“Lasting recovery in the wake of chronic illness requires a
depth of insight that only allies with a vested interest in recovery can produce when a person isolates or does not work” Maxwell Guttman (The Role of the Support System in Improving Mental Health Prognosis, 2018)
“I’m on Lexington and Fifth, darling” Minerva repeated, loudly.
“Darling! I’m with my literary agent! We just got out of a meeting in the boardroom, and it seems I am being published again!” pouted Minerva
“Again! Yes, well, when you’ve been published this many times it’s a real bore!” lamented Minerva, taking off her sunglasses to look at her makeup and fix her eyelash liner through the tinted glass reflection.
“A bore, can’t you hear me?!” Minerva screamed into the phone.
“Minerva, is that you screaming? You know, there is a noise policy in this program!” A distant voice echoed.
“Minerva! I said, PLEASE stop screaming!” The voice was moving closer in proximity.
“Yes, Nurse Gottlieb! What is it now?” Minerva was almost smug with her tone, but more so, with her eye-rolling.
“Minerva, you missed your afternoon meds! Wipe that smirk off your face! This is serious, you can’t just skip your meds, and make noisy calls outside the hallway when the group is in session. There are rules in this program, Minerva, and you will follow them!” Nurse Gottlieb exclaimed, starring Minerva in the eye, who was almost in shock by the directness and the tone of the nurse at the Ongoing Day Program for the Mentally Ill in Larrison, New York.
Minerva looked down at her cell phone in shameful desperation and began to text Jacques “Get me out here! I can’t stand this program!” Minerva typed.
“We’re going to the beach house this weekend, and you are invited too Minerva. Everyone will be there. Just make sure your packed and ready” Jacques said reassuringly via text.
“How did you two meet?” my therapist inquired. “In partial hospital….” I elaborated at length.
I met Minerva in the Partial Hospital program after my discharge from Greater Liberty Health Center in 2008. I’ve known her for over eleven years, just about a third of my age now, thirty-three. When I met Minerva, she had recently been in the hospital for a long time and was still hypomanic. Back then, Minerva was younger, hopeful, and supposedly ready to recover after a decade of ups, downs, manic extremes, and depressive lows. If it was an altered mental health state, Minerva had experienced it. In fact, she had probably crashed a car at the height the last manic or depressive bend she was passing through over the better half of the last two decades of experiencing severe bipolar disorder.
We bonded over mental health stories, mostly our own, and would meet for coffee during our stint in partial hospital.
When I went back to Liberty for Graduate School in Social Work a few years later into my recovery we lost touch for a bit. After all, I was three hours away in a rigorous graduate school program trying to stay afloat given the extreme nature of my illness and being new to recovery and healing from my own mental health diagnosis.
After returning home with my masters in social work MSW, and becoming a licensed master (then clinical) social worker, I entered the system of care in my community on the other side as a clinician with my own psychotherapy practice. Given I was ramping up again, this time with employment and working, I didn’t have as much time for weekly coffee visits with anyone, Minerva included.
Venturing out into my own community where I had been hospitalized several times in the past and even had therapists of my own, I would run into people that treated my illness during the earlier days of my recovery. I also stumbled upon old faces, people like Minerva, and others, that I knew from treatment from when I was discharged from Liberty years ago. Now on the other side, it was rather awkward, especially in the case of Minerva.
I say this because when I reengaged with Minerva she was in the same spot as she was eleven years ago. Maybe even worse off. I am judging this by her level of care. Also, by the sheer amount of time that elapsed with little or no gains made in terms of insight into her illness or judgment when it came to repeated relapses without gaining additional perspective on her condition. Minerva was now in a Continuing Day program called PROs, which was on the campus we met eleven years ago, just in a different building.
I couldn’t fathom going to the same small mental health campus for over a decade, and not even benefit from it whatsoever. During the last eleven years, Minerva had crashed another two cars during additional manic episodes and gone off her meds two more times without doctor supervision. When I found Minerva this last time, she was washing her laundry at the local halfway house, which was connected to the agency which subsidizes her supported housing program.
Eleven years and no progress I thought to myself. This can’t be the case. I mean, it must take real work to stay in a holding pattern in life for so long without budging. Either that or she must very sick or symptomatic most of the time. I would later find out that cases like Minerva exist everywhere, and she is no more unique than her biography is to other people with a mental health disorder that shares their story.
“We meet for coffee every so often at the diner…” I said to my therapist, finalizing my thought.