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Mentally Working

Updated on March 1, 2011

I work in a mental home. A home that houses people with mental (and an equal amount of physical) disabilities. It's stressing at times, like any job, and chaotic and anxious and irritating, but one has never seen the bright side of life until they've seen another human being, devoid of all that one holds bright, find humour in the little things.

One could go about their entire life, thinking that they had seen the darkest days that life has to offer only to be awakened in an atmosphere of drool, self-mutilation, incapacities, misery, chemical imbalances, uncontrollable anger or despair or bowels, deep seeded insecurities, lethal personal inequities, insurmountable sadnesses and all around craziness.

One could bitch about the traffic jam they're suffering through at 5 o'clock while another bitches that their wheelchair cannot pass another wheelchair in the hall to make the 5 o'clock dinner seating because the other wheelchair is trollying a living corpse.

And one could find the humour in this...really, it's ok, those spoken of would want you to find the humour in it. It's what gets them by, whether they know it as such or not. For they're mental. And they're 'put away'. They crave human emotion like we all do. They just seem to need it more, probably because they're so bereft of it.

Maybe this is why a monotone answer to a quiet question seems to build a twenty minute conversation. Perhaps it's why an otherwise single minded discussion turns into a day long debate on the whys and whynots of human endeavour.

Working in a mental home is an abstract lesson in the art of human kindness. What one depicts as a silly little offering another accepts as a huge act of compassion. What one sees as nothing, another sees as something grand, something to be adored. Something to be revered as that one act of genuine selflessness they could only dream about giving up, were they in possession of something to give up at all.

Sadly, in the home I work in, the residents have nothing of the sort to give up. Though they'd like to. The comraderie between them all is something magical to behold, however. They are the family they each had, wish they had had, or had and have lost through time and/or circumstance.

A low income home, based on the low income channels of low income housing and living have landed these residents in a place that can no farther sheet their beds than can place their needs above those that need less. And yet still they are, in the circle of their own disadvantaged and lacking family of sorts, a family nonetheless. A family of care, forethought, unyielding loyalty, personal attachment and forever adoration.

While the staff at my workplace are pulling their hair out trying to find the medical answer, the other residents are gently combing out the tangles of the hair of the person causing the problem. Be it Dave, or Dave, or Doug or Melissa, the other residents rally around and aid in the calming down of the person not being themselves today.

Are they on new meds? Are their new meds conflicting with their old ones? A lowly bath aid wouldn't know. But a lowly bath aid, who has come to know the ins and outs of this or that person's requirements, medical and emotional, might know. Ask her, they whisper amongst themselves. Where's Fiona? They ask. Fiona's not a nurse, she tells them again and again, though it doesn't sink in because they don't want it to.

So Fiona fixes that problem and directs them to who will fix the next, because after all, how could she not? How could anyone not travel outside of the boxed job description in a workplace that consists of people, otherwise homeless people, looking for just a semblance of normality in their otherwise upside down life?

How could one not agree to a quick haircut when nothing else is pressing? A simple haircut, though not in the job description makes a world of difference to the long haired crazy man just wanting a little trim.  So Harry's a little confrontational when told he needs to take a bath?  Funny, he asks me to shower him. 

The small things, like a smile or a heartfelt laugh WITH someone instead of at them, can cement a relationship and be the sane, saving grace in an insane it your world or theirs.

Upon my first day working at my new, lovely workplace I responded to my family's and friend's question:  How was it? ...with the most honest and humble reply of my life....'Nuts.'  I said.

And it still is nuts.  But if I wasn't there to say it was nuts, who would be?   


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    • fi fi profile imageAUTHOR

      fi fi 

      7 years ago from Niagara, Canada

      Druid Dude - Support system is in place and much utilized, lol. Small world, I bartended on nights for 5 years before switching gears and taking this position. I hear you about the burnout aspect, but am hoping to last more than 5 years before I reach that point in this new environment. It's certainly never boring here!

    • fi fi profile imageAUTHOR

      fi fi 

      7 years ago from Niagara, Canada

      Winsome - I'm truly flattered by your comment, thank you :)

    • Druid Dude profile image

      Druid Dude 

      7 years ago from West Coast

      I like the hub. I worked with Geriatric "residents". Some alzheimers, other forms of dementia. Hard work. High burnout rate. Bartender is another job w/ high burnout, but for different reasons. I tend to gravitate to those jobs also. I hope you have a good support sys on the home helps. Voting this one up. BYE

    • Winsome profile image


      7 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

      Fifi, I loved this. You tell your story with wit, skill and compassion. We are all in your situation, we just don't know it. The world is nuts in its own way and unlike your place, there is enough room to step out of the way of anyone who threatens us or offends our sensibilities. Those who do not step aside, like you, but take the time to see, hear and respond are those who are (as Lincoln said) listening to "the better angels of our nature."

      It is an honor and a pleasure to know you. =:)

    • fi fi profile imageAUTHOR

      fi fi 

      7 years ago from Niagara, Canada

      ahorseback - What a great comment and lovely sentiment, thank you :)

    • ahorseback profile image


      7 years ago

      Fi Fi , this brings back memories of my father long ago talking of being an orderly in a state hospital, some of the experiences , possitive and negative. For years he kept a hand drawn picture ,from a man who was there , of two trains about to collide head on . The picture was two feet high and six feet long and as exacting in detail and color as a real photo. This man was a genious with many dissorders ,and once held a razor blade at my fathers neck for two hours. But my father had the picture even until he died , the human mind is a mystery never to be completely understood. Bless you for what you do , it is so important .


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