Most men and women will grow up to love their pity servitude and will never dream of doing something good for others. Therefore they will never experience what I have experienced in the last half year. I like to refer to my life before I worked in psychiatry as “naïve-ism.” My existence as I once knew it has been shattered.
One of the problems I encounter on a daily basis is that I cannot stand the way my peers view mental illness. When I speak to them about psychiatry they initially seem interested, but upon further reflection, most of them were full of prejudice and stereotypes. They had no idea what it meant to be a patient or an employee in a psychiatric unit of a hospital. Most people know very little about what it’s like to live in a psychiatric hospital. If you have never experienced this yourself, you wouldn’t know.
My heart began to beat faster as I walked down the corridor. I felt them staring me, but I tried to look forward and not pay them any attention. It appears as if the corridor got longer and longer. For every step I took, it seemed the path added two more steps. When I finally arrived at the office in that living district, I knocked at the door. A muffled voice responded to me, but I couldn’t understand it properly. I stood there waiting. This was the first time I allowed myself to peek around the floor.
I took in my surroundings – I was in a psychiatric hospital about to start my first shift. There I stood in that white corridor waiting for further instructions but the office door stayed closed.
“Hello,” said a voice right behind me. As I spun around, there stood a man, about 60 years old. His hand reached out to me. As I shook it, he asked me who I was. I answered and told him I was going to be working here soon. He introduced himself and said he wanted to show me around a little. He said he had been living in the psychiatric unit for 6 years now. He was sent there for his alcohol addiction. He was a terrific person, had seen much in his life, and had lived a stable life before he developed his addiction. That was the first lesson I learned from a patient; alcohol can be your worst enemy. It is sneaking as it reaches out to you and grasps at your life. When you are in its clutches, you can hardly escape.
This man made himself a home in the psychiatric unit where he currently lives. He resides with his girlfriend and they are very happy together. Having the support of a community helps him to keep addiction at bay. His life is not all sunshine and roses, but these two people can share one umbrella and survive their individual storms together.
Where I work, people live with different diagnoses. Addiction is just one of many diagnoses we treat in psychiatry. The most common illness that we see in the unit are paranoid schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder and organic personality disorder.
These diagnoses do not prevent these people from being able to love and laugh. They are able to experience joy just like any other human being can. True, they have an illness that has to be treated. But, as human beings, we’re all damaged, somehow – mental illness or not.
The first week I worked in psychiatry was exhausting. By the time I arrived home, as evening approached, I felt as sore as a rock must feel after the waterfall has pounded on it all day long. The people I worked with were trying to make my life as easy as possible. They were doing the best that they could in the moment. However, some of these individuals were difficult to handle. Many of the people, living in psychiatry, feel helpless. They suffer from depression, which can feel debilitating. Depression is a funny thing. A human being can survive almost anything, as long as he sees the end in sight. But depression is insidious; it compounds daily so that it’s impossible to ever see the light at the end of the tunnel. The depressive fog is like a cage without a key. People who are experiencing depression need a great deal of support to make it through this fog.
Some of the people I worked with in psychiatry needed support when they wanted to go outside. The level of anxiety they experienced was so high that they couldn’t go out by themselves. Others weren’t able to go shopping alone. They needed help with daily activities. It was my job to help these human beings accomplish these daily tasks.
I often asked myself, how this can happen to these people? Did they deserve these illnesses? I learned a lot in the months I’ve worked in this facility. These people are so incredibly kind and loving. I enjoy being there and talking to them. Some of the people are able to create such awesome things. We have people who studied Law, Special Ed. and Art. Many have families and some of the patients have children. That’s when you remember, these are not just patients; these are real human beings. We work with individuals, just like you and me. These people have fallen to a cruel fate. But that doesn’t make them less human. We should stop stigmatizing these people so badly. It’s imperative to stop thinking they are sitting there drooling and mad hitting their heads against the wall. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
The most important lesson I have learned after working in a psychiatric unit is that we are all human. No matter what we experience, what our diagnosis is, we are human beings and we deserve to be treated as such. That’s why I started the hashtag #HumanLikeUs. I want to bring awareness to the community of people who live in in patient mental health facilities. They are human beings. If you have been in an inpatient facility, worked in one, or you support this concept, please use #HumanLikeUs to support this idea.