Dear Psychiatry Resident,
You found yourself sitting across from me because I had a scary episode of self-harm one night. You may not remember me but I remember you.
I went alone to the mental health ER where you were working. I hoped that a mental health specific ER would understand me better than a regular hospital ER. Every time in the past I went to a regular hospital ER I was made to feel stupid and unimportant. Unfortunately, the intake nurse did just that; he made me feel stupid and unimportant. He judged my life and determined that I was unworthy (“So your life is great, you just had a bad night.”). I was going to leave and he told me to stay considering I had come all the down to the ER anyways. I feared that refusing would cause a problem so I agreed.
I didn’t know I would be waiting in a locked room. I didn’t know the only way to get out was through a staff member. I had brought a book to pass the time but this really wasn’t a waiting room made for reading. I was terrified as I watched police come in and go with individuals that were not having their best day. I saw people be admitted to the hospital and wheeled out strapped to a gurney. I saw people looking sick from withdrawal and people furious when they found out they wouldn’t be able to leave for a cigarette. My anxiety raised as I saw a young girl lunge at a very sad looking man. An older gentleman even dropped his pants completely to tuck in his shirt. This was a very intimidating situation for me. I wanted to leave and I was afraid to ask. I was afraid that if I was denied, I would begin to freak out and end up shut in a room like the girl who lunged at the man.
After 3 hours, my name was called and I sat in a bare room with a video camera. You came in and asked me the typical intake questions, wanting to know about my mental health history. I hesitantly shared that I have a borderline personality disorder (BPD) diagnosis. I expected you to judge me. I expected you to think I was seeking attention. I expected you to dismiss me. I expected you to hate me. Instead, you did none of those things.
You showed me compassion. You acknowledged that people with BPD are often looked down upon by the psychiatric community. You validated that what I had gone through the night before must have been scary. You commended me for coming to the ER as part of my self-care. You respected that I wanted to wait in the room for the doctor instead of in the waiting room. You made me feel relaxed. You made me feel like I was ok.
I hope you were told about the email I sent a few days later. I was told the message would be passed along. I wanted to express my thanks. I wanted to make sure your supervisor knew that you had been helpful. It was important to me that you and your supervising doctor knew that your validation, compassion, empathy and respect meant something to me. I have heard so many horror stories about how psychiatrists, nurses, doctors and other staff treat individuals with BPD (and other mental health issues). I hoped that my acknowledgment would validate you and show others what they should try to incorporate into their own practice. Validation. Compassion. Empathy. Respect.
So again, I want to say thank you. We need more mental health professionals like you.
About Kristen Bellows
Kristen lives in Southern Ontario with her partner and their new baby boy! She identifies as Mad and believes that her emotional differences are a part of who she is. Kristen is a registered social work, working as a dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) skills group facilitator. She is also training to become a birth and postpartum doula. Since giving birth, Kristen has become interested in exploring how mental health issues intersect with motherhood. Kristen identifies as Mad and believes that her emotional differences are a part of who she is. She loves cats, reading, singing, pickles and learning. You can read more of Kristen’s blog posts on her personal blog www.prideinmadness.wordpress.com