Leah DeMarest

Flourishing Engagements

When I was in the final year of my master’s program to become a mental health therapist, I worked full time during the overnight shift at a residential unit that served people who had suffered a brain injury. 

The beginning of my shift started when the residents were getting ready for bed or watching their evening TV program. I would start my shift socializing with the residents and help them get ready for bed or to plan their next day. 

During the overnight hours I would clean the whole residence top to bottom, assist anyone who had woken up in the night, and then I would have some time throughout the night to complete my studies for my college classes I was taking. Towards the end of my shift residents would wake up and I would help them with breakfast, plan their day, and socialize with them. 

One day my company had a meeting stating that they would like overnight staff to do everything in their power to make sure residents get enough sleep at night because they were noticing residents having trouble being productive in their day. This meant if a resident wanted to stay up late, we were to try to persuade them to go to bed, make sure they don’t have caffeine or sugar late at night. If they woke up early we were to coax them back to bed and make sure they didn’t take in any caffeine or sugar after they woke up while we are coaxing them back to bed. 

One morning a gentleman woke up at 3:30am. I had a pretty positive rapport with this resident as we had coffee every morning and talked. Since it was so early, and I felt pressure from my company to ensure the residents got enough sleep, I tried talking this resident into going back to sleep. He was not interested in going back to sleep. He went out for a cigarette. While he did so I took the coffee pot and put it in the pantry, thinking his next move would be to get some coffee but I thought if the coffee pot wasn’t there it would be like out of sight out of mind and he would go for something else to drink and get sleepy and go back to bed. 

But he did notice the coffee pot wasn’t on the counter. He looked on the counter and then looked at me, and he had anger in his eyes. The absence of the coffee pot was enough to trigger a deep rage. The next thing I knew I had a 6ft 4in 300pound man darting at me. Then I was on the ground tangled in this giant of a man. 

He was in the sitting position with his legs wrapped around my torso and my head in a head lock with the massive fist of his free arm punching me in the head, face, and body. I screamed ‘Stop! Stop! Stop!’ I was the only staff there. I was in survival mode. My arms were wrapped close to my body with his legs, my hand was kind of near his chest pointing up, so I reached for the only thing I could grab and gave him a 'titty' twister. 

That was enough to stun him so that I could break free. I ran to the bathroom and locked the door. I called 911, stating I had just been attacked and was worried about coming out of the bathroom since there was no one else there to help calm this resident down. I then called my supervisor on-call and told them of the incident, and they ended up coming to the location and getting there about the same time as the police. 

The police ended up detaining him in their vehicle but it was up to me to press charges. The police stated that if I didn’t press charges he would be released and be back in the home. My supervisor plead with me not to press charges. I felt compassion for this man because I knew he did this due to his illness. I did not press charges. The resident was brought back into the house. He was asked to stay in his room. 

My supervisor left and had me stay for the rest of my shift…after I had just been assaulted, with my assaulter still in the home with me, and while I was swollen, bruised, and battered. I locked myself in the staff office the rest of my shift. I got off work at 7am.

 My employer didn’t talk to me about going to the doctor. I called and asked if workman’s comp would pay for it if I went to the ER. They ended up making me an appointment with their workman’s comp doctor for later that day. At the doctor’s they said I had suffered a concussion, bruised chest cavity, bruised ribs, and several bumps, bruises, and lacerations. I looked like I had been in an MMA fight. 

My company kept me on the schedule for that evening. They said they’d didn’t have staff to fill my shift. I asked if I could switch with another staff to work at a different house so I wouldn’t be with the resident that assaulted me, and they said that I could not. So, I went to work that evening, in the house with my assaulter, while still in poor physical health and a lot of pain. I remember being so sore across my whole body.

 When I got to work that resident smiled and laughed at me. He walked by me and said, ‘just wait.’ As in, just wait until the other staff leave. I asked every staff member if they could stay during the overnight shift. Either to take the shift from me or to stay with me and they could just sleep, but to be there just in case he is triggered by my presence. No one would stay. Every staff left. 

Eventually every resident went to their room to sleep. Except the resident who assaulted me. As I swept the floor, he started to circle me like a vulture does to road kill. He was laughing and repeating ‘You. You. You.’ I went to the staff office and locked the door.

I could hear him outside the door laughing and eventually knocking. I called my husband, and he told me to leave. I called my supervisor and told him that I was leaving, and he better get here quick to take over my shift. When he arrived, I was waiting in my car in the driveway. I told him I didn’t feel safe and that I was quitting. He tried to coax me to stay on staff, but anyone who cares that little about their staff is not worth working for. 

Emotionally I felt fine. I didn’t feel like I was traumatized. I still felt compassion for the person who assaulted me-I knew it was his illness. I felt physical pain, but I didn’t feel scared, anxious, or depressed. Though, in the months to come I noticed I was more irritable and more emotional crying at a drop of a hat. I felt so little control over my emotions. I didn’t know why this was happening, why I was acting this way. I decided I needed help, so I went to a therapist. 

I felt a sense of shame going to therapy. Here I am in school to become a therapist and I can’t help myself. I was then referred to a psychiatrist to get assessed. I didn’t want anyone to know. I had so many connections in the mental health world that I decided to go to a psychiatrist far away from where I lived, so that someone I knew wouldn’t hear it through the grape vine that I was seeking help for mental health. 

As I finished my final year of my master’s program to become a mental health therapist I learned through my studies and through my team of professional supports that what I was feeling after my trauma was typical and even normal. That I shouldn’t be ashamed of seeking help because seeking help isn’t a weakness, it’s a strength and takes courage. 

I learned that most therapists are actually in therapy. Therapists are in therapy because they might have gone through something terrible in their life, that’s why they got into the field…they want to help others who may have gone through similar struggles. But therapists are also in therapy because of vicarious trauma and in my last year of school they encouraged all of us to continue with therapy throughout the course of our careers in order to keep from developing vicarious trauma. 

Today I work full time as a mental health and addiction therapist. I feel like the things I have been through have helped me to develop a superpower in my profession. I can relate. I can describe their symptoms in a way that they never knew anyone would ever understand. Because I have been there. I am also a public speaker and author. I use my speaking and writing as another platform to help others through struggles with mental illness, trauma, and addiction.

Connect or follow DLeah DeMarest on her Websiteor connect / follow her on Facebook, InstagramLinkedIn, & Twitter(X)

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