MENTAL ILLNESS UP CLOSE AND WAY TOO PERSONAL – WENDY BLANCHARD, M.S., CHHC, CPS

One important lesson that I learned quite some time ago, was that I cannot be a “therapist” to family members, or my significant other. I have worked with severely mentally ill patients, and clients, and those living with substance use disorder, over the past four years as a Recovery Specialist, Advocate, and Holistic Health Practitioner/Counselor, and then I would go home and find myself being accused of “psychoanalyzing” a family member. In fact, a therapist confirmed that I must not be the therapist at home, and ever since, I only offer “advice,” and my opinion, and support if and when I am recruited to do so.

Lesson learned.

However, when I am asked for help, most especially by a beloved family member who has been living with a severe mental illness, substance use disorder, as well as previous suicide attempts, you bet that I am going to take the necessary steps, immediately, to save her life. And, I know at that moment that she may escalate in her symptoms when the crisis team arrives, especially her anger directed at me.

Today was such a day.

I was supposed to be practicing self care for my own mental health due to the recent passing of my mother in March which I am just beginning to process, but received a distress call, where a family member said, “I am at the bottom. I can’t go on. Please tell me what to do. My therapist is on vacation.” After a few minutes of attempting to understand her words through the hysteria coupled with very unwell thinking patterns and thoughts, (seeing dead people, asking me to reunite with a former husband to make her feel better, at times becoming barely audible, etc.) I offered to call a friend/colleague who is a psychiatrist. This family member was so grateful. When I couldn’t reach the doctor, due to the high risk of this situation which I recognized immediately due to my intensive education/training, I called my family member back to let her know I was sending a mobile crisis team to the house, and that I was on my way to her but I was 40 minutes away. She would not answer the phone. Our crisis team concurred that due to her history and past suicide attempts, they would go to the house, but they only had one team to send out and they were presently on another 911 call, so they were calling the police to go ahead of them in case of an imminent emergency. They know me well there from working closely as the crisis contact in our county for 3 years, and working on the Behavioral Health Unit at the local hospital, and the Detox/Recovery unit, and they told me to go ahead and get on the road, and they would be in touch.

When I arrived at the family member’s house, police, a “friend,” and other family members had already been called by this family member to aid her. My family member was in a heightened state of anger and rage, and began screaming at me, making unkind hand gestures, and telling me to get off of the property.

I do not take this personally as I am used to experiencing those who are so unwell having outbursts such as this, and they really do not have the awareness, or the self regulation skills to communicate what they are really feeling underneath all of their pain. Their emotions are trapped beneath it all, and so they communicate in the only way they know how. In order to assist this family member in de-escalating, I left the scene to ensure that she was completely present to the emergency crew surrounding her so that they could give her the appropriate and immediate help that she needs and deserves. It was NOT about me. I left her in the best care. A crisis team, a social worker, and police.

I texted with another family member all the way home. We both are deeply saddened and concerned about this young woman. Her behavior has been recurring and has been a pattern over many, many years. I realized my own anxiety escalating beyond control as I listened to the words of this young woman on the phone this morning to the point of experiencing sharp pain in my head and left arm, (panic and anxiety which I have experienced due to this situation before) and told her I could not be her therapist, but was going to help her.

I would not have chosen to do anything differently today to assist this family member as I felt was necessary as a professional, and would do it again. We cannot act from emotion in these circumstances, especially when it comes to family. Act from professionalism, not emotion to ensure immediate safety and care for everyone.

When it comes to saving a life, time and resources are imperative. I utilized both. I had packed an overnight bag to plan to stay with her should she be taken to the hospital again, but within the hour found myself headed home, with a heavy heart at the sight of which I had just witnessed, yet again, and my overnight bag in tow.

I believe that if we are able to teach awareness and prevention at a young age, especially within our schools, we will offer our younger generation a gift of health with life skills, and coping strategies through social/emotional learning. This is why I do the work that I do. It is a personal journey as well as my career. I completely related to my family member today, as I was once that young woman who grew into a middle aged woman before I received the appropriate help. I am now on the other side as a resource and support, lovingly, empathetically, without judgement. Mental illness is a chronic and progressive brain disease, and it is diagnosable, treatable, and manageable.

I am at home resting now, and have been successful in de-escalating my own symptoms of anxiety.

Let’s all have an open dialogue and normalize these mental health symptoms and illness so that we can get those who need help the support and treatment that they need WITHOUT STIMGA, where we are able to raise awareness to the fact that WE ALL HAVE MENTAL HEALTH. It rests on a continuum, and depending upon what is going on within us, biologically, and around us in the environment, we will move on that continuum at any given time. Each of us has suffered some type of trauma these past few months living in these extenuating circumstances in these unprecedented times. We need to support each other openly, feel free to speak our truth honestly, and to ask for help without shame.

For more information on the mental health and suicide safety trainings that I provide for schools, community organizations, and families, please email me at wendyblanchard044@gmail.com

You can also visit my website at www.writeprayrecover.com for my inspirational writing and read some of my own story of recovery from lifelong prescription drug addiction and mental health disorders. My book “WRITE PRAY RECOVER:A JOURNEY TO WELLNESS THROUGH SPIRITUAL SOLUTIONS AND SELF CARE” will be released in 2021. It is my story of lifelong addiction and mental health disorders, as well as an interactive journal for self reflection through my inspirational thoughts, writing, and using my experience as a Recovery Specialist, Advocate and Holistic Health Practitioner/Counselor and Keynote Speaker to offer hope, inspiration, and solutions to others struggling with mental illness/disorders.

Love and blessings,

Wendy