Monday, August 04, 2008
Sometimes, I Cry...
I rarely talk about my job in this blog. That's because federal laws prohibit me from disclosing details of my interactions with the patients I see and it is in extremely poor taste to publicly discuss another person's pain when they are in a most vulnerable place. I also rarely ever discuss the impact my job has on ME, unless it is to bemoan my long hours or some silly condition/problem such as the enormous paperwork load attached to my employment.
Most everyone who has read CHEESE for any length of time, knows what I do for a living: I work within the title of a "Commitment Specialist", regularly doing psychological evaluations with individuals and making legal decisions whether or not they meet my state's criteria for psychiatric commitment. I am a government employee or *civil servant* and I am paid via my state's tax dollars. I work in a unique brand of emergency services, unlike any other in the remaining 49 states. My job involves "crisis services" to the mentally ill in my county and I am called to respond to a vast variety of tense and stressful situations involving mental health crises...sometimes even potentially violent situations, armed only with common sense, my voice, and a cell phone to call for help. I often work nearly 10 hour days, 4 days a week, in an unusual patterning of hours, which can include ANY set of hours in a 24 hour period. I am called to respond to hospitals, homes, shelters, the streets, the airport, police stations, the jail, and any other physical location there is a mental health crisis within the boundaries of my county.
My job requires me to *investigate*, much like a police officer investigates a crime, to uncover what (if any) symptoms of a mental disorder a patient may be experiencing and how (if any) those symptoms are creating an imminent risk to either the patient, others, or someone else's property. I am not allowed by the court to "predict" a patient's behavior, but rather I am called to establish "probable cause" for risk. I must make my decisions whether or not to revoke a patient's civil rights and take them into custody based on evidence and my years of experience working with the mentally ill...I am asked to establish for the court a pattern of symptoms and behaviors that establishes probable cause that a patient is at risk of harm.
So, why am I telling you this? I suppose it is a means of explaining to you what I am exposed to on a daily basis and why I sometimes cry.
My job is *technically* quite easy...give or take about ten legal forms that must be filled out whenever I take a person into custody and place them in a locked psychiatric facility for evaluation and treatment...and the numerous other pieces of documentation that must accompany my court forms. Revoking someone's civil rights...the ACT of doing so...is as simple as a "yes" or "no" decision. The decision itself is not why I sometimes cry. The stress of my job...going from crisis to crisis...is not why I sometimes cry. The hours of my job and the physical demands of my job are not why I sometimes cry.
I sometimes cry because everyday in my job I stare down the face of human suffering. I sit or stand next to someone who may be teetering on the emotional edge of life or death...who's pain is so intense or so great, they see no other options than suicide. I quietly observe the lives stolen by raging mental illness...souls lost in a world of fear and hallucinations and delusional thinking and unrest. I stand beside those society sometimes deems as "throw aways"...covered in street grime or their own urine or with hair matted to their foreheads or covered in self-inflicted physical scars. I hold a place for those that call me horrible names or spit at me or threaten to harm me because the voices in their minds tell them I am not safe and neither is the world they live in. I have smelled every foul, human smell that exists and I have stood in every bodily fluid we humans excrete...smells and fluids left in the wake of emotional disturbance. I have watched lives lost to unknown worlds within the human mind and I have been witness to lives taken by human hands. It is my *job* to bear witness to this human suffering. And it is this very human suffering that is often the catalyst behind my sometimes tears.
People familiar with my work often ask me, "Why do you do what you do? Wouldn't your life...your WORK...be so much easier behind a computer screen or at a desk?"
What is difficult for me to explain to these people is the fact that I love my work...and I wouldn't want to trade it for the simplicity...the monotony of a desk in an office somewhere. Because it is through my work I truly believe I am given the closest proximity I will ever find to reach out and touch the human spirit...something few people are ever given the opportunity to touch. Something many are too frightened to place their hands in...to be honed by the fire of the human spirit. I am both honored and humbled to bear witness to another's vulnerability...and I hold this vulnerability in sacred space.
Sometimes I cry because I feel overwhelmed with sadness and grief as I recognize so acutely what has been lost in a person...and what can never be. And I see their pain as they struggle to accept or acknowledge that this IS their life...perhaps with a means of making changes via medications or therapy or other behavior modifications. But sometimes, these usually viable solutions are not possible. And having to be the bearer of this sad reality to family or friends or concerned love ones feels as if I am the Grim Reaper...I am providing a death sentence to someone who must now live the rest of their life with it.
Sometimes I cry because I become overwhelmed by the vastness of this human experience...because the depth is both breathtaking and dizzying at the same time. And because sometimes, the depth of human suffering has no noticeable bottom. It is as if I am staring into a great abyss...as if God, herself, has granted me the opportunity to be a part of something far greater than myself that I can neither understand nor explain. And it is through this extreme place of fragility and vulnerability a small grain of strength is uncovered in another human being...a grain of truth that, when discovered, grows and produces lasting strength that they will hopefully carry for their lifetime.
Sometimes I cry because my OWN body and spirit require an emotional cleansing...a washing away of the many things I see in my job and a cleaning of my mental slate. It is through my tears my OWN spirit is nourished and its thirst is quenched. I am reminded through my tears that, but for the grace of God go I...that I am no different than the patients I serve...that I, too, am both vulnerable and strong...susceptible to disease and suffering and hardship. I am reminded through my tears that I must rise each day and go to my job, as if it may be the last day I am granted such a privilege, and I must take full advantage of ALL that life has to offer me in this day. It is through my tears I often find my own strength and peace.
Sometimes I cry...and each time, I thank my Maker that I still CAN shed tears...