I am a planner. I was the kind of college student who started studying for final exams one month in advance. When I make a decision today, I am already thinking about how it will affect me ten years from now.
As a care coordinator for Starting Point Behavioral Healthcare, I have learned to set aside my desire for order and certainty. Many of my clients are struggling to get by from day to day, and I have had to adapt to their perspective so that we can collaborate on getting them treatment.
For example, James* has experienced several ups and downs over the past four months. He is without a home or employment and has few social supports. James copes with his situation by drinking alcohol, which has led to a number of head injuries since I’ve met him. Even if the head injury is traumatic, he leaves the hospital against medical advice. Because of his mental illness, he often has run-ins with the law and is frequently in jail.
Watching James experience injuries and illness has often made me feel helpless. I encouraged him to return to the hospital, to take his medication, and to detox from alcohol. Initially, he was fiercely independent and insisted on not getting help, though he wanted me to continue checking on him. After weeks of providing encouragement, I worried that my efforts with James were futile. I was in contact with him every single day without seeing any difference.
Three months in, I received a surprising call from him. He wanted to detox from alcohol and go to the hospital to have his head checked out. I couldn’t stop smiling. The past three months had mattered. It was because I had spent that time developing James’s trust that he had come to me when he was finally ready to make a change.
However, there was still more to do. James went to the detox center twice and was turned away both times. The first time he was too intoxicated, and the second he was vomiting blood. He was deferred to the hospital and asked to wait for a bed at a rehabilitation program. In the meantime, James took to drinking again. I am doing my best to get him involved in therapy for his substance use, because he says that he still wants to make a change.
As I continue to accompany James through his peaks and valleys, I am learning to manage the stress that I feel when a new obstacle appears. My supervisor and colleagues have helped me to address these challenges, and over time, I have come to accept the fact that I cannot always plan ahead. Sometimes it feels like I am in a blizzard, unable to see what is in front of me. Swallowed up in the roaring wind, I wonder if I will ever reach my destination. When the snow clears, I am often surprised to find that I was going in the right direction the whole time. All I have to do is continue forward.
*Name changed for client privacy.