The stigma surrounding mental illness is widely discussed, but not many people who live with mental illnesses will admit that they too have internalized prejudices towards others with mental illnesses different than their own.
My first hospital admission was a particularly frightful experience in my head, if not in reality. I imagined that I would encounter people sicker and more “dangerous” than myself. Thankfully, frequent visitors served to ground me and lessen my fear of both myself and others.
When my brother first brought me to the hospital it was a very short time before I found myself on a bed being wheeled down well- lit passages and pushed through swinging doors. After a variety of probes and scans I was placed in a bed in the psych ward’s TV room. Within view of the nurse’s desk, I was under observation. Wearing a bright yellow and blue MEC Gore-Tex cycling jacket, I clung to its familiarity as if it could protect me from my own inner ramblings as well as any external threats. Under the effect of medications, I drifted off into a deep dreamless sleep.
I felt much better when I woke up the next day. When my mother made her daily visit, I realized that I was wearing my favorite shorts, very worn out, holes and all. Apparently, I hadn’t been taking as good care of myself as I had imagined. She was relieved that I noticed.
My thinking had not yet completely settled down. I felt compelled to make a choice and have my son baptized in some religion or another – which one was the question. I could not bring myself to accept one religion as having all the answers. Relief came when a friend of my sister, who was a well-trusted rabbi, visited. He sat on the edge of the bed and my panicked urgency evaporated with his calm demeanor. I don’t remember the nature of our conversation, only that his energy was healing.
Next I went to have a shower at the psych ward’s facilities. The fear returned. The shower was unisex. Either its door didn’t lock or I was just unable to secure it. I decided to face the fear and proceed. I wanted to reassure my mother and my son that I was better by looking better. Although it is good to take a shower out of love for oneself, I found that even the simple act of taking a shower can be done out of love for another. I felt better afterwards.
I was doing well so the staff decided I no longer needed observation. I was transferred to a hospital room shared by three other psychiatric clients. As I entered the room it looked dark and ominous. I was scared of the other clients and had noticed that the bed had a tear in its mattress cover. My thoughts turned to stabbings and slashing and fear slowly mounted in me. At this moment, I decided that there were two streams of thought to follow: fear or love. I looked at the tear, felt the fear, but chose love. I began talking to the people in the neighbouring beds.
One neighbour had been married for quite a long time and was about to be picked up by her husband for a weekend outing at a cottage. Another was knitting very beautifully. The third was noticeably pregnant and afraid. I don’t believe she spoke English and she wailed in fear. As I spoke to my neighbours I was released from my own fear and noticed a beautiful light and energy building in the room. I felt that this change in energy was a thing that happens when you choose love, but I may simply have not noticed whether or not my neighbours turned on their bedside lights.
Freed from fear, I explored the ward and discovered the stationary bicycles, the laundry and the pool table. I sought to restore a balanced lifestyle. I exercised frequently on the stationary bike. I felt the need for cardio and deep breathing, but I didn’t have the peace of mind to engage in meditative exercises.
Over the next few days I was visited by most family members. My brother brought my son along for daily visits in the hospital cafeteria. The presence of family that was accepting and nonjudgmental was healing.
On the third day of my hospital stay I suddenly exclaimed, “I need to get a job!” I now thought I knew the inner secrets of working in psychiatry and my allied health profession. I was out of the hospital after only 72 hours. I was on a medication, which one I do not remember, but to me, it seemed irrelevant to my recovery at the time (though, thankfully, I took it as prescribed). What had started out as a scary experience ended up being one of renewal and grounding. Accepting my fellow patients with psychiatric problems and being accepted by family had led in turn to a greater acceptance of my own situation. Acceptance and love proved healing.
About Hazel Green
I am a 50 year old woman who lives in Ottawa with my 15 year old son. I was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder in 2003. Prior to my diagnosis I completed two Bachelors’ of Science degrees. The second one was in an allied health care profession. I have been on disability since my diagnosis, but have worked part-time with children with disabilities. I am attempting a return to my profession as I feel greatest fulfillment when helping people. Unfortunately, stigma being what it is, and with the general fear that people have of people with a schizophrenic type diagnosis, I am very guarded as to whom I come “out” to. I long for a career where I can help people and not have to worry about people fearing me should they learn of my diagnosis. I am passionate about helping people, my family and taking care of my son. I knit, crochet and strive to think positively. I yearn for a full recovery that would allow me to work overseas in my chosen profession.