Well over 20 years ago, I worked inpatient for two years. It was considered an ‘open mental health facility.’ That meant the doors were not locked unless we had a ‘runner.’
Those ‘runner’ nights-days were tricky and hard. I felt the floor change from real to empty; the mental health labels were dished out like candy. Being a psychiatric counselor was a learning for sure, and if I could I’d find each patient and thank them. But laws are such and ethics are good.
Therefore, I hold these abridged memories and have slightly change them to keep privacy true.
To the gentleman who waltzed with me. Thinking it was 1933; I met him in his mind-space and we danced on linoleum, but it was the finest ballroom. The noisy florescent overhead lights became candles. He heard music and I felt it too. ~thank you~
A certain schizophrenic also found music and played the ratty piano until the keyboard fell in tune. I listened at a short distance because he needed space.
The magic he played infused ever fiber I knew.
He stayed shy, until one day he shared, “I once played at Carnegie Hall.”
I believed him. He teared and shuffled to get another pill. I cried too.
The sweet woman in room, whatever. I don’t remember but it was diagonal to the nurse’s station.
When I got near enough she reached for my hands and asked, “Braid my hair. Your hands are fine and strong.”
I tried. She laughed.
“My child, you must be white but thank you. Pull up a chair and I will tell you the truth. I see rabbits and chicks and I don’t swallow those pills because I lose my friends each time. I know you won’t tell."
Although she was legally blind, in her dreams I saw what she say too.
A woman came in completely distraught. I was up for the next intake but before I could finish she was given meds. I cringed because I just knew there was more to her story, but I was so young and unsure. Later I had to try something that felt so strange. I knew enough to try sign language.
I said, “I love you” and my name is…spelled in very slow letters. My fingers forgot what my child-mind had remembered from the encyclopedias I learned from.
She understood and cried and laughed a loud monotone.
She was deaf. Not psychotic.
Within hours we had a translator and that night she went home.
I could go on.
I share these memories because we all have gifts in what seems to be our weaknesses.
And as I write this I know these stories needed to be told because they taught me.
So many times we are mislabeled and each person treated the same. It can’t be that way.
Humanity is incredibly beautiful, precious, sacred and real.
Carolyn Riker is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) in private practice. She is also an author of three books. Her most recent book is "My Dear, Love Hasn't Forgotten You."