On my birthday this week I was visiting someone dear to me in a psychiatric ward. Visits there are challenging and exhausting, sometimes there may be glimpses of hope, but generally visits are difficult at best. Our family is known for coping by using humor, sometimes inappropriate humor. I told my husband and a close friend I could now check “visiting a psych ward on my birthday” off my bucket list. Yup, inappropriate for sure.
While visiting I heard a code blue called for the pediatric hospital unit. I have been in a pediatric hospital room during a code blue. I know what that looks like and what it’s like to experience from a parent’s point of view. It was early on in our daughter Shannon’s medical journey and I remember huddling in a corner unable to escape as the code team flooded in to the room. Once it was over I feel in to a puddle of emotions.
Towards the end of the visit I waited in the hall and couldn’t help but listen to a woman deeply, deeply sobbing while a psych aide sat outside her darkened room likely on suicide watch. Part of me wanted to escape and part of me wanted to let her know that although I didn’t know her or her story, I’d heard her pain, I felt her misery. I wanted her to know she mattered and was worthy. At that moment, the abysmal pain of that space was overwhelming.
Yet in the midst of that sorrow there are men and women working there who put themselves in to that place of sorrow to help those fighting their way up from deep depressions or out of psychosis causing delusions and paranoia which has, hopefully temporarily, stolen their personalities. These are ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
I admit I haven’t always understood mental illness. I struggle with wanting to quote Cher in “Moonstruck” and say – Snap out of it!, but I have learned and continue to learn and understand. I’ve been stretched in ways I didn’t know I could be and hopefully have become more compassionate in the process.
I do know how we view mental illness vs. physical illness doesn’t make it any easier for anyone who is recovering or struggling. Recovery from illness of any kind should be cheered on and applauded, but the stigma attached to mental illness often doesn’t allow that and that should stop.