[This post comes to us from our guest contributor and Other Person Elliot. We thank him for this amazing contribution and for sharing his experiences.]
The Gods are not a Cure. I don’t believe They are a panacea that will protect me from my demons and erase my fears. But They can make me stronger so that I can battle those demons myself. They can throw life at me until I get back on my feet and stare my fear in the face. They can challenge me so that I grow, no matter how difficult the circumstances. The truest thing I know is that if you ask, They will listen. And sometimes that is the most mundane of miracles.
To know that someone hears you makes all the difference in the world. This has never been more apparent to me than when I have been in the hospital. Typically, they make you wear a paper gown and make you eat sickly-looking baby carrots served with a lump of mystery meat. But when you’re in a locked psych ward, there’s a lot more to it.
You are a case, a number; your personhood is too often abandoned with your desperate scribble of signature consenting to treatment. Shuffled around unit to unit or hospital to hospital, they find a place for you. It isn’t a nice place though.
Psych wards are dramatic, but not in the way you see in the movies. No, no one’s busting out life-affirming rock ballads during music therapy. Art therapy does not reveal that you are the next Picasso or a misunderstood genius. No one is hanging out in the hallway with guitars singing folk songs. In fact, they will yell at you for sitting on the floor. So you mill about, pacing the halls, because if you’re in your room, the nurses will say you’re not participating in your treatment. Don’t feel like it one day? Guess you won’t be able to get on the doctor’s list to go outside and see grass for the first time in however long.
Staying in a psych ward is horrifically boring in a way that I cannot describe. The things you’d think are “exciting”–people freaking out, screaming, breaking things, talking to themselves, hallucinating, and whatever else–these are not edgy or thrilling. It is terrifying for everyone involved. What you witness is not fodder for a dash of “excitement” in your hospital stay; it is raw human pain, and it is frightening and traumatizing.
Typically, if you are in a psych ward, there is some reason you are there. That means that you are both surrounded by pain, and living it, as well. I’ve always felt trapped in these places, raking my nails across the metal screens on the windows, trying to get a glimpse of the mysterious and beautiful outside world. Sometimes, there are no windows at all.
I’m not perfect, or even healthy. Everyday is a battle for me. But the Gods are not waiting for us to be perfect. They have been there, battling. They see us when no one else does. And when I have sat alone under the bright lights, slumped over a hospital bed with tears streaming down my face, it was They who answered my pain when I reached out to Them.
The first time I was in the hospital, the Gods gave me the gift of Hope. I cannot understate the value of hope in a hospital situation. We are often in the psych ward because Hope eludes us. When we have been beaten and broken and burdened until we fall apart, the Gods can still inspire us. Even when we are certain that no inspiration or motivation is left in the world. At the darkest times, this is nearly impossible to see. Sometimes we have to fall and fall until we hit rock bottom. And once we’re there, there’s a glimpse, a shard of Hope, that reminds us that we do have the strength to stand up again. It is the most critical thing I have ever experienced in my life, and I regard it as nothing short of a miracle.
My most recent hospital stay ended this afternoon when I convinced the doctor to release me. But it was only after a great deal of pain and feeling myself break entirely, that I regained the ability to pull the shards of myself together and begin to mend the mess. No one at the hospital helped me reach this revelation. Only the presence of the Gods and my own strength helped me gather the courage to at last begin to see myself and my life differently.
When I arrived at the hospital, I signed away my rights with a series of rushed signatures. I sat on a bed in the ER for hours, waiting for the doctors to decide how to handle my case. With nothing to do, my relentless mind began to churn and churn with worry, anxiety, anger, fear, pain, and hopelessness. I mulled over my situation and tumbled my entire life through my mind again and again. And the result did not make me happy. Here I was, only 21-years-old. By all accounts, a talented and insightful individual–completely disabled by my own brain and by bad circumstances.
I never asked for my dad to hurt me and tell me I was worthless. I never asked for my mother to drill into my head that my suffering didn’t matter and that I was below everyone else. I didn’t request poverty or disability or any of it. And yet, it did not cease to depress me and drive me to act dangerously, again and again.
Now I know that I am so much more than my circumstances, my family dysfunction, my stress, my income level, or anything else of that nature. It was not an easy progression to this realization.
I cried and cried for hours, unable to sleep. I wrestled with urges to scream and lash out and harm myself. I had come to the hospital to be in a “safe” place, but what I had actually signed up for was a difficult journey inside my own mind and heart.
Then came the bad news. They wanted to send me miles away, to another hospital far from home, indefinitely. Already cut off from my support network of my religious community, I panicked. I would likely have even less freedom there. I feared losing myself completely in the mess of my own mind. I felt desperation begin to burn inside me.
I couldn’t sleep. I had hardly slept for days. Under my breath, I began to recite the Gods’ names. With each name, I tried to focus on my non-verbal prayer to each God, an expression of spirit and emotion and pain. I left the room behind, as the Clarene held me and I relaxed at last and faded into a light, fitful sleep. I consider this a miracle, mundane as it might seem.
Sleep granted me a reprieve from the torture of thought and feeling, if only for a time. I awoke again, only a few hours later. But it was enough of a break to give me a moment to gather my strength before the pain washed over me again. I cried until my eyes stung with pain just from closing them. All the while, my heart ached for the Gods. And despite it all, They answered me.
I pictured the Laetha’s fire rolling over me, burning away my pain as I prayed. I welcomed the flame cleansing me, so I could be stronger. Through the pain, he could help me to stand again. I asked him to consume me entirely, but he made me feel my courage again instead.
I saw the Ophelia’s waters meeting my sorrow and hopelessness and merging with them. I was not alone in my suffering. I begged her to drown me, but she gave me my life back instead.
the Dierne saw the fear and wildness and desperation in my heart, and he broke it into shards again. But he showed me where to put the pieces back together again. I wanted him to help me destroy myself, but he rebuilt me so I could see everything more clearly.
I cried out again and again to the Clarene, whispering her name into the dark, until she showed me where I was going. I had wanted her to bury me for good, but she dragged me out of the dirt instead. the Clarene held me and let me see the result of all the work of the Gods.
For the first time in my life, I feel alive. Even when I stared my traumas and doubt and insecurities in the face at the hospital, I realized something new–something I never thought I’d reach: I valued my own life, and my place in it.
I used to think I was a worthless thing that needed to die. I did not even believe in my own personhood. But now, I am stronger, and the impossible has happened. I am alive, I want to live, and I know I am stronger than I ever thought I could be. When the impossible becomes possible, a miracle has occurred. My life is miraculous, and day by day, the Gods are teaching me to own that miracle.
Thank you for reading. ‘of the Other People’ is a site dedicated to the Otherfaith, a modern polytheist religion. You can find more about us here and here. You can contact us here if you have any questions or would like to get involved.