For the Rest of Your Life

It was 1 AM and I was working late, typing up an incident report in the office two hours after I should have gone home. The unit had been in chaos that evening: clients in and out of holds, running out doors, refusing to go to bed.

A thought occurred to me, and I turned to my teammate and said, “It’s a shame this job doesn’t pay better because I could do this…”

I trailed off looking for the right words. He found them first: “For the rest of your life? I know what you mean, man.”

We didn’t stay, of course. We couldn’t. We eventually left for greener pastures.  The emotional fortitude to do this line of work exists in many people. But it must be nurtured, rewarded, and treated as an asset in order for it to grow. And when it does, so too will the quality of care in treatment facilities.


From the Floor is an irregular feature of short poignant interactions, sometimes funny, sometimes sad. These are the conversations, this is what we witness when working in mental health. If you would like to contribute email: andre.alyeska@gmail.com.

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I apologized.

I was building rapport with a psychotic kid.  We were on a walk around campus when there was a lull in conversation and, apropos of nothing, he says “Once when I was so high I saw God.  He told me to get down on my knees.”  He paused and said, “I apologized.”

He looked at me expectantly.  What do you say in these instances?

All I could think to say was “If I saw God, I’d apologize too.”


From the Floor is an irregular feature of short poignant interactions, sometimes funny, sometimes sad. These are the conversations, this is what we witness when working in mental health. If you would like to contribute email: andre.alyeska@gmail.com.

Where is the behavior modification?

Another friend is moving on.  When commenting on his frustrations in working at our facility he specifically pointed to the secure units.  “It got to the point where I didn’t want to walk onto those units.”  We both readily admit we work with the toughest children in the region.  What was wearing on him was the high concentration of youth with incredible high-risk and anti-social behaviors.  He spoke of other kids being exposed to this level of acuity and learning their behaviors.  Just to be clear, the behaviors are purging, self harm and suicidal ideation.

He didn’t even want to share this with me, “I don’t want my bad attitude to affect you, you’re still here doing important work.”  But he quickly went on “We’re not doing any behavior modification.  These kids need that too.”

It was the type of conversation that wasn’t long but covered so much ground.  We bemoaned the fact that as a culture there is a collective pat on the back for closing psychiatric hospitals and shifting so much of mental health care to outpatient services.

Unacknowledged among the accolades of progress is the pressure to get kids stable and free up the bed.  Many of our clients need long term care.  Temporary stabilization isn’t going to do much for them if they return to the same environment without increased skills to manage they lives they were given.

This happens again and again when kids return to our care after failing to reintegrate at home or adapt to foster placements or group homes.  These kids aren’t going to improve without meaningful skill building.  And this leads back to behavior mod.  We simply aren’t doing it any longer.

It’s different now

I was taking vitals on the military ward at my new job and had just gotten a reading on a young female patient.

Me: Oh my, are you feeling ok?

Her: Yeah…why?

Me: You’re lying down but your heart rate is 105.

Her: Well, I kind of just had a flash back.

::I look at the rec room TV to see what’s playing.::

Me: Do you think maybe you shouldn’t be watching “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre?”

Her: But I’ve seen it before, and it didn’t bother me.

Me: Yeah… but it’s different now.

This was one of those moments in mental health that’s a little funny and a lot of sad.


From the Floor is an irregular feature of short poignant interactions, sometimes funny, sometimes sad. These are the conversations, this is what we witness when working in mental health. If you would like to contribute email: andre.alyeska@gmail.com.