I’ve started a new job with a different mental health organisation in the past couple of weeks. I still work with mentally ill folks, but now, rather than just visiting outreach clients, I am working in a 24 hour facility with some folks that have a dual diagnosis. This means they have schizophrenia and something else as well, like ADHD, autism, or an intellectual disability. Talk about your busy day, and that’s just for the clients themselves.
The new role is intense – more intense than my last role, and that one was pretty intense. Schizophrenia is an asshole, and people who have to live with it are like a displaced tribe of refugees from another dimension. It’s like they’ve arrived alone and without luggage from somewhere where nobody lives indoors, everyone has an organ that secretes nicotine into the bloodstream 24/7 and you have to carry demons with you everywhere nestled in the folds of your ears. When you are helping someone with schizophrenia, you do a lot of housework, can spend vast amounts of time avoiding inhaling the pall of cigarette smoke that often surrounds them, and you wrestle constantly with someone you can neither hear nor see, and absolutely cannot acknowledge, for their attention. It’s not so much annoying as it is completely heartbreaking, and enraging. I want to smash schizophrenia in the head, but it’s already got what I want to give it.
I believe I’m “supposed” to be doing this job. I haven’t any idea how I’ve ended up doing it – I have no qualifications or experience but applied anyway – all I can say is that it just “feels right.” I’ve managed to bluff my way into both organisations with vicarious talk of my ability to think on my feet and how I’m great with people, although I’ve not told them any of what I shared with you in my last post, so if you could keep that just between us, I’d certainly appreciate it. I have, however, shared in my job interviews how I think maybe my personal experience being married to someone who has been both an addict and mentally ill might have put me in some good stead. As it turns out with many of our clients, any addictions they have and a mental illness diagnosis are pretty much the least of their problems – that’s just their normal. It’s the plethora of social, health and financial issues that really does them in. And that’s where we come in.
There have been three specific times since I started when God has clearly shown me I am here to learn. I say this at a very high risk of coming over all super-spiritual, I know. However, I’ve learned something about myself and being employed – that if I get to a point in a job where I think that God’s never going to talk to me about why I’m doing it, I always just stop doing it. I’ve found He generally comes through sooner or later, and I’ve never have to stop doing the thing simply because I’ve gotten bored waiting for Him. Sometimes, I get pissed off by work politics, or lose interest in the actual job, though, and leave. This is so why I’m not a pastor.
So, as I was saying – there has been of late three times.
One. I’m visiting a particular client for the first time. She is a young woman, about thirty, a striking and formidable figure physically, and spiritually. When I’m with this client, I never ever feel in control – It’s as though she is tolerating me, allowing me to be involved with her, patronising me because I can serve her wants and needs. And I’m totally okay with that. Truth be known, I’m in awe of her. This first time I get to be in her flat, I am looking around the place cautiously, because with a person who has schizophrenia, you never know if what you are seeing is what they are seeing. The clients kitchen table is covered with various objects and plant cuttings in assorted containers, and several hand drawn pictures of animals and tribal figures are stuck to the wall behind it. A small dish holds four, huge ripe plums. “I guess this is your table.” Wrong. “That”, says the client “is my shrine. And that”, she indicates to where I am standing in front of her shrine “is where I pray. Every day I kneel right there and I pray and give thanks to God. I thank Him for everything in this world and who I am, and tell him how great I think He is.” A shiver goes down my spine. And I am betting God listens, too. I suddenly have this urge to take off my shoes, because I am convinced that where I am standing is absolutely the holiest place in the whole world, right at that moment.
Two. I’m chatting with a new client and we realise, to our amusement and surprise, we share a birthdate. Same day, month, year. I ask her where she grew up, what she used to do for fun, what music she likes. We sunbaked on the same patch of sand, bought our Alpines 25’s from the same corner shop, roller skated at the same rink. Both married since we were nineteen. Four kids, all around the same ages. Spooky. It’s not lost on us. As we drive along listening to Cyndi Lauper up loud with the windows wound down, I know we’re both thinking of that saying about God’s grace, the one that says but for it, there go I. It’s a stupid saying. After all, which one of us ended up with none?
Three. Tonight, I am helping an elderly male client get ready for bed. He’s toothless, incontinent and absolutely gorgeous. I reckon he was once a street fighter – his nose is squashy and flat like an old mandarin, and he has part of an ear missing. I’ve shepherded him from the shower and wrestled him into jammies, beanie and dressing gown, and I’m kneeling on the floor pulling his socks onto his knobbly feet. Suddenly, as he gently rests his foot in my hand, I am reminded of Jesus washing his disciples feet, and of the time when He said ‘I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Jesus said to me, “Hey – it’s me.” Wow, cool. Oh, and then He said “Thank you for my socks.”
I love my job. I think I am well-suited, in just so many ways.