I thought this was going to be a big reflective Jeanette-fest but (thankfully) it moved away from that and into a nice piece about the importance of social connectedness. Enjoy
Here goes…. Last night I went to take my medication. I take seven different sorts at two different times in the day. I’m quite vague and rarely have a good handle on which day it is (or month, or year sometimes) so I take my meds using a webster pack. The pharmacist puts the different pills in little sections for the corresponding time and day. It works well and incidents of me taking the wrong thing or the right thing at the wrong time have been rare. Most of my medication is for my mental health difficulties, which are significant and numerous. So back to last night. I popped out the evening pills and was about to down them in one go when I noticed something was wrong. Instead of the usual three Seroquel tablets which are white and oblong and always have been, there were three round white mystery meds. My paid job is in risk management so my brain was adding up likelihoods and consequences. I sensibly concluded that taking medication which I didn’t recognise and could be the result of a pharmacist error and possibly result in illness or death…well it wasn’t an option. I spoke to one of the mental health crisis team who agreed that I should miss the dose.
As a result I slept for about three hours and was in a twilight sort of waking dreaming fug for the rest of last night. There were some pretty interesting visual distortions and I found myself actually needing to argue with myself that eating cat litter – while a new experience – would probably be one I regretted. Probably would regret quite a lot. I sorted the issue of the meds with the very apologetic pharmacist and called in sick at work. That is not the main point of this post though, just the background.
Today something happened which got me thinking. First of all a friend called to see if she could take me to the late night pharmacy. Then my manager at work messaged to make sure I was OK. I called back and she spoke to me for some time. A great friend in Adelaide and I had a great – and amusing – message conversation. My lecturer friend messaged to make sure I was OK even before I got up! Then I checked Facebook and loads of people had asked if I was OK and suggested useful things I could do, including a friend from overseas who gave me a bunch of information about the psychotherapy model she uses. My phone rang again and it was my former supervisor who now works in a different area but who heard I was off sick and wanted to check I was OK and wish me merry Christmas. Another friend sent me lovely flowers. I was quite overwhelmed with all these people caring and wanting to help …
Keep that in your mind. I now want to take the rather well-used blogging TARDIS and go back a few years to a younger Jeanette in similar sorts of circumstances, mental health-wise. This previous version of me is in her twenties. She is living in supported housing for young people with serious mental illness. She is quite psychotic – the combination of a recent medication change and taking on a role as a casual dishwasher in a restaurant and being a huge perfectionist – which had resulted in acute illness. Twenty-something me had the following supports: Lovely parents who are accepting and beautiful but both work full-time and live 300km away, a support worker from the house I lived in, a mental health case manager, one friend that I met the year before in a mental health rehab place and who is in hospital for what will turn out to be the final 12 months of hr short life, twelve housemates from the supported accommodation i was living in, a somewhat creepy ex-therapist who would shortly afterwards be deregistered for misconduct and a very lovely brother who communicated via the quite new medium of email from the United Kingdom where he was on an extended visit. My younger self was admitted to the psychiatric hospital. I had one visitor – the creepy ex-therapist who I had asked not to come. I also had a misdiagnosis so while I was experiencing delusions and terror, the hospital staff thought I had borderline personality disorder. This meant they tended to be blaming and punitive rather then supportive.
Of course twenty-something me managed to navigate her way through all of this to where I am now. The point I wish to stress though is the sort of people my supports were. Apart from loving but distant family members, everyone who supported me was doing it because they were paid to. My former self had only one friend who was in an even worse predicament than I was. The number of people who had any meaningful personal stake in what became of me were few and far between. Imagine if all the people you look to for support are essentially strangers employed to keep you out of harm’s way? They may be nice, they may not be nice. You have very little say in who you get. And even to the nice ones, you are essentially part of their work.
Sadly this is the case for vast numbers of people. Right now just in Canberra where I live there are probably tens of thousands of them. People in aged care – including young people in aged care due to the lack of more age-appropriate facilities, people with mental illness who have lost contact with family and friends, homeless people, those in prison, people who are socially isolated and many Autistic people. This includes many people who have no friends or family or who suffer family valence and domestic abuse. I could list so many categories of people who are n a similar spot to where where I was in my twenties in terms of support and social connection. It is very sobering.
I was lucky, or fortunate, or blessed, or determined or whatever you want to call it but many people aren’t. This is not their ‘fault’ – in fact the notion or fault in these situations is way too simplistic. Please don’t give me that ‘deserving / undeserving poor’ concept. Just imagine that you are sick and in hospital and the only person who visits you is a creepy ex-therapist who you complained about to the relevant authority? Imagine you live in housing not with people you choose to but with those who lived there when you moved in and you had nowhere else to go? In fact I was incredibly lucky then as I still had connections to family. Many people – even twenty-somethings – in that situation have little or no family connection or harmful relationships with family.
I’m not going to ask you to all rush out and invite a homeless person to Christmas dinner, but the act of thinking around my medication mishap sort of opened the door to these sorts of consideration. We are all people. We all make mistakes. No single one among us is better or worse than anyone else. Everyone can change. Being someone who has a genuine stake in the outcome of someone’s life other than being paid as a case worker (or whatever), can make a huge difference.
Thank you to all the people over the years who have helped enable my own journey. I can’t name you all but hopefully you know who you are.
Merry Christmas or Happy Festivus or just happy Friday to everyone. JP