A couple of weeks ago, I visited a community member at the psychiatric hospital. I didn’t know what to expect. Most of my experience is something I’m still trying to process. The emotional pull I’ve been feeling since then is hard to put into words and the immensity of the experience is hard to express.
It took me a week to get all the information I needed (i.e. ID numbers, full names, times of visitation) but I finally got it all together. Which is how, on a Thursday night, I found myself in a waiting room, watching Entertainment Tonight, and questioning the logic behind watching an episode on school shooters mental state from an unreliable source in a space whose sole purpose is to provide help during psychological crisis.
I watched the array of family members come in to visit their loved ones. The emotions ranged from sadness to anger, love to hate, and ambivalence to extreme concern. The receptionist was monotone, repetitive, and appeared to be going through the motions. I felt a deep sense of sadness for her, watching how distant she was from everything around her, and was wondering who she had to be in this space when a man I did not know, but later learned was James, walked in.
He was extremely anxious and pacing, muttering under his breath, and kept politely telling the receptionist he just needs his medicine. A therapist had come in with him and was explaining how James had walked into her clinic earlier. She was angry James had been let out with no place to go, and no stability. The personal effects James had brought in weren’t given back, including his medicines. A bunch of phone calls made to “the people in charge” and a woman came in to usher the therapist into a private meeting room, leaving James unattended in the waiting room.
James had to be told several times to sit down. With the therapist out of his room, anxiety riddled his face. I got up and asked James if I could sit across from him. I introduced myself and told him they were going to figure it out.
I shut up and listened.
James had been checked in for a week at this facility. He doesn’t sleep without his medicine regime and thus, hadn’t slept in four days. The sign on the door of the therapist office had said “safe space” so he walked in. James didn’t have anywhere to stay permanently and all his family was gone. He just wanted to sleep. Without his medicine, the noises were just too loud and he just wanted some silence. Over and over, he repeated how he didn’t want to go back inside. All he needed to do was sleep and he was doing his best to be respectful. He apologized to me for being so jumpy and I told him he didn’t need to.
His therapist walked out, called to James, and James left with her to “figure everything out”. After they left, I sat in the waiting room dumbfounded. I knew our mental health care system was broken, I knew there were tons of stigmas surrounding mental illness; however, I didn’t realize there was a hidden layer of disregard to those without resources.
Before shifting gears to community development, I wanted to be a therapist. I wanted to see the people behind the illness and be an ally of support. My assumptions came from the belief that mental illness was misunderstood, which I still believe, but didn’t take into account the repercussions of after-care for the poor.
There are written protocols that individuals who come in for mental care will be found a place to go for further treatment after their release. How many people are forgotten or disregarded? James was. James was put out, without his things, for reasons I don’t know but I could guess. In a time of crisis, no one should be left or disposed.
Hell, for that matter, no one should be seen as disposable. It says plenty that I am programmed to justify why a person shouldn’t be left. Which has left me wondering: what kind of world are we living in? It was asking questions like that that led me to work at Love Wins.
At Love Wins, we don’t have all the answers. We don’t have all the resources. I know that no agency nor safe place does. However, I’m proud to work in a place where James could walk in and be heard and he would be loved. A place where everyone in our community works together, connects together, and talks together to try to create a safe space for new people: no matter what that safe space looks like. Here, we provide choices. Some are bountiful, some are limited and some are non-existent. We can’t do it all but we can provide a safe space for a couple of hours.
Sometimes that doesn’t feel like enough. But for someone like James, it is more than he has now.