On Monday night I visited a lady I know in the psychiatric ward. There were a few feelings and emotions that I had no choice but to acknowledge, both before the visit, during and after the visit.
Anyone who has been in the psych ward will know the deep emotional connection we can have with it, the smells, the sounds, especially the aggressive sound of the alarm bell ringing, signalling staff members from other wards that help is needed, the staring faces, the atmosphere of sadness.
Whilst in the ward a few things occurred. First, a nurse who was on duty greeted me, asked me who I was seeing, told me she liked my earrings, all the while not recognising me as the same patient whom had been in her ward a mere few weeks ago. The blank look she gave me spoke volumes, sending a clear message, “I did not see you, really see you as a human, as a person whilst you were in hospital.
Sitting with my friend was a revelation. As I experience my Bipolar with manic highs, sitting with someone who was suffering with her illness in an aggressive and frankly scary way shook me to my core. She is an extremely clever lady and whilst with her she rattled off all the names of the people who had proposed to her, the list was never ending, starting with a list of celebrities, going on to a list of people she had known since childhood, her memory for names and places amazed me. She has not yet accepted that she is ill and currently is refusing medication. She shouted at me that she was the Messiah and they are trying to kill her and silence her voice. All in all it was a scary experience.
It naturally made me draw comparisons, the exhaustion I felt after the visit, the low mood, the sadness I feel for her all compounded the emotional reaction I experienced from being in the ward as a visitor. It gave me more awareness of how different Mental Health Illness are experienced, it gave me gratitude that when I am unwell I am not aggressive, in fact I am the opposite, love flows freely, this is not diminishing anyone who suffers from the manic highs, rather it can be just as dangerous and terrifying as living with the illness experienced with lows or anger.
The thought kept and still does keep going around in my mind, asking myself if those who visit me in hospital feel the same or similar emotions after being with me?
The visit, though fleeting left a lasting impression, has affected my mood, things have seemed bleaker, regular situations I have had to deal with this week have become mountains, my thinking has been black and white with regards to daily struggles, and once again I am experiencing transference to my therapist. She is occupying far to much space in my mind, the feelings of love I have whilst feeling vulnerable are unhealthy to the extreme, the panic knowing that I will not see her for 2 weeks overtaking me. I believe all these are the result of a highly charged visit to the psychiatric ward.
We have to be so aware of “where we are emotionally” before carrying out certain activities, for example visiting the psych ward very soon after being released from one yourself, taking on to much and saying “yes” to everything is a warning sign. There are times that we are able to help, be there, support and encourage those who need us, but when living with a Mental Health issue caution must always be taken.
Ethics of the Fathers 1:14 states, Hillel says ” If I am not for myself, who will be for me? but if I am only for myself who am I? If not now, when?” The genius of these words are so clear, and can be interpreted on so many levels. Each person will have their own way of looking at these words, taking their own message.
The message I see in these words is ” If not for myself who will be? Who will look after me if I do not look after myself, who will keep my emotional health and wellbeing at the forefront if not me?” He continues, “But if I am only for myself who am I?” It is interesting that Hillel started the verse with self care, self love telling us that only once we have looked after ourselves, made sure we are healthy and well, can we then be there for others.