Mental Health Mission ~ August 2, 2018

Seriously…it’s August? Where has this year gone? As I sit in my studio and contemplate how two-thirds of a year seems to have flashed by, my thoughts turn to other ponder-ables. At this stage in my life as a recovering cog in a large law firm, life has given me the luxury of contemplative reflection after an early morning walk with the Knuckleheads. Acknowledging “life is good” I stop to wonder about some of the patients Sam and I visited last week.

We arrived at West Pines only to find the discover the entire parking lot is filled to the brim. Grr, I growl. We end up finding a spot in a nearby parking lot and will need to dash back toward the facility. It’s a silly annoyance but one that seems to wrap its ugly tentacles around my brain. It makes me feel rushed knowing how critical adhering to the schedule is for the facility and we’re close to being late because of this inconvenience. Finally I arrive and take a relaxing deep breath. Donna, the coordinator seems frazzled herself and asks if I mind if a colleague conducts the visit. I realize then we each have our own little crosses to bear, whatever they might be. Mine is a minor inconvenience, Donna’s is a state of overwhelm of more work than seems possible to manage while filing in for others on vacation while having thoughts for her daughter who recently had knee surgery and how she will function easily with a toddler and newborn without her help. It’s there that I realize everything is relative to the moment, and reassure her it’s no problem, no apologies are necessary and Sam and I are there to make things as easy as possible for her. She smiles gratefully, Sam wags his tail at her and we are introduced to her substitute, a lovely woman whose name sadly escapes my memory and we move toward the first building. Let’s call her “Chris.”

Chris is a warm soul, gentle with a cheerful smile. She’s worked at West Pines for many years, knows the ropes, the people and the mission. We move toward our first stop. She tells me the facility is at capacity, somewhat unusual. She also tells me our visits will be closely monitored as the patients we are visiting may be potentially combative and our safety is paramount. I understand and put on a brave face. I can’t help but wonder if the upcoming lunar eclipse and blood moon has some impact on these folks.

In the year and a half we’ve been visiting West Pines, we have been fortunate to never have any negative incidents where I thought Sam might be at risk. His calm nature and sweetness in fact, seem to calm everyone. I rely on his posture and physical signals to guide me as to how we function in each situation.

When we arrive, the floor facilitator cautions us again. ‘Chris’ reiterates the message and I acknowledge my understanding. As soon as we walk into the ‘day room,’ one young man slowly moves over toward us and politely asks if he can pet Sam. Sam wags his tail in agreement and I stand close, observing him. His somewhat vacant eyes suggest there’s a lot of mileage on his soul, despite being maybe in his late 20’s. We chat casually when I catch a glimpse of another very young man who clearly is interested. I watch him and ask if he’d like to pet Sam…he nods affirmatively. A quiet, dark man with long slender fingers, he moves over to sit eye level on the floor and pet Sam. His whispers his name is Robert.

Robert clearly is troubled, though I know nothing of what led him to this mental health center. He starts to babble a bit in unintelligible phrases and Sam looks deeply into his eyes. Robert’s calm but potentially capable of changing quickly. Within a few minutes he hollers “Jesus!” a couple of times. I’m not certain how to respond, looking both at the unit facilitator as well as Chris for clues. Their reassuring smiles comfort any trepidation on my part.

Another young man, perhaps in his mid-30’s, comes from down the hall and wanders over. His name is Chad, he’s warm and engaging-the exact opposite of Robert. Sam picks up on his energy which is, dare I say…normal. I can’t help but wonder what it was that brought both of them here. And then it occurred to me of all the different and sometimes serendipitous life happenings for the Robert’s and Chad’s of the world…and I can only conclude…but for the grace of god, there go I. While my heart is sad there are those who are less fortunate, I am grateful at that moment.

Visiting patients always impacts me deeply, but none more than last week. I know there are those less fortunate than me and I recognize how truly lucky my life journey has been. While I can’t say with 100% certainty that I’m ‘normal‘ by comparison, I do recognize my good fortune of at least being considered socially appropriate enough to function without medication or intervention and lucky enough to meander through life with a sweet furry companion. I am blessed and easily conclude that visiting patients like Robert and Chad is a privilege and hope to continue bringing them a moment of respite, even a smile or two to those who are sick or troubled. Sam will do the work and I will drive and find that elusive parking slot in a stressed world. And while doing that, I will remind myself to not grumble about it. Life could be so much worse.

Life, love, bark! ๐Ÿพ

65 thoughts on “Mental Health Mission ~ August 2, 2018

    1. Thank you for the kind words and thank you for swinging by the Ranch. We ๐Ÿ’– visitors.

  1. This is absolutly wonderful! I love your blog and how inspiring your writing is! Thank you for such input and perspective!

  2. Well said. You are wonderful, doing the almost scary work that you do with Sam. I’m sure that you make a big difference.

  3. Like you, the perspective I gain by working at a hospital helps me deal with my life and its annoyances, large and small. I wonder how aware Sam is of the difference he makes, if only for a few minutes. Or is it just life as usual for him??

  4. I have to thank you for this post for more reasons than the one- which is because it is simply brilliant. I have to thank you because I was starting to feel anxietal after writing about a story that makes me so angry. And when I get anxious, it can spiral downwards quickly. And the crash equals a funk to which it takes some time to work through.
    This post brought tears to my eyes, because it highlights all the good that is out there. Starting with you and Sam, who are angels in my eyes.
    I could say so much more, but I’ll just say thank you.

    So much.

    1. Our great pleasure, sir. Your note of thanks really touched me. Itโ€™s that kind of reaction that keeps me going back. Everyone can use some compassion in this life and weโ€™re more than happy to offer it to whoever is in need. Keep smiling, Marco. Sending hugs and tail wags. ๐Ÿ˜

  5. I don’t think I could do what you and Sam do. You are special duo
    Hazel & Mabel

  6. Oh, you knows you and your Moms do such good work Sam! If only for a few moments, those men had some calm and happiness. Dogs do that. You knows this, and that is why you and your Moms do such amazin’ work! High Paw for making their day. And you did, even if they maybe couldn’t show it.
    Ruby โ™ฅโ™ฅ

  7. Cheers to the volunteering outreach mission that you and Sam are on. You obviously find it rewarding – and I enjoy the volunteering I’ve done. So were you a lawyer in your career days?

  8. OH Monika the work you and Sam do is so wonderful! <3
    Blessings to you for touching the lives of those who way too often get ignored and looked down upon.

      1. You are so right about how experiences like this puts life in perspective! Thanks for your post and compassion is such a wonderful gift to have.

  9. What a thought provoking & moving post Monika. I have seen a lot of Robert’s & Chad’s in my time & I always say a little prayer for them.
    But for the Grace of G-D goes I….definitely…..
    (((hugs))) Sherri-Ellen

      1. I’ve been thru Counselling 4 times & find myself there again as of a year ago June. I am grateful that I’ve had these opportunities to get help or I’d be in the same boat as the fellows you visited. I don’t judge because I know how fragile we humans can be.
        There used to be a young fellow (30-ish) who I used to see all the time walking past here with a coffee & cig inn his hands. he would walk with his head down. Twice when I saw him downtown I smiled at him….the 1st time he looked utterly terrified; the 2nd time he tentatively smiled back….he had the most amazing electric blue eyes. Curly reddish-blond hair….I nicknamed him Robert-Jesus….some of my friends were upset over the name. I told then he did look like a Robert& when he let his hair grow out he looked liked Jesus & what IF he WERE Jesus & we treated him like crap? That got them thinking…โ€ฆ
        I’ve hardly seen Robert-Jesus this year & I worry where he is; how he is……But for the GRACE of G-D that could be me… ๐Ÿ˜‰

        1. If more people ‘reached’ out with a simple smile, a kind word, perhaps there would be less folks like these. Humanity and compassion go a long way toward these troubled souls. I hope you see your neighborhood Robert again soon and he’s in a better space.

  10. Iโ€™m glad that you and Sam are available and able to provide solace to such a distressed population. I hope you are not using actual patient names…..

  11. This was beautifully written so that I could feel and understand so much. I hope some day that Xena (who is currently making growly noises and trying to bring down her 50 pound sister) can bring happiness, however fleeting, to people with similar problems. As I’ve said before, Sam is a truly exceptional pup.

    1. Thank you for the kind thoughts, Amy. Xena seems so full of personality, I’m sure she’ll start walking in her Angel sister’s paws soon. It really feels good when a patient thanks you for visiting them, even for a couple of minutes. You leave them knowing you had a positive impact on their day even if the dog did all the work. ๐Ÿ˜

  12. oh.
    nodding in agreement… having been on the emotional precipice myself a couple times, your words resonate with me. Sadness can build walls and Sam can walk through them.

  13. Sadly, while most of us (perhaps all of us) understand that mental health issues exist and surface in so many variations resulting in possible suicides; inappropriate drama; inability to socialize and so many other variables …. one has to work with such people to really grasp their difficulty with functioning in our society. It was not long ago that they could well have been isolated from society for the rest of their life. We have made some progress since then, but still have quite a way to go before mental health conditions are accepted more, and stigmatized less.
    Kudos to you and the “gang” for meeting them where “they are at”. I can imagine the benefits all around are huge. Great work Monika.

    1. Many thanks, Colin. I appreciate your kind words. In a complicated world that continues to prove challenging for the more vulnerable, I hope to continue to be sensitive to the needs of the less fortunate.

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