It was as if the universe conspired to get me working on my dream job after going through a huge deal of drama. Since "Girl, Interrupted" I knew that I'd like to be in a mental health facility (to work, that is). In a place surrounded by numerous rules on patient confidentiality, I can't help but share the story of one patient which might get some people to their senses. Let me tell you about the story of Elizabeth (not her real name). To put a little twist, let me start from the end of my 8-hour slot.
It was almost end of shift but nothing in my conscious mind would want me to leave. The past 8 hours had been filled with numerous interesting topics my patient and I shared that we almost forgot we are in a hospital in the first place. There are no monitors in the room anyway, and besides, it was my job to keep her preoccupied and my mission to learn from people about life in general.
Our conversations ran from spooky to funny, depressing to downright ridiculous. The one thing that really got me chills is her story about this small part of the hotel where she used to work that had some sort of very strong energy emanating from entities that had been manning the place since the 1920's. She went through every detail in describing the setting and it gave me a very clear picture of how things went, scared that I might end up screaming in the middle of the night, as it always happens when I watch something so out of this world. In the middle of her ghost stories is the one character that we both found comedic: his ex-boyfriend Brian (his real name), who happens to be a 'chicken' in her numerous series of stories, and got us cracking every now and then. I could tell by her body language that she is so much better than what I was told by the staff from the previous shift. I could also tell that it had helped her getting her problems out of her chest when she told me how she became miserable. After all, she is not crazy. She is just one of the many people who need help and suffer the disadvantage of being stereotyped for having been admitted into a mental hospital at least once in their lives.
Before I started seeing her face brighten up, she was in a mood any person would not dare mess up with. She was both angry and sad. You, too, would be if only you know her story. How many of us have been victims of circumstance at least once? A lot maybe, if not all. She has declared herself homeless for the past 7 months now, her 16-year old daughter taken away and brainwashed by her mother, and one of those many people who definitely have the skills but are unfortunate enough not to be given a chance, just because they couldn't come to job interviews prim and proper. Her immigration documents are lost, was forced to plead guilty to felony she never did, and the one religious person whom she trusted so much as her only dear friend left has been seeing Brian and decide to throw her out of her house while she was desperately looking for a job in the pursuit of at least fending for herself.
Poor Elizabeth, hoping to find refuge, checked herself in to seek treatment and avail of services she could not otherwise afford. That's how she got into the "crazy house." Surrounded by people suffering different psychiatric conditions and stressed by being in a very structured, locked facility, her sanity eventually got her. The very reason why I had to stay with her has something to do with what she did the night before... She was found hanging in the bathroom, her neck strangled by improvised rope she made out of her clothes, breathless with no pulse. Had the checks been delayed a few seconds more, I wouldn't have learned about how difficult her life had been.
She survived the attempt for a reason. Every word that came out of her mouth delivered numerous speeches not so many intellectual, "sane" and strong people could express. I have learned that the world is full of trickery and there is no such thing as coincidence. Trust, love and respect yourself before even trying to give yourself to others. Life sucks, one might think, but in every one corner is an opportunity to learn and it lets us use the strength that we have gathered through time to fight life back and survive.
Most importantly, and simplest of all, do not always live by the books. In psych nursing, aren't we told never to ask "Why" and to not allow ourselves to believe every word our patients say to spare ourselves from being manipulated by them? I DON'T totally agree with that. Sometimes, we learn more from them... from vulnerable people who are willing to share their naive hearts and minds, than from smart ones who intellectualize everything and manipulate other people, which does not help at all.
How she made an impact in my life? I, too, am a victim of circumstance, and am now warned of how tricky life and people can be.
(The details of her stories? Too long to write here. Now I can write a book.