February 4, 2010

Using the Wild West to Unwind

I've been a case manager since September, and Mr. T is one of the clients with whom I get to work.

Some years ago, an old injury began acting up, making it difficult for Mr. T to stand for long periods of time or lift anything heavy. Mr. T came to Bread for the City in March of 2008, and we began helping him to apply for Social Security Disability Insurance. He was eventually approved, but this income is not enough for him to keep up with his bills. So Mr. T is dealing with the uncertainty of how long he can continue to live in his current apartment.

Mr. T and I have been working hard on applying for subsidized housing – that is a process that entails many different forms for several different waitlists. But even though Mr. T is disabled and a senior citizen, he could be waiting for housing for several years.

He’s not alone. Thousands of DC residents with similar plights will sit on waitlists for subsidized housing for as long as 10 years. This situation leaves many people feeling hopeless and helpless. I have seen how this experience affects my clients and the stress and worry they experience as a result.

Caught between a years-long wait and precarious housing, Mr. T feels constantly stressed. He reports being unable to sleep at night because of this worry. So Mr. T and I have had many conversations about the different ways that he might be able to relax.

Mr. T says that he gets pleasure out of cooking. The first time we talked, he told me over and over: “I can burn.” It took me a while to figure out that by this, he meant that he is a really good cook. Mr. T says that cooking takes his mind off of other things. Every time that I see him, we talk about different things that he has cooked recently- sometimes a big breakfast, sometimes a soup, sometimes a roast.

Another thing that Mr. T says helps him relax is Westerns. I asked him about why he likes Westerns above all other movies. He quickly replied, "I was raised on a farm. I was raised on Westerns." Something about these movies allows Mr. T to get his mind off of his housing predicament. This is valuable time.

I have deeply enjoyed my time getting to know Mr. T in case management. He is a wise man, and I have a lot to learn from him. Mr. T and I have talked about strategies for stress management and he identifies that cooking and watching Westerns are successful methods for him. So I called some libraries to see if they had Westerns that Mr. T could rent. I found that they do, but only on DVDs -- Mr. T only has a VHS player.

So, though we don’t often do things like this for our clients, it’s really important for me to ask: Do you have a DVD player that you could donate to help Mr. T deal with this stress? Might you even have a few Westerns that you would like to donate?

Mr. T and I both thank you in advance.

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