i checked myself into a mental hospital two times over the last year. i also participated in a partial hospitalization program for people transitioning out of the hospital and back into “real life.” every single person i met in the hospital and in partial made an impression on me because we were all fighting to get to a better place. when we looked at each other, we didn’t see mental illness – we saw humanity and hope.
i first met michael when we were in the hospital together. he didn’t talk to anyone. whether he was sitting or standing, he was sortof slumped over. he didn’t make eye contact. his eyes and his face had no expression at all. he seemed lost in a fog of deep, dark sorrow.
i would sit next to michael at meals sometimes. we would eat together in a somewhat comfortable silence. i didn’t try to talk to him because i sensed that he didn’t really want to engage, but i felt that he did like having someone close. he would leave every afternoon for his electroconvulsive therapy (ect) treatments. for many, ect can be a last resort after trying antidepressant medications with little or no success. he would often sit next to me in the evenings when we would watch tv or have a group activity.
after the hospital, i went into partial for a few months, and then went back in the hospital. michael was still there. same deal. same silence. same ect treatments.
one day near the end of my hospital stay, michael and i were sitting next to each other in the rec room. staring at the floor, without looking at me he said, “my son fell down the stairs and died. he tripped and fell, my beautiful son. i came home and found him, dead.” i just looked at him, nodding for him to go on. “that week, my wife found out that the triplets she was carrying all died inside of her belly. at 6 months. and my ex-wife told me she was moving across the country with my other son.” i said “michael, that is a lot of loss at one time.” this time he looked me straight in the eye and said, “i should have been there. my son wouldn’t have died if i had been there.” as a suicide survivor, i wanted to tell him that it wasn’t his fault, that he wasn’t to blame, but i was sure he heard that before. i asked him, “what will it take for you to forgive yourself?” he looked back at the floor and said, “i just don’t want to be alive anymore. i want to die. i am already dead inside.” he got up and left the room. end of conversation.
but the next day during art therapy, we were making collages of pictures from magazines. we were supposed to create a picture of hope, whatever that meant to us. michael took so much time and care, finding images that were meaningful to him. he cut out colorful shapes and carefully placed them on his paper. there was a little bit of light and life in his eyes when he shared his with the group, saying that it represented his family. later that evening, i saw him show his collage to his wife and they talked about getting it framed. they held hands the whole time she visited. it was obvious that they shared a deep and intimate connection.
when i think of michael, i think of someone who is crawling through the desert, holding onto the hope that he will find water. his love for his wife and her love for him keep him moving forward. she is there to share his burdens. and as much as michael wants to die, he is undergoing treatment. a somewhat edgy treatment at that. he is agreeing to go to the hospital. he is still asking for help. so much pain, so much loss – i can identify with that. it is a heavy burden to carry. it makes my heart hurt to think of what he has lived through.
michael, michael, keep crawling. keep seeking. keep trying. keep asking for help. i hope that soon you will walk again. thank you for sharing your story with me. it inspires me to keep going too.