Real Stories of a (Former) Mental Health Worker

Note: There is this gorgeous law (HIPAA) that prevents me from using real names in this post, and so I will use an asterisk when needed to indicate that names were changed. I will also not use the actual names of the facilities I worked at for similar reasons, because I’m not trying to get sued. I’m a blogger and behavior health technician, not a millionaire.

This month is Mental Health Awareness Month. This post is dedicated to my former co-workers (especially my Resource Team friends) and mental health professionals everywhere.

It’s a rough profession and deserves a lot more respect than it gets. It’s also very rewarding, which is one of the many reasons why I am glad that I chose psychology as my field of work.

A Few Definitions

I know not everyone understands these terms, so here are some definitions to help you out a bit:

Mental Health Technician/Mental Health Worker/Mental Health Associate: these are all pretty much the same, depending on where you work. I’ve been called all three.

1:1: a patient that requiring someone is with them at all times, whether they are asleep or not, sometimes both. This can get very tedious, and sometimes you have to stay within arms’ reach of the patient for safety reasons.

Code: this is not the code you see on TV. This code is for physical backup when things get out of hand, mainly when a patient is being aggressive, destructive or a combo. These are called for a variety of reasons, but these are the two most common ones.

Resource Team- an amazing team of people trained to work on every inpatient unit in a mental health facility. They are responsible for knowing everything about all the units, and they catch hell for messing up. It’s a great team to be a part of because they stick together and you never know what will happen next or where you will be. It’s also very stressful.

Checks/Rounds: ensuring patient safety by visualizing patients every 15 minutes.

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(I’ve seen C.Diff, and it’s ugly, especially in non-verbal kids. YIKES)

Let me set up the story for you…

In June 2007, Spalding University granted me a Bachelor of Arts in Clinical Psychology. Many don’t know this unless you ask, see it in my author bio or on my resume.

It took me five years, a change in major (my first major was in apparel design and merchandising- fancy wording for fashion design), school and two kids, but I finally graduated. I also completed a mandatory 100-hour practicum.

I was not prepared for my first job out of college. I had gotten a job as a Mental Health Technician at *Clear Lake Hospital and I was a bit nervous but ready to start my career.

I started the week after I finished classes. (I walked June 2, but still to finish my last class, which was sheer torture.) I did fine in orientation but was not happy when I found out that I was placed on the geriatric unit.

What?

This facility didn’t let you pick what unit you went to, but I had hoped I wasn’t going to get put on a unit I didn’t like.

I was not thrilled about being placed on this unit, known as the *Willow Tree Unit. I wanted to transfer immediately, but there was a policy preventing me from doing so for 6 months. I decided to wait it out.

Two months into that wait, I discovered that I was pregnant with Lily. My OB/GYN told me that I would be better off where I was because the pregnancy was not an easy one from the beginning.

A different unit would be a faster pace and could result in more issues with my pregnancy. I decided to stay put so that Lily would have a better chance of being okay. I ended up liking the *Willow Tree Unit.

The staff was nice- I was the youngest tech on first shift. Once word got around that I was pregnant, the nurses and other techs took care of me.

One afternoon, my shoes became untied and I couldn’t reach them because my belly was huge. I burst into tears and one of my fellow techs tied them for me. She understood the struggle- she’d been in my spot two years before.

I didn’t get to finish out the pregnancy on that unit- I went into preterm labor at 31 weeks (on Cameron’s 3rd birthday, of all days) and my OB/GYN told me that I would have to stop working or go on light duty, basically a desk job.

I chose the desk job because we needed the money. I went to medical records for all of five weeks or so. The ladies there were nice and began a betting pool on when Lily would show up. Lily shares a birthday with one of the ladies in the office, which everyone found hilarious.

Thanks to Kentucky state budget cuts, the *Willow Tree Unit was closed down while I was on light duty, and when I came back from maternity leave, I was sent to an acute care unit. I was better suited for that unit and stayed there until I left in June 2008 for a counseling position in Indiana.

The Real Fun Begins

In late 2010, I was ready for a new and closer to home position. I found another Mental Health Worker position at *MidRiver Regional Hospital. This time, I was able to pick where I wanted to go, because it was in the application. I would be on the Resource Team. It sounded very interesting and kind of fun.

I was absolutely right. Orientation was a bit boring- but that’s where I met Josh (Jake’s older brother) so I call that a win. I had to shadow for a couple of weeks on each unit- a couple of days with another worker, and then I was unleashed.

The very first day was a day that is forever etched in my mind- I was on *2West, a unit that was then used for kids from 12-18 with autism and other developmental disabilities. It was super loud, wild and some of the kids were way bigger than me.

What did I sign up for?

I took a huge deep breath, looked at my assignment sheet and kept going.

I spent two years on the Resource Team. It was a lot of fun- full of laughs, friends, and a few mishaps. I’ve run after people that eloped, including one that I chased across a busy street along with another worker. The kid ran off at a hospital and we did catch her. I’ve been punched in the head. I even caught a stereo cord to the face.

I was with a 1:1 and the patient was very upset about her Justin Beiber CD was repeatedly skipping. I told her that maybe it was time to try a different activity, and tried to unplug the stereo. She picked it up, then dropped it, and when I went to pick it up, she hit me in the face with the cord.

A code was immediately called and I was taken off the floor. I was taken to the main nursing office to get my face looked at.

I called Matthew to get me from work, and he took me to a nearby hospital- I ended up with three liquid stitches. You can barely see the scar today. I took the next day off because my eye was so swollen that I had a hard time seeing out of it, and let me tell you, tetanus shots are not fun.

As for the patient, she was so upset when she found out what happened to me, she became hysterical. I was one of her favorite staff members. She had to be medicated to calm down. She apologized the next time she saw me.

While I was working at this facility, things were not that great at home. Julian wasn’t diagnosed until late 2011. I was struggling a lot internally with both anxiety and depression. You can read about those events in A Letter to my Anxiety and Depression and Looking At the Bright Side

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I was able to lose myself in my work. I loved being able to help others and work with great people. We had a lot of fun on the good days and on the not so good days, pull together and make things work. That, to me, is the definition of teamwork.

In March 2013, I had a mini-stroke. My neurologist suggested afterward that I needed to start looking for ways to lessen or eliminate stress in my life. By this point, I was ready to leave the Resource Team- it was getting too stressful for me. Some people leave after months, some people stay the entire time they are at the facility.

I started thinking about which unit would be a good fit. I was pretty much done with adults- that was where the bulk of my work had been, and I needed something different. I had realized that I really enjoyed the kids on *2West and the staff was great.

I’d volunteer to go there when other people didn’t want to go- it was a rough unit. I didn’t really enjoy cleaning poop off walls (who does? I can’t make this up, it really happens) but it had become my favorite unit.

It took a few months of waiting, but a position opened up. By then, I had met Jake, and that was his home unit. I applied, interviewed and got the full-time Mental Health Associate position. My Resource Team friends were sad to see me go (my friend Scott begged me not to go), but they were not surprised to hear where I was going.

It turns out that going to *2West was the best career move I’ve ever made. I loved it.

Those kids were not always the easiest to work with- I’ve been kicked in the eye, had my hair pulled out in clumps, broken my big left toe twice and in the same way. It still doesn’t bend correctly. I’ve seen all kinds of naked kids. I’ve left work scratched and bruised from multiple holds. I’ve gotten sick from these kids- strep throat can go through 20 kids fast.

I also learned a lot- how to sign (some), how to learn about a kid even when they are non-verbal. I learned that some families are worse than you can imagine and even the ones that look great are horrible.

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Autism is not seen as often in girls, but when it is, it tends to be severe. One of my favorite kids was a tall, thin girl named *Michelle. She was a runner and I got lots of exercise running after her in the halls. She was also non-verbal but showed her feelings by squeezing your hands.

She squeezed my hands every day to say “hello” and “goodbye” but if she was angry, she would pull on your arms while squeezing your hands. She was so much fun to work with. When she left, she bent down to hug me goodbye, and both *Claire (her behavior analyst) and I cried. That’s a very unusual thing.

Taylor Swift sing-a-longs were a regular thing and so were movie days on the weekends. We tried to make things as fun as we could for the kids. We took them outside and let them play as much as they were able to on the playground. We got the kids out of bed, fed them, got them through their days and back into bed- for some of them, we were more of a family to them than their own.

*Mason was a kid who saw us exactly like that. I met him while doing checks and he was in the shower singing “Baby Got Back”. He was hilarious, and once beatboxed to me about needing toothpaste.

However, he came from a family that didn’t treat him well, which contributed to some of the reasons he came to the facility. Once, I was planning an outing with another associate, and he asked us to take him and the other patients to a strip club. That did not happen, but we laughed hysterically after he left the room.

These kids were so funny, smart in their own way. I couldn’t have asked for better co-workers. Some days entirely sucked, but it was still a fun adventure.

My last day there was September 2, 2015. I left after being told about Jake’s death, and I came back two days later to get my things and leave my nurse manager a note telling her I wouldn’t be back.

I couldn’t write this post without mentioning Jake, Austin, Scott (not the one mentioned earlier), Cisco or Colleen. I lost these co-workers while working with them or after and each loss was a bad one. They left behind families that loved them and patients that they touched. They worked hard (Cisco got electrocuted trying to keep a patient safe) and had a lot of love for their patients.

I’m retired from this line of work- thanks to my RA diagnosis. My rheumatologist would go ballistic. I am left with so many memories and friends. That’s what work and life are all about.

All pics are my personal pics except for one pin on my Pinterest board. Pinterest

My Blog is in the Terrible Twos

Happy Second Birthday, ShortstackBlogs!!

Two years ago today, I launched this blog.

If you’ve read any of my posts or supported me in any way, thanks!

Quite The Adventure

I’ve written a lot with a few breaks- putting down our dog, Tiger, RA flares, a trip to Kansas and of course, the joys of a medication allergy that took me out for a week.

My views are up- almost 7,400 so far this year. Not bad! Feel free to share any of my posts with a friend.

I’m currently working on blog post ideas for the next few months, which is one of my favorite parts of running the blog.

I still have plans to release an autism-related e-book. It’s been sitting for a while as a handwritten draft due to my kids being on summer break. As of this post, there are 12 days before school starts, so when they go back, I will finish it.

I also plan to redo the mental health e-book. I want to put it on a different platform.

Better Things Are Ahead

I try to stay positive as much as possible but not to an unrealistic point.

I’m still working with Savannah at The Modern Mr. and Mrs. and am looking at other places to expand my writing. This isn’t always easy but the challenge probably makes me a better writer.

I’m looking at tips on how to be a better writer. I think there’s always room for improvement so I like to look at my not-so-great areas and see what I can do to change them.

I’m not here to totally bash myself! I have done some pretty cool things over the past two years with this blog:

  • Collabs with other bloggers
  • Built great Facebook and Instagram pages
  • Covered some interesting topics
  • Spoken out about my own issues

Just to name a few. I’m not sure where the next year will take this blog, or me, but I’m hoping it’ll be great!

Teens and Privacy: Where Do You Draw The Line?

The Challenges of Social Media

Teens are a challenge and a half. I’m just wandering into the pool of those challenges- most of them weren’t even on my radar until recently.

Everyone needs privacy. We need our space from others, physically and emotionally. We need our own space to grow and express thoughts. Teens need this for many reasons, one of the biggest reasons being that they are trying to figure themselves out. Remember how hard that was? Yikes.

Resist the urge to hover- this may lead to your child hiding things from you and/or lying. This can lead to worse things that you anticipated.

What Our Parents Didn’t Worry About

In the age of technology, privacy can get a bit worrisome. Parents have a lot more to worry about now than our parents did. We have to worry about Instagram and other social site pictures being too revealing and suggestive.

We have to worry about our kids being bullied because that ends tragically far too often. We worry about our kids being targeted while they play video games. These are just a few things that our parents never had to think about.

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Talking to Your Children

Opening up a conversation about privacy can be a bit awkward. It’s hard to start the conversation without being weird- you may have to look for an opening.

Do you already have an open relationship with your child? If you do, this may be a bit easier. If not, you may have to do a little more work to ease into it.

Go to my Freebie Page and find some helpful tips for talking to your kids. They require careful steps but in the end, everyone will be glad for the talk. The teenage years can get pretty awkward and a bit scary. Kids need to know they can talk to their parents about anything, including things that go on in the electronic world.

What if my child won’t talk or let me see what I ask for?

This is a rough one. Some kids aren’t talkers. I’ve got a couple. I’m not saying just let the quieter kids be- because they still need to know the importance of opening up and respecting this request. Losing their privilege can be a huge incentive to give you the information you want.

Assure your child that they can come to you if they are scared. That may be all they need.

There are some great apps for keeping an eye on what your kids do online- I use Net Nanny and it is super simple. It’s free and sends me a weekly summary of anything blocked or warned due to something the kids shouldn’t have looked up or sites they don’t need to be on. They also know about this and that they will lose all privileges if I get anything from this page.

As of this post, nothing has ever popped up in the whole time I have had this installed. We share a YouTube account and I can see everything they look up on Google. Some parents I know require their kids to charge devices together in one room after a certain time, access to devices (including phones) at any time they request it, or a little bit of both.

As of now, one of my kids has a phone, and it’s highly monitored. The tablets haven’t been much of a challenge so far.

I’m not a fan of breaking and entering into your child’s room. I don’t recommend this at all, except in one condition. That condition is if you are certain your child is in imminent danger and/or there is illegal activity involved. By all means, break down the door and go for it. This also applies for self-harm and other mental health reasons.

I’m hoping that I never have to sneak in my kids’ room and go through their things. I hope we are able to talk through things and come to a solution first.

What are your thoughts?


Book Review: “Fall to Pieces”

I love to read memoirs. For some reason, I really enjoy reading memoirs of those with addiction, and this was before my drinking became a problem. I’ve read “Life” by Keith Richards, which was fantastic but took three weeks because it’s over 500 pages.

I’ve also read Nikki Sixx’s book, “The Heroin Diaries”. It was a bit wild, but still very interesting. I’m just waiting for a member of Fleetwood Mac to come out with their memoirs. If anyone knows of one, please let me know.

I”ve read “Fall to Pieces” before, but it was a bit different re-reading it this time. This book was written by Mary Forsberg Weiland, the first wife of Scott Weiland.

He was the lead singer for Stone Temple Pilots, one of the best rock bands of the 90s. If you’re too young to know who this band is, you might want to go on YouTube. They were a great band. Scott died in December 2015, unfortunately from an overdose.

Book cover

The book opens with a very descriptive explanation of her childhood in California, a bit in New Jersey after her mom’s remarriage and, of course, when she met Scott.

Mary also became a model while moving around and became quite successful while still a teen. She also met her best friends during this time. She became friends with Anthony Kiedis, lead singer of Red Hot Chili Peppers. They have remained friends for many years.

It wasn’t until I read Scar Tissue, his autobiography, that I understood all the while Anthony was being my true friend, his own soul was being badly shaken.”

This stood out. We don’t always know what our friends are going through, much less anyone else. People hide things but still make things look at least bearable. I’ve been there for my friends through their own issues but yet struggling through my own.

The story of her relationship and later, marriage, with Scott, is so well detailed. She tells of the good, bad and in between. They were together off and on nearly a decade before marrying, and they had two kids together- a daughter and a son.

During this time, Mary drank and used a lot of substances. She knew it wasn’t the best way to live, but it took multiple attempts to finally stop using.

Mary also has had a long battle with bipolar disorder, possibly beginning when she was a teen. It’s hard for her or anyone else to know. She wasn’t diagnosed until well into adulthood, and this is well documented in the book. She struggled to accept this diagnosis along with being an addict.

Many people with either issue do. I will say she is being treated and is sober, but I won’t spoil the ending for you on how she got there.

Mary shared a quote from a community college class:

“In recovery, we look for progress, not perfection.”

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This is very accurate. Nobody is perfect, and anyone recovering from any kind of addiction certainly isn’t. Progress is what counts the most. It is not close to easy, and anyone who tells you it is- they are not entirely correct.

One of my best friends, Tyson, once asked me if I was okay while sitting at dinner and the talk to turned to beer for a while. I wasn’t a fan of beer to begin with, and he knows this, but he was making sure I wasn’t thinking about having a drink.

I wasn’t, but I am very grateful that he asked. It took a year before I could even go into a sports bar. “One day at a time” is the best quote I have ever heard that applies to recovery.

As many of us know, Scott and Mary did not work out (the section about the end of their marriage is a sad one) but they were able to co-parent, at least as of the writing of this book. I’m one of the millions of fans that were saddened to hear of Scott’s death. He was incredibly talented, like many others, but yet, he had an addiction that he was never quite able to end.

Pic courtesy of Google

5 Facts About SVT

Parenting is challenging. Sometimes we are given those challenges out of nowhere. Cameron has been my “easiest” kid so far but yet gave us the biggest scare.

A Bit Of Background

Cameron was diagnosed with SVT in June 2015. This was discussed a bit in The Hardest Parts of Parenting

His diagnosis came after a game of basketball that led to an ER trip and scaring everyone in his elementary school in the process. Heart issues are very common in both Matthew and my families.

Cameron has been back to the hospital a few times since, due to more (smaller) episodes and for a small procedure to stop the episodes in 2017.

Due to some small episodes, he has had to be on a heart monitor for a month twice. I yelled at different customer service people over shipping complications with the stickers both times.

Mama Bear does make appearances from time to time, everyone. I try to be a nice person but when you mess with my son’s health…

Luckily, we live near a hospital that is amazing and Cameron has a cardiologist that spent his many years in school learning how to take care of kid-sized hearts.

The monitor came off both times without any issues being noted. He only goes back if anything comes up and as of yet, nothing. I will karate chop anyone, however, that even thinks of giving him anything caffeinated.

This includes energy drinks- no Monster drinks at this house. He currently takes two medications for migraines. One helps with his heart, so we consider it a two-for-one. The other is just for migraines.

Hospital pic

What IS SVT? Five facts

The last time I talked about this, I either said to Google it (because Google knows all) or I left a link, but this time, I’ll educate.

I decided on this because one of my greatest nightmares with Cameron is him collapsing during a basketball game and dying like I’ve seen numerous times on the news.

Most kids that die in that way during a sports game had a previously undiagnosed heart condition- either Long QT syndrome or sometimes SVT. Please bear with me, everyone, I’m not a cardiologist.

  1. SVT is an abbreviation for supraventricular tachycardia

This means that the electrical system in your heart works incorrectly, which can lead to an irregular heartbeat, chest pain, and in some cases, loss of consciousness. In Cameron’s case, he passed out in his first episode because his blood pressure dropped. His school immediately called me and an ambulance.

I couldn’t make it to the school in time, so the principal rode to the hospital with him, where I met them. In his second and more severe episode, he didn’t pass out, but he couldn’t walk and I had to get a wheelchair because I couldn’t carry his 12-year-old self in. I did make him stay awake in the car. He was in the hospital for four days that time.

The last few episodes weren’t as serious- but still not fun.

2. SVT can happen at any time, but episodes can happen years apart or never again.

I didn’t like hearing this part at all. It scared the hell out of me. I was afraid to let Cameron do anything for a while after his diagnosis because I was scared it might trigger an episode but he’s got to live his life, right?

He went from June 2015 to March 2017 between episodes before his procedure. That’s not bad. He’s had a few small ones since the procedure but nothing that required hospitalization.

3. There are some known triggers, but then it can also happen while you’re doing nothing or can wake you up from sleep.

Cameron has had smaller episodes during migraines, which is why he is now on medication for both.

He is also not allowed to drink caffeine except for small amounts if he needs it during a migraine, and he stays well hydrated during the summer. That seemed to trigger both episodes. The last episode was triggered by Ultimate Frisbee in gym class and I think he may have been overheated.

4. SVT can stop on its own sometimes requires action to slow the heart rate.

During one of Cameron’s episodes, his heart rate was well over 200 and I was petrified. I had to stand in the hallway, peeking through the curtain as the nurses and doctors worked on him.

There are small maneuvers that you can do on your own, like blowing through a straw or blowing on your thumb, but sometimes those aren’t effective. In the ER, most patients are given medications through IV.

Cameron had to be given medication three times before being transferred to a downtown hospital, where he was in the ICU for three days before spending a fourth in a regular room.

5. There is a procedure that can stop SVT.

Cameron was eligible for an ablation. His two episodes were severe enough that his cardiologist suggested it as soon as he went into the ICU. Cameron was awake but sedated, and his cardiologist went into his heart, found the tissue that was causing the bad heartbeat and burnt it.

Cameron stayed overnight and was home the next day. He missed a couple of weeks of gym class, but I don’t think he minded that very much. It has a high success rate, but Matthew and I were both very scared something would go bad.

I mean, it is small heart surgery. It went well, and Cameron is an active kid. He can play all the basketball he wants.

SVT can be a scary condition. I still worry when Cameron is outside playing with his friends or at school- his school is well informed. He knows what to do if his chest starts hurting and so does everyone that he spends time with. If you want more information on this condition please go here.