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The Eye-Opening Lessons I Learned From Other Patients in a Psych Ward

(NOTE: No real names, nicknames or names of any kind have been used.)

Going through an outpatient program in a psych ward twice in one year taught me many things: coping mechanisms, communication skills, more about myself, etc. Yet the most eye-opening lesson I came across was that I’m not actually completely alone in battling this snarling, dripping, gargantuan and vicious beast that is my mental illness, because while someone is independently struggling through it, it can make them feel like the most isolated and alienated person on this entire godforsaken planet.

It’s consistently locked me away in a desolate, suffocating cage away from the golden light of day. It’s savagely ripped out my tongue and made me afraid to speak. It’s drained away all my motivation and will to live, then drowned me in blankets and slumber. Furthermore, society itself has painted this ghastly picture of the mentally ill as untouchables, thus perpetuating the lonely feelings of being rejected, invalid and hated that those of us living with mental illness are weighed down by.

The people that I have attended my programs with have been some of the most genuine, honest, raw and open people that I’ve ever met, while also all having their own songs of sorrow to share. I have never felt unsafe or insecure while in their company, but my heart has ached for them and I have exchanged words of encouragement to many.

I have seen people from all walks of life — soldiers and rape victims with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), women who have overcome cancer, young men with severe social anxiety, individuals with schizophrenia and more. I have listened as a distraught woman told her story about restlessly waiting to hear back from her birth daughter who she gave up for adoption many moons ago, how it’s tearing her apart inside, and then watched as she wept in the garden. There have been patients who couldn’t bare to look others in the eye, and then there have been those who talked a mile a minute. I listened as a woman with schizoaffective disorder stated that she experiences her life through blackouts and has bitterly fought with her lover because she hallucinated someone else sleeping in their bed. I sat across a table in silence, ears wide open, while an attractive elderly lady with candy floss blonde hair resented the fact that she dwelled in such a vast house with a hoarding husband — each and every room was overflowing with debris that she had to feebly and warily avoid. Lastly, I am currently in group therapy with a young, retired exotic dancer who is carrying a dark past of sexual trauma on her shoulders, tearing her down no matter where she goes.

I’ve also been in groups with multiple divorcees who have then mentally and tremendously struggled afterwards. One man I met last year was apparently at that very moment going through an extremely rough break-up with his wife, and there were two young children involved as well. He was reminiscing about a time when he came home to a desolately empty house and that’s when he knew it was over. He couldn’t hear his children’s gleeful laughter, he couldn’t see his wife’s smiling face, or even hear the familiar hum of the family television. His house was as hollow as the depression sinking in his chest.

Just this year, there was a female divorcee who was not only bringing up two children on her own, but was put through the deaths of both her parents only months apart. She regularly had trouble saving face while in group and consistently had a box of tissues near her in case she started breaking down. I sat with her and another girl one day after hours, just listening while this woman sobbed in front of us, sharing her woes through heaving breaths.

That other girl had been in the army for a few years and was mainly trying to deal with anxiety and PTSD while attending the program.  She could no longer enjoy the Fourth of July because fireworks now terrified her and sent her running for the hills while memories of being deployed flooded her mind. She callously told the group how she’s seen countless people die in front of her, even in her arms, and how one of her close friends back home had recently overdosed. She had been dismissed from the army due to a severe physical injury.

There was even a woman who rarely spoke, but rather always seemed to be in a somewhat catatonic state and I regularly found her just staring off into the distance. Whenever she would speak, it was very eloquent and well put together, but it was not common for her to open her mouth even to sigh.

Yet these are all living, breathing, loving humans who likely feel emotions much more strongly than most. These are beautiful, kaleidoscopic, talented men and women who not only have grim secrets hidden away, but also rich histories and interesting stories to tell. Yet very few people get to know them because they’re “afraid” or they “don’t understand,” and to that I say “screw it”.

By reading these stories, these heart-wrenching stories, I would hope one feels empathy for these peoples’ struggles. Do you feel mourning for your fellow man or love for your fellow woman? Do these stories seem like ones of murder, destruction or monstrous behavior? No! These are stories of sadness, regret and pain; stories of misfortune and bad luck. Doesn’t everyone know that at some point in their lives, mentally ill or not?

I’ve spent most of my life concealed away behind the thick, black curtains that hang in my apartment because of the unfair and unjust pressures that society itself has concocted for someone like me, and I have heard just about the same from all these people that I’ve encountered. They themselves are scared, saddened, and made to feel like no one wants them around because of their “condition,” so most of them have very few friends and sometimes even no family members to console them.  Social anxiety has been a constant presence in my life and I still have not fully overcome it, because of how my kind is portrayed through the media, the news, and through word of mouth. I am apparently on the same spectrum as people like Jeffrey Dahmer, and cold-blooded reptilians according to most people on this earth, which could not be any farther from the truth. Perhaps people could start doing things like picking up a damn book, or better yet spending 10 minutes on Google to educate themselves!

As stated before, I’ve heard the exact same from the people in my groups, that they have no friends or very few people that they can rely on and trust. Some of them are older women who have never been able to marry, some of them are younger individuals with debilitating anxiety and some of them have been so severely mentally ill that they are at home all the time. So the majority of us seem to spend most of our time alone because we’ve been told that’s what we deserve and that’s the same message society has received about us. Thanks.

Even by just attending something like this program, certain outsiders are completely put off by it and think we’re all “freaks,” “heathens” or are perhaps even walking abominations. I luckily found out that the people I know have all been relatively understanding and forgiving, but it’s also taken me 27 god damn years to start being more open about my issues and who I am.

There were people in my program that said no one in their families knew because they were afraid to tell them, shaken to the very core by what their family members might say to them. There were others who mentioned how the people who did know either disowned them or told them they were actually doing the wrong thing.

Excuse me, the wrong thing? By getting help and trying to make their lives at the very least more tolerable? By checking themselves into a program that no one wants to have to attend in the first place, yet they gathered up enough strength to do so, more strength than some can even imagine? Is that to say that someone who struggles with a drug addiction and checks themselves into rehab is the wrong thing to do as well? Or if a young lady who was just raped by her own father decided to have an abortion, that’s the wrong thing too? The very nerve of some people, I swear…

I for one absolutely applaud with a standing ovation anyone who wants to get help that will exponentially better their lives, whether it’s through rehab, a program, a hospital, therapy, etc., and it would be nice if more people believed that as well. I guess a girl can dream.

Those of us who carry mental hell on our backs every day feel more than most do. We are sensitive, caring and kind. We are breathing, thinking and loving individuals. We are creative, talented and intelligent. We are handsome, beautiful and attractive. We are troubled, impaired and sick, but we want nothing more than to receive a helping hand in our time of need.

We are human, and whoever may disagree should be ashamed.

Follow this journey on the author’s blog.

Getty image via mantinov.

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