When the stress of providing mental healthcare gets too much for Simon Daniels, he has some rather unusual coping mechanisms
In any normal everyday situation, when someone is getting on your nerves you can tell them to shut up. In mental health, if a service user comes to you every two minutes and says 'Can I have a Ciggy?', you have to fight the urge to strangle them and say in a firm ‘parent speaking to toddler’ manner: 'Don’t ask me for another cigarette Harold because you’re not due one until half past, ok?'
What you really want to say is 'if you ask for another ******* fag I’ll dice you into neat little squares and feed you to the fish'.
This is the dilemma I face every single day at work when residents exhibit behaviour that annoys, irritates and frustrates the bejasus out of me. Their timing can be impeccable. Only last week I was fielding a call from a stressed relative who had visited their sister the previous day and needed reassuring that the threats of suicide had passed.
Right on cue, Morag comes spinning into the office like an ageing Wonder Woman, complete with weighted handbags, spitting pieces of half chewed sausage. She took out the vase of flowers, two cups of hot coffee and winded me in the lower trouser area. The person on the other end of the phone kept asking me if everything was ok, while I simply squeaked 'I’ll have to ring you back'.
You may laugh, but the accumulative effects of such events can have serious implications. If frustration and anger aren’t dealt with straight away they lie dormant,like sleeping vipers ready to bite you or your spouse in the ass when they’re least expecting it.
Everyone says they have their own coping strategies. Some run into the garden with damson coloured faces to scream expletives at the wind and then return blanched and renewed. I have tried counting to ten, counting to fifty – even purchased a selection of stress busting props such as the infamous rubber house brick and hand springs. The dog half ate half the brick and then buried it. The hand springs gave me RSI and every time I tried to visualise a clear blue lake of calm water someone pulled the plug out.
Ultimately, the only answer is to suck it up and carry on. I choose to write about my experiences, which releases some of the angst and allows me to pile all the fragments of my working life one on top of another until they fill a side of A4. At this point I can breathe a sigh of relief and let them go.
Anyone working in mental health should carry a use by date or have a rigorous assessment when they begin to display worrying psychological symptoms such as inappropriate hysterical laughter or gouging gruesome images into the nurse’s desk.
I have two in-built early warning systems that let me know when I’m straying perilously close to the precipice. The first is my trusted IBS, which sits in my gut like a grumpy grizzly bear waiting to be tipped out of hibernation.
The second is my intermittent iritis that lurks in the background like some know-it-all geek, watching my stress parameters reach melt down so it can rush into the room and shout 'I told you so'.
Occasionally, grizzly and the geek emerge at the same time, which is quite fun to watch. In a straight fist fight the grizzly always wins, but sometimes the geek is able to distract the bear long enough to win the day and turn my one bloodshot eye into a beautiful brace of pain and myopia. C’est la vie.