Thursday, February 12, 2009

We're Mentally Ill, Not Stupid!!!

UGH. I don't know where else to put this rant so it's going in my art blog, here.

I am an intern at a site for adults recovering from severe mental illness (for example, schizophrenia). Recovering means they are currently undergoing several forms of therapy, including talk therapy and psychopharmacological (is that a word?) therapy, as well as seeing a social worker who helps them to find jobs and stable housing. Some also live in group homes which are also overseen by the organization. These clients are not called clients, they are members of a community, because they actually work hand-in-hand with staff on many levels to run the organization. Participation is mostly voluntary, although they do sign a contract when becoming members to participate at a specified level.

Anyway. These are adults who are working at becoming part of "normal" society again, after maybe having been isolated for a period of time due to their illness. In a way it's not much different than someone with a physical illness like cancer. When you see a person in remission, you might not know they had cancer, like you might not know that someone from our organization is struggling with a mental illness. And just because someone is in remission from cancer doesn't mean they're stupid, right?

It's so frustrating! I know these people personally and like them very much already. We hang out, make art, and learn about each other. We relate as people and as therapy participators.

And then we go on trips where the docent of the art gallery or the art studio facilitator treats them like children. I am not observing this, I am feeling it because I am also being treated as a child, since I am walking with and talking to the people in the group it is assumed I must also be mentally ill and therefore stupid.

Many of the members of this organization were fully functioning members of society until that moment that it happened: a psychotic break, a major depressive episode, a mania with psychotic features, or whatever you can find recorded in their charts. Some people went traveling, studied abroad, when to art school, were lawyers, got good grades in high school, you name it. Something happened and it all fell apart. They are still those people, but now they are dealing with something that makes doing everything they used to do so much harder. And medications just add another layer of complication to that - it can stop symptoms but make someone gain weight, feel tired all the time, or even make them twitch in ways that freak people out. But they are still those people they were!

I understand that some people with mental illness also have cognitive disabilities or other things that might make their mental processing not move quite as quickly as some others. I don't know. But what I do know is, beginning with the assumption that someone who is mentally ill can't understand you or can't handle something without asking them and seeing how they respond is insulting and maybe lazy :(

(OK remember I am new at this and not jaded yet)

Blah. It makes me so mad. I don't know what to do about it. I just feel helpless and embarrassed - when the docent says something like "have you ever heard of the Renaissance?" I just feel so horrible.

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