3 Lessons I Learned From a Psych Ward

She said, “I love Gerber daisies, because they always look so happy,” when I visited this stranger with straight brunette hair. We chatted like old girlfriends. She wore a simple pull-over shift dress and Mary Jane shoes. She wasn’t allowed a belt or shoes with laces. Judging by our ease of conversation, we could have been sitting in a coffee shop or grabbing lunch together in a restaurant. Instead, we sat on a sofa in a windowless common room, with stark white walls. The only door required a passcode to access. At a station in the middle of the room sat a nurse constantly watching over us and I’m certain eavesdropping on our conversation. It was her job after all.

That is a normal day on the Depression Ward of a psychiatric floor in a hospital. I was visiting because my husband was there, having slipped into clinical depression himself. The more time spent there, I came to realize that this girl, like my husband and the others there, was as normal as you and I. They were there, not because they were freaks or mentally unstable. They were there because they saw the hellish world we’ve created for what it truly is, and simply had not developed the defense mechanisms for coping with it.Lessons I Learned from a Psych Ward

Lesson 1 of Lessons I Learned from a Psych Ward

These wonderful, astute, kind, intelligent, and loving people are like Superheroes with special powers that they can’t shut off. Imagine what it would be like for Superman if he couldn’t tune out his super hearing. It would drive him mad with all the conversations going on around him. People suffering from PTSD, depression, or who are suicidal are like that. It’s almost like they have supernatural vision. They see the worst of the worst for what it is and immediately understand all the consequences that will follow, as well as all the causalities that led up to it. That heightened vision entraps them in an understanding of truth that most of us are immune to..

On my next visit, I brought the young woman in the ward Gerber daisies. It wasn’t much, but I wanted to restore her hope that kindness did still exist in a world that seemed so full of hate. You would have thought by her reaction that I’d brought her the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. My encounter with her, along with walking the path out of depression with my husband has stuck with me all these years. It is why I want so badly to have a dog I can do therapy work with. It’s why I work each day with Sassy. I know that she would bring a smile to the faces of those in seemingly hopeless situations. They would at last experience the unconditional love they so desperately need.

Lesson 2 of Lessons I Learned from a Psych Ward

So many people out there need to know that unconditional love still exists. It is a shame that it typically only comes from the canine world, especially when we humans have had the perfect example of it in Christ. We could all do a better job of emulating him. When Ted’s depression hit, he was the senior pastor of a church in Wisconsin. The Elder board’s solution? They fired him. Yeah, that’s what Christ would have done (note tongue firmly in cheek). We simply must do better. We must turn away from our fears of depression, and face the realities. Too many out there see the truth that if we don’t appeal to this better nature within ourselves, then mankind will lose.

This weekend is Memorial Day, a time when we remember those who have fought on our behalf. According to most recent reports from the VA, over 22 veterans commit suicide a day. That’s more than one every 65 minutes. They have lived through the hell of war physically and must endure the years after emotionally. People posit simplistic solutions for their pain. We must do better.

We put out flags, fire up the grill, and party with loved ones because we have a three-day weekend. Perhaps the most meaningful thing we could do to honor our veterans is visit them in hospitals, offer them an ear when they need one, listen to them tell their stories if they need or want to, treat them with kindness, thank them for their service, give to the homeless beggars on the street (well over 70% of whom are vets), and thereby become the better human beings that they all hope we can be.

It’s easy to tell someone we love them, especially when they are important to us. I would say it’s even easy to demonstrate love to a stranger in a time of peril. Sadly, the heightened terrorist activity across the globe has revealed that.

Lesson 3 of Lessons I Learned from a Psych Ward

On the contrary, the hardest love to express is one where it gets messy. It is where we must set aside our prejudices, our sanctimonious judgments, ridiculously simplistic solutions, and love by seeking true understanding of the wounds of our brother or sister. Dealing with the depressed scares us, because we all know that it’s a hair’s breadth away from each of us. Those dealing with depression are so often what Christ referred to as “the least of these,”—those He called on us to help, in that they cannot help themselves at that given time. They are also usually heroes, having hit the wall of depression because they have served others and seen the pain. They are also superheroes, who simply can’t find the switch to turn off the super hearing, or x-ray vision. They are you and me.

Love is the only gift that is capable of saving not just one person, but mankind as a whole. Thank you to all the veterans out there who make my life in freedom possible. Thank you to all the people I came to know in the psych ward who brought out the better nature within me. Give love, live loved. Happy Memorial Day.

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