Lesson Five – Other Patients
Getting used to sharing a space with a group of strangers is hard. Everyone comes from a different background, has a different story, a different illness or difficulty. Yet you will often be surprised just how quickly and easy it is to get to know someone. You develop bonds that are quite intense, you see people at their worst, during their most vulnerable moments, and because of that there is a brutality and truth during interactions that are unlike any social situation on the outside. You don’t need to pretend and keep up appearances with each other because if you had been truly ok, than you wouldn’t have ended up on the psych ward. You have common ground, you relate, you understand.
Friendships are made on the wards, you make plans to stay in touch, but in reality, moving a friendship from the shelter of the ward to the outside isn’t an easy thing to do. Often other than your experience of Mental Health and Hospital you begin to realise that you may not actually have that much in common. Also it’s difficult seeing people either moving on with their lives and you feeling stuck, or watching them relapse repeatedly and feeling somehow responsible for their well-being, when you’re barely managing your own health. For me the hardest thing about making friendships last on the outside is that they will always remind me of some of the most difficult times of my life, and I don’t want to be reminded of that.
I used to be very sociable on the ward but after years of repeated admissions it just began to take too much out of me, I couldn’t watch a person be discharged, or leave a person on my discharge without a little voice in the back of my head saying “This could be the last time I see you alive” because that was what the reality was. I became intolerant and angry, not with the people, but with being back on a ward. The people came to be a reflection of myself, a reflection that told me I wasn’t coping with life, a reflection of everything that was wrong with me, and all I wanted to do was close my eyes to that.
Yet over the years and without regret, I have been blessed with meeting some of the most wonderful and kind-hearted people on this planet. People who made me laugh when I believed I would never even smile again. People who taught me, listened, comforted, respected, and accepted me as myself with all the ‘crazy’ in plain sight. Even writing this now, small memories pop into my brain and I find myself smiling. You see sometimes it’s not the doctors or even the nurses that bring you back to yourself, it is the people that in the midst of all that pain can instil feelings of good. I think of the people I have met in hospital and even though it may be tainted with feelings of sorrow of not knowing how they are now, I remind myself of the quote that says “People come in to our lives for a reason, a season or a lifetime” And I am thankful for all the people I met, even the ones that I wanted to punch.
© Vanessa Findlay