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.”