Kristofer Alexa has battled drug and alcohol addiction in the past, and now he helps others in a psychiatric facility fight their demons. While we were talking I mentioned that in order to survive in Massachusetts a person needs to be able to make more than minimum wage to survive. He said, “Any income is survivable. It’s not always living a life of luxury.” What he meant is that even homeless, penniless, and alone, people persevere.
I work at a duel diagnosis and psychiatric facility. What that looks like is either people with schizophrenia, they come in with severe depression, severe anxiety, which leads to homicidal or suicidal ideations and want to kill themselves or other people. People tend to stop taking medication and when they stop taking the medication, they go off the deep end. Some people come in with audio-command [or] visual hallucinations: they see people, they hear things, they have people telling them things, they’re schizophrenic with four different personalities. Sometimes they’re nice, sometimes they’re evil, sometimes they’re completely altered in thought, which is [when] they don’t make any sense whatsoever—there’s not one word which matches the next.
I pretty much make sure they get their scheduled doses of medication, whatever that medication looks like. Usually the doctors, nurses, occupational therapists, social workers and MHAs all get together and make a treatment plan.
But for most of the day I have them get to scheduled groups, and they go over anywhere from positive coping skills, medication—they call it medication education—[and] they have duel diagnosis groups. The facility actually has three different units: one is geriatrics, and that’s mostly schizophrenic, early onsets, [and] complete alteration of thought process. Some old people will come in with severe depression.
One other unit we have is a detox facility. They detox you off of drugs and alcohol. They call it a duel-diagnosis room, because people come in with severe depression or severe anxiety, so they diagnose whether it’s depression or anxiety with a drug or alcohol abuse issue, and most of the time it’s just a drug and alcohol issue, and the depression or anxiety are high because of their altered state of mind.
And then you have what is a real diagnosis unit, which is being dually diagnosed: having a drug and alcohol problem and a mental disorder. You deal with personality or borderline personality disorders, schizophrenics, paranoid schizophrenics.
My job is to make sure they’re not killing themselves or hurting anybody else. We do 15-minute checks. We help them with their daily living duties, which is shower, clean, laundry, shave. We make sure they do that so they can get into a regular routine on top of the regular routine of scheduled medications they’re taking so that they can be deemed fit to go back into society. Most of them are homeless, on welfare, social security, so they don’t really have too much, but what they have is section 8 housing, so they have their own apartments, but their loved ones usually find them in an altered state of thought process. They have them checked into a psych ward.
The treatment plan looks like: Where they’re going to live, what kind of programs they’re going to go to, what kind of care they’re going to be given, whether they need a home aide, a doctor or a nurse to visit them on a daily basis. That’s what we do to make sure they can live somewhat of a functioning purposeful life. Most of the time having a mental disorder you don’t really live like that. There’s no freedom. You’re being driven around, told what to do. Then you get to the personal side, it’s almost sad. I know my job is to take care of these people and try to make them feel as comfortable as possible while they’re at my facility, while also providing what I like to call hope that they can treat this thing instead of fight it.
A lot of the times they come in, they don’t even know what’s going on, and they fight it. They fight the disease that they have, whether it’s the addiction, the substance abuse, the multiple personality, schizophrenia, complete paranoia, or alteration of thought, and what I mean by that is that when they fight it, they fight it by not taking medications, and if we get to them we can give them a message of depth and weight and empathy that if they take that medication they can live useful lives, or at least somewhat a normal life. We coach them up, we provide coping skills, coping mechanisms. We pretty much tell them that there is hope. We see other people that come in with complete altered thought, and they leave there levelheaded taking their medications, and they go out and we don’t see them again.
I’ve been working there for 4 months. The way I see it, God carried me—because I believe in the spiritual side of life—into this facility. I was working at a different facility, and it was mostly dealing with the hopeless state of mind and helping people detox off of drugs and alcohol with no borderline personality, schizophrenia, no medical disorders.
The reason why I got into it, is because I was addicted to drugs and alcohol for a long period of time and I worked the program to recover from that hopeless state of mind. On June 10, I’ll be three years completely clean. Living that life and living a different side of life, and helping and showing people from my own experience, especially with the drug and alcohol abusers that come in here, it certainly gives them a sense: they can see me, and I tell them my story, of what it was like and what it’s like now. It gives them hope. That’s the only thing we really can give people.
It’s chaotic. I used to live in chaos, but now I live in pretty much peace and serenity. On a daily basis I probably have 300 requests: Can I get this food? Can I get that food? Can you help me do laundry? Can you help me shave? Can you put me in the shower? Can you get me towels? Can you get me toiletries? And each unit has 40 people on it, so you’ve got 40 people asking the same person over and over again to do stuff.
I started a company. [The] product involves peace and connection. I call it a meditation station. I also want to further my education. While I was in the throes of addiction I put myself through college twice. I got two degrees—a psych degree and a business degree—and I never really did anything with it. I like what I do, and it’s good money, and I also want to have another means of income.
They’ve asked me to be a human rights advocate at my job where I work now. They also asked me to sit in on the clinical diagnosis groups that they put on twice a day for people with drug abuse and alcohol abuse.
The only way to create a positive environment is to be that positive person. The [facilities] could use a lot of help. I never knew there were so many avenues that I could work towards. Each day is a new opportunity.