Sad and Tired
My work took me visiting to the Mental Health Services floor of our local hospital. D1 wing is located as far as it is possible to be from the main doors. To get there, you need to pass through the only public part of the hospital that is underground, down a corridor more narrow than the ones above (with, obviously, no windows) past doors clearly marked as electrical and mechanical service space. Barely public space. It is a distressing place to visit. I cannot even imagine what it would be like to be in distress, and have that be where I was expected to go for help.
I rarely find my way to D1, most of the people I am called in to visit in the hospital are there for physical ailments. (You know, the “good” kind of sick. The “normal” kind. Just regular sick. Not like those sickos locked away on D1.) And when I note that Mental Health Services is tucked away down an inhospitable corridor, far away from the hopeful bustle of the rest of the hospital, I should hasten to add that it used to be housed in a separate building altogether, even less encouraging of visitors. Today I saw no peeling, faded yellow paint. No damage or graffiti left by previous inhabitants. No barred gates. So it’s better than it used to be. I have some hope that the people there are being helped.
I went to visit a woman I last spoke to the day before she was admitted. She yelled through the door at me that I could not come in, that she hadn’t been expecting me, that I should come back tomorrow; she shouted her phone number, which I didn’t have- which was why I’d stopped by. I thought it odd, the yelling through the door part, and the frantic tone of her voice. But I didn’t know her well, I didn’t (and still don’t) know what her baseline of ‘normal behaviour’ looks like. I don’t know how she came to be in hospital, or who she let in to her apartment after I left. She didn’t answer her phone. I didn’t hear from her for weeks. Until today, when she asked me to bring communion to her, on D1.
I struggle with finding that line – when does “respecting human diversity” blur into “failing to recognize significant distress”. When does “respecting human autonomy” blur into “failing to support and help someone who didn’t know how to ask”. When does “respecting privacy” blur into “letting people fall through the cracks”. When am I my sister’s keeper?
She was very insistent that she was a “client” on D1, not a patient. I don’t know what the difference is, or if there is one. I know she is a beloved child of God, that is all I need to know in order to bring communion to her.
I’m not sure what my point is, or even that I have one. That the collective, societal “we” needs to get right the fuck over our stigmatization of mental illness. That mental health care needs to stop being Health Care’s neglected cousin. That it sucks that when I hit the genetic lottery, the place I’ll be seeking help for depression is a place that already makes me feel sad, and tired.