When I was in the inpatient unit for the first time, the most startling aspect of my experience was not that a woman barged into my room with delusions that I was her sister. It was not that there were white supremacists talking about the race war. It was not that the veteran I was talking to knew about Eisenhower’s interstate highway project. The most surprising aspect was that in the inpatient unit, everyone there is truly equal. Few places carry this feeling, but the feeling is a mix between despair that everyone is equal in suffering and loss and a strange sense of camaraderie that the people who you are with understand you on a level the doctors and nurses never will. I never felt judged by the people who I talked to, even by those way older than me.
Despite the visceral repulsion I have to being in the inpatient unit, I do sometimes wish I could spend time talking to the people there. Each person I met had an unique story to tell. Each person faced unbelievable obstacles. I wish I could find them now and dedicate my time in getting to know them more, writing down their stories, and helping them on their own healing journey. I don’t have a desire to become a therapist or a counselor or a nurse or a doctor because the power differential makes it hard to have an honest conversation. I want to be a peer, another person in recovery, rather than a distant figure proclaiming cures from afar.
Stigma runs through our culture, but I think it’s a badge of honor to be a survivor. Adversity changes who you are to the core, but in doing so, it ruptures old beliefs so that new beliefs can grow. Compassion and gratitude can be what replaces what can never be found again. The people who enter the inpatient unit often have faced adversity that the average person will never know, but their strength is incredible. To step forward everyday, even while everything seems lost, is a sign of incredible willpower in the face of pain. I’m proud to call these people my peers. We are not “crazies” and “psychos”. We are not weak nor cowards. We are distinctly—and fundamentally—human.