Monday, January 11, 2010

See Me

I picked up the phone and gave my name to the nurse/guard on duty at the front desk. I was buzzed into the locked psychiatric facility. It was a better place than "Center", down the hall and around the corner. I could keep my purse with me. I could wear a belt. I was still deeply frightened and uneasy about this place. My beautiful daughter was here, locked in with many people from all walks of life but a large number from straight off of the streets. I was terrified when we started this journey and never stopped worrying about Linea's safety. Although the nurses were always caring and respectful there were many more of "them" than of staff. I had spent my life working in the field of disabilities. I was comfortable around children and adults with the most significant disabilities. I had worked in the trenches with adolescents with severe behavior and mental health problems. I had heard all the language howled out in fury and madness. I had witnessed the aggression of human beings unable to hold back their fear and anger at the world. Yet in this place I was deeply frightened for the safety of my daughter. I had preconceived and deeply held notions of the type of people who were incarcerated (sorry, hospitalized!) with my daughter. I wanted her daddy to stay with her at night, sleeping beside her bed, keeping her safe from someone...words I couldn't say even to myself. The crazies. The ranting and raving lunatics who were years older, bigger and with much worst pasts than hers. Don't get near my baby! I couldn't say it aloud because I am educated, open-minded and very loving of the world at large. But here I was and I was completely terrified.

We were allowed to see my daughter for 30 minutes at a time and I didn't miss those times. I finally asked the nurses if we came to see her too often. I was told that the more time families spent with their loved ones the better and quicker the recovery. "Why aren't there any other families here?" I asked. They just don't come, I was told. Or there is no one. I was even more anxious about leaving her alone in this place.

After my visit I left the unit and got into the elevator. The door closed. I was standing in this small space with one other person. A very tall, large man from the unit who had "earned" a fifteen minute smoke break, alone, without the posse tagging along. Here we stood waiting for the elevator to drop us down to the first floor. I do not want to admit this but I will. My heart was pounding and I was considering stabbing a button and getting out on the next floor. And then he spoke to me. "How is your daughter doing?" he asked, in a thick Eastern European accent. (Why do you want to know? How do you know her?) "She is doing better," I said, the pounding of my heart increasing.

"It seems not so fair for the young ones here," he said. "Her, I pray for. Me, I have some trouble with the drink and come in here to try to get well." (I am so, so sorry I was judgmental. I am so sorry I was frightened of you. I am so sorry I did not look at you, at your face, into your eyes. Forgive me.) "Thank you," I said. "I hope that you are feeling better very soon." (Thank you for teaching me. Thank you for looking at me. Thank you for treating me like a fellow human being. Thank you for being a better person than me and helping me to take a step forward.) The door opened and I headed back to my university and he to the small terrace for his fifteen minutes of time alone.

27 comments:

froggy said...

Oh. My.
I'm so glad I know how the story turns out. Included a link to this post on my blog.

Elizabeth said...

This made my heart race and is beautifully written. How traumatic the whole experience must have been, yet you manage to find meaning and comfort and blessings in it. I have a sister who has struggled with mental illness so I know in some small way what those hospitals are like. Thank you for a lovely, revealing post.

Ashley's Mom said...

Cinda, thanks for stopping by my blog and for sharing my post with your students. Interestingly, I guest lecture at a class each spring for graduate level special education students at Virginia Commonwealth University. Prior to my class, the professor shares many readings with the class from my blog.

I love your blog and can't wait to read more.

Judith Ellis said...

Cinda - What beautiful honest embraceable teachable words. From a place of deep gratitude, I thank you. The story too unfolds beautifully.

I will have to tell you in detail perhaps over that cup of coffee of a dear friend in NYC who is a schizophrenic. Anytime he was at his worst, he would call me and I would find him in various places in the City. I would bring him back to my loft and clean him up. He was actually from an incredibly wealthy family, but he was raised in boarding schools and felt utterly alone. Once he gave me his mother's number and I called her. She said, "Do you know about my son?" I assured her that I did.

Jim would sleep in my loft bed with me and watch over ME the whole night. (God was always watching over both of us.) He was frightfully thin and I would always prepare something for him. He would eat and say, "Your food tastes the best." I don't know if he ever really ate well enough throughout the week. There was never any food in his refrigerator or cabinets.

It might have been a silly thing to do, my mother was very uncomfortable with my friendship, but somewhere deep inside of me I knew that my friend, Jim, would not hurt me. And he never did. He was more interested in hurting himself. I would have to bandage him up often.

Love endures...

pixiemama said...

Wow.

love.

Tanya @ TeenAutism said...

Cinda, thank you SO much for sharing this story with us. It's a learning experience for us all.

mama edge said...

I remember feeling a lot of judgment toward the other parents -- scorn towards those who didn't show up, snobbishness toward those who appeared to be less educated or otherwise "lesser" compared to me. I think I wanted to believe I was better, and therefore not at fault for my son's mental health struggles.

Powerful post, Cinda.

Nancy C said...

As you mentioned on my post, the fear and powerlessness of a child in the hospital is a humbling and eye-opening experience, to say the least.

Grace comes in the most surprising ways, and thank you for sharing your moment with us all.

Cat said...

Beautifully written. Your daughter's life will be so much richer simply for the fact that you are her mother.

suelmayer said...

Wow, Cinda, that is an amazing post. I felt like I was right there with you having the same thoughts and feelings.

Taz said...

so beautifully written! I have just found your blog, and am looking forward to reading much more!

Jen said...

I came to visit and thank you for the kind comment you left on my blog, because it made me smile and feel good:) After reading this post I am speechless at your openess and honesty, and so full of admiration that you can say exactly how we would all feel in the same circumstances. It takes unusual bravery to do that. It is genuinely the most touching and heartfelt post I have seen. Jen.

coolkid said...

just found this blog through jen, i loved your honesty and openess, i also know people affected with bipolar and my own children have asd disorders. i look forward to reading your story and will enjoy catching up over the next few weeks

Brian Miller said...

thanks for dropping by. i work with at risk kids. i have spent a few days in those places, waiting on family that never came, with kids who were there because they did not. thanks for being real...

Carrie Wilson Link said...

Ditto, Elizabeth!

Love.

septembermom said...

So beautifully written and expressed. Thank you for sharing. It's a privilege to read your words.

Megan said...

I can echo this passage. Those visits to the hospital are comforting and awful at the same time. My husband has never cried so hard as when he had to take leave of her each time, with her begging to come home, starting at the age of seven. Life feels so cruel in those moments.

erika said...

Amazing post!

Corrie Howe said...

Cinda, this is beautiful. And does remind me of the times I've been shamefully unloving towards others. My husband shared a story very similar to this about a month ago...someone who didn't have an appearance of someone "safe." He spoke to my husband first. Turns out he used to be the security guard for years where my husband worked. He was now ravaged with cancer, thus the appearance.

Alicia (aka Dr. Mom) said...

Thank you for writing this. It was just amazing.

My brother was just admitted to a partial hospitalization program about 1 week ago... he's been struggling with mental health issues all of his life. It used to be so clouded by drug abuse, but he's been clean for a while. He struggles with Major Depression but I feel it's likely Bipolar II (not Bipolar I, which is much more severe of course).

It is heartbreaking as a sister, and beyond imaginable as a mother. Keep writing and teaching. You are doing important work! :)

Accidental Expert said...

What a beautiful post! Thanks for sharing. I remember feeling that fear when my son was first hospitalized. I cried all the way home and didn't sleep that night, wondering how he was being treated.

Katie Donohue Bevins said...

Beautiful, honest writing. Thank you for sharing.

JulieAnne said...

I am so glad to see that someone finally spoke up and said what everyone else is thinking. I felt the same way when I was admitted to a psychiatric center. I knew I had to be there for at least a week and I knew my level of emotional instability and mental illness but didnt know what the other people there would be like. I was there because depression had driven me to try and kill myself. But I was scared out of my mind to know that I would be there with others who were from all walks of life and who had 'dangerous' pasts. After a day I realized that the other people in there with me were just average people who for one reason or another ended up there like me, to get help. Some were alcoholics, drug users and some like me, suffered from varying degrees of mental illness. When I left I had a much greater appreciation for facilities like the one I was in and for the people there. We were all there just trying to regain a normal life.

Thank you for taking the time to see that we are people too :)

Marie said...

This was a wonderful story. I also know how those hospitals are.See my role is switched from yours,I'm the daughter and my mom is the one in the hospital with the illness (in and out of the hospital).This illness is different from all the others.Not only does it come and go, but it is always going to be lingering in my life,and it will never completley go away.




Do you know any other mental illness blogs just about that.Your blog is beautifully written I must say.

Cinda said...

Marie, I couldn't email you privately so will publically say thank you for your kind words and acknowledge how hard it must be for you in your role as a daughter to a mom with mental health conditions. I have a student who shared a very similar story with me and it is heartbreaking to have to be the "mother" in many cases long before you are ready or your time. I don't know how you found my blog but you may be interested in joining the BringChange2Mind.org organization and Facebook. There is a very wonderful community of support and I would be more than happy to facilitate a discussion board for "children of parents with MHC"! Let me know, feel free to email me off line.

Ivy said...

A very powerful post. I'm sure I would react in the same way you did.

Mrs4444 said...

This is great. You are making a difference.