We held hands and smiled at each other as we walked to her room. “What does that say?” I asked her as I pointed to a plaque outside her room.
She studied it for a few seconds and it was as if a flicker of light went off inside her as she proudly grinned and said, “Sarah Rose Johnson.” Proud of herself for remembering, proud of her name or a little of both. Only she knew for sure or maybe she didn’t know.
As we continued walking into her room, her eyes widened with delight as she recognized people in the pictures on her wall. Beaming with pride she said, “Those are my children.” Pointing at each one as she said their names. “Bill, Daniel, Michelle and Joy.” Staring into the mirrors of younger days she added, “But that was a long time ago. They were little then. ”
“You have beautiful children. You are very blessed Sarah.”
“I bet you were a great mom. They are blessed to have you as their Mommy,” I say trying to keep this rare moment of clarity going as long as possible.
Sarah quietly studied the photographs as if she could hear them speak to her. I let her take it all in as long as I could.
“Okay, Sarah we need to go into the bathroom now.” I said as I gently lead her away from the photographs into her bathroom to complete the mundane routine I was there to help her with. I wished I could have visited with her longer but unfortunately, I did’t have time to do that as I had many other residents to care for during my shift.
After we finished, I helped her walk down the hall to sit back down on the couch in front of the television set.
From a distance, I saw two residents having a conversation. It looked like they were good friends having a great conversation about current events or gossiping about an old friend. When I got closer I heard Amber say to June, “The balloon varies widely after red and small between the elephants but I eat the darkness.” June smiles back at her as if she understood.
These are just a sample of the type of experiences I encounter working as a resident care assistant in a memory care unit. I am happy I can help the residents as I try to make some of their last days be as happy, good and love-filled as I can. Every day I am devastated and fascinated at how the brains works as it functions and deteriorates inside the minds of people with dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Even in the midst of my mental illness, I have always been fascinated with our brains–the enormity of what it can do when it is functioning normally and optimally and how it can destroy lives in an instant from a chemical imbalance, defect, or disease.
Our brains are the control center of our beings and yet we minimize the impact mental illness has on people’s lives. Everyone needs to take care of their mental health and we urgently need to end the stigma of mental illness and end the notion that we are bad, unimportant, inadequate, worthless, stupid or weak when our brains become ill. Mental illness has NOTHING to do with who we are as people and it is not our fault.
In fact, all the negative words associated with mental illness are far from true and instead people with mental illness are some of the strongest, most resilient, smartest and most compassionate people I have ever met. We must have those traits in order to survive living with mental illness.
If you are living with mental illness, you need to pat yourself on the back every day and tell yourself how wonderful and strong you are because you made it through another day. Each day you survive and make it through to another day you are one day closer to achieving mental wellness.
The road to recovery and wellness is not a straight path because sometimes the journey has pot holes, u-turns and dead ends but the point is that each day you survive you are closer to wellness.
Recovery and mental wellness are possible: I am living proof. After over twenty five years of living with severe mental illness (postpartum depression, PTSD, bipolar disorder and generalized anxiety disorder) and sometimes being incapacitated from it, I have finally achieved mental wellness. It is a beauty and joy that I am astonished and blessed to experience.
I’m not saying every day is perfect or easy, because it isn’t. Like everyone diagnosed with mental illness or not, I must work at maintaining my mental wellness. Just like you must work to maintain physical fitness we must realize there is also a mental fitness– a workout for our brains to keep them working and functioning optimally.
Keep fighting. Exercise your mental fitness. Increase your mental endurance and strategies to cope with the difficult runs. You will make it to the other side of wellness. You can do it. Stay strong and become part of the mental fitness and mental wellness club. Do you want to join? No membership dues required. It’s a free club. Anyone and everyone is welcome.
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