Mael Dinnell’s Story
It started with a whisper.
Soon intrusive voices were yelling at me. “You deserved every bit of it.” I was scared to go into the shower. People were shouting at me from cars and bikes: “We’ll get you!”
Naturally I became nervous, vigilant, and antsy. I didn’t want to go to the hospital or local crisis house facility. The other step-down facilities were available only as board-and-care.
I needed an infusion of community and a situation in which I could “reality check” as much as I needed to. 2nd Story Respite House in Santa Cruz was new—2 months old—and as a mental health facility broke free of the ancient paradigm of provider, client, and the impassable boundary between them. The staff was trained in Intentional Peer Support, or IPS, and trauma intervention. The facility is based on the new and largely unexplored idea that peers can best help peers—not as a substitute for provider-oriented hierarchy, but as a complement to it.
I had done a pre-interview as a member of County Services, was a longtime county client, and was not homeless; I had met all the criteria and interviewed with the manager, Rigel Flaherty. I had actually been there once for 4 days but left in a flurry of disagreement I had caused over wanting my service pet with me.
Now I was prepared to primarily deal with what I needed: real people.
I knew several people and didn’t know others. My roommate was very familiar to me as a casual friend and a client in the mental health facility where I worked. I spent a lot of my time reading: My Lobotomy by Howard Dully, Anatomy of an Epidemic by Robert Whitaker, Unloved, The Lobotomist (yes, about the doctor who performed Dully’s lobotomy when he was 14), Animals in Translation, and a strange history of the Scots.
Each staff member, like each guest, has his or her own flavor and style, and the house is very nicely furnished with everything from comforting comforters on the beds to musical instruments, and no end to the amount and types of nutritious food (part of any good recovery).
I was starving for foods rich in nutrition; I took advantage of the selections of cheese, fruit, vegetables, and soy products.( I don’t eat anything that ever had a face on it, but yes I do kill cockroaches and fleas.)
Something else that was rich was the interaction with my peers, both staff and other guests. I was free to ask if something I heard or saw had been heard or seen by others; I was free to lie or sit quietly or talk to my voices or about them and know the experience was a familiar one, not a foreign one, to any person I shared with. I knew that everything I mentioned, from 5150 to putting jagged glass on my windowsill to keep out guys that crawl up the walls, was understood. It was a relief to be supported and consoled by my own community and a pleasure not to be patronized or looked at as a patient, who is somehow less than the provider s/he is dealing with.
One’s medication is handled by the best person to do so—the guest. From Sacred Circle to yoga and art supplies, there is the opportunity to commune and also to spend as much time as you want in reflection, deep thinking, or interaction with the staff (and other guests).
According to my dictionary respite means “brief and temporary” but this newcomer in the array of available treatments, and its offering of unconditional acceptance, can have a deep and permanent healing effect. In any case it is another choice for people who suffer the affliction of “mental illness” or “emotional disorders” and see themselves heading towards an acute episode. The choices in the past have been limited to partial or whole hospitalization, or silence in order to avoid just that. Part of recovery and growing strong is making choices, and the more options we have the better choices we can make.