Imagine being in a tragic event such as an earthquake that killed dozens, hundreds or even thousands of people, but you survived. Yet you had to bury family members and friends. You were right next to someone who didn’t make it, and you don’t understand why them and not you?
Days, weeks and months go by and you can’t shake that feeling of guilt, loneliness and wondering if you could have done something different to save someone else. When everyone is telling you that you should be happy that you survived, you don’t feel lucky. You may even feel undeserving of having survived.
You may feel like you can’t talk to anyone about what you are going through, after all, what do you have to complain about? You lived! You survived. You were one of the lucky ones! However, for many people who survive such horrific events, being a survivor is just the beginning of what can be a life-long, debilitating relationship with survivor’s guilt.
What Is Survivors Guilt?
Survivor’s guilt is something that may develop in some people who experience and survive a traumatic, life-threatening event. It is something that is common in war veterans, airplane crash survivors, survivors of natural disasters and mass shootings.
In her blog on Psychology Today, the Stoic Warrior, Nancy Sherman, PhD states that survivor’s guilt begins with an endless feedback loop of “counterfactual thoughts that you could have or should have done otherwise, though in fact you did nothing wrong”.
Recently two of the Parkland mass shooting survivors killed themselves a year after the tragedy and one of the father’s of a girl killed in the Sandy Hook school shooting also committed suicide. According to their family and friends, they all had a very difficult time coping after the tragic event and appear to have been suffering from survivor’s guilt.
While not everyone who survives such tragedies will experience survivor’s guilt, some signs and symptoms include:
Having difficulty sleeping
Feeling numb or disconnected
Feeling an intense sense or fear or anxiety
Experiencing physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, and heart palpitations
Having suicidal thoughts
Survivor’s guilt is a normal response to loss, even if it may appear abnormal to someone from the outside looking in. They may be bewildered to why this seemingly “lucky” person is suddenly withdrawn, depressed or even suicidal.
Some studies suggest that individuals who suffer with depression or have experienced childhood abuse may be more susceptible to survivors remorse since both issues appear to break down a person’s healthy defenses and coping skills making dealing with such tragedies even more difficult.
If you or anyone who know may be suffering from survivor’s guilt, I have gathered these helpful tips from the Psychology Today website:
Give yourself time to grieve.
Consider thinking about who was really responsible, if anyone.
Remember to take care of yourself physically and psychologically.
Think about what those who are close to you are feeling about the situation.
Remind yourself that you were given the gift of survival and feel good about it.
Try to be of service to someone or something.
Remind yourself that you’re not alone.
Share your feelings with those you trust.
Try to stick to a daily routine.
Consider journaling your feelings.
Get professional help, as needed.
I think it it important that after such tragic events, especially man made, horrible events like mass shootings, that while we are grieving for the ones we loss and reaching out to their families, that we don’t forget those who survived, the “lucky” ones, and reach out to them as well and continue to reach out and support them.
As you can see by the recent suicides, it can be a year or several years after the incident where the survivor reaches his or her breaking point. It also goes to show the bigger pictures of such tragedies and the very far reaching affects they can have on our society.
***TRIGGER WARNING- This article contains information about suicide which may be upsetting to some people. If you or anyone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide please call your local suicide hotline or visit http://www.iasp.info/resources/Crisis_Centres/
Suicide sucks. Plan and simple. It always seems to hit us when we least expect it and it always hurts. It doesn’t matter the age, the circumstance. It always feel like a life was taking before its time.
The last half of 2018 has been a helluva time for me. Over the past 6 months I have dealt with the deaths of five people who were either directly or indirectly under my care. One died of an accidental heroin overdose, the other four were suicides by hanging.
I have seen CPR performed heroically and tirelessly, but in vain on two of those deaths and it is an indescribable feeling to see someone I knew, someone I had spoken to earlier that day, laying on the ground motionless. Someone so young (one was in her twenties, the other in her thirties) and so full of life at one point, now lifeless.
Suicide is an unfortunate evil we have to deal with in the mental health field. My current job puts me in the role of dealing with suicidal patients all day long.
I am used to dealing with suicidal patients, even patients who attempt suicide or self-injure, but I am and never will be used to dealing with completed suicides. I take each death personally, even if professionally and ethically my staff and myself did everything we could to prevent it.
Suicide is often an impulsive act. At least one of the suicides appears to have been the result of rage. Suicide is often thought of as anger turned inward.
Suicide sometimes builds overtime and is the result of unbearable psyche pain. Three of the suicides, at least on the surface, appear to have been thought out. One woman was grieving over the loss of her sister and blaming herself for her sisters death. She was filled with depression and guilt she found insufferable. Another man was facing a lengthy prison sentence and decided he would rather die than go back to prison and spent years locked away. He was the only one who left a suicide letter behind. It was obviously something he had given some thought to.
Suicide, as we have seen too often lately, is sometimes the result of bullying, which appears to have been the case in the last suicide and another serious suicide attempt a couple of weeks after that one. Adults in correctional settings who are exposed to bullying are at high risk for suicide.
There weren’t any obvious warning signs that could have prevented any of these deaths. Accept for the accidental heroin overdose, these individuals seemed to have been determined, in those moments, to end their lives. I wish I could have saved them. I wish I could have saved them all. I cried after each of those suicides because I knew those individuals, maybe not terribly intimately, but as close as you can professionally under these circumstances.
I even thought about resigning because I felt like we failed them although multiple internal and external reviews showed that we did not. However, I know that for these five lives lost, there a countless numbers of suicides we have prevented. And that’s what keeps me going. That’s what keeps us all going.
“You gotta be mature enough to understand that you have some toxic traits too. It’s not always the other person”. -Word Porn
I read this post the other day on Facebook and thought it to be one of the truest statements I have ever read. Too often in relationships, no matter if it’s personal relationships, familial relationships or romantic relationships, it’s easy to place all the blame for the dysfunction that goes on in that relationship on other people. It’s natural. It’s much easier to say that someone else is the cause of our unhappiness, the chaos that sometimes happens in relationships or the failure of a relationship than it is to be introspective and look at ourselves. It’s much less painful to put the blame on the other person than it is to admit our responsibility in why things are the way they are.
If you ask anyone in a relationship that failed or became extremely dysfunctional, they can easily tell you what the other person did wrong, but we all know that it takes two people to make a relationship work and so unless the other person was a complete narcissist or sociopath (and even then the other person usually still plays a role in maintaining the dysfunction of the relationship), we have to see both sides of the coin if we are going to come out of the relationship better and healthier than before.
When I think back to many of my past relationships that went south, I can easily name a dozen things the other person did to help drive our relationship off the cliff. I can tell you how they were selfish, inconsiderate, detached, mean, controlling and took me for granted. However, if you ask them, I am sure they can just as easily name a dozen things I did that were not supportive of a healthy relationship. What’s more important is that we discover for ourselves what we did to hinder those relationships (or maintain the dysfunction and toxicity) so that we don’t carry them into our future relationship and more importantly so that we can grow and change whatever qualities about ourselves that are holding us back and putting us in these toxic situations.
Thinking about my past relationships, I can spew out all the toxic qualities she had, but in reality, but what I know about myself is that I was codependent, at times insecure, controlling, neurotic, enabling and possibly lazy when it came to a number of things that eventually would have put a strain on even the healthiest relationship. I maintained much of the dysfunction in our relationship and kept it toxic because of my toxic qualities. At the very less I should have walked away before it became so engulfing and before bitterness and resentment on both sides set in.
If I go around, only seeing the things the other people did to screw up our relationship, then I will most definitely repeat the same pattern in future relationships and wonder why they too did not work out, or why I became so miserable in the relationship, yet stayed because I’d rather feel pain than nothing at all (a line from a Three Grace Song “Pain”, but also something I have come to realize to be painfully true about myself).
Too many of us do that. As a therapist, I often hear people complain about the same issues in their last relationship or even job. They think, they will just leave this person or that company and things will be better. Some even change physical locations such as the state and city they live in thinking that this will solve the problem, but a large part of the problem is within them and they take themselves wherever they go so they are likely to continue to repeat the same pattern regardless of who they are with or where they are unless they themselves change.
For instance, a woman whose last three relationships ended because the other person cheated may come to the conclusion that monogamy, trust and honesty are all dead and there are no good, faithful people out there.
In reality, she may be subconsciously choosing individuals with a certain trait or creating environments that are conducive to increasing the chances of someone being unfaithful.
Think about it, if she met her last three partners while they were in relationships with other people and she “stole” them away, she can’t be too surprised if that person later ends up being “stolen” away by someone else.
The same is true if she met someone who gave her reasons to doubt their loyalty in the beginning, but she thought she could “change them” only to realize later that she doesn’t have the power to change anyone. It’s a lot easier to just blame those individuals for being who they are and ruining the relationship instead of accepting that she herself has some flaws she needs to investigate.
Often we sabotage ourselves. Somewhere, somehow we may get a notion that all people suck so we subconsciously go out and seek relationships with people we know suck so that we can validate our notion.
We may rush into relationships and create an image about a person that they can’t possibly live up to and feel cheated or let down when they don’t, or they may feel so much pressure and/or smothering that they leave and we justified that by saying that we weren’t good enough or “everyone always leaves me”.
I once dated a woman who thought that everyone always abandoned her, including family, friends and romantic partners. During our relationship she did a number of things attempting to push me away, testing my loyalty and durability and I fought hard to prove to her that I was different than everyone else, but the harder I tried, the harder she pushed and in the end, we both were miserably, unhappy, and resentful. Her personality traits match up well with my codependent personality traits and created a toxic, dysfunctional relationship that lasted way too long.
The same issues in different ways can happen at work. Many of us spend more time at work and with our co-workers then we do with the people we live with, love and/or are in intimate relationships with.
Work can often feel like being in not only a toxic environment, but a toxic relationship. Sometimes we stay in a job we hate too long and become resentful, or we give so much of ourselves at work that we feel used and unappreciated, yet we still show up and won’t look for another place of employment. We may feel stuck there just like we may feel stuck in a relationship. We can blame everything on our employer or co-workers, but that won’t change anything. What will change everything is when we take responsibility for what it is that is keeping us there. It could be our refusal to look for another job, to stand up to a certain person, to demand what we know we deserve or to look for opportunities for advancement because of our fears that we aren’t good enough or don’t deserve better.
The bottom line is, nothing positive will happen for us if we don’t recognize the qualities about ourselves that need to be worked on. We can blame everyone else for the things that make us unhappy, but nothing will change unless we recognize our flaws, as uncomfortable and painful as they may be to admit to ourselves and change them.
What I Learned From Dating Someone With Borderline Personality Disorder
Not too long ago I was madly in love with a beautiful, charismatic and outgoing woman. She was funny, sexy and seemed to be the center of attention wherever we went. She also had Borderline Personality Disorder.
When we first met, this was not something I picked up on right away. She appeared to be everything I was looking for in a girlfriend. She was extroverted, independent and most of all fun. Her laugh and smile were infectious. She was the opposite of my quiet, reserved and introverted self. She was what I thought I needed in my life. Someone different than the women I usually dated. Different from myself.
In The Beginning
Things with us started off fast and intense. We went from getting to know each other, to being intimate, falling in love and living together in just a few weeks. She went out of her way to shower me with love and attention. It made me feel special, especially in comparison to my last relationship where I often felt neglected. She made me feel like no other woman had ever made me feel before or since.
What I didn’t realize was that part of what I was experiencing is what is called love bombing. Love bombing is when someone tries to influence a person with demonstrations of love and affection. They usually do this by going overboard with efforts of love and admiration. It’s a way to quickly leap frog over the getting to know you, courting stage in a relationship and get to the “I love you” stage and it worked.
I had never fallen for someone so intensely so fast, which is why I think I didn’t see some of the red flags I should have or, as a therapist, realize what I was getting into. Love and beauty have a way of blinding us.
As a mental health counselor, I have a habit, good or bad, of always analyzing people and a month into our relationship I started thinking that she might have bipolar disorder. I started recognizing that she had some mood instability and for some reason, that’s where my mind took me, but after awhile I dismissed that altogether because she simply didn’t meet the criteria. Still, I knew there was something I needed to pay close attention to, I just wasn’t sure what it was.
Inappropriate and Intense Anger
I remember the first fight we had, it was over something very trivial and should have just been a conversation, but instead she EXPLODED! I mean her eyes narrowed, face turned red, nostrils flared. She got so angry so quickly that it scared me and I feared for my safety. What shocked me the most was that the intensity of her anger was way out of proportion to the situation.
I don’t like to fight, I don’t like to argue. When I realized how volatile that situation became over something so small, I should have left and never looked back. That was actually my plan, but later that evening she came back and apologized. We made up. I loved her after all and maybe part of my “you can fix her” thinking kicked in and I actually began to feel sorry for her.
I knew she come from a pretty traumatic childhood, that she went through periods of her life where she felt abandoned and I felt that her blow up was a test to see if she could push me away and I would abandon her too. I decided to prove her wrong and to stay and make it work out. I had the rescuer syndrome going on full strength.
Frantic Efforts to Avoid Real or Imagined Abandonment
After that first explosion, many more followed. She began accusing me of wanting or looking at other women. Out of the blue her entire mood would change and I wouldn’t know why until she was ready to blow up at me for looking at someone I usually had no clue who she was talking about.
I got accused of looking at random women all the time like our waitress, some woman across the street that I never even noticed in the first place or another across the room simply because she was there. As beautiful as she was, she was very insecure.
It got so bad that at one point I found myself walking around with my head down just so I wouldn’t accidentally appear to be looking at another women, but even that didn’t work.
So many dates and even a Valentines Day were ruined by her accusing me of looking at other women and her explosive, increasing inappropriate anger.
And yet there were times when she begged me to never leave her. When I told her this wasn’t working for me and I wanted to break up, she simply replied “no” and then clung to me like a frightened child.
Uncontrollable Anger and Physical Violence
As her angry explosions became increasingly unpredictable (yet predictable), she began to get physically violent. It started with her getting so angry that she would slap me and on at least two occasions she punched me in the face with a closed fist, all the time I was trying to calm her down to keep her from getting even more angry and out of control, which only made things worse.
At the same time, I noticed that she was also getting into conflicts with other people when we went out. Men, women, it didn’t matter. It was as if she had two sides to her; this sweet, outgoing, social butterfly that everyone loved and this angry bitch that everyone hated. Still, the most intense anger and rage were reserved for me.
It got so bad that whenever we went out, no matter how happy we were in the beginning of the evening, there was a 90% chance that by the time the night was over, we’d be fighting over something. I started thinking that she was allergic to having a good day. It was like, the more I tried for us to have a great day, the more I did for her, the more intense her anger would be when she decided it was time to ruin our good time.
She could literally pick a fight out of thin air which made it so much more unpredictable. It was literally, as the cliché goes, like walking on eggshells.
I remember one day we went to the beach, swam in the ocean and I painted her toe nails while laying on a beach blanket. Afterwards we went to the pier and had lunch before driving back home, changing and going to a jazz club. Later that night we stopped on our way home to get something to eat and she started yelling at me (out of the blue) because I hadn’t unfriended her best-friend that she accused of wanting me. The same best friend I knew before I knew her. The same best-friend that had introduced us.
I was so hurt and disappointed that we had such a great day ruined in five minutes by some random thought that came into her head.
I totally ignored and even enabled her substance abuse issues. When we met I knew she smoked, but I didn’t realized she was also a binge drinker and probably an alcoholic.
It seemed ass if she had to constantly be smoking or drinking in order to be marginally happy. She didn’t just drank to get buzzed, she drank to get white girl wasted as they say.
So many weekend nights she drank until she passed out or until she started flirting with everyone or lashing out on everyone with me of course as her favorite target.
One valentines day she drank a whole bottle of wine by her self at dinner and then another at the movie theater and then passed out before the movie even started.
She would promise to stop drinking, but she never did and to be honest, I was usually the one buying her drinks because I knew one or two drinks made her happy, but by the time she got to her fourth drink, she was a loaded gun ready to go off.
It wasn’t uncommon for her to go from happy to infuriated within minutes.
Idealization and Devaluation
Some days she would tell me that I was the best man ever and I would feel like a prince and by the end of the night, she would be enraged over something minor and yelling at me “you’re just like every other man” or telling me how I was the worst person ever.
At first I was really confused. I was either the best man she’d ever been with or the worst man she’d ever been with, but I couldn’t be both. It was starting to give me an identity complex.
I did noticed a pattern however. If she started telling me how I was the love of her life, the best thing that ever happened to her, blah, blah, blah, I needed to hold on tight because by the end of the day, the other shoe was going to drop.
Whenever she started inflating my ego, she would create a fight by the end of the day and tear me back down to scum under her shoes. I remember one night when not too many hours earlier I had been her moon and stars, she yelled at me that she hated and resented me. That really took me aback. In all my life I had never had someone tell me that they resented me. I didn’t even know how to take it, but I never forgot how much it hurt .
Those words were probably the biggest factor in causing me to start emotionally withdrawing and re-evaluating our relationship. Sure this was after we were about three years into this roller-coaster ride, but what can I say, I was in love.
By this time I had known she had borderline personality disorder for over two years. The signs were all there. I even had her take an assessment and she scored perfectly and even agreed with me that she thought she had borderline personality disorder, but she didn’t want to go to therapy.
In The End
My friends, people who knew me and knew us often asked me why did I stay. They didn’t know why I put up with the chaos, the anger, the numerous precarious situations she had put me in.
The answer is love. I really did love her. Being a mental health professional didn’t help. I thought I could help her overcome her issues, helping people is my job. And she really was and is an awesome person. If she was a totally horrible person of course I would have left a long time ago.
Would I have done anything different knowing what I know now? Of course I would. I would have chosen to just be her friend and to keep a safe distance so that I wouldn’t get caught up in the chaos.
I learned a lot through this tumultuous relationship, but mostly about myself. I learned that I was more codependent than I ever realized. I learned that I had a sort of six sense and sort of a curse for spotting people with issues and trying to fix them. I also learned what it was like to be in love with a beautiful woman, to have some of the most fun I’ve ever had in my life, to be adventurous, to feel like I couldn’t live without a person and then learn to live without them.
The other day I had the privilege of talking to a school shooter. When I say privilege, I don’t mean it in a way to glorify what he did, but it’sThe other day I had the privilege of talking to a school shooter. When I say privilege, I don’t mean it in a way to glorify what he did, but it’s not everyday that an opportunity presents itself for me to try to get into the mind of someone who was determined to carry out mass murder. Often these people kill themselves or are killed before anyone has a chance to understand why they did what they did, or like the Parkland shooter, are kept very isolated with only the psychologist and a handful of corrections officers having regular contact with him.
As a psychotherapist, this intrigues me. In undergrad I excitedly took classes such as Profiling Serial Killers, Understanding Mass Murder and The Anatomy of Violent Crimes. Yet, I had never been able to actually study someone in person so that I could better understand how to try to help others before they commit violent crimes as well as identify potential ticking time bombs.
With the nature of my job currently revolving a lot around criminal psychology, I end up talking to some of the worse of human kind on a daily basis. On a regular day I talk to murderers, rapists, child molesters and have even on multiple occasions attempted to talk to a hit man for a Mexican drug cartel accused of over a dozen murders. So far he has refused to talk to me or anyone else for that matter.
Without going into too much detail because this case is still pending, I would like to share some of what I have learned from talking to a school shooter.
The first thing I noticed about this particular school shooter was his small, non-threatening stature. He looked like your typical high school student, except there was no light behind his eyes. When he looked and talked to me, there wasn’t any emotion there.
I won’t go into if he has a mental illness or not, but he says he grew up in a family that was full of mental health issues, namely untreated bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. He says he was never physically or sexually abused, but witnessed a lot of family violence. As he says, his earliest memories are those of violence and conflict.
He had isolated himself at a young age. He didn’t feel attached or loved by his family. He had a lot of anger inside of him. He attempted to channel that anger by going into the military, but as a teenager he had gotten involuntarily committed to a mental hospital for a yet unknown reason, something that would later prevent him from joining the military.
Feeling even angrier, depressed and rejected because of that, he turned to Mixed Martial Arts as an outlet for his violent thoughts, but a knee injury caused him to have to stop training for awhile. It was during this time that his anger, depression and feelings of isolation grew and he started planning a mass shooting.
Planning included finding a way to legally buy a gun without a background check through a certain loop hole in the system. Planning included blending in with students of a high school he had dropped out of a couple of years ago, smuggling his weapon in using a musical instrument case and then going into the bathroom and putting on a tactical vest and gloves.
Before and during the incident, he reports he felt no anger or fear, just an adrenaline rush. He denies having any specific targets, any hate or anger towards any individual or group of people.
Although he says he feels remorseful, there are no emotions with his words. Yet he says the incident could have been a lot worse if it wasn’t for a girl’s screams that broke him out of his trance. He says it was her screams that made him feel horrible about what he was doing. Her screaming triggered memories of his childhood and made him and everyone around him, human again.
Some of the signs I’ve learned to look for from talking to him and studying other school shooters include:
Leakage- which is when people leave behind often unconscious clues, sometimes as a cry for help such as violent themes in their artwork or writing.
Low tolerance for frustration.
Poor coping skills.
Lack of resiliency.
Lack of empathy
Family appears to lack intimacy and closeness.
No limits or monitoring of TV and internet
Turbulent parent-child relationship
While it’s too late to have prevented this incident, I do hope that by continuing to learn from this individual and others, we’ll be able to prevent future tragedies. As long as I have access to him, I will continue to attempt to understand the mind of someone who would shoot up a school in Parkland, Florida, a movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado, a church in Charleston, South Carolina, a restaurant near Nashville, Tennessee, a music festival in Las Vegas or a nightclub in my hometown Orlando, Florida.
When I worked at an inner city high school, my main goals were to prevent teenagers from getting into trouble, dropping out of school, producing children and hopefully to give them tools they can use to become successful adults.
It wasn’t always easy. At times it was frustrating and even disappointing, but I showed up each day motivated and inspired.
Many of the teenagers were like I was when I was their age; lost, unmotivated and trying to figure out where I fit in. I had no one to talk to or guide me. I wanted to be that person for them.
There were times we cried together, we laughed together, even got angry with each other.
We cried over the sudden death of parents, the shooting deaths of cousins and friends, even a couple of suicides. We laughed because sometimes we had to laugh to keep from crying. We got angry with each other because I challenged them and in return they challenged me.
There were disappointments as well. Students I worked so hard with and who made so many improvements fell victim to peer pressure and ended up in trouble. Some dropped out of school, some got kicked out school.
One school year, five of the girls in my program got pregnant and I blamed myself for not protecting them better. Four of the five ended up dropping out of high school. It took my mentor at the time to remind me that I am not responsible for other people’s actions although I felt completely responsible at the time.
Mostly there were successes.
Students that were on the verge of dropping out or getting kicked out of school actually graduated. Students who had gotten a reputation as bad kids learned to control themselves and were no longer getting disciplined left and right. Other students that were labeled emotionally disturbed learned to control their emotions and behaviors. Some of the toughest, most defiant teenagers ended up being positive leaders of their class.
It was the best and most rewarding job I ever had because despite the stress and frustration that came with trying to motivate teenagers deemed unable to be motivated, there were so many emotional rewards.
I saw students who never thought about going to college asking me for help with college applications. Young men who once preferred to steal from others asking for help with job applications. Teenagers who so many thought had no future, were actively thinking about, planning and taking positive actions towards their future.
Fast forward some short years and I now work at a corrections facility. I have the same stress as I did working in the high school, only without the emotional rewards. Instead I deal with adults and juveniles who are where I was trying to prevent the kids I worked with from going.
In the jail the population I deal with is mostly those who have or claim to have a mental illness. Unfortunately most of them are manipulators and sociopaths. They don’t really want to change and most of them won’t. They want to use the system and society to get whatever it is that they want and will lie, cheat, steal and even kill to get it.
Of course there are those with severe mental illnesses. Some of them I feel should be in a treatment center and not in jail. There are homeless people that I feel like never should have been arrested in the first place. Those people I understand. Those people I will work hard for every minute of every day.
Sadly, 90% of the people I deal with are sociopaths. They will pretend to be mentally ill if it will prevent them from being housed in a certain area of the jail, make the judge or their family feel sorry for them or possibly reduce their sentences. They are not mentally ill.
It’s frustrating because I feel like part of my job is to help people realize they can change for the better. Most of these people don’t want to change. They want to get out of jail so they can go back to robbing, stealing, smoking meth and being the type of person you wouldn’t want to have to deal with.
I’m talking about child abusers, child molesters and murderers who either sit across from me crying, wanting me to feel sorry for them as if they were the ones victimized, or they couldn’t care less because they’ve already been institutionalized and going to prison for 10 or 20 years doesn’t mean anything to them.
Last week I sat across from a man who is accused of murdering his ex-girlfriend and mother of his child with an axe and all he could do was cry about his stomach hurting and the poor medical attention he feels like he’s receiving. I was disgusted, but of course I couldn’t say or show that so I just listened to him complain.
My main job is to prevent inmates from committing suicide and to offer mental health treatment to the mentally ill. My job is not to necessarily treat or expect anyone to get better. We don’t do counseling here at the jail because most people are only here for about 45 days before getting released or sent to prison and most people here don’t want counseling.
While to some degree that should be less stressful, it’s actually more frustrating because I like to consider myself an agent of change and would like to see people evolve into better versions of themselves.
Working in a psychiatric setting, I saw patients get better and get released. Working in the high school, I saw teenagers grow and change into capable young adults. Working in the jail, dealing with adults who have been in and out of the system most of their lives and juveniles who have already succumbed to the thought that they will be criminals for the rest of their lives, I don’t get to see much if any change.
Sure, I would like to think I have saved some lives here. I would like to think that I have reached some people and they will go back out into the community and be responsible. I don’t really know how much of that is true. I would prefer to be able to say that I’ve cut down on the number of people being re-incarcerated, or increased the number of people who got out and got jobs, got off of drugs or did something to be a positive citizen.
Sometimes I still think about the students I worked with over the years and hope none of them ever have to experience being incarcerated, but I know some of them have because I ran into one of my students here, 2 years later, an adult, incarcerated for stealing a car and running from the police.
I was disappointed. Not even at him, but at myself because I had worked with him so hard to prevent this. I had to once again remind myself that I am not responsible for other people. I just really hope I planted a big enough seed in the others that I will never have to come across any of them again behind bars.
So if I look happier and healthier in the other picture, it’s because I was. I felt like I was making a difference and actually saw the fruits of my labor. Sure the pay was horrible, but at the end of the day I usually left with a genuine smile on my face.
You do have to create meaning and purpose in your life and that goes with your job as well. You can’t just do a job for the money because if you lose the job, you lose the money and what would it all have been for? So I do look forward to coming to work to make sure that no one kills themselves because of lack of mental health treatment; to make sure that those who need mental health services are receiving them and that I’m educating anyone I can on mental health so that they will understand when a mentally ill inmate is actively hallucinating or in a psychotic state, that it is not just an act.
I always say that only 10% of the people I deal with in jail are truly mentally ill and the other 90% are faking in order to gain sympathy or favor. It’s that 10% that give my work purpose.
There is a lot of stigma when it comes to mental health issues, even common ones like depression. Often times when people feel depressed they feel ashamed, as if they don’t have the right to feel depressed. Many will attempt to hide the way they feel and just say they are doing “ok”. Many more will try to drown their depression with alcohol, drugs and even other people.
It’s okay to be depressed. When you’re depressed that means something in your life is not going the way you want it to go and you need to sit down and evaluate your life so that you can move in a different direction. That may mean making small changes, big changes or accepting something for what it is if you can’t change it at all.
These are some of my favorite tips on dealing with depression:
You’re not alone. Many people go through depression at some point in their lives. Some people suffer from clinical and chronic depression while others seem to bounce out of it pretty quickly. If you’re feeling down, just know that you’re not the only person who feels that way and it’s actually pretty common.
It’s okay to seek professional help. Sometimes family and friends just don’t understand why you’re not happy. They’ll say that your life isn’t “that bad” and that there are many people out there who have it worse. Most of them are trying to be helpful even when they leave you feeling like crap. People like me are trained and paid to listen and can help you maneuver your way through the pain.
Medications can help if needed, but they are not the only answer. When people start feeling depressed, many of them will immediately want medication to make the bad feelings go away. Most people going through depression do not need antidepressants, but even if you do, they may only help so much. Antidepressants are good for getting people out of deep depression so that they can intellectually and physically function enough to actually process what’s going on in their lives and attempt to make changes to feel better.
Remember to take care of yourself. Even if that means writing notes to remind yourself to do simple things such as taking a bath or eating nutritious meals. Doing the self-care things you don’t feel like doing will make you feel better in the end.
If you really don’t know what might be making you depressed consider getting some blood work done. Anything from vitamin D deficiency, low iron and hormonal issues to blood sugar problems can cause you to feel depressed and lethargic. Curing your depression can be as simple as correcting an imbalance in your body.
Learn and practice daily mindfulness and meditation. Start with something as simple as focusing on your breathing. Imagine breathing in slowly through your nose to smell a birthday cake and exhaling slowly through your mouth to blow out the candle. Focus on your breathing, try to keep your mind from wandering to all the bullshit and just be in the present moment.
Stay away from emotional vampires. You need all your energy when you’re going through the depression. You don’t have any to spare so stay away from anyone who will drain what little you have left. Instead, try to surround yourself with people who can help you refuel your energy.
Don’t envy others. Everyone is, has or will go through their stuff. You’re just going through yours. Even if someone looks happy, well put together or whatever, they still have things they are dealing with that you might not know about. The grass is not always, or even usually greener on the other side.
If you can find the energy, go for a walk. Exercise, fresh air and sunlight are great for depression. Even small steps help.
Learn to let go. A lot of times depression is about the past. Past guilt. Past disappointments. Past hurts. Learn to let go and you will reclaim so much of the strength and energy you are given up. As the saying goes, let go or be dragged.
There are so many great tips out there on dealing with depression. Hopefully this will get you started, but definitely find tips that work for you and know that you can come out of depression a stronger person.