Surely other peer specialists have encountered deeply depressed people who have tried and failed at multiple attempts at suicide. And they tell you, “it’s my life and if I want to kill myself, you can’t stop me.” At that point the side of you that thinks Dr. Jack Kevorkian was right comes out and wishes Dr. Jack was alive and helping people with his suicide machine.
However the rational part that dominates your brain may utter something about hope, as long as you’re alive, it still exists.How can you engage people who are so through with everything you know about living? I have heard from other peer specialists who tried and failed at suicide. I always seem to find something, some reason to keep living even in the deepest despair. Reasons emerge from the sublime to the ridiculous and I keep on trying to reach other people after I have convinced myself.
It can be a struggle but it is always worthwhile. I’m sorry but I always have to give you hope. It is part of my nature.
What do you do when a consumer you have not been able to engage in office or home visits says “I want to work”? This could be a case manager’s worst nightmare. You may have people who don’t want to talk with you, have to be tracked down in order to ensure that they are taking their medication and are being exploited in their living situations. But they utter that brief concise statement.
This scenario may be played out across Milwaukee as it has undoubtedly happened in several other counties across Wisconsin.There is a new benefit being introduced in Milwaukee to help boost the number of people with mental illness and receiving benefits who are working. That final clause is very important because there are many people not tied to benefits but still able to work. But it is a struggle and sometimes there can be pain. In recent weeks I have been hearing about supported employment and wondering how it would work. I am assisting several people at my agency who are seeking employment, mainly through DVR.
What I don’t have is contact with an employer to whom I could connect a consumer. Also, the employment plans are supposed to be created by the DVR counselors. Everything must change, nothing stays the same. That’s the song I originally heard years ago on a Quincy Jones cd and more recently I heard it at the First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee. Someone, if not me, will soon be connecting our consumers to employers. DVR and Milwaukee County will be assisting in this process and no one can be turned away if they utter that simple phrase, “I want to work.”
So, where are we and are willing to offer what people say that they want from the system?
I am at the NAMI Wisconsin annual conference in Madison and I decided to check out the business center because I am through with meetings and mental health for the day. I have heard some good information about the Veterans Administration, Supported Employment and Bipolar Disorder. I also literally ran away from a woman who was attempting to tell me about borderline personality disorder. Having been in a relationship with a woman who had that diagnosis, I was pretty much overdosed.
I met people at the conference from Milwaukee who I should have met back home. But as always my mind drifted back to a coulpe of questions it has been asking me for many years. The two questions in the title of this entry. It has been something I have learned in the negative, through uncomfrtable feelings of not belonging and wondering whether anyone else shared them and where they originated.
Quite often I defined myself through my occupation, so I was a librarian, a child care administrator, or a grant writer. Sometimes during periods of unemployment I lacked an identity. I was isolated and did not have a direction. Now there is the even greater temptation to say that I am a certified peer specialist. But is that all that I am? How am I performing in my other roles? Is this all that I am? I sometimes think when people are judging me that these people have no right to do so because they have no idea who I really am.
There was a period years ago when I said that my name meant He Who Perseveres. More recently I say that I am a local oddball without defining those terms. I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.
What is more true than ever is that I am learning to become the persn I was meant to be. I have been opening doors that lead to the secrets of those feelings and saying, yes I do belong. Each step of the way I get a little closer and I people saying thank goodness, Kenyatta is here. So I am learning to belong. What took me so long? How long did it take you?
I took a mental health day yesterday and it was one of the best I’ve ever had. We had a series of cold wet rainy days in which everything I accomplished happened by ignoring what was going on around me. I helped a young man meet some excellent role models. I helped an older man get off his butt and get to the gym. And I said goodbye to a man who was leaving the mental hospital. These were all good things. However I felt I had neglected myself during my 44 hours of work.
I am not certain what the issue is with my hair. It just seems to grow faster than anyone else’s. I looked at myself Saturday and I said I can do better than this so I called in. By the day’s end I had some new clothes, a new look and a much better feeling about myself. To top it off, I had a great workout on Sunday. Every once in a while you need to take inventory and I definitely did not want to go to my office birthday party looking like I did last week.
Have you had a mental day recently? Talk to me.
I saw something years ago about a presentation concerning inner city youths who were being considered “at risk” in the current jargon. They were likely to have bad outcomes such as, violence, early pregnancy, becoming involved in gangs and premature death. The speaker had coined a new term “at potential” that has stuck with me. I told a young man man this week we needed to raise his potential while decreasing his risk. And I believe he understood what I meant. And appreciated what I am attempting to do.
At many stages of their lives, our consumers are at risk. They are often undecided about which path to choose. There are ones leading to familiar grounds: drugs, illegal activity, or sleeping away their lives. But the unfamiliar ones may be those of their childhood. They might have dreamed about finishing high school, going onto college and becoming middle class. However the effort required might have made achieving that goal seem completely unrealistic. Almost like creating a moon colony next year.
I am not at all trying to be the egotist here. I am trying to say that even it was not me in a person’s life, someone like me would need to be there doing very similar things. I am very subtle and slow and sometimes this is frustrating for those in the fields. There is always hope, as all of the recovery books proclaim but even that seems abstract.
What is concrete is a place where I can feel safe, where I know my bills will be paid and that I am valued. And I cannot guaranty anyone that if they stay with me, that is what they will obtain. But I figure, what have you got to lose?
I read the Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Division crisis services manual yesterday at work. The manual drafted last year a couple of sentences about the importance of peer support in targeted case management. However the manual lacks clarity in explaining how we will be better able to link consumers to community services than we did previously using a strictly clinical approach.
I expressed my concerns with a supervisor today who explained that part of the reason that the manual left a lot of areas vague was to give programs greater flexibility in how to use peer specialists. Also it seems that we have a wide range of skill sets and interests. I have a fairly broad range of interests although not everything is easy to measure. For example I am interested in motivating African-American men and that shows in my approaches with them. This may include going to the library, talking about particular topics and raising questions when the team is discussing African American men I have been assisting.
I worry that younger men may be left behind through sheer laziness or killed for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or killed by the police in one of their so-called stop and frisk you for having dark skin games.
I squirm in my seat when BHD lags behind in including discussions of peer roles in its training. Fortunately in our discussions at work we do talk about the team and bringing issues to all of us about what we are finding in our work. I am able to have my input and we cooperate with one another much more readily now that our roles have been more clearly defined. I hope that the experiences we are having in the field will be reflected in next year’s BHD training. Much better than having two dozen peer specialists squirming in an auditorium.
Well we had one of those days at work where technology failed us. The computers went down and were not halfway working until almost time to leave. The snow complicated things as I had to wait for the snow plow in order to exit our parking lot at home. Several private agencies including the ones where I had planned to take my consumers were closed. Then my body got in on the action, requiring two pain pills. By early afternoon I was ready to throw in the towel. Did I mention that one of my favorite co-workers to chat with is on vacation this week?
Anybody who says he or she does not have a favorite for water cooler chats is lying. There is always someone with whom you are able to share more things than with the others, so go with it. I like to discuss things related to our consumers (not my personal life) in a spontaneous way. Regular readers (those who don’t have CRS) will recall that I work 2 different mental health jobs. I have dramatically increased the number of people I am assisting which requires a lot of coordination. Invariably one or all of several things will happen: 1. consumers are not where I expected them to be 2. the contact person at the agency where I was going is not available 3. to quote James Taylor, “my body’s aching and my time is at hand” and so there’s nothing I can do but rest 4. I can’t find the paper I need before leaving the office.
When you are working in mental health there is a ton of paperwork. And if you are neurotic enough to save as much paperwork as possible, within three weeks, I guarantee you will be in a corner of your office buried under three piles of debris. Even though I regularly clean out the junk I was amazed by the amount of junk I was shredding from early last September. My neighbor is playing old soul songs, including “The Way You Do the Things You Do” and “My Girl” so that is distracting me. No, I’m not going to turn on a cw song to drown him out, are you kidding?
I was quite proud of the job that I did on my papers by the time I was ready to leave. I even warned one of my co-workers not to keep old copies of my schedule which was one of my bad habits. I also had contact with a few of my people including one with whom I had a breakthrough yesterday. I was able to successfully give his case manager a copy of the paperwork we created yesterday, discuss it with her, talk with him and put his paperwork in the right place in my office. So I think I won today’s battle with the junk on the way to recovery with my consumers.
Milwaukee Area Technical College (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In our report to Milwaukee County regarding the impact of peer support on our agency, we mostly counted numbers. I had worked with X # of people and made referrals in certain areas. In the next phase they will look at the number of people being assisted but equally important will be the results. I ran around and got people excited about DVR, but now, we some some who are coming off the waiting list. I will be working on higher level activities like working with vendors. I would like to see some people get jobs with my assistance by June. And we will be able to look at what resources they were able to access. Milwaukee County made give us more resources, too, that make an impact on our work.
Education is another major area where we should begin seeing some results. There could be a new category: number of students enrolled in various programs. Ideally we will have people at more than one MATC based program. And they will probably consider retention at some point, as well. Do the people who started during the winter engaged in serious recovery efforts continue into the spring and summer? And do those efforts deepen? Quantity and quality of effort. These are things I will be looking forward to measuring. I must be a nerd.
Busy guy. I had to go in late to my regular job in order to be disoriented at the Milwaukee County Mental Health Complex. Mostly stuff about fire safety, HIPPA, confidentiality and some other things I had learned in other settings. It started at 8 when I was half awake. We’re contractual employees who work at the hospital. I was stillo in the mood that had carried me over the weekend training. This despite the fact I had punched a wall during the training in a role play.
I didn’t feel anything immediately afterward but later on I put some pain reliever on it. The adrenaline had really grabbed me. Overall I found the event gratifying. I went to the barber Saturday and talked about it. I have made an interesting shift in recent years from identifying myself as a consumer to seeing myself more as a provider. I am aware of certain ethical guidelines that I use in my work.
I feel confident that even though I may encounter unfamiliar situations, my training has prepared me to make the right decisions. So even though I am new to working at the Mental Health Complex, I have what it takes. The County Hospital employees and the administration have been under siege for several years. There was a tragedy earlier this year when a man died and the investigation is still underway to determine the cause of death.
I want as a peer support specialist to contribute to an atmosphere that protects our patients and helps them to recover. The forms that we use at the hospital are filled with the names of former department heads. A unit will be closed shortly which continues the downsizing of the hospital. I am hoping that a few of the peer specialists who were working on that unit will be shifted to work on mine.People work where they feel most comfortable.
As a result of the orientation, we are legal to assume our responsibilities. I like to find out more about the people on the unit so I know the best way to help them. Meanwhile, I’m going to avoid slamming my first into walls.
I’m not satisfied. And anyone who knows me should understand that. But there are questions floating around. What are consumer affairs? What do they entail? Are they patients advocates? How many will the budget allow? Is there a vision for what this office should be? Whose input is allowed? did anyone order Merlot for the meeting?
Obviously the WordPress is confused by me because they can’t figure out whether they should send me information about Merlot. And since I haven’t introduced the concept of peer support to this discussion, they haven’t sent me a link about that idea yet. Never fear, dear reader, (I figure there are 1 or 2 of around) for that is precisely what this rant is about.
For persons outside of Milwaukee, let me fill you in. The Office of Consumer Affairs at the Milwaukee Mental Health Complex is operated by a different agency for the first time in several years. The question is, what do we want different from the way things had been run? When I started a few weeks ago, I helped introduce the idea of nights and weekend hours for peer support. There is a small group of us who are working on the different wards. Being naturally curious, I wondered about the planned discharge dates for some of the people we were assisting. I was told those kinds of decisions are made on first shift and since we were all second shifters, we didn’t need to worry out pretty little heads about that.
But does that make since to you? Wouldn’t you want to know what was going on and possibly even have input input into the decisions? When I see a person who says he thinks he will be leaving by a certain date and the date passes and he’s still there I wonder what’s going on? Does he need our help at this point? Are we hindering him from getting on with his life? Is there a plan?
So, I’m making money, things seem to have changed but since I understand I’m supposed to stir things up, am I really having an impact? The local oddballs group to which I belong is always on my back for results. If they weren’t so strange, they would know what we’re achieving.
A few months have passed since I originally wrote this blog post. We have had an impact. We are referring people to a program called CLASP which is designed to assist people with repeat hospitalizations. I’ve made some successful referrals to the program. I switched wards. The first ward I was working had too many violent incidents which proved unsafe for me. The staff seemed under siege. I did have some successes and even after I changed wards, the staff on my old ward want me to return.
Another thing I have noticed is the need for housing. WE have people who could be returned to the community but we have not been able to find as place for them. This is an ongoing issue. I wonder how many housing providers have been contacted?
The third and most puzzling issue is that sometimes very competent African-Americans have ended up on my ward, people who you would have never expected to be hospitalized. This makes me curious.