Caring: THE BEAUTY IN THE BEAST
by Cindy Hasz
American Reporter Correspondent
San Diego, Calif.
SAN DIEGO -- I spent Hallowe'en in psychiatric intensive care. I was the= re to get oriented -- as an evening shift nurse, learning the medications a= nd paperwork. I wondered if I would last the night.
Not that I was spooked by the psychosis, the raw, bleeding edges of brok= en minds and hearts. In fact with a few exceptions I felt strangely comfort= able with broken people who no longer tried to hide their pain or compensat= e for their sense of failure.
Their ugliness didn't scare me. Their wounds purulent and exposed did n= ot repulse me. What mostly impressed me was how like the rest of us they we= re. Exactly like the rest of us.
Several people were there because of major depression over life challeng= es such as divorce, financial problems, family discord. Some felt like fai= lures -- a twenty-something woman's dark eyes filled up as she told me she = just wanted her Dad to think she was a success. She added he died when she = was 16.
Some were eaten up by remorse, some driven by anger, violent or obsessi= ve thoughts. They paced the halls, they wandered in and out of rooms. Sever= al were suicidal and had tried to kill themselves because it just didn't se= em that their lives were worth living. We had to take the laces out of thei= r shoes and cut the strings off their hospital gowns. They were serious abo= ut non-existance.
But for the most part they weren't so different from the rest of us real= ly. Who of us does not wrestle with occasional demons of despair and self-l= oathing? We nurse delusions but with quieter voices and brood apon our own = peculiar darknesses.
We pick the same old wounds again and again. Haul around the sam= e ratty baggage, the same old stinky albatrosses around our necks. True, m= any of them in the hospital hear voices and have launched into full-blown p= sychosis as opposed to the manageable garden-style variety neuroses that af= flict most of us. Still, here, even the full psychological Monty didn't see= m so alien to me.
Maybe that just means that I've been living around nut cases all my lif= e so that I fail to see a clear line of demarcations between a psych ward a= nd ordinary life, but I don't think so. Rather, I think we are all somewhat= crazed mere millimeters below the skin.
Even the sanest of us are strangers in a strange land. Refugees from va= rious traumas. Weak with a longing we dare not admit even to ourselves. Hom= esick for someplace that keeps vanishing into loss. Intermittantly overwhel= med by a familiar, low-level terror called anxiety and ultimately, inescapa= bly, heartbroken by life.
None of us are simple or static or sure. Even on the dullest of days we= are nebulous mosaics. Bright shards of memory embedded in the ochre clay = of heart and soul. Flesh textured by thought; fired with blood, spun like t= he dust of Eden into constallations called human.
It's just that sometimes our stars just get tangled. The young Vi= etnamese woman thousands of miles away from her children; the rich kid with= the golf shirt throwing checkers at invisible but omnipresent parents; the= big black barefoot lady in solitary hollering about cookies and the bi-pol= ar carpenter who just wanted to get laid: They are us. Differences in brain= chemistries notwithstanding, they've simply taken some time out from being= "functional." Something that, I have to admit, appeals to me strongly from= time to time.
I don't mean to minimize true mental illness or sentimentalize the agon= y of a single soul, but neither should we sensationalize it like Hollywood = tends to -- "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" and "Twelve Monkeys" immediat= ely come to mind.
These predictable cinematic portrayals of the flashier aspects of psych= osis don't go beyond easily exploitable stereotypes of psychic pathology.Th= ey only reinforce the delusion that "they" are really so different from "us= ."
That's major hallucination if ever there was one.
Cindy Hasz is a nurse and writer based in the San Diego area. She can be= reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.