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.