10 Things Children Need to Know About Being Adopted: an Adoptee's Perspective

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10. You have a right to feel the way you do about your adoption journey.

Adoption is complicated and messy and wonderful and heartbreaking. Life may feel wonderful to you now or it may feel confusing and awful. Know that your feelings about being adopted are valid and will likely change throughout your life — and that is completely normal and OK. There is no right or wrong way to feel about adoption, and there is no right or wrong way to navigate your adoption journey. You have a right to explore what it means to be adopted in your own time and in your own way. Your experience is your own and you are the only one who knows what is truly in your heart.

9. Know you may see and feel the world differently due to the traumatic losses you have experienced in your life.

Many adoptees are also mental health warriors and brave their battles valiantly every day. You are not alone in this and it is OK to ask for help if you reach a point where you no longer feel as though you can brave your battles alone. You don’t have to do this alone — we don’t want you to go through this alone. Your life has value and your light is so very needed in this world.

8. You have a right to fight until you feel safe.

Regardless of the age at which you joined your adoptive family, you may find that forming a connection with them is extremely difficult. Whether you joined your family who adopted you as a baby, as a teenager or even as an adult — the fact of the matter is you were biologically connected to your birthmother for nine months before you came into this world. You heard her voice and you felt her heartbeat from inside her womb and you have her blood running through your veins. That matters. The connection you formed with your birthmother matters. That can make it difficult to form a connection with the family who adopted you. You may have endured traumatic experiences in your life beyond the loss of your birth family and your culture and community of origin. While you are not what happened to you, those experiences can very much affect the way you view and form relationships with others. You may need to fight against forming connections or receiving love from your family until you can truly believe in your heart and in your gut you are safe and nothing you can do or say will be enough to push your adoptive family away from you, or make them love you any less. It won’t be easy for anyone involved, but you need and deserve to know you are worth fighting for and there are people in your life who will fight to stay just as hard as you fight to push them away.

7. Your sense of identity is your own.

Adoption is the result of a series of decisions that have been made for a child. As an adoptee, you may feel as though there are many things in your life that are out of your control. You may have had your name changed, you may not know your true date of birth, or you may have been raised in a racial and cultural community that differs greatly from your race and culture of origin. All of these decisions that are made for you can profoundly impact your sense of identity and the world’s perception of you. As you mature and grow in your understanding of yourself and your adoption journey, you may begin to see yourself differently and reject or embrace parts of who you are. There is no right or wrong way to form your identity as you navigate your adoption journey. And, the way you currently identify and see yourself may completely change in a few years. The process of forming your identity may include exploring your past and seeking connections to your family and culture of origin. You have a right to seek out the missing pieces of the puzzle, and you have a right to search for a connection to the people and things that may fill a void in your life and help you feel whole again.

6. You should never have to choose between loving the family who brought you into this world and the family who adopted you and chose to raise you.

There is room in your heart to love both. You can feel blessed to have a family to celebrate milestones and holidays and birthdays with and to have your needs met while mourning the loss of your birth family and the connections to your heritage and your past. Loving your family of origin and yearning for a connection to your past doesn’t have to mean you love the family who adopted you any less. It is OK to miss your birth family and wonder about what might have been. They will always be a part of you. You have a right to wholly embrace the many aspects and people that contribute to who you are.

 

5. There is beauty and heartbreak in being perceived as different.

It is not easy being different and living and going to school in a place where nobody looks like you and nobody seems to understand what you are going through. The questions about who your “real” parents are and why you can’t be with them, the endless taunting and bullying, the assignments you can’t complete due to the countless unknowns in your life — all are incredibly heartbreaking reminders of the losses you have experienced and how different you truly feel. Being different can be lonely and terrifying, but it can also be inspiring and beautiful. We are all unique in our own ways and life often deals us cards that we aren’t prepared to play. But, it is in those moments of adversity where we discover our strength and resiliency — where we fight to hold on to the things and people in our lives that bring us joy and foster hope. It is in those moments where we are presented with opportunities to educate others and create awareness about the issues we face as a result of our experiences in life. It is in those moments when we get to decide how we react to difficult situations — where we must gather the strength and courage within ourselves to find light in the darkness and fight to rise above the adversity — where we can choose to combat hatred with kindness, compassion and love.

4. Allow yourself to let go of the guilt that you feel.

As adoptees, we tend to blame ourselves for the things that have happened in our lives that were out of our control. We ask ourselves questions like:

“If I hadn’t cried as much, would they have kept me?”

“If I had helped more or if I hadn’t made them so angry, would they have taken me away?”

“If I had been better or if I had tried harder, would they have stayed?”

We feel guilty for not feeling happy about being adopted and for not being able to be the children we believe our adoptive parents want us to be. We hear stories from other adoptees who have experienced trauma and abuse in their adoptive families and we feel guilty for not having had those experiences as well. We feel guilty for missing and loving our birthmothers and we feel guilty for the hatred and anger we feel towards them. We feel guilty for loving our adoptive parents and we feel guilty for not being able to love and connect with them in the ways they wish we could. We feel guilty for the constant anger and sadness we feel. We feel guilty for how lost and alone we feel. It is important to remember we are not what happened to us. We had no control over the choices that were made that led to our relinquishments and subsequent adoptions. Adoption is so incredibly complex and there is no right or wrong way to feel about being adopted. We have a right to not feel OK about what has happened in our lives. But, we also need to do what we can to not allow ourselves to get stuck there. We need to allow ourselves the time and space to heal. We need to attempt to forgive others and ourselves in order to heal and work towards finding some semblance of peace in our lives.

3. You are worthy of love, and you are worthy of being loved exactly as you are.

There have been experiences in your life that may have caused you to feel like you are not good enough and are not deserving of love, but you are. You should not have to compromise who you are to prove to others you are worth loving. Love is something that should be given without expectation of anything in return, and you deserve to have that kind of love in your life. You should never feel like you have to buy love or friendship or a sense of belonging with things like gifts, money, your body, good grades, perfection, loss of identity or anything else that may compromise who you are and who you believe yourself to be. You are worthy of love without condition or expectation. You are worthy of being loved for who you are — beautiful and messy and wonderful imperfections and all.

2. You matter to this world.

It can be difficult to understand why people in your life chose to make the decisions that led to your being adopted. Some of those decisions may cause you to feel as though your value in this world is less than others whose birth parents chose to raise them. I want you to know and to hear me when I say your life, your voice and your story all have value in this world. Regardless of how you came to be adopted, I want you to know you matter and you have the capacity to do amazing things in your life. Never forget this world needs your light.

1. You are not alone.

Being an adoptee can be beautiful and lonely and wonderful and devastating. It can be difficult living in a world of people who breathe the same air as you, but will never understand what you have gone through and why you feel the way you do about it. That sense of belonging can feel so fleeting at times — it is something you may never fully be able to experience. It is never easy to feel misunderstood. It is never easy to feel lost in a world you are encouraged to embrace but never fully feels like your own. It is never easy to hear you were given “a chance at a better life” when all you want is to experience the life from which you were torn away — a life you may never have had the chance to know. Please know you are not alone. There are entire communities of adoptees who have had similar experiences and know exactly what you are going through and truly understand how you feel. Reach out to the people in your life who love and care about you. Talk to them about the things that hurt, and talk to them about the things that bring you joy. Too many adoptees have lost their lives with too many words in their heart they felt were unspeakable. While the words you need to say about what you are feeling may be hurtful to your loved ones — the pain will heal with time. However, the pain of losing you would create a deep and devastating wound that your loved ones would carry with them forever.

Please know you are so very loved.

You are seen.

You are wanted.

You are irreplaceable.

You are never, ever alone.

It will get better, and there is always hope.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

Follow this journey at Diary of a Not-So-Angry Asian Adoptee 

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Depression Stays, Even When I Know I Should Be Happy

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In the past year, I’ve gone from the darkest depths of despair to some of the highest points of my life. My life had collapsed entirely but I miraculously was able to rise from the ashes and have a second chance at life. I have found my true calling in advocacy and have found my voice to speak out about all I have been through. I have written a couple books and have an ongoing blog that has proved to be very cathartic for me. I finally found a group of doctors and a treatment plan that works for me and has given me genuine hope for the future. After 41 years of running, I have finally begun to make peace with my past, rebuilding bridges believed long ago abandoned and demolished, and have healed my heart enough to once again reopen it to the possibility of love.

With so many high points, you’d think I’d be on cloud nine without a care in the world. In a lot of ways, I am honestly happier than I ever remember being before. I have a renewed sense of purpose. Goals that once would have felt impossible now feel obtainable. For the first time in my life, I have a sincere faith that I will be OK and I am hopeful for my future. All things considered, I am in a much better place in my life than I have ever been before.

 

However, despite all the wonderful milestones of this past year, I am still treading water when it comes to my mental illness. By all expectations, I know I should be beyond happy. Ecstatic even. And truthfully, I am smiling more and have even experienced moments of genuine happiness. But my depression still reigns supreme. My anxiety still has me on constant edge. My post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) still leaves me feeling irrationally unsafe and in fear.

From the outside looking in, others may only see the blue sky above, feel the gentle warm breezes in the air and the coolness of the water that surrounds me, but the story does not end with what others can see. Because others can only see the above the surface, they cannot fully fathom the whole picture. My depression is like heavy weights strapped to my ankles as I tread water, constantly threatening to pull me under. That heaviness is a constant pull, a terminal threat and reminder to be vigilant. I cannot stop treading water, stop fighting for even a moment or I will sink and drown. As exhausting as it is, I can never stop, never catch my breath.

My anxiety and PTSD are like creatures lurking below the water. I don’t always know what they are or how much threat they pose, but I can feel their constant presence, brushing against me, bumping into me, biting into me here and there. There is no way to ignore or avoid them, no way to scare them away. They are often distorted shadows beneath the ripples of the surface, not quite fully visible, so that I never feel safe. Periodically, they reopen old scars and cause phantom pains that remind me of the traumas of my past, making them feel real again, catching me in the moment.

Every single day, despite how beautiful the day might seem, that lingering voice revisits me, trying to talk me into giving up, giving in and let the waves carry me away. I’m not suicidal. I don’t want to die. I am just utterly exhausted from treading these waves for years. I am weary straight down to the bone and just want to rest. I want the pain, the struggling and the constant fear to end. That lingering voice knows all my insecurities and plays upon every one. It whispers into the wind that I’m not strong enough, that it’s only a matter of time until either I go under and drown or the monsters below consume me. It tells me I’ll never reach the shore, never be able to rest or catch my breath, that my only choices are to either give up and go under or to spend my entire life struggling and fighting.

I am in treatment. I see both a therapist and a meds doctor regularly. Every week, I attend multiple groups and classes to help acquire new tools for coping, including tai chi, yoga, meditation and art. I am focused on healing my mind, body and spirit so that I can be in a better place in every way. All my efforts little by little are bringing me closer to that beach I long to stretch out upon, enjoying the sunshine and the beautiful day. I can see that far off shore but right now it is still beyond my reach.

It is not a matter of just not trying hard enough to be happy or holding too tightly to the negative. I have so much I am both happy and grateful for in my life. I know I have been blessed in so many ways. I would love to relish in everything and just be OK. After all, the sun is shining, the sky is blue, the breezes are soft and warm. On the surface, my days would be perfect. Yet I am forever one moment away from going under, drowning and becoming a statistic.

I have been told I am the sweetest and happiest depressed person that some people have ever met. Despite all I have been through, I am the eternal optimist, always looking for something positive in even the worst situations. I have a true joie de vivre and appreciation for the simple things in life. I want to be happy and healthy. I want to be functional and OK. Yet I’m deadlocked in a constant battle, constant struggle just to keep going and survive.

Mental illness isn’t about being weak or lazy. It is a medical condition that leaves me with little control over my own mind and emotions. No matter how hard I try to be happy and healthy, it has a tight grasp on my mind, body and soul. Just because others cannot see everything beneath the surface does not mean it is not there or that I am not in constant torment from the monsters that lurk in the darkness.

As much as I know I should be over the moon ecstatic over so many of the blessings I’ve had over the last year, I keep finding myself yanked downward against my will. I still have many days I lay in bed, in the darkness, unable to pull myself up or function for hours on end. I still have many days that I roll into a ball and cry because I’ve spiraled down and that irrational despair is so great that the world feels hopeless to me. I still have many nights where I lay in bed for hours restlessly as my mind races and my fears fester or where I bolt awake because the nightmares of my past have materialized in my present.I know I should be happy, life should feel perfect. Yet my mind refuses to listen. My mental illness is steering the car. I’m just along for the ride.

I want to get better, to be healthy and happy. If curing my depression was as simple as just trying harder to be happy, this past year would have cured me without a doubt. But mental illness is not so easily beaten or controlled. You cannot let even the most beautiful, serene days deceive you because beneath the surface, in the darkness of the depths, my monsters still loom, continuously threatening to drag me under and devour me alive.

This blog originally appeared on Unlovable.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

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Why Millennial 'Side Hustles' Can Benefit Your Mental Health

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Many experts agree that millennials differ from previous generations for a variety of reasons: in general we are more tolerant and less prejudicial, tend to have more optimistic views about the future and our expectations, respond better to more flexible scenarios at respective workplaces, score higher on self-esteem and positive self-views and also value our own happiness and work-life balance over corporate loyalty. Some of these characteristics are highly frowned upon by employers from previous generations, causing them to perceive millennials as “entitled,” “narcissistic” and “lazy.” But, as with everything in life, there are two parts to this story.

Let’s explore a brief recap on the existing generations, and how the term (and relevance of) “work-life balance” has shifted throughout the years. According to Psychology Today, when we analyze Baby Boomers, for example, we can learn they have very traditional values: they tend to follow rules, put work life as the highest of priorities, respond better to structured workplaces and firmly believe in corporate loyalty. Generation X, are typically characterized by pursuing their careers prior to “settling down.” This was the first generation to show some interest towards work-life balance, and their general worldview is based on change.  Millennials have redefined the workplace, often have a need to “want it all,” are driven for success, but are often clumsy regarding interpersonal skills — this due to the overload of technological stimulation. Last, but not least, we are getting to know Generation Z, the most digitally adept generation of all: they don’t know a world without technology, are even more driven than previous generations to finding independent success, but also have a very short attention span and low tolerance for frustration.

It’s important to look back (and forward) on what this means for the workplace, but more importantly, what this means for the current and future generation’s mental health. We are noticing that as generations continue to move forward, the traditional “workplace rules” and the feeling to be a part of a bigger corporation for financial safety, has been losing its power over the feeling of “being your own boss.” Now, what does this mean in a bigger spectrum? A variety of things may happen — on both sides of this coin. For corporations, this may mean they will need to create a more flexible workplace, putting their focus on results rather than time spent in the office. But, what does this mean for millennials?

The psychology of millennials explored previously has given us some insight as to what many millennials value: happiness, self-worth, self-esteem, flexibility and recognition. The reality is the perception that 9 to 5 jobs can offer all of these things is diminishing as we move forward. But, what about financial security? These traditional structured jobs that millennials are resenting more and more each day, are oftentimes the only ones that can offer a stable financial security — something which has increased importance as we grow older.

That being said, what if there were a way to conserve your financial stability, while also feeling a sense of wholeness and purpose? What if instead of blaming the businesses that provide this financial structure, millennials learn to take responsibility for their own sense of purpose? What if there were a way to do both? Well, there just might be an answer to these questions.

The benefits of side hustles (a name coined by millennials, but practiced by previous generations as “second jobs”) are much more than just a financial cushion. They offer an opportunity to enjoy something you do, something you’re passionate about, without the pressure of relying on it as your total income. The added bonus of these jobs as a mental health asset is something that has been rarely analyzed, as mentioned by Baab-Muguira in her article found in Quartz. In fact, she also mentions, “failing to participate in the trend (side-hustles) might even lead one to a millennial identity crisis.”  An identity crisis often experienced by many as they struggle to find meaning and that “spark” in a job that offers a sense of fulfillment. Something many of us millennials struggle with nowadays is finding the perfect work-life balance, only to disappoint ourselves as we understand there’s no such thing as a perfect balance to begin with.

As mental health professionals, we often look at crisis as an opportunity to grow and learn. An opportunity to discover and put a name to that spark. A spark that, if discovered, can bring that extra sense of motivation and value into the regular workplace. According to the Harvard Business Review, “independent [and] remote workers are more productive, satisfied and engaged than their office-bound colleagues.” What if a side-hustle brings the sense of purpose and passion that was missing, and allows you to be a better employee at your full-time job? What if you learn how to mix both business and pleasure and learn to get the best of both worlds?

As far as flexible side hustles, there’s a wide range of possibilities. Almost as vast as your imagination allows you to go. I’ve seen small run-at-home bakeries and catering businesses, photography enthusiasts, freelance writers (as yours truly), second hand luxury clothes curators, yoga instructors, soap and skincare alchemists, flea market hustlers and so much more. It all depends on what makes you happy and what strikes a chord with your sense of purpose. It is possible that we might be onto something here, a pathway to be able to blend the best of what all previous generations have been trying to show us. All we have to do is be open to the possibility and agree to take responsibility to make it happen. If we are able to do this, we might be able to improve our millennials’ mental health reality and tap into their full creative potential.

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When You Don't Want to Admit Your Medication Is Helping

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I’d grown comfortable with my morning routine: wake up, stay there.

I had no classes to go to after I dropped out of university due to a severe relapse. I had no job to go to since being fired for excessive illness.

That was until I woke up and cleaned my room — threw away old lists, shredded old documents, changed my godforsaken bed sheets, opened my damn windows. I was making room for the newly present emotional balance I had been waiting eight years for.

I started baking again.

I joined the gym (I’d later have to cancel my membership due to deteriorating physical health but nevertheless, I wanted to be there).

I shaved and dyed my hair.

I ran from the idea of the medication working. Not because I didn’t want them to work and not because I didn’t believe they could. I didn’t want the placebo, I didn’t want to be naive, I didn’t want to be a “pill popper.” The further I ran, the closer I came to the only real conclusion.

It worked.

I went to my general practitioner to discuss my disordered sleeping; I swung between insomnia and hypersomnia, frightening nights of sleep paralysis and hallucinations, wild and vivid dreams.

“It’s just the side effects,” he said. I’d assumed so. “Try taking them in the morning rather than at night,” he continued. I received my repeat prescription.

“But they are working?” he asked.

No, I wanted to say.

“Yes,” I said.

It’s not so much that my mood changed. I still wasn’t laughing because I was still lonely, but my energy picked up. My motivation. My ambition.

A year earlier, six or so months into university, my mother came to visit me. I didn’t want her in my room. I never let anyone in there.
“OK,” I said after she wore me down. “It’s messy though.”

When my mother saw the state of my room, she was horrified. “This is the room of a sick person,” is what she told me.

My room now is worlds apart from what it had been. And I’m proud.

I opened up to my friends about the last few years I’d had. I’ve never felt closer to them.

Is this the “it gets better” they told me about? Because, for the first time in my life, I’ve seen they’ve been right all along.

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What Actually Happens in Couples Therapy?

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Does your relationship feel stuck? Are you and your partner having the same arguments over and over again? Are feeling unsure what to do about it?

Clinical social work trains therapists to look at the person and environment interaction. This is the frame I use with therapy clients when we discuss why the health of their relationships is a critical contributor and consequence of their mental health. For example, irritability is a common symptom of both depression and anxiety, which can make interactions with a partner challenging at times. At the same time, when your relationship does not feel stable, it is easier to feel anxious or depressed.

Couples counseling can be a transformative experience for individual mental health. And yet, for many couples, the idea of talking to a perfect stranger about their personal problems can feel overwhelming and intimidating. Understanding what actually goes on in couples therapy can help to demystify the process and build readiness to make this important step.

There are different counseling options available to couples. I personally recommend the Gottman Method — a highly effective counseling program for couples that is proven by research to help couples better manage conflict, adjust to major life transitions and improve relationship satisfaction. The Gottman Method aims to build healthier relationships that are grounded in friendship and shared meaning.

This is typically what happens in Gottman Method-driven couples therapy:

Session one: The assessment of a couple starts with an initial consultation with both partners to discuss shared goals, areas of concern and next steps in the counseling process. Next, the couple completes the “Relationship Check-Up,” an online set of questionnaires about your relationship that you both fill out separately at home. This research-backed tool allows the therapist to give you targeted and personalized feedback over the course of counseling. You’ll discuss feedback in several domains of healthy partnership over the course of counseling, including friendship and intimacy, conflict resolution and individual areas of concern. You should schedule one to two hours of uninterrupted time to fill these out before your next session.

Sessions two and three: In Gottman style therapy, the therapist then meets with each partner for separate individual sessions. This gives each partner a chance to individually discuss their concerns about the relationship and share more about what they would like to get out of the counseling process. This is also an opportunity for the therapist to give recommendations for individual therapy if that is also indicated. It is not uncommon to participate in both individual and couples therapy at the same time. Having your own individual space to organize your priorities can help you get more out of the couples counseling experience.

Session four: The therapist then meets together again with both partners for the final assessment session to share initial feedback about the health of the relationship, including discussion of strengths and vulnerabilities the couple is facing.

After this thorough assessment, the therapist offers coaching in personalized strategies to improve the relationship in weekly follow-up sessions. Each week the couple focuses on a new theme to discuss specific and practical ways to improve the relationship. The couple adds more and more tools to their relationship toolbox as counseling progresses. The therapist will assign practice exercises for the couple to use together at home to extend the benefits of counseling beyond the counseling hour. These exercises will include practice in communication skills, ideas for improving intimacy and lovemaking and ways to support each other to pursue shared meaning, passion and connection.

Throughout the counseling experience, the therapist works collaboratively with the couple assess how well they are progressing towards their specific goals for the relationship. Both partners are expected to be active agents of change throughout the counseling experience. You can imagine the better you feel as a couple, the better you will feel as an individual. Couples counseling is just another creative way to support your individual mental health.

My question for you is: If you could make one change for the better in your relationship, what would it be?

Anna Lindberg Cedar, MPA, LCSW offers counseling to adults, couples and teens in Oakland, CA. She specializes in helping individuals develop self-care routines and create more rewarding relationships. Find out more: www.annacedar.com . Sign up for Anna’s A Self-Care Moment newsletter and never miss an update.

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I Thought I Was Better Than the Other Patients on the Psychiatric Ward

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Editor’s note: Names have been changed in this piece to protect identities of each individual.

The minute I set foot in the psychiatric unit, I think, That’s it. I’m officially “crazy.” A beat later, it occurs to me that indeed, I still have a whole lot of stigma left inside me.

In my experience, the first day on the ward is the hardest. I sit at one of the round tables surrounded by complete strangers and notice most of us are in the midst of an acute crisis. In other words, we are far away from displaying our finest selves.

There isn’t much to look at. The walls are painted blue and grey. There are a few tables and chairs as well as a TV set up in the corner of the “leisure area.” Everything is out in the open and no one is able to hide.

I decide to walk around the unit until I come across a shelf filled with board games and thick stacks of magazines. And art supplies, like coloring books and washable markers (of course, there are no scissors in sight). Even pens aren’t allowed, which makes me feel like a 3-year-old.

My first day on the unit, I sit in my spot all day long. I refuse to do anything or speak to anyone. At one point, I noticed one of the other patients pacing around the ward. She ends up walking around in a circle for what seems like forever.

In the afternoon, I walk up to the nurses’ station and watch a man throw a fit about his human rights. The nurses politely ask him to leave and I watch as he storms away. I don’t know much about who he is. And I thought he definitely needed to pull his pants up.

The next day, I meet a man named Ray. He’s quirky and witty and from what I gather, he appears to have two personalities. Our nurse brings him a cup filled with a bunch of different colored pills, and I wonder what effects they have on him. I quickly discover Ray and I are the only people on the ward who speak French. So we stick together as I’m the only one who’s bilingual and can understand him.

When the nurse asks Ray to rate his mood, he shakes his head. “Je ne comprend pas,” he says. After silly gestures are exchanged, I can’t help myself. I giggle and start translating for them. The nurse is stunned. “I had no idea you spoke French!” she tells me. I give her a weak smile. Then, she says that I should befriend Ray since it appears I’m the only one who can understand him.

The whole afternoon, I laugh as Ray curses his doctor and this so-called terrible place. We’re in our own little bubble, and I listen intently as he complains about his inability to go outside to have a cigarette. He goes on about Mary and Joseph and Jesus and spirits and life after death. At first, I’m frightened and confused. But then I realize I am no weirder than him. That we are both ill, and both people standing on the same level. And so even though he’s a man who’s lost touch with reality, I do not judge him.

I even start to like him.

My heart softens as he tells me he’s been stuck on the Psychiatric Assessment Unit for weeks. I notice there’s only a mattress in his room, and all he does during the day is talk to himself. I’m the only company he has, and my heart fills with empathy. I wonder what will happen to him once he leaves.

The thing about this place is that we’re all on our knees, all in vulnerable spots. And so it’s easy to open up. When the other patients loudly and bluntly ask me about my diagnosis, the reason I’m here, I’m not ashamed to tell them. After all, we’re all in the same boat, trying to sail at sea. I don’t know if I want to laugh or run away (not that I’d be able to) or both. In the end, I stay where I am and I listen.

Ray might be struggling, but he is kind and gentle. He makes me laugh for the first time since I’ve been here, and for that, I’ll be forever grateful. For the first time, I think recovery is possible.

I also befriend another patient, Victoria. She’s a housekeeper and she tells me she doesn’t agree with her doctor. She doesn’t think she’s delusional, even though she’s been diagnosed with psychotic depression. We play cards and color. She offers me a can of soda before I get transferred to a more luxurious unit. She gives me a hug and I can already tell I’m going to miss her.

The last person I say goodbye to is Roan. Roan, with his grey hair and black notebook, who didn’t leave my side throughout the entire weekend. Roan, who asked me a million times whether or not he could trust me. I said yes every time.

I guess the lesson here is when I stepped inside the psych ward, I realized I had a lot of prejudice inside me. Deep down, I believed I was superior and better than the other patients. I thought I was better than Ray, who looked like any other homeless man on the street. I thought I was smarter than Victoria, who hadn’t finished school. And I thought I was cooler than Roan, who wore round glasses just like Harry Potter.

I know that outside the psych ward, I would have immediately judged and marginalized these people. I would have taken the attitude of “me vs. them.” I would have avoided them at school, at work and on the street. Frankly, I believe I would have avoided making any contact with them because I would have thought they were “weird” and “not like me.”

But after being stuck on the same psych unit as them, I realized we are all equal. We are all people and we are all worthy of love and belonging. Ray, Victoria and Roan didn’t come from the same background as me. They hadn’t been blessed with a happy family and ideal upbringing like I had, and yet, they were the bravest and kindest people I’d ever met.

So if there’s one thing I learned in the psych ward, it’s that we’re all in the same boat, trying to ride out the tide. We are all made of stardust, and we are all deeply human.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Thinkstock photo via Pablo_K.

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