For over 20 years I have worked with people with mental illnesses. I work for a benevolent agency which seems like family, and I always say it is a good place to be, whether you’re a staff or a client.
The things we do don’t seem like work most days. Our clients are people, just people, like anybody else, but with special problems. Mental illness knows no prejudice: people worldwide have mental illnesses.
A lot of the world sees people with these illnesses as unpredictable or dangerous. Those beliefs are totally inaccurate for most of our clients. Our agency works hard to provide good residences in regular communities and we foster the concept of recovery, that these are people. The stigma that they fight every day, we fight alongside of them, so that they can have lives, which is what they want and need, cos they are just like everybody else.
The newest concept in mental health residences is Fairweather Lodges, and I am Lodge Coordinator for two of our Lodges. There, people who are stable and goal oriented to improve their lives can have lives, making their own choices about things independently with little help or direction from staff. Help and direction can be increased at any time that one of the Lodge members needs it, and then reduced again.
Lodge life is like……Life! They grow gardens, and have a cat if they choose to, grill supper outside, do laundry, maintain their houses and shop for groceries. Whatever everybody else does in their day, all that happens at Lodges as well. Ordinary people, doing ordinary things. Many work, and if they are not ale to work for some reason, they volunteer. Several Lodge members I know volunteer at places like nursing homes, Red Cross, and historical societies.
In my travels thru the mental health system in two counties, I have met some very memorable people. One of the most memorable just passed away. This was a lady who had schizophrenia and took a lot of medication but still somehow didn’t have clear thoughts most days. Schizophrenia can be like that, some peoples’ symptoms are worse than others.
Even with such a severe illness, she was fun, and kind hearted, and made me laugh, and I made her laugh, and I thought a lot of her. Years ago when I worked in her residence, she was always trying on clothes and looking girly, and one night we went shopping and she sprayed me with perfume samples. So I sprayed some on her too, and we left there smelling…..loud! We laughed and laughed about that. Along the way while she was in our residence once I told her she was the Coolest Girl! She said, no, that I was the Coolest Girl. So we had this little banter back and forth for several years, about who the Coolest Girl was.
Last week before she passed away, she had been very sick with a physical illness for a while. We laughed several times about the perfume spraying incident, and how bad we really did smell. And I told her she would now have to be the Coolest Girl, cos I am getting too old to be Cool. We laughed and enjoyed the banter again, and she said she would try.
I am glad to have been able to know the Coolest Girl, and will never forget her.