I write this from my mattress on the floor of my room in my new townhouse, after a night of watching a few episodes of How To Get Away With Murder and printing a Learning Plan I have to draft and complete over the next two weeks, and my first alarm is set for 5.30am as I get ready to go to my second day of placement tomorrow, starting at 7.30am.
My eyes are already the windows to the exhaustion that I am feeling.
However, I also hope they are the windows to how excited, and in awe of this experience I am.
This semester, for 15 weeks, I will be working at an agency that works with people sleeping rough, and my team in particular works with and supports people with severe and complex mental health issues. I have never in my life worked within mental health nor have I ever worked with people sleeping rough and henceforth, I am terrified. While I understand that people suffering a mental illness are still people, I also understand the risks associated with working with people who are sometimes too anxious to meet new people, who have mood disorders, who can be so happy they are bursting one day, and wallowing in a sadness deeper than the ocean the next. I especially understand the risks associated with being someone they have yet to develop a trusting and open relationship with. Which is why, on my first week of placement, I wanted to document my feelings, my fears, my excitement, and continue to document my experiences each week as I work through these next 15 weeks. (Surprise, here comes 15 new blog posts coming your way relating to the work I get to do, the experiences I have and the emotions I feel throughout it all!)
I wrote this after my first day of Placement, adamant that I was going to write a “what did I learn on my first day of placement” blog post, and yet here we are, at the end of day 8 of placement and I haven’t even written the “placement- week one” post that I wanted to write.
I am already an unorganised mess and it’s only halfway through week 2. *Sigh*
Despite my inability to remain organised and on top of things, the mess, the exhaustion, and the full-time work has all been worth the tired eyes and the not-so-Gucci-eye-bags I’ve acquired since last week.
Over the past 8 days, I have read more words about recovery, drug and alcohol abuse, homelessness and mental health than I ever thought was possible; I have read oodles of case notes about clients I have met and am yet to meet; I have gone to bed earlier than I did when I was in primary school; I have met people who are so resilient I don’t even know where they found the strength to move, and people who have such severe and complex mental illnesses that I sometimes just feel like crying, screaming to a God I have trouble believing in so often, “why do so many people have to live such an unfair life?”
I have cried and felt pains in my chest as the burdens of the souls I’ve met clamber to my heart that lays on my sleeve every single day of my life.
I have laughed with people that remind me of people I know and I have been hugged by people who are just so grateful that someone in their life gives a damn about them.
I have met people with an alcohol and drug addiction so strong that they’ve never been sober during any of our visits, and yet they continue to be the kindest and most gentle souls I’ve come across; I’ve met people who want to so badly quit their addiction but to them it’s a medicine and god only knows how hard it must be to be in a position where you know you are doing such incredible harm to yourself but you can’t quit because of biological and chemical reactions in your brain-or simply because the drugs and the alcohol have been the only things there for you through it all.
I’ve been surrounded by people who are feeling angry, rejected by society, their friends and family; people who are feeling dejected, full of sorrow, full of hate, full of so much pain; I’ve met people who are just grateful, to be alive, to have someone who cares, someone to talk to; people who laugh and giggle and offer you cups and cups of tea- and no matter the person, how they are feeling, how they react to me coming inside their home, whether it’s positive or negative, I cannot blame them.
Not at all.
Not in the slightest.
I used to just think it would be so easy for people with mental health issues to just recover; to just go to rehab; to just see a psychologist, because these things would just help, and how could they not understand that by just doing one of these things would make it all better.
Except so many of them have tried that. They’ve gone to rehab. They’ve seen a psychologist, a psychiatrist, they’ve met more head and body doctors than I can count on my fingers and toes.
Some of these people have wanted these things to help, and they’ve been let down.
Some of these people haven’t wanted any of this help, and they’ve got it, and it hasn’t made a difference.
Truth is, we can sit back and say how much all these things will help and they don’t help, or they do-but either way, neither you nor I, have any right to just throw these “solutions” at people, because we actually have no idea how large of an impact mental illness has on the way people function in their every day lives.
And that’s probably the biggest thing I’ve learnt. Is that I actually had very little understanding to how deeply and how immensely, mental health illnesses actually effect people. It’s so baffling to me, that our brains, our minds, can work against us in such a way that it slowly kills us. I cannot even begin to explain how naive I was just 8 days ago.
It’s the end of day 8, and I have already learnt so much in my time at this agency.
I have already experienced so much, and met so many wonderful, and frightened, and kind, and grateful, and sad, souls and each of them have had an effect on me that I cannot even describe, that will stay with me not only throughout the entirety of this placement, but probably throughout my entire life.
If I’ve learnt this much in just 8 days, imagine how much I’m going to learn over the next 13 and a half weeks.
“the truth is, we all have mental health, it’s just that, unfortunately, some of us were given better functionality than others” – my supervisor