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I want to have grace for people. Sometimes it can be hard. Sometimes it feels like monkeys are running the zoo.  A friend pointed out that since they are not my monkeys, or my zoo, I should be able to stay calm in their midst.  And that’s true. But I still don’t want them throwing their poop at me when I’m around.

Do you have any idea what I’m talking about?  I ran into conflict with the staff today. In several different situations nurses told me I was not allowed to do something I have been doing for months here while hospitalized. I asked why the sudden change in behaviour was expected and the only response I received was “there are too many people breaking the rule so we’re enforcing a crackdown.”

Wait, what? A crackdown? That’s a pretty harsh word. It brings to mind images of police violently confronting peaceful demonstrators. Not a single other word could be found to explain the reason for this sudden re-enforcement of a rule no one knew existed. And I asked five different staff.

I learned the definition of indignant today. I knew it in theory, but now I know it experientially too. “Indignant: feeling or showing anger or annoyance at what is perceived as unfair treatment.” Yes, today I am indignant.

I also don’t understand the reason why the rule exists in the first place. It makes no sense. I want to avoid specifics here, but let’s just say the rule only applies sometimes, and not at other times. There are apparently “various” reasons for the rule, but of the three I was given, none make sense because in other situations that same thing happens time and again without issue. Sometimes even done by the staff. The staff who are trying to enforce the rule actually break it, and just say the two are not the same.

Let me give you an analogy to help you understand what I mean. If the rule was no smiling while chewing gum, this is what the current enforcement of the rule would look like:

1) If you buy the gum its okay. If we give you the gum, its not.

2) If we want to chew gum and smile, its okay, because we have our reasons and know how to do it safely.

3) We don’t want you to do it because we don’t want you to possibly get hurt, but we’re unwilling to explore ways to help you learn how to chew gum and smile in a safe way. Even if you have a suggestion of how you can do it safely, we’ll still say no.

4) We’re only asking you to follow the rule during these specific times, then you can do as you wish (apparently my safety is only a concern during certain hours of the day, at other times I am allowed to make the choice to risk danger).

5) There are no consequences for breaking the rule that we can explain to you. We will just continue to tell you sternly that you are breaking a rule and hope you eventually obey.

6) Learning to obey the rule will help in your recovery from illness.

It doesn’t seem to matter to anyone that for nearly four months I have been doing this and no one has said anything about a rule. I’m told it’s because things on this unit are different than where I was before, but they also state its a hospital wide policy. They like the “we don’t make the rules, we just have to enforce them” argument. It means they don’t have to care whether the rule is fair or not.

I’m trying in the best way possible to explain that I believe I have a right to “chew gum and smile.” Chewing gum and smiling makes it easier to work on the goals I have for while I’m here. Not chewing gum and smiling can make me very vulnerable to losing control of my emotions, in some cases it can even provoke it.

When I asked to speak to the person in charge, he said if they let me do it then everyone will want to.

Hold on, aren’t we all individuals with different needs and goals while we are here? If you are agreeing that it should be my right, why shouldn’t it be theirs? Surely there must be ways to allow people to do what they feel is best for their mental health? After all, it is their mental health. Not yours. Should I (and my family) not set the goals for my stay here, with the help of my doctor, rather than having them dictated to me by a policy that is apparently “universally” enforced?

I want to approach this with respect for the staff with whom I’m engaging. I want to be patient and polite and communicate that I want to listen and understand their perspective. And I want to ask them to listen to mine.

I want to have grace for people. Sometimes it’s hard. In all things, Immanuel.

I’m not sure how to begin this post. I suppose I should start by telling you that I have been re-admitted to the hospital.  At the conclusion of my last round of ECT I was feeling good, stable, ready to take on the challenge of getting back to my life. Kathryn and I headed up to the cottage for a week of reconnecting and relaxing after such a long summer.  On the drive up, I compared how I felt to a leaf floating on a river, ready to go wherever the current takes me.  Calm, at rest, serene.

After our first night, my mom called us to say my pregnant sister-in-law (who wasn’t due for another two weeks) had gone into labour and asked if we wanted to drive back to be with the family when the new baby arrived.  Of course, we said yes.  We left our stuff, locked up the cottage, and hopped back in the car for another long road trip home.

And it was so worth it.  I will never forget the first moment I heard the sound of a baby crying in Bryan and Sarah’s room, or how we got to meet her when she was only 20 minutes old, or how when we visited the next day, my brother gingerly handed her to me and I felt her small little heart beating, watched her chest rise and fall as she breathed and marvelled at how somebody less than 12 hours old could have already made such an impact on our family.

Those moments with Abbigail, my brother and my sister-in-law, were pure bliss. We longed to stay and hold her forever, but we had a cottage to get back to, and she had some mommy-baby bonding time scheduled in her calendar. So we jumped back in the car and repeated the drive north with joy and peace in our hearts.

The more I thought about how good it felt to hold someone so little, so brand new, the more I longed for Kathryn and I to be at that phase of our journey together. We have talked about having kids, looked into our options, made some tentative plans, but the timeline keeps getting pushed back.  My insecure self wonders if Kathryn is dragging her feet because she may not really want children. But my true self saw the wonder in her eyes as she held our little niece and I know the mom desire is inside her too.

This is hard to admit, but it’s easy for me to get jealous of parents with small children, and especially newborn babies. The longing in my heart turns to pain and in jealousy I think, why them and why not me? Like a toddler, I want to sit on the floor, kick my feet and yell, “It’s not fair! Why does it have to be harder for us?! Why can’t I have what they have?”

Apparently this leaf isn’t quite so ready to go wherever the current takes her. Towards the end of our week at the cottage, I slowly started to experience all the symptoms I dealt with before ECT. My headaches returned. I couldn’t sleep at night and just wanted to sleep all day. I wasn’t hungry at all. I was short-tempered with Kathryn and pessimistic about our future.

It’s hard to say how much this has to do with my jealousy over the birth of my new niece. Please know that my heart is truly filled with happiness for them and I am excited to watch this little one grow and interact with all the members of our family.  If the symptoms returning were only about the baby issue, they would subside as I came to accept the reality of Kathryn and my situation, that now is just not the right time for us.  And my inability to manage the symptoms suggests that I have more healing to do before we bring a baby into our family.

Later, once we were home, more serious symptoms began to return – urges to self harm, inconsistency with taking my medication, suicidal ideation. Kathryn and I tried to cope, we tried to find hope, we tried to get through it. But it was as if that leaf had turned to stone and sunk to the bottom of the river. I wasn’t moving in any direction, I couldn’t handle the pressure, and I didn’t know how long it would be before I cracked.

We were so disappointed that the benefits of ECT had not lasted. This was not what we were told to expect. Although ECT is still widely misunderstood, even by psychiatric professionals, we felt we had been given good information about the risks and potential benefits, and thought we had come out of the treatments on the positive side.

When I really started to consider doing something to hurt myself, and started refusing Kathryn’s attempts to help me, she called a crisis line for advice. She was able to convince me to talk to the counsellor, who assessed the situation and recommended I go to the ER. She then told Kathryn that if I would not go willingly, Kathryn should call the police – the situation was that dire. Not wanting to be taken to the hospital by police, I went willingly.

Like most visits to the ER, it was a long night. I had to wait for a psych doctor to be available to assess me, and in the meantime, I alternated between periods of complete boredom, and long sessions of questioning from various nurses, social workers and interns. They wanted answers I didn’t have.  Why the dramatic shift in my mood? Did ECT really work, or did I just want to believe it did? Why aren’t the coping skills enough at this point? And on and on… and endless questions about my mental health history, which I feel I’ve had to repeat over a dozen times in the past few days.

By Sunday morning, I finally saw a psychiatric resident who agreed the change in demeanour seemed serious and extreme, and wondered if I just didn’t have enough ECT sessions for the effects to be long-lasting. After talking with Kathryn, who was legitimately concerned for my safety and well-being, he decided to have me admitted so I could be re-referred to the ECT program.

And so, here I am. Back in the hospital. On a different unit (due to bed availability), which means all new staff to get used to. Frustrated, disappointed, lonely and missing home. Kathryn still visits every day, and I’ve had various friends come to spend time with me, but of course being here is not the same as being at home.

But knowing I’ve been approved for another round of ECT treatments makes it worthwhile.  I don’t know if this time will be different, if I’ll experience long-lasting relief from the symptoms that have plagued me for so long. But I do have hope. I know what I’m in for, I know what to expect from the procedure, I know I’ll be okay.  And I hope that feeling of floating on the water will return, and this leaf can continue her journey home.

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