Friday, July 29, 2011

quick update

I got Sophie Cat shaved for the summer. She was NOT impressed. Not impressed at all. I think she secretly likes it though, SO much less fur for her to have to worry about. This lack of fur makes her a lot cooler and I worry less about her spending her summer in my top floor apartment.

Speaking of apartments. I bought a house. 17 more days until I get possession! I'm super excited, and super nervous. And there is of course the part where I HATE moving. It is just not my idea of a good time in any way, shape, or form. I fully intend on staying in my new little house until I have a really good reason to leave (and for the record, getting too much stuff, not a good reason to leave, that's just a good reason to get ride of stuff).

I'm still working both my jobs, but I have to say, working in an employment agency just has so much less excitement to it compared with working in the shelter overnight. I mean, it's a good job and all, just not as exciting. I really do like getting to use more of my social work skills and less of my babysitting skills though.

Also, I'm going to Africa in May. With my church, on a mission trip, not just randomly going or anything, but I'm quite nervous about it. I've never been off the continent and never even considered going to Africa until this year. We'll see how it goes. I know God will be with me, but it scares me like crazy.

and... that's all?! I apparently have nothing all that interesting to say tonight.

goodnight all :)

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Defining Normal

I was thinking today about what makes something "normal". What makes a behaviour normal, what pushes it over the line into abnormal? What makes a state of mind normal, and when does it become a problem? Who gets to decide what normal is?

A little background, this issue came to mind as I was thinking about my reactions to some current stresses in my life with moving, home ownership, friends, and work. I'm perhaps particularly sensitive towards my reactions in light of the negative reaction of the insurance company towards my anxiety. Either way, as I stood in my shower crying, I asked myself, "is this normal?" I decided that it was, and that I am indeed having a healthy reaction towards stressful events in my life, but it got me thinking about how often I "make" that decision for other people as well.

Working as a counsellor, I have a many, many clients who worry that they are not "normal", or in fact, label themselves as "crazy" and/or "nut jobs". As a general rule I am quick to reassure people that are "normal" and are not in fact "crazy", and I'm not sure I've ever really thought about what a enormous power that is. I tend not even to think about it, my instant reaction when someone tells me they're "crazy" is to defend them to themselves. I'm not proud of this reaction. I think perhaps a more helpful response and one I already do to some extent use, but should probably use more, is to explore what is going on for the person at that moment. What has led them to wonder if they are crazy, how might they describe similar behaviours/thoughts in someone else etc... Because really, do I know what normal is? I have a fairly good understanding that somethings are "not normal". For example, spending hours starring at a flag pole waiting to see if you can catch a glimpse of the wind is not generally considered mentally healthy, especially when the police have to remove you from said flagpole for your own safety. Spending more of your day in tears than out of tears is also not generally considered normal or healthy. The same goes for hearing voices, running through the streets naked, binge eating and then purging or a whole host of other behaviours.

The behaviours I just talked about definitely fall more on the "not normal" side of things. But what about things like being anxious about a job interview? Perfectly normal, right? But what about when that anxiety makes it impossible for you to attend the interview and leaves you shaking in your bed? Not so normal anymore, right? Crying every day for two weeks might be considered a sign of depression, or a perfectly normal response to the death of a close friend or relative.

I wonder if perhaps a better way to address the question of whether a person is "normal" or not, is to explore the issue further with them, and then to provide information. I think I do this, and maybe could do more of this. So for the person who asks me if crying every day for two weeks is normal, we would explore what had started this, what had happened before hand, what was triggering it etc... I can provide information about the symptoms of depression, or reactions to grief etc... This then could be normalizing, without coming out and using my power as the counsellor to declare someone normal or not normal. Because regardless of my intention and effort to label as a behaviour, there would always be the risk that this was taken as a judge of the whole person.

I still have SO much more to say about this, but for tonight, this is all my eyes can stay open for. Stay tuned for next time when I look at whether "we" even want to be normal!

Friday, July 1, 2011

stigma of mental illness

I really want to start blogging again. I keep trying, but it never seems to last for long. I'm going to give it a go again though.

I've been thinking about the stigma of mental illness the past couple of days. It's something we talk to our clients about when do data collection and statistics (do you feel stigmatized in the community) but I've never really though of it in my own context. Up until yesterday, I had never felt stigmatized, or at least never identified any feelings as being feelings of stigma. However, the reason I have never felt stigmatized is because I don't exactly talk about my mental illness on a regular basis. My anxiety has always been a fairly private thing for me. Although people I am close to know that it is something I deal with and that I take medications for it and have gone to counselling, it's not something I talk about as being currently present in my life on a regular basis. Although, for the most part, it's under control, so maybe that is a part of it. In any case, it's not something I talk about with my coworkers or acquaintances, thus, no stigma.

That brings me to now. And why I've suddenly become more awakened to the realities of stigma and mental illness. I recently bought a house (it's all mine in only 45 days!!!) When I signed my mortgage at the bank, I applied for mortgage insurance - life, health crisis, and disability. Two different companies underwrite the policies and I had to have a very in-depth phone interview with each of them. They asked me about each and every little thing that could possibly be wrong with me, plus about my family history of things. Now, because I have asthma and have a family history of cancer and heart disease I figured I would not qualify, oh, and I'm overweight. However, it never even occurred to me that I would get a letter stating you do not qualify for our insurance because of your history of anxiety.

I was angry. Very angry. I have NEVER let my anxiety get in the way of me doing what I need to do. Never missed a day of work, never missed a day of school, I've never been hospitalized, or been to the hospital because of my anxiety. But there it was, in black letters telling me that I didn't qualify for something because I was mentally ill. I'd never put that in the context of my self before. Never let the anxiety stop me from something. I'm having to integrate this into my understanding of self, that because of the anxiety, there are some things that I simply cannot have. And I don't like it.

Having this experience though, I hope, will help me grow. I happened to see my counsellor yesterday and she reminded me that TONS of people go on disability for stress related illness and so it kind of made sense that a history of anxiety would disqualify me from disability insurance (I still haven't got the results back on the life insurance). I am reminded, that for my clients, who have mental illness which affects their ability to work, there may often be much more of a stigma. It reminds me to, that I really do need to pay more attention to opportunities to fight stigma and be involved in more public education both on a small and a large level. I also need to decide if I want to appeal this decision, or make a bigger issue out of it, or just be passive, accept the decision and move on from here.

Sophie Cat - cool as a cucumber

Published with Blogger-droid v1.6.9