By Mary Gaasch, Program Manager
I took a deep breath. This was risky, I knew. Just mentioning a difficult situation to Leslie could potentially ignite a crisis. A few years ago, it would have sent her into a sobbing, raging state that would have lasted a week. “Leslie, I heard you did a good job handling a difficult situation this morning,” I say. She is quiet for a minute, thinking. Then her face brightens. “Oh, you mean when my housemate mocked me? I was just practicing Radical Acceptance.” When she noticed that my jaw had dropped, she adds cheerfully, “I learned that from Jenny Pinion, my therapist.” “What is radical acceptance, Leslie?” I ask. “I think it’s accepting difficult things you cannot change.”
Like many of the people Hammer serves, Leslie has an invisible disability hiding behind her visible one. Leslie has mental illness. There is no master template to follow when you support someone with mental health challenges. Each individual and each diagnosis is different, and there is very little agreement in the scientific community about effective treatment. So how do you support someone in such complex circumstances? One answer is to draw upon our community partners to guide and support us.
I want to share a little bit about a community partner that has been invaluable asset to the people Hammer serves. Advanced Behavioral Health is a group of therapists in Brooklyn Center, MN who “specialize in providing quality psychological and behavioral services to children and adults with developmental challenges, traumatic brain injuries, and mental illness.”
Leslie was suffering terribly when we first reached out to ABH. ABH did a thorough two-day evaluation, made recommendations for a psychiatrist, and then got to the real work. Today, ABH supports Leslie with individual therapy and a support group. They utilize an approach they call PILOT therapy. In it, Leslie sees herself as the pilot: one wing of her plane is her emotions; the other wing, her thoughts. She knows she has to have balance, or else she may crash.
The other day Leslie was worried about a housemate’s dinner party. She said that she had once been to a funeral and gone out to eat afterwards at this particular restaurant, and she was worried she would have bad memories and obsess about the past ruining her housemates’ party. Her therapist wrote her a little note, which she carried in her wallet. Leslie looked at her note throughout the evening, and worked hard to follow the directions. We had a lovely night, filled with laughter and celebration. It is so thrilling to see Leslie be able to enjoy herself and a good quality of life, thanks to the excellent work of Advanced Behavioral Health! Leslie’s plane is soaring beautifully through all kinds of weather, and we are all enjoying the flight. And the staff team agrees: the next time we face a difficult situation, we need to remember Leslie’s courage and imagine we have a note in our wallet reminding us to stay in the moment and practice radical acceptance.