Photo by Joseph Akbrud on Unsplash
While I was in the hospital, I thought about three different responses that people had in specific situations. I wrote about these responses in a journal given to me by the staff in the hospital and decided to share.
1. Listen to what someone is asking for and provide it. And get to know someone well enough to know what may help.
My brother has been gone almost two years. Admittedly, I have not quite dealt with the agony despite trying to work through some of the thoughts and feelings I do have about him and myself. About two months ago, my phone was ringing about 15 feet away from me. My husband told me my brother was on the phone. I asked, “which one” and immediately began sobbing. A similar incident happened one morning while I was in the hospital. Often I would take the opportunity to talk with my husband around 7:00 am or 7:30 am because most of the other patients were sedated with medications. On this particular morning, I was talking with Tim when he told me he needed to put me on speaker phone because my brother was messaging him. My response? “Who? KJ?” I told my husband I needed to hang up, but it was not 8:30 am. It was not time for breakfast. No one was awake yet. Typically when talking with my husband I would lay in the middle of the hallway, and that morning, after hanging up, I continued to lay there. Hot tears were burning as they dripped down my face at odd angles.
At shift change I was still laying in the middle of the hallway. The Mental Health Technician (MHT) walked over to me and asked if I wanted to talk. I told her I would talk, but I did not want her to try to make it seem different or better, I also told her I did not want advice from her. I did not want sympathy or some other emotional sounding response. I just wanted to talk. I wanted to get it out.
I could tell she had no idea how to respond when I finished telling her what I was thinking and feeling. She looked uncomfortable, but she did not violate my requests. She stood there and looked at me, in silence. Finally, she caught my eyes and said, “Do you want a cup of coffee?”
Coffee is on my plan as a grounding tool. Sometimes when I am struggling to stay present with the world around me in my therapist’s office, she makes me coffee. She knows me. Because the MHT paid attention to me, she was able to do something for me that she understood about me as well.
2. When reacting, consider you may not know what someone needs. Also, consider that they do know what they need.
Over the course of the past two years I have worked with my therapist to develop a plan for “riding the wave,” “trusting the process,” or “taking the next step.” This plan includes grounding techniques for when I feel overwhelmed and need to focus on safety, emotion identification, and thought reframing (among other things). This plan has evolved, become more complex, and has been refined time and time again. I brought this plan with me to the hospital knowing I would need a guide to work through.
One day in the early afternoon, I was upset. Just what I was upset about I am not certain. Truth be told, I probably cried for hours each day over various things. I suppose that happens when I’m depressed and locked in a hallway with people who know nothing about what I need. On this particular day a nurse came into my room and sat down to speak with me. I was working through my plan, and at that moment was attempting to identify ways to act in an opposite way to how I was feeling to keep myself safe. This nurse’s reaction caused me to feel frustrated, misunderstood, invalidated, and confused. First, she told me to pull myself together. Is it unacceptable to feel? Second, she said that I should not be sitting in my room practicing grounding, identifying feelings, and thinking. A more appropriate activity would be identifying positive things to do to keep myself out of the hospital once discharged. I did not disagree that I needed a plan, but I knew what I needed in that moment. I should not be underestimated despite the appearance of not having myself put together.
I was doing what I needed to do in that moment. I was focusing on safety and regulation; not the future. Also, I did not need to pull myself together. I needed to be allowed to experience all of the thoughts and emotions I had been pushing away.
3. When communicating, do it in a respectful way so as to be listened to and taken seriously. Rational communication can allow for rational solutions.
I was in the hospital for three weeks. In those three weeks, I saw the “therapist” three times. That is the required frequency. I asked her to do something for me each time I spoke with her as well as in the hallway almost every time I saw her. She never refused, she never fully committed, but she always made it sound like she would do what I asked. I became increasing frustrated each time I asked her about it and discovered she had not done what I asked (which was a very reasonable request and could probably be considered an ethical issue). On one particular day she told me she did not see a point to doing what I had asked her to do. I was angry. I was angry because I did not feel my needs were being met. I did not like this “therapist.” Not even a little.
Now this may come as a surprise, but I was crying one morning (I know, I know). I had just found out some disappointing, or maybe devastating news. One of the most kind people (who also represents patients as an advocate) in the entire hospital walked by me as I was standing in my doorway and asked if I was okay. She was headed to a meeting but wanted me to be able to speak with someone, so she asked, “Do you want me to get your therapist so you can speak with her?” I blew up at this kind, caring patient advocate who always treated me with respect. I yelled down the hall at her, “No! She is worthless. She does nothing with or for me. She doesn’t give a shit about me or anyone else. She doesn’t know how to do her job, never sees me, and won’t follow through on my requests.”
The advocate never came back to speak with me about it, but if I had asked to speak with her about my situation, she would have gladly worked with me to find a solution. It was not my most graceful moment. It was not a good reflection on me as a person, but that was my response. That was anger and frustration, fear and sadness, and injustice and invalidation coming out on the wrong person with the wrong words at the wrong time.