This week’s WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge theme is “Thankful“. As soon I read the prompt, I thought of this picture.
It’s a client of mine. As a social worker, I have to deal in lots of tough stories (as I’ve written about before). This particular client is an interesting one, though. She doesn’t have too much “traditional” major trauma in her life, but that which she has, mostly, is of her own doing–or the doing of her illness, rather.
You see, she has what we call a “Personality Disorder“, meaning that she’s not really psychotic, doesn’t suffer the highs of mania, nor the lows of depression, nor is she suicidal. Rather, what she struggles with the most is a psychological disease that affects her very personality. She has a child-like demeanor that can be annoying, off-putting, attention-seeking, soul-sucking, and always full of emotional drama.
She’s exhausted numerous case managers, she’s caused angry outbursts from her housing staff, and she consumes more resources and time from people helping her than any of the other folks in those other people’s caseloads–even though, when she’s “behaving”, she is far more capable, independent, intelligent, self-aware, and self-supporting than most clients. She has no friends. Her family doesn’t seem to want her around.
It’s especially difficult when her “problems” don’t seem to be beyond her control. They are, as the lingo goes, “behavioral” issues. If she could just “behave properly” then all her problems would go away.
Or would they?
Time and time again, in this line of work, I have found that healing–like, real, deep- healing-comes not from the Bob Newhart technique of therapy where you just yell “Stop it!”, either through coercion, manipulation, or more subtle, unconscious, and and unspoken threats of emotional alienation if the person doesn’t “perform” properly.
Rather, it’s two things (at least when it comes to mental health): first, some clarity in the midst of the fog. This most often comes in the form of medication, but can also be enabling them to accomplish little victories, giving them a change of scenery, or anything else that clears their mind, let’s them breathe, and lifts their eyes from their navels to the world and people around them.
The second is relationship and grace. My old job used to have a saying: “mental health never kills anyone; isolation and loneliness do.” I have found this to be so right. It’s by building real relationships with people in the midst of their brokenness and staying, seemingly no matter what (even when the community itself sucks). That growth begins, albeit slowly and painfully, and with many fits and starts.
Of course, this is so much easier said than done. And even clients I worked with for a couple of years and saw so much growth in, have gone back to their old ways many times. I honestly don’t know what the mechanism is that accomplishes this over the long-term, but I don’t know that long-term, self-sustained growth apart from constant community is what we were made for, much less what our goal should be.
Anyway, the picture above is from the first time I took my client out to the Starbucks near her house. Her past case managers had become so annoyed with her that their visits had turned more into token times with her, merely to check off the “visited” box on their monthly report, and never really engage her or take her out for real connection.
This was only my second or third time meeting this client, and it was the first time in a while that a case manager had taken her out for no other reason than to get to know her. I bought her her favorite drink: a Venti Vanilla Bean Frappuccino (I know, super unhealthy). The look of gratitude, joy, and thankfulness was overwhelming.
In the year that has passed since taking this picture of her, I myself have found myself growing weary and losing patience, tempted to just yell “stop it!” And yet, with this prompt, and this picture, I feel like I’ve regained, “thankfully”, some clarity in the fog and reminder from the broader community as to who I am, who she is, and how we can love each other well.
See my past Weekly Photo Challenges here.
This is WordPress’ little plug for the Weekly Photo Challenges:
Whether you’re a beginner or a professional, you’re invited to get involved in our Weekly Photo Challenge to help you meet your blogging goals and give you another way to take part in Post a Day / Post a Week. Everyone is welcome to participate, even if your blog isn’t about photography.
Here’s how it works:
1. Each week, we’ll provide a theme for creative inspiration. You take photographs based on your interpretation of the theme, and post them on your blog (a new post!) anytime before the following Friday when the next photo theme will be announced.
2. To make it easy for others to check out your photos, title your blog post “Weekly Photo Challenge: (theme of the week)” and be sure to use the “postaday″ tag.
3. Subscribe to The Daily Post so that you don’t miss out on weekly challenge announcements. Sign up via the email subscription link in the sidebar or RSS.