Sunday, 27 April 2014

We were talking about mental illness

at the library knitting group yesterday. It's a tricky subject. I know that one person in the group has been through some very dark times. She never says much and I am fairly certain I am the only person who knows how dark those times have been. I am certainly not going to say anything but I am glad I know and can help to keep the conversation on a positive track.
The conversation started because someone else was late arriving. She is not mentally ill but she has mental issues. She is grossly overweight. Her hygiene leaves much to be desired. Her knitting is like that of a small child learning to knit.
When she speaks her voice is strained, high pitched and jerky. The words don't always come out in the order she probably intends.
In her late teens this woman had an accident. She had a "closed brain injury" and it has affected her intellectually and socially.
I suspect her presence in the group has caused other people to come and then not return. Too bad. They are the ones who are missing out.
I see this woman going in and out of the library. We sometimes exchange a few words - if it is a day on which she recognises me out of context. I know someone else who, when she is not having her own issues with clinical depression, attempts to watch out for her. They both live in the same lot of social welfare housing - tiny one bedroom, living area/kitchen and bathroom places which would be depressing in themselves.
Yesterday I told the group how I have been spending a good deal of time recently going in and out of a psychiatric unit at the local hospital. It is where my friend has been placed. She was placed there because of her physical needs. Her mild anxiety due to her breathing problems is well under control now and, according to the doctor who spoke to me at her request, never needed hospitalisation. What she did need was more short term physical care for a range of issues, particularly pain management, than a normal ward could cope with. Extreme pain - with every breath you take - has serious mental consequences and they wanted to avoid that.
The good news for all concerned is that she now has a place in a nursing home. It's not quite as close as the hospital but I will be able to pedal there. She had the news for me when I arrived on Friday - news that made her look happier and more relaxed than she had for days. She won't need to go home and stay alone - a prospect which was causing much of her anxiety. Someone else will always be there to help when she needs it.
So next week she will spend a night in the new place - and then return to the hospital for a little longer for more help with her pain management issues.
As she told me this we were watching the staff gently restraining someone who was trying to climb the tree in the little garden. The tree is not in the least bit climbable and the individual could not have harmed themselves but was still completely out of touch with reality and very distressed.
"I could have been like that," my friend said.
"Any of us could," I said.
And yesterday when the woman with the closed brain injury finally arrived and then sat knitting, apparently content to say nothing after she had greeted us I thought of that incident too. She knows she is not quite "normal" anymore but is, generally, happy.
We should consider ourselves fortunate. We are fortunate.

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