Mr L* has lived in an accommodation for a few years.
I know him very well because I was his first contact point for more than a year.
We have a relationship that works well on a professional level; we are able to work well together. And I find him a really nice person.
Mr L has a very contradictory character: he’s nice but annoying. He can sometimes be very difficult, and can say really horrible things to me. And, at the same time, I continue to like him. I always enjoy going to see him, even though I know that it might be difficult, and that I may leave him almost depressed.
To me, he represents quite well the work of Street nurses. He was cared for, for a long time while living on the streets, and has been in an accommodation for around 10 years. His situation is evolving extremely slowly.
Sometimes, you could have the feeling that he is stagnating, even regressing.
After more than a year of working with him we realise that little things are changing.
The person that he is today, the way he interacts with other people etc., is very different to how he was when we first met. But he is still someone with depression, who has highs and lows and extreme differences in behaviour – against which he has been battling for many years.
What is surprising is to realise that often, the person who we take care of, has a hard time seeing himself or herself in the future.
But for him, it’s the exact opposite. He is brimming with projects, wishes and ideas.
For example, he wants to have a dog, because he used to be a dog trainer for many years. He is very emotional about it, because his dog was stolen when he was homeless. So this is something that occupies him a lot – having a dog again. We know that when it happens, it will really lift him up.
But organising this is a slow process. He talks a lot about it but when it comes to arranging something concrete, like going to a dog refuge by car, he closes up completely because it’s too difficult for him to deal with his emotions. The dog might happen in six months, a year, who knows…
It’s great, because he talks a lot about the different things that he wants to do (retake his driving licence, redecorate his apartment, draw, etc.), we have the feeling that it’s easier than with other patients. And then you think to yourself ‘it will be ok’. But in fact, he finds it extremely difficult to concretely commit and do something. Or sometimes, he starts doing something positive and it’s working for a few weeks and he is making progress.
Then suddenly, he goes back into one of his very dark places, without any apparent and obvious reason.
When this happens, his condition deteriorates completely, he stops taking his medicine, no longer goes to his medical appointments. And once again he is in a catastrophic state, physically and emotionally.
When I go see him, he becomes really negative. Either he says nothing at all, he is completely closed off, or he is looking for confrontation and is aggressive. Moreover, he knows me very well, so he knows how to get to me, and he doesn’t hold back. He says to me, “my life is shit, I’m going to top myself, and what are you going to do about it?”. He really makes me feel guilty and responsible, and then he shows me that I can’t do anything. But he never goes too far! He doesn’t want to completely destroy our relationship…
Together with other colleagues, we are behind him, pushing him, and it’s often complicated. But we have found something that motivates him to go to his appointments: he is a fan of Linkin Park, so we tell him that we have the album that he likes a lot that we can play while in the car. We listen to it at full blast during the journey, singing like crazy. And it works, it motivates him.
All of this is also what makes Mr L. so special – he elicits a lot of affection and empathy from us. During the times when he’s doing well, he shares a lot with us.
We have a very similar sense of humour, which is quite sharp, or cutting. I use this a lot when he’s down. I also provoke him, seeing as he doesn’t hold back, I don’t either!
And it works well. We laugh a lot together.
He has had a fairly rich life, fairly crazy. When he talks about it, we have a nice time together. We can chat about loads of things. He loves the cinema, he is very knowledgeable about cinematography. And I like the cinema as well, so we can talk about that.
We really have a lot in common, just like I could have with anyone.
- Iannis, social worker at Street nurses
(*) We do our utmost to respect the privacy of our patients and our professional secrecy. However, we want to testify to how they must survive and how we are working together to reintegrate them. As a result, the names of places and people are deliberately omitted or changed and real-life situations are placed in a different context. There is no direct link between the photos and the stories above.
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© P-Y Jortay - Street Nurses 2020