What our son needed when he entered a psychiatric hospital for the first time, what we all needed more than anything else, was TLC – tender, loving care, but we realized of course that the staff were far too busy for that. And we were struggling to come to terms with what had happened to our once happy son.
An orderly pressed a buzzer and the door opened. I whispered, ‘Open Sesame’ and wondered when he would get out again, a healthy and free person again. But, both my late husband and myself knew that he would get out because one goes into a hospital ill and exits well, right?
Patients were either chain smoking or walking up and down, up and down, sitting for a while opposite the television screen and then walking and walking and walking up and down the long corridor.
On more than one occasion, my son’s therapists said; ‘We know how you must be feeling,’ and I wondered then, as I do now, why they would say something like that. Their knowledge came from textbooks and from being in contact with very ill patients every day but, did that prepare them for the reality of how a family is feeling – how my family felt. Somehow, I don’t think so.
Our son had lost any dreams he had for the future. We’d lost our future dreams too. We’d dreamed of attending his graduation ceremony as he’d told us his plans while still well. We would probably not get to see him find the girl of his dreams, rock a baby in his arms or enjoy the pleasure of doing the work he had dreamed of. We mourned his happy smile. All he’d ever wanted was to have a decent job, someone to love and peace of mind, something that his schizophrenia and paranoia did not allow.
And what we needed, were coping tools, lots of them. We needed good advice on how alleviate our son’s suffering, how to handle our other children and what we should or should not be doing. I remember the time that one psychologist had told us to act naturally. But in fact, there was nothing natural about the situation we were all caught up in – a situation that we did not understand and knew nothing about.
We were advised not to upset our son when he came home for weekends, but in order to do that, we’d have to stop breathing, avoid scratching, walking, talking out loud or even moving.
How I longed for one nurse, social worker or even psychologist or psychiatrist to offer me a word of comfort during the long years we struggled with mental illness. It did not happen.