The above photo belongs to my photo poetry collection, The Water Bride. The below image I took at Mount McKinley, Alaska, in 2015. It was the very last day we could make it that far into the park before the winter storms moved in. ( All photos of this blog are my own. All rights reserved. Please be respectful of other’s artwork.)
Stigmas! Enough talked about, one would think, but NO. We still walk around judging others in ways we should be ashamed of, and I was once the very same way. There is sill not enough progress made in terms of facts and fiction.
Several years ago my psychologist suggested that I should join a group therapy program which was fully covered by my insurance. I was hesitant, but she insisted that it would make a world of difference, in a way where a whole year of one-on-one therapy could not compare. The thought of doing a soul strip in front of a bunch of questionable strangers, possible weirdos, was unthinkable. Did the lady forget that closed rooms, and lots of people were still enough reasons to throw me into a full blown panic attack?!
But I was at a point in my life where ‘life’ as I knew had ended, and my whole world had seemingly blown up into a million sharp little pieces. Those little fuckers drilled into my mind and soul in a way where I knew I needed serious help in order to figure it all out. My marriage was ending after years of piled up hurt, disregard and bitterness. I had my kids to think of, and needed to gain the strength to do so. Falling into a huge hole was absolutely no option. No, no!
So I told my psychologist to sign me up, and a week later I drove to the clinic where I was to spend two weeks from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Shoot me now! I parked, and looked at the building of dread under a perfectly blue morning sky. Once in the parking lot I waited to see who would walk in, and with a huge sigh I finally made my way to the door, told the receptionist my name and what I was there for.
Within five minutes I had lost already my Perrier water (no glass bottles) and my packed lunch (no outside prepared food). What in the world……..!
A young woman appeared after a few minutes to guide me and a small group of others into the main clinic area. The first door closed behind us while she unlocked the next one. Unlocked!! Now I had serious doubts about this master plan, all the while still being intrigued by what was going on around me. Everyone seemed ok with the whole locking and unlocking thing, and so far nobody looked like a homeless serial killer (which look like what?!).
So we made our way through a couple of more doors and down the hallway where we would enter a room to the left with a big circle of chairs. (The soul spilling area!). I was immediately repelled by the wiff of stale cigarette smoke and sweat, I lowered my chin and pulled my scarf closer to my nose. This didn’t look or smelled good! Danger…… what to do! I tried to remember my breathing exercises in order to get my rising heartbeat under control while finding a chair.
The door closed again heavily. Keys turned in a lock, but this time at the other side of the door, which in my world is heavily frowned upon! Lord, please no panic attack, just breathe…you’ll survive! But again I found myself also intrigued; like a journalist joining some secret circle in a very, very strange place.
I finally looked around at the people surrounding me in this sterile room, while another young woman arrived (unlocking, locking doors) – which turned out to be the other therapist. Then we were separated into two groups, and ventured out into the hallway to enter a different room. This one had a big window, and also a glass door (locked) to the courtyard. The snow on the ground, the trees and the sky calmed my nerves tremendously. Ok, this was a little better!
There was a young woman hugging her knees in front of her while resting her chin on them. The pale face barely visible under her hoody. A chatty older woman, obviously familiar with her surroundings, giggling about something she had said to her neighbor. A middle aged man in a suit, visibly super uncomfortable and immediately viewed by me as fellow ‘normal’ person. Hey! He was shaved, and in a suit! Right next to me was a young, very skinny and obviously nervous young man which frantically doodled all over his notepad, and on it went…..
The therapist introduced herself to the newcomers and greeted those familiar to her already. More introductions within the group were made, and there we went with the program.
At the end of the day I walked outside on the parking lot. The sun had peaked already low over the mountains. Warming my face, and surrounding me with this surreal,almost orange afternoon light. I was carrying an overload of information, big doubts, and a huge binder full of practice sheets and notes. One of the other ‘patients’ walked by, waving with a slight smile and unlocked her car.
I wasn’t sure if I wanted to come back. Already at lunch time I thought about leaving, but I did go back, knowing that I was in no position to judge or be a coward. I needed help. I desperately needed guidance right now, and guidance I would receive. And so much more!
One day we left the room for lunch a little too early and passed by a small group of inpatients dressed in what seemed like simple night gowns. They were led to their physical check up on the opposite side of the clinic. Our therapist immediately realized her mistake, but couldn’t walk us back in time anymore. All of us were already out in the hallway next to them, and the door was locked from the outside. Our whole group fell silent and stopped to let them pass by.
I saw the eyes of a young woman. I cannot say that I met her eyes because they were completely and utterly empty. Robbed of everything we consider life. While she looked at me, she didn’t. I was completely invisible to her mind and soul, and my heart reached out to her in realization of her catatonic state. The clocked out mind, the absent soul, a thousand miles away. My eyes filled with tears since I knew how it all must have started for her. What suffering, what pain she must have been through to leave herself….. I couldn’t even imagine what life and this illness had done to her. Every face showed us how it could be. Sobered and humble I walked down the hallway after they had slowly passed. So very grateful realizing that we were after all still the lucky ones. Because we could still feel God. Because we could still fight. Because we still had hope.