Thursday, November 21, 2013
I Still Remember...On Forgiveness and Mental Hospitals
"I still remember..." every condescending remark or insensitive joke that a staff member made while I was inpatient or outpatient at a mental health hospital. Fortunately, there haven't been too incredibly many, but what with how sensitive I was feeling at the time due to my illnesses and due to the enormous stigma, especially during the time when I was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, every remark was like rubbing salt on a wound. One of my biggest resentments that I've had to work on was on forgiving staff members for less than stellar treatment and it has taken many therapy sessions until I finally believed that hospital staff are people too and so are prone to mistakes just like everybody else.
Being in the hospital is tough, tougher than "regular" people will ever know. There is stigma that follows it, sometimes even inside it, and each time a person comes out, while hopefully there are improvements in the person's well-being, there is usually some kind of emotional damage also. It's sad, but true.
Of course, different treatment centers will do better and worse at handling this, but in any case, as long as our society stigmatizes mental illness so much, going to any hospital will remain a traumatizing experience. That is why it is so important for staff to be on their best behavior and to always try to treat their patients with respect and care. I think it should be mandatory for all mental hospitals to require all staff, even doctors, to complete periodic sensitivity training where they would practice putting themselves in the patient's shoes and imagining what it would be like to live in a world that still considers mental illness to mean one is lazy or "crazy." In my ideal world, staff would get better pay and vacation time to help prevent burnout. I believe a hospital that values its workers values its patients.
I wish there was a way that I could go back in time and talk to my sickest self and try to convince her not to hold a grudge, not so much that she could be a better person, but so that she could have a freer mind. That is something that I have learned in recovery: forgiveness is something we do for ourselves to liberate ourselves from personal bondage. Deep, isn't it? Think on it for a while. The first time I heard that it really changed my life. I've also learned that forgiveness, acceptance, and letting go is something that I have to do over and over again.
I will always remember those caustic jokes and remarks, but now they no longer cause me any suffering-they are now a reminder to be kinder to the people I meet and to myself.