Round the Wards

 

So if you want to write a novel, maybe (as Val Kilmer said aka Doc Holliday in “Tombstone”) I’m your Daisy. I’m your girl. Your muse in waiting. I’m the crack-up for your Fitzgeraldian piece. Stick with me and you’ll go places; most likely dark, disturbing places that leave you wondering whether a jaunt to a nearby sanitarium wouldn’t be the best spot for me. Someplace with a nonthreatening name, like Happy Acres or Peaceful Trails or Helping Hands. I could use a hand actually. Or just an ear awhile.

I remember going on rounds with my father as he visited the maternity and psych wards. Being a mother, I now realize the leap from one to the other is not that far. Anyway, we would see precious lives carefully cradled by overwhelmed new parents. Beaming yet uncertain grandparents lingering nearby, waiting to find their place in the new family. Mothers looked flushed, fathers drawn, babies wrinkled and red. Not the prettiest picture, yet one wholeheartedly accepted as the greatest gift.

Then we’d take an elevator ride to the psych ward where the walls were cooler (to incite calm), the air seemed thinner and quieter, and the halls virtually empty. No family members to celebrate their great gifts. No beaming mothers or excited grandparents. No flowers. No music. No warmth. Just loneliness seemed to pervade the sterile space.

My father would somehow light up from within when visiting psych patients. He treated them just the same as anyone else he met; that was one lesson I’m glad to have learned – we’re all the same. We all carry something in us that’s unique- whether a gift or a curse is partly up to us- but in a simple sense, we’re all flesh and bone with souls and imaginations. He’d carry on a conversation with people in this lonely place and not blink an eye whether the subject matter was the weather or space aliens or conspiracies or graphic ideas on self-mutilation. He treated patients with respect and care and concern and was lauded for it. It was easy to see why his visits were anticipated; patients wanted someone to sit with them, listen, and not judge. He wasn’t their therapist, he was their MD. He was there to care for their bodies. Someone else could plumb their minds.

I envied the psych patients. To have a safe place where you were cared for and protected, even from yourself seemed a gift. To have someone visit you every week with such charisma and who could make you laugh and think and not want to cry for a few minutes. I lived with this physician-character but didn’t see him present often. He did as we often do, present our best sides to the world and keep the monster-version of ourselves at home. Being confused as a child didn’t change as I grew unfortunately. I didn’t have someone to listen to me without judging, care for me without question, show concern without showing ultimate disappointment at what I’d become.

So like an extended adolescence, I find myself now a grown woman, feeling inadequate and unsure of how to proceed. Having fulfilled many obligatory social standards – completed a formal education, procured a job, married, bore children, volunteer at church- I’m adrift, at sea in a world of impossible possibilities. I’m so overwhelmed when I look at my reflection, I see the same look in my eye as I saw in a woman who dwelled in the local psych ward so many years ago. In an almost cartoon-like fashion, I imagine swirls inhabiting my irises, indicating insanity. The thoughts I have harken back directly to the stories I remember hearing as a child, not the fairy tales, but the crazy stories from real patients who needed real help. I wonder if they were just lonely and confused like me or were they more disturbed. I feel I’m in a sort of Yossarian dilemma; am I crazy with my weird thoughts or is the fact I’m concerned I may be crazy show I’m completely sane?

I’ve been through periods of melancholy before. I think what I find troubling is that I had such high hopes that by middle-age, I would’ve figured things out enough to not feel so lost. That’s not the case. So I’m left with trying to choose whether to look at my feelings as a curse or embrace my ideas as a gift and try to make some use of them. So maybe I’ll write and I can keep my monster at bay and show the world the “best” of me in the worst of times.

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