I’m finishing up my second week working on a psych ward. Before I began I had spoken with my therapist and asked him if he had any recommendations. He asked me only to do one thing, “look at them as if they are real people with real issues. Remember that how they act makes sense, at least to them..” I’ve tried to do just that and in the process I’ve learned a few things about myself.
I’ve learned that it’s a very thin line between ‘normal’ and ‘crazy’. I’ve met people who still have dreams but life has thrown a bunch of garbage at them.
I’ve met a young man who, for no fault of his own, cannot stop moving his mouth. He has tardive dyskenesia along with some catelepsy. It’s not fair that he can’t use one of the drugs we’d like him to have because he’d have no way to pay for it out of the hospital.
There’s a lady who rather than embracing her upcoming retirement has decided that life just isn’t worth living, or at least bothering with. She barely eats, barely sleeps, and just lies in bed all day, despite being on several medicines that should be helping her by now. We keep hoping she’ll try ECT but so far she refuses. She doesn’t believe she is depressed, just that she’s a realist.
Another lady, who is so similar to myself that it scares me, is manic. She doesn’t remember the difficulty the police had bringing her in, nor the way she behaved in the ED. She doesn’t understand why she’s still being held ‘hostage’. When asked about it she has changed the story so much that it makes me wonder why she’s still there. The reality, though, is quite a bit different when you talk to those who met her that first day. Still, some of her story is true. She really has lived several places, really has suffered tragedy, really has had life turn upside down on her. I look at her and I see just how close I came to being there as a patient with her. Instead, though, I discovered ways to handle my stress, ways to grow my way out, and continue to grow. I have to remind myself that she is not me and does not have the skills I’ve learned, despite our similar circumstances.
The truth is all of these people could be you, or me, or someone we walk by. They are no different than we are, not special, not broken. They have just become overwhelmed and need someone to help guide them out of their own caves. Today, I nearly broke down in tears listening to a man who had to move back in with his mother because of an unexplained seizure that then turned his life upside down. He’s my age. I think how my parents would be if I lost my ability to take care of myself, and I think of how I would be if my own children found themselves in a similar place. I feel for them all.
And then, there is a man, who if he could only control his anger could provide such beauty to the world. He’s an artist who has covered his walls with drawings he’s done while waiting. He is also a gifted musician and can provide so much more to this world. Smart, well-kept, handsome, young, and strong… all the qualities a man his age would love to have. He’s there trying to explain to us that his problem is that he can’t sleep, that is the reason, he says, that he sees so many strange things. Visions when he closes his eyes, radio waves in the air, dots on our bodies… He believes there are aliens and he is worried there will be war because of them. He may be right, he might not; it’s not my place to say. There’s a lot of perfectly ‘normal’ people walking around who believe in aliens so that isn’t something worth arguing about.
So what do I say to myself? What do I think? I think it’d be best if when we talk to those who are in the ward that despite how crazy they sound, despite how far-fetched their stories may be, that we should give them the benefit of the doubt. So, yes, I choose to believe my patient when she says she swallowed a bunch of flexeril as well as oxycodone, mobic, and citalopram with vodka. I believe her when she says she doesn’t know why she started feeling suicidal, that it doesn’t make sense to her. I believe her when she says she really wants to live, despite being alive only because someone else found her. I believe her. And? If my patient says he believes in telepathy, why not? Who are we to say what another has experienced? We aren’t them. If they say they lived in Europe, or DC, or wherever, then who are we to say they didn’t?
These are good people, not liars, nor embellishers. They are telling us exactly what they think to be true. They are only being honest with no filters…. if everyone was as honest as these, we’d all be in the psych ward…
thank you for reading,