Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Something wrong

This week on the psych ward one of the patients was telling me why she came into the hospital.  "Sunday afternoon I was at church helping out with the coffee, and I started hearing voices. I was scared."

This woman is unremarkable by psych ward standards.  She's middle-aged and has been living with schizophrenia for years.  She wears the same clothes every day.  Her face shows no expression (possibly an effect of her medications).  Her conversation is polite, but it seems to take effort.

As she talked, I had a mental image of her behind the coffee table in a church parish hall, staring blankly, distracted by the voices.  I wondered what other people at her church thought, and instantly I knew - the same thing I would think if I saw her outside the hospital. "That woman is not normal.  Something is wrong with her."

And yet in the hospital, I notice the things that are right with her.  I expect to see someone with mental illness, so her slightly bizarre presentation doesn't surprise me.  What's noteworthy are the things that are going well - she's not suicidal, she recognizes her hallucinations as such, she has an apartment, she has a boyfriend, she knows how to get help.

In most of my life, I expect people to be whole and I take note when they break. In social work, I expect people to be broken and I take note of the ways they heal.

In reality, most of us develop "something wrong with us."  I and just about everyone I love have one thing or another - depression, diabetes, learning disabilities, overweight, chronic pain.  Some of us can hide it better than others. 

Let's be kind in each other's moments of pain.  Let's celebrate the ways we rise above.

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