The wounded healer interview series features people who’ve dealt with significant mental health challenges, and who also work in a helping role to support the mental health of others.
This interview is with Meg of Where Good Advice Happens.
1) Tell us a bit about you, the helping field you’re in, and the mental health challenges you’ve faced.
Hi there! I’m schizophrenic and bipolar (schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type) and obsessive (pure-O from OCD), all by diagnosis. I’ve also been diagnosed as having tiredness, for which I take an alertness aid. Undiagnosed, I’d guess I have PTSD of some form, and I sometimes have extreme dissociative tendencies.
I’m currently disabled due to those health issues, but in the past, I’ve worked at residential treatment facilities for abused and mentally ill children and teenagers. I’ve also worked with male sex offenders, aged 11 to 18. Those kids tried so hard to overcome their issues, and it was heartbreaking to see that some of them were prepubescent but had already done to younger children what was done to them.
2) What made you decide to go into your helping field? Did your mental health challenges play a role?
Yeah, I wanted to help because I was abused as a child and it just makes sense to me. I have an overabundance of compassion for abused kids, and I want to help any which way I can. It’s hard for me that I’m disabled and can’t offer much to abused kids. I wish I could give more of myself. I’ve been toying with going back to work as a reading teacher, and although that’s a very helpful job, it’s not as helpful; but I suppose I shouldn’t minimize any way I can give. I just really get it—having abusive parents. As a teenager, I wound up in mental hospitals several times. Not long-care facilities like the ones I’ve worked at, but short-term treatment centers. My narcissistic mother recently told me, “Those weren’t mental hospitals. They were behavioral health centers, because you were badly behaved!” Meet my mother, ladies and gentlemen. Take a bow, Mom.
3) How have your own mental health challenges influenced the helping work you do?
I just really understand and empathize with any kid whose parents are abusive. It’s something I can relate to, and it’s an area of compassion within me that steps outside the normal bounds of my paranoia. For example, I often don’t feel compassion for adults, because if I’m out in public, my paranoia will prevent it. But my high compassion level for kids has broken past my paranoia and is all-present. So, like, if I see a kid with their parent in front of me in line somewhere, I’ll give the kid a friendly smile despite my paranoia walls. (I never do that with adults.)
4) Do you think you’re a more effective helper because of your own mental health challenges? How so?
Unfortunately, no. I think the best people to work in residential treatment facilities are people who have a lot of extroversion, social energy, management abilities, etc. I have compassion, but that compassion isn’t enough to make me good at the job. There needs to be a balance between the compassion and the extroverted qualities required, and I’m not there.
5) Have you chosen to share your own mental health challenges with any of your patients/clients? What influenced that choice?
I did once. I was working with an eleven-year-old little girl who had nightmares every night. I told her that when I was a kid, I’d think this before falling asleep: “Dear God, please protect my house from fire, and please protect all my friends’ and relatives’ houses from fire, amen. Brain, don’t let me have any bad dreams about fire.” But the little girl said, “That stuff doesn’t work! It’s silly!” And I felt bad for her, because she must’ve been hurt more than I was. I had no idea how to help her at that point.
In a broad sense, I never shared with the kids, just because it needs to be about them. They’d all been through more hell than I had, which flows logically from the fact that I was in short-term care at times, but they were in long-term care. It’s hard for me to imagine what they’d been through, and scary to think of. (I read their files, and that was… terrifying. But it all just skimmed the surface, in my opinion.)
There was another little girl who was around thirteen, and I couldn’t wake her up for school one morning. Desperate, I finally nudged her shoulder, and she swung her arm at me blindly (she was facing the wall) and broke my eyeglasses by bending the frames beyond repair. It freaked me out because I was afraid that I’d never find eyeglasses I like again. Unable to deal with the situation because it’s not in me to force a kid out of bed, I called for backup, and a man from the neighboring unit dragged her away, kicking and screaming. When he returned her to me later, she was fit to be tied. She wanted to go to school on the bus, but I told her she wasn’t allowed and to stay in her room. She wasn’t happy with that arrangement, so she tried to bite me. I should mention that I’m terrible at physical restraint, but I can still remember her teeth trying to come at my bicep. I got her in her room and closed her in there. Shortly after, there was a shift change.
A few days later, that girl kept looking at me and bursting into tears. Some of the other girls on the unit told me that one of my coworkers had told this girl that I’d quit my job because of her. In reality, I’d given my two-weeks’ notice before the incident occurred. (I didn’t have the energy for the work, and they kept demanding that I work double shifts and all shifts, etc.) So I pulled her aside and told her as much, and she seemed so relieved. I told her I wasn’t mad at her at all, and that I understood. And that it’s my job to help her manage her behavior. On my last day, she was sad that I was leaving. I guess that’s good karma for me, even though I was truly terrible at the job overall. I just don’t have any energy for it!
6) What advice would you give to someone who has faced mental illness or other mental health challenges and is thinking about entering your helping field?
You must have energy. Lots and lots of energy. More energy than you ever thought possible. If you’re fatigued or extremely introverted or sensitive, you’ll find the job very difficult. But if you’re extroverted and energetic, it’ll be the greatest thing you can do.
You can find Meg on her blog Where Good Advice Happens.
Thanks so much Meg for sharing with us!
I decided to start the wounded healers interview series to showcase the contributions that people from within the mental illness community have made to help others living with mental illness. I’m looking to interview people who:
- have lived experience of mental illness or other significant mental health challenges;
- are willing to share the impact of those experiences on their helping work; AND
- are working (or have worked) in a helping role supporting people with mental health challenges, either as mental health professionals or wellness-promoting roles (e.g. coaches) – students and retired helpers are welcome too
If you’re interested in doing an interview, email me at mentalhealthathome (at) gmail (dot) com. Let me know how you are a wounded healer, and I’ll send you the interview questions.