Epiphanies, News

The Aftermath


Women of DC Wallpaper by JGiampietro

Today, I got discharged from CAMH’s inpatient unit. What follows next is a 6 month intensive group therapy that I will be attending from home, in part because I feel as if I need some kind of transition in order to rebuild my life, and the other because I want to keep visiting the friends I have made in the ward.

I kept a detailed log of my stay, and as I look back at my initial entries, it really surprises me how, even I, came into the unit harbouring stigma towards mental illneses. I realized that I only socialized with those whom I deemed were at the same “level” of mental illness as I was, as if there was a hierachy of pain and mental illness. I also noticed the resenment I carried towards other people my age, who weren’t diagnosed with mental illness, as I constantly compared their achievements towards my own. It took me a long time to recognize when I would start judging — myself, and others — and I know that completely stopping myself from judging would be a long process, but at least I have accepted it as a valid truth, and that is always the first step.

I know that there is a lot of stigma towards mental illness, and for the most part, that’s what stops me from immersing myself back into my social life – the fear that I would be treated differently, that I would be treated as if I was a circus freak.

But I want you to know that:

We are not defeated. Being at the hospital takes immense courage and strength, because it is the first step towards changing our lives for the better.

We are not always sad. Yes, we break down every once in a while, but when we’re together, we laugh and crack jokes just like any other group of friends. And when we laugh, it’s genuine. Because laughter is golden in the ward – it doesn’t always happen, so we don’t want to waste time faking it.

We have dance parties. Even if it’s coming from laptop speakers that are barely audible, once it’s a song we know, we make sure to dance, and try to convince others around us to join in as well. (Admittedly, the nurses don’t always agree to these dance parties, they usually make a point to shut us down as soon as they get wind of it – but that’s when we start dancing in our rooms instead).

We do rebel hugs. In the ward I stayed in, we weren’t allowed to hug, nor form close relationships with each other. This doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. Rebel hugs is what happens when you are in dire need of comfort, and you forgot to bring your stuffie with you. We usually do this away from the nursing station, in the corner of the hallway, in the entrance of the emergency room.

Just like you, we hold important roles in society – we are just on pause from our responsibilities. We are social workers, teachers, librarians, marketing specialists, activists, feminists, actresses, models, nurses, hospital administrators, students, mothers, daughters and grandmothers.

I was talking to another patient a couple of days ago, and she was telling me the heartbreaking story of her life. From a succesful career, to suddenly becoming a survivor of trauma – the world she knew shattered around her and she began to feel unsafe – and no matter how hard she tried, she could not feel safe again. After numerous suicide attempts, she finally arrived at the hospital, in risk of losing her house and her dog. I couldn’t find any words to comfort her, but in the end, I didn’t need to. Because she said, that she found consolation in the fact that there was an immense strength within the ward’s walls – that it is the combined stories of the women in the unit that keeps her going.

And then she said something that really resonated with me. She said, “If one of us makes it, then we all make it.”

It may be surprising to some of you how quickly friendships can form in a place that’s supposed to be dark and depressing. But that’s because outside of the ward, the normal is people pretending, to people laughing. It’s the Facebook mentality.¬†Only show others your best pictures and statuses. That’s what you’re used to. But in the ward, we’re only used to seeing each other unashamed, honest and brave – and those are qualities that are hard to uphold without being exhausted or tired.

But it’s the honesty that’s liberating – it’s the honesty that keeps us from being fragmented, from being incarcerated.

And it’s the honesty that allows us to connect intimately with each other, and share in each other’s small victories and courage.

And that is why, today, I am not afraid of being discharged. I am ready to transition back into the community and rebuild my life back from zero. Because in my hand, I carry, the strength and stories of these women with me.


Healing With Others

Hope by Ryky

Hope by Ryky

A really beautiful thing just happened and I wanted to share it with you to give you hope.

After a long day of intense group sessions and meetings with psychiatrists, the other women at the ward and I were sitting in the dining room, unwinding, when I saw another patient burst into tears by the medication room. Immediately, I felt distressed seeing her break down in such a strong way, when she was usually the one who was so protective and generous with advice. She was my roommate, and just the night before, I was crying in my room, frustrated at the information they were giving me as I felt that it wasn’t helping me in any shape or form. Having been in and out of mental institutions her entire life, my roommate sat down and explained to me what it’s like to heal within a system – the language that’s expected of you, the key things nurses look for to determine whether or not you’re progressing and the realization that I cannot expect a miracle cure that would heal me forever at the end of my stay here. She reassured me that it takes a lifetime of coping to be able to deal with trauma, and that pretending you’re fine when you’re not, only deny others a chance to be in the program when they need it so much.

Talking to her felt entirely different from talking with the nurses, or my friends, because it came from a person who was in the same place as I was – and so hearing her words and stories made me feel more confident about the program and finally motivated me to start working within it. And so, seeing her so distressed, made me feel so worried. A friend of ours immediately came over and hugged her, and the same nurse I had fought with before – Nurse Ratched as we call her, told them that hugging wasn’t allowed. I could see two other concerned women milling around at a near distance, watching¬† my roommate break down and wanting to hug her as well, but they kept their distance as Nurse Ratched was watching.

She went back into our room and I didn’t know if I should go with her or not because I didn’t know if she wanted to be alone. She came out after a while and asked us if we could go down with her, where the nurses couldn’t see us, and pretend we were on a smoke break. Immediately four women, including me, ran to our rooms to get our jackets and as soon as we were in the elevator, we hugged her as she cried on our shoulders.

By the emergency entrance of the CAMH building, the first place we saw when we were first brought in there filled with so much pain and unhappiness, we each took turns embracing each other and comforting each other, and telling each other positive things to keep us alight.

And then, with my roommate facilitating the discussion, just like in group therapy, she said, “Let’s all say things that we’re grateful for today. Today, I’m grateful that I met you guys.”

Another woman said, “I’m grateful that disturbing emotions are temporary and don’t last forever.”

The next one said, “I’m grateful to be a mother who is on her way on getting better.”

And I said, “I’m grateful to have you as a roommate and because of our talk last night, you made me trust in the program and one of the main reasons I am working so hard in this program is because of you.”

And she looked at me with such happiness and mouthed, “Thank you.”

When we got back, we all sat down with her and ate junk food that we shared with each other – one ate a strawberry and jam sandwich, I ate chocolate cake and another one ate a freezie. When Nurse Ratched came back doing rounds, she tried to say that it wasn’t her fault, that the reason why she didn’t let us hug is because they can’t have five women in the unit breaking down, and while she said this, we all looked at each other in mutual understanding that despite their belief that we can be triggered by each other’s breakdowns, our instincts to protect each other is much stronger than they could understand.

It was an amazing thing to witness and be a part of – that incredible impulse to nurture and care for each other. Within a second, we were making each other foods and brewing teas to keep each other from breaking down. Whispering things to each other like, “Don’t judge yourself,” “You’re doing a great thing,” “You’re learning – don’t deny yourself that education”, and quickly holding each other’s hands as the nurse’s backs were turned and then staying up with each other despite the medications we were on, knowing that if we let each other go to bed too early, the nightmares could begin — these are the basic, human things we do for each other, that keeps us alive and well, and to see it come so naturally in a place where you would least expect it – is something I believe will give me hope forever.

Tonight, I’m going to stay up and keep the light on, and listen to her breathe, and make sure to wake her up once the nightmares begin. I am happy to know, that despite being here, I still have the strength to look out for those who need me.

Like she said: “If you hold a person’s hand today, someone will always hold your hand tomorrow.”