore, but I figured that my life would be essentially just trudging from one unpleasant event to the next, feeling nothing but numbness or pain. Now, I am so far from that that it almost seems like they aren’t my memories anymore; hell, I am considering getting something about hope tattooed on my arm to remind me of it even when things get rough (yes, it is Latin, and the phrase I have repeated here a number of times, dum spiro, spero – while I breathe, I hope).

I believe that there are ways for those of us who suffer from mental illness to get better, to some degree. I don’t believe in an absolute cure – anyone who is selling that line is a fraud – but it can be managed to a degree that we can live meaningful lives. In my time in treatment, I have met people with ADD, ADHD, depression, bipolar, borderline personality disorder, schizophrenia, PTSD, all manner of addictions, anxiety disorders, anger control problems, and a host of other things, and I have seen some degree of improvement in everyone who was willing to give treatment a chance. It can’t help if you aren’t open to it, and I have seen people go that route too, but those people who accepted they were in treatment and, however grudgingly, earnestly decided to try and work towards being better have changed. It won’t help everyone the same way, nor to the same degree; CBT works for some, DBT for others, group therapy on a few, and some people just need people to listen to them and accept them. It isn’t a one-time deal; once you work on it, you have to keep working, or else risk relapsing, but for me, at least, that small degree of continuing work is so much better than the terrifying, frozen hell that was the depths of my depression that I would take it any day.

There may be some other things I believe in, and some of them are probably pretty ridiculous, but I think I have covered the big ones, or at least the ones that matter the most to me. I have no real evidence that any of these beliefs have merit outside of me, but that’s what matters to most to me anyway. I don’t know if anyone reading this will make any sense of it, though I hope you will; belief has proven to be pretty powerful for me, even if it isn’t in some higher or divine power. sometimes it is what keeps me going, as I am sure it does for a lot of people. So maybe it is something worth thinking about for others, worth considering even if it isn’t something that crosses the mind often. The ideas that come from that can be some of the best ideas, in my experience; I have had a lot of them, here, and some of my best ideas in the past have come from things I have started looking at that I had never really thought of before. I think just about everything is worth examining; if you have any ideas for what else could be useful, don’t be afraid to let me know here.