• BSL

Part 2: Putting One Foot in Front of the Other

It’s hard to wrap your head around what’s going on in another person’s mind, let alone if that person has mental illness. But this month, Mental Health Awareness Month—and every day at Big Sister League of San Diego—we try. To shed light on these efforts, we’re sharing one resident’s journey in four candid perspectives, now from a staff member.

“The beauty of this place to me is that it’s independent living. My day is my day. I have the dignity and respect to live my life in the community as an equal,” says Deb, four years after securing a bed at Big Sister League of San Diego. “And behind the scenes, I have support.”

That’s where staff members like Janine Haynes step in.

As a housing director at BSL, she interacts with residents on a daily basis, from being all ears to someone in need of a good vent to lending pep talks and also doing well checks, essentially holding residents accountable for counting and taking their medications and also ensuring they’re meeting a requirement to be out of the house 20 hours per week.

For Deb, those 20 hours come in the form of appointments with her care team, exercise, and time with family. Oh, and like us all, a little trip the beach every now and then.

“And I don’t have to ask permission to go to the beach,” she explains. That’s because BSL is bent on independency. And Deb describes the “transitional” living environment flawlessly.

“It doesn’t mean I’m transitioning from one house to another. It means you are living in a certain environment within these parameters of staff. I have someone here from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. to put out the little fires between 15 women living under one roof.”

For Haynes, distinguishing the flames comes naturally. She was a special needs preschool teacher for 12 years before joining our organization about two years ago. (Like a family does, sometimes the BSL residents tease that they’re her preschoolers now.)

“You have to learn your client and what their needs are; it’s not a cookie cutter answer,” she explains. “History is always a factor.”

For instance, she and Deb are all calm and even tones together during those bouts of behind the scenes support, often behind a closed office door.

“Deb needs someone to tell her from time to time that she's making the right choices for herself and she has someone to back her,” Janine says, and points to the strides Deb has made in her time at BSL. “She advocates for herself. She’s very aware when something is off with her, and she addresses that immediately. The fact that she recognizes it is a huge step in the right direction.”

And believe it or not, it’s not just Janine who’s capable of imparting wisdom. Turns out people living with mental illness also have something worth teaching us all.

“Deb has shown me that people look at the word mental illness as a negative thing. It’s not. Deb shows all of us, day in and day out, that if you keep putting one foot in front of the other, you’re making progress. Even if it’s slow progress, it’s progress. Sometimes I want to give up, too. She’s taught me you don’t give up.”

Next week, a board member weighs in on their role in Big Sister League of San Diego.

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