I received a call today in the middle of another meeting from a client whom I have been focusing my attention on almost succinctly for the past two weeks. She was hysterical, to a point where I wondered if she was going to do harm to herself. Ruth and I had met originally to complete a social assessment and her application for a disability certification herself and from there, many other issues sprang forward. This happens a lot which makes these applications take much longer than they are supposed to (God help me if I am asked to justify my time.....though I know one day a number crunching bureaucrat is going to ask to me document my time..........well, we'll deal with that when we get to it.........). During our initial meeting, which by the way took almost a year to orchestrate because of numerous hospitalizations and near misses when I had arranged for a home visit and she would'nt be there for whatever reason, I learned of her living environment as well as her health issues. From there, we have been working together to get her moved out of a place that not only needs to be condemned but had added much to her illnesses.
Ruth has a long list of diagnoses...........Hep C, chronic drug addiction (she's now in the Methadone program, clean of street drugs after many years of living on the streets surrounding herself in drug people......including her own father) a necrotizing thing on her torso brought on by the nastiness of her rooming house, arthritis, chronic pain, emotional instability and anxiety, depression, and a whole wallop of paranoia. On top of all of that, her life story which is strewn with abuse and confinement is one of the most harrowing and stomach churning existances I have heard of. She is tired and almost beaten down, but miraculously has a sliver of hope as she makes an attempt to get her life on track for the first time ever.
Unbeknownst to Ruth, I had made a few attempts to talk with the case worker about this particular client as a way to offer up some insights which I had hoped would allow the case worker a chance to look at the client from different eyes. She is notoriously unhelpful despite the attempts of many colleagues to shake some empathy into her bones. Though I did receive the look, which is often flashed at me.......the look that says..........."you don't know what you're talking about because you're a Pollyanna. Looks like the client has pulled the wool over your eyes again," which of course bites right into one of my personal trigger points..........the desire to be believed or something...... SO............ I knew that my descriptions or what i considered insights were being flushed away by a non-believer in the potential of human beings. I tried, but I would've been more effective banging my head against a brick wall....or hers. yes, I was tempted.
This particular case worker is in a league of her own. Though there are some who are untrusting and lacksadaisical......(and thank God most are wonderfully warm and accepting and will go to great lengths to assist someone in need) .....this one is judgemental, rude and hides behind the machinations of policy. Interestingly, she rose from dire poverty herself, which blows my mind that someone could be so callous when they have grown up not knowing if there would be something on the table for dinner, experiencing the bitter cold of outside toilets in January, or no clean running water. Sure, I get it. She's an angry obnoxious person who will never do a bit of navel gazing, who would never admit that she has never forgiven her parents for her circumstances. I work with many colleagues who have spent time on the other side of the desk, either as a child on welfare or as a single parent left without financial resources. Most take their experiences and grow into dedicated heart bursting frontline workers with scores of empathy. Others? They choose the other angry path, use displacement as their method of dispersal and hurt others as a neurotic attempt to feel better. Yeah, Freud would have a heyday with this scenario.......
What happened to Ruth today took the cake. In order to move into a new secure and clean apartment, Ruth has been doing her best to jump through the myriad of hoops placed in front of her. Her life is a disorganized mess......of living day to day trying to find her health again for the most part.....of seeking a new life away from the streets, away from the drug friends, away from this whole culture TOWARDS health and independence and feeling better about herself.....this takes courage and energy. On top of this, she has had to arrange a mover, contact hydro and the phone company, pack her belongings, and sort through much of what she owns to decide if she has to toss it out because of the impact of living in a bug infested shithole, ...........open a bank account which she has never done before in order to have a void cheque, and direct deposit etc (in the long run a good thing, but more overwhelming than we can fathom given her life circumstances and poor coping skills)
On top of all that..........................her monthly cheque was cut in half due to a glitch in the system, I was told. It left her without the money to pass onto a new landlord......and left her feeling that the whole dream of moving into her own place..............the very first "own place" she has ever known............was down the drain. She was supposed to sign the lease and pass over a damage deposit etc,etc,etc.......today. When she called her case worker completely bereft and in rage, she was simply told that her medical had expired, and she would have to get another one from her doctor indicating that she couldn't work, which in turn would allow her monthly cheque to increase. Meanwhile........................................she has been working with me to apply for disability and all the documentation for that is sitting with me as we complete it........her case worker WELL aware of this fact.
The blame was put squarely on Ruth, who because of her accusations of incompetence levelled at the case worker (aka holder of cheques, controller of lives) she was dismissed as the person with the problem......Ruth was too difficult to deal with.............ALWAYS how these things are rationalized. UNBELIEVABLE......
If you could just see this waif of a human being...........whose life is beyond comprehension, who has survived heinous things.......who is drenched in sweat most days because she wears natty old clothes to cover her completely despite the summer temperatures......who waffles from tears to smiles as she navigates survival........who can crack a joke and laugh deeply if given something to laugh about.....who can see the absurdity of the rest of the world......who wants to get better so she can eventually make a home for her 8 year old son who lives with relatives, the same ones who mistreated her.........who simply wants a secure clean place to live which is affordable and safe, and has a place she can open up her card table to lay out a jigsaw puzzle she wants to finally have a chance to tackle......who is so looking forward to watching TV tucked in her own clean bed, and make a cup of tea and enjoy the fresh clean breezes which flow through her little castle....if you could see this beautiful woman hidden behind her sickness and labels......you would know beauty in all its striking imperfections.
I could write all night..........so much I want to say..................so much I want to spill out after a day of working in the microcosmic world because a whole platter of learning and awareness bubbled up through this mess for both of us......
Ruth and I won today. At 4 pm, we were on site of the new apartment building meeting with the new landlord who had been informed of the system glitch by the case worker after a successful (and loud) confrontation on my part. Ruth signed the lease, was provided with moving information she needed to know. Then, we were given the royal tour right up to her tiny little palace. Everything is sparkling new clean....... She spoke of the personal touches she plans.....of the colour she wants to add......her smiles were glorious!!! There she was standing in the empty space, her jetblack hair askewly pull up with a big clunky clip on top of her head, in pants that were too big for her frame, which draped down over her sock covered sandalled feet fraying in the back from dragging when she walked. There she was in her blue wool sweater with rips and snares, all stretched out of shape and button up to her chin................her face glowing red cheeks and beaded perspiration...........her arms full of purses and papers and a takeaway ice cappacino...a disorganized overwhelmed mess who was beaming HOPE!!! It makes me cry just thinking of that moment........and I thank God I was there to witness it. The superintendent, a gruff older man, friendly and patient with her also recognized the significance despite not knowing Ruth's story. I could tell by his wet eyes.
On the way back to the place she only has to spend one more night in, Ruth spoke of her next steps after some time getting well again........she wants to work on getting her GED. She wants to take a course in anger management because she knows the addiction stuff is completely tied in with her ineffective coping skills.....and swallowing or injecting her anger is killing her. From living in survival mode all of her life, there is a glimmer that perhaps her other needs.....will finally receive some of her attention. Our conversation scattered in many different directions, treading on so many topics.........how there are good people out there who will help, how some people feel they are above others......how Jesus spent a good deal of his life hanging with the wounded and broken, with the marginalized........how we are all equal in the eyes of God.......how we tend to react to others based on our own issues. At one point, I took the opportunity to introduce to Ruth the idea that perhaps her childhood has affected her choices dearly, and has affected how she reacts........I identified it under the umbrella of "abandonment" which clearly fits for her. it was a true light bulb moment. No one had ever pointed this out to her, unbelievably given that she has been in and out of counselling most of her adult life.
I explained that by pulling together her stories, it seemed clear to me that this is where she needs to head with her counselling in the future........"and once you start tackling this, Ruth you will see it all unravel. And then, you can validate you own anger and find a place where you can forgive..........forgive yourself, and forgive the people who were supposed to look after you."
And while I'm saying these things, sharing with her some insights I knew she was ready to hear, I was struck with the knowledge that grace and mercy were floating all around us in the car. I felt a sense of knowing I was meant to be a counsellor all over again.......for the first time in a while. Counselling comes naturally and fits me like lycra. It was a flash of awareness I needed personally, as much as Ruth needed a flash of awareness with respect to her abandonment issues.
Grace and mercy...........floating all around us. it was a very special drive across the bridge which spans the Saint John River.
When she was getting out of my car............ arms still full of the same paraphenalia....her face still overheatedly glowing......I told her she was beautiful....because she was. Right in front of my eyes, I saw a woman transform from defensive fatigue to a soft calm. She looked back at me and told me she loved me, then closed the door and headed to her rooming house to finish her packing.