20 May, 2012

The Suicide Suck

(If reading this post makes you think you need to be worried about me, please read it again. I am just being honest about a possibility that exists for a lot of people.)

Death can feel like gravity. It can feel like you're killing time, but not waiting for anything. I've been going a long time without the Suicide Suck and it's a really nice feeling.

Maybe it's easier to blame something. Maybe it's easier to blame myself. The truth is I guess both things. I have a tender belly. I guess it's possible I got this way from too frequent wounding when I was a kid, that instead of toughening up I ended up constantly hanging on strings, but I might just have been born tender. The social justice movement to help me would just involve encouraging people to protect the tender-bellied among them. There's no obvious injustice that has caused every Suicide Suck of my life, but that doesn't mean that each one isn't a response to my environment.

It's weird because even though it appears for specific reasons, the reasons are different every time. The Suck is actually faceless, but it always looks like something. It's only lately that I realized there was only one lion, or rather, anti-lion.

Oh Suicide Suck. Maybe you will be the death of me, and it's weird to be thinking this in a completely Suck-free zone, at least a month's insulation between now and the last time I was in one. I feel so good. I mean plenty of the time I feel tired or angry, but normal-style, not the Suck, which is this kind of raging tearfulness bubbling up behind my eyes and advising me how to get rid of it.

But it will be back and I guess one time might be the last time and that's not so bad. We all have to go somehow and if my way is that way it doesn't negate everything that came before. After all fighting to live is a different kind of fight, because you only have to lose once. Adults who commit suicide have often spent years refusing to do so. It makes me mad that successful people who kill themselves end up being defined by killing themselves instead of the fact that they were able to become successful while wanting to kill themselves. If I ever get Sucked I want people to know that I had a chronic illness that was part of my personality but that the last minute of my life wasn't who I am.

03 May, 2012

    Sorry to just write about my job. But I have to admit I don’t have time to think about being disabled, but I am the enemy and I guess writing about my time as the enemy can possibly be educational to others. I feel really screwed as a support worker who wants to do ethical work but also is a non-driver, because the less institutional a setting is, the more likely they are to only hire people who drive. But I am still finding myself thinking that when I move in a few months, I’ll do anything to work somewhere that’s not an institution, I don’t care what it takes.

    Caregiver burnout is seriously the weirdest idea I’ve ever heard of, since I’ve never in my life had a staff job where the people I supported (all supposedly “heavy” populations to work with) have actually been difficult. I mean, there has been a very small minority of people who are tough to work with for different reasons, but probably less than in the general population. 99% of stress in my staff jobs has always come from being asked to perform contradictory tasks, or being asked to do things that I think are wrong. The stress always comes from cutting corners and compromising, being afraid that the thing I skipped to get something else done will turn out to be really important, or being guilty because either I did something that I know was wrong, or I did something that someone else might think is wrong. If I’m stressed about something related to the people I support, it is usually because I know I’m starting to see them with less ordinary human compassion. They’re becoming pipes.

    But really I just want to tell you about some advice I got the other week.


    I used to work 8-hour shifts (11 pm to 7 am). I’m really glad I started out that way, because a night shift is definitely the most mellow it ever gets at the place I work. For the last hour or two of the shift you are helping people get dressed and showered, but until then, the job basically consists of helping someone if they wake up and want to go to the bathroom, and doing things like emptying catheter bags which you can do on your own schedule.

    Last month I started working 12-hour shifts (7 pm to 7 am) which means that the first four hours of my shift are about ten times busier than I’m used to. If the person who worked 3 pm to 7 pm got a fair amount of work done, I have to put maybe 10 people in bed in 3 or 4 hours, which is fine. Other times I have 14 people, which doesn’t work out for me so well.

    Two weeks ago, one of the night nurses showed up for work at 11 and noticed that I still had one resident left to put in bed. The nurse--let’s call her Anna--is a few years older than me and maybe six years ago, before she was a nurse, she worked here as an aide. It was her first job as an aide, just like me.

    Anna approached me later that night and said, “I noticed that someone was still up when I got here. You should really have everyone in bed by ten.”

    I tried to say that I’ve had trouble putting people to bed fast because I don’t have much experience working with these residents in the daytime and I don’t know what kind of lifts they need, or even things like if they have dentures. I tried to ask for a guideline on how many residents I should put to bed in an hour.

    Instead she suggested that I start at the top of the hall and put the residents of the first room to bed first. If I continued in that order, she said, I would be able to get things done faster. She started to do an impression of how she used to talk to residents when she first started working: “‘Hi, I’m Anna, I’ll be your aide tonight. Would you like to go to bed? Well, what time would you like to go to bed? Okay, I’ll come back then.’ And I would be on my hall at 10:30 wondering why everyone else was finished. You have to have a way of doing things and do it in that order.”

    “I guess some people will always say they don’t want to go to bed, if you ask them,” I said.

    “That’s right. And other people will be sitting in their doors calling, ‘Honey, put me to bed.’ But you have a lot to do, and they understand that. So just get in there and start at the top of the hall and go to the end. I bet by the time I see you next week you’ll be a pro.”

    I have my own thoughts about the content of what she was saying, but my main reaction in the moment was that it was nice of Anna to offer me advice, and that she had done a good job presenting that advice in a way that didn’t make me feel like there was something wrong with me. When she came back on the hall later, I thanked her for what she had said.

    Now she said, “I know it’s hard, because in your aide class, they tell you to ask everyone what they want. And you’re a sweet person--don’t change that--but you have a lot to do.”


    Despite all the obviously messed up things about support work it is hard for me to imagine doing a different kind of work, because the people I end up supporting almost always turn out to be really great. Or maybe it’s just the kind of relationship fostered by that work, that I end up seeing the best side of people. Either way it is a job where all the big frustrations end up being totally made up for by mundane details.

    The more I like my residents though the more I just wish I was working for them. I want to do what they want, not put them where someone else decided they should be at a certain time. This is such an obvious aspect of institutional settings that I wouldn’t even say it is what this post is about, although if you have not worked or lived in a nursing home, I guess now you know more about it. (This blog explains things a lot better than I could.)

    Anyway, what struck me about Anna’s advice isn’t that you’re not really supposed to ask people what they want. I have been learning that since the first day my State Tested Nurse Aide class ventured out of our classroom and into clinicals at a nearby nursing home. At the end of clinicals, my classmates talked while we were filling out the sheet of skills we had practiced--brushing teeth, changing diapers, passing trays. Everyone noticed that unlike our role-plays in class, which we always started by asking the imaginary resident what she wanted, in clinicals we were expected to do as many skills as we could unless the resident actually yelled at us and fought us (and even then we were supposed to give it a good try.)

    The thing is though that when my classmates noticed this, they just thought it was the difference between official standards and the way things work in real life, like it's easier not to lift people in the way that is officially supposed to be better for your back. They weren’t upset that we were supposed to be coercing people into doing things they didn’t want.

    This is also what struck me about what Anna said to me. She felt like if I was just exposed to the idea of not asking people what they want, I could just start doing it. She assumed that I was asking people what they wanted because it’s what I had learned in class, or because I was “sweet”--that it was a habit that came with my temperament, like saying please and thank you. It didn’t occur to her that I might be making an informed choice because I thought it was the right thing to do.

    I didn’t finish How Indistinguishability Got Its Groove Back and I don’t know if I will.  But this kind of ties into it. Basically I feel that most people who work with vulnerable populations, and/or people with disabilities, don’t seem to come into their job with a sense of ethics or power dynamics or the potential for abuse, and no one works to instill it in them. This doesn’t mean that most people in these jobs are awful people or that they commit a lot of abuse, but I think that there would be a lot less abuse and people with disabilities would have better lives if someone just thought these ideas were important.

02 May, 2012


This is a little boring but it does remind me of the overused simile where you feel like you are plunged into ice water. I was at work around midnight, with a resident I really like. Actually the first time I met her I sneakily teared up because she shares a name with my dead grandma, who I remember as a bastion of hyperfemininity and unconditional love. She also just reminded me of her even though she's more snarky. She has a drawling way of talking and moving which you could probably diagnose or not but I think of it as a style. She is always interesting to talk to and encourages me when the steady lift refuses to roll over her oxygen tubes or the cord for the bed remote.

After we got back from the bathroom and I ran over the tubes and cords, I picked her legs up and put them in bed. I aspire to someday do this in a way that doesn't hurt her bad leg, but if there is a way, I haven't learned it yet.

Her: Oh my God.

Me: I'm sorry!

Her: No, I'm sorry...for having feet.

Me: You're sorry for having feet?

Her: For having big feet.

Me: I'd be more sorry if you didn't have feet.

Her: Oh, God. That's one blessing I have.

(At this point I was expecting a joke about being blessed with big feet.)

"All the children were normal," she said. I sort of froze and, after a characteristic pause, she continued, "All the money and time that goes toward an invalid..."

I don't think I said anything else before I left. Maybe I said, "Yeah, well," which is the best response because maybe it leaves room for everything I could want to say. Anyway I had the ice bucket feeling.

At three she put on her light to go the bathroom. I actually felt nervous about what it would be like to talk to her, someone I had always looked forward to talking to before. Once I got her in the bathroom I crouched on the floor because my legs had hit the feeling where they feel like some other appendage that I'm using as legs by mistake. I closed my eyes but weirdly I almost felt afraid of doing this in front of her now as if I didn't want her to see my weakness.

She asked how I could sit like that so early in the morning; she didn't think she could. She had dreamed she went hiking with her daughter in Big Sur, where she has never been. After a while I wondered if she had fallen asleep in the bathroom and if I should try and wake her up.

"How is the bathroom stuff going?" I asked. She couldn't understand me the first time (this is not because she is old; I'm not the best conversation partner for anyone who has the mildest hearing or processing problems in the world). When she understood the question she thought about it and said, "Slow...like me," with a crooked smile. I realized one of the things I most admire about her is the grace of her slowness.