I’m thinking about that moment when they put the hospital band on my wrist. It looks as though it’s made of paper or fragile plastic, but it’s nearly impossible to remove without a pair of scissors. It’s got my important information on it, so that if I can’t speak or don’t make any sense they still know who I am. It’s the moment that I “officially” become a patient and not a visitor.
I’ve had many of these wristbands. Some for very mundane reasons, like being in the hospital to give birth to my daughter or to have a procedure done. Others for stays in the ER or for psychiatric care. Letting that band be fastened on feels like giving myself over; like surrendering my will and becoming part of a system. In many cases, it’s understood that this surrender is temporary and specific; being in the system is simply necessary to get whatever it is done.
Unless my reason for getting that lovely accessory is a psychiatric one. Having my wrist encircled by that type of band feels as if I am now marked. Marked as someone whose every word and action is now suspect. Marked as different, potentially dangerous, untrustworthy. However understandable those perceptions might be coming from staff who have seen a lot of extreme stuff at their job, they still hurt.
I feel as if I’ve failed when they put the band on. I’m admitting that I’ve failed at coping on my own. I’m worried about the financial burden I’ll place on my family by seeking help. But I wouldn’t be in that situation unless I were in enough distress that these issues fade into the background. The truth is, the most intense emotion I feel about that wristband going on is relief.
Relief because, for a little while, I get to stop pretending. Stop trying to act as if I have it under control; stop trying to smile and chat and make eye contact like a normal person. Stop censoring my dark thoughts because they might scare someone. Stop trying to display a normal affect, or slow down my speech, or choose my topics carefully. Stop being solely responsible for keeping myself from doing anything stupid and irrevocable.
I’ve tended to end up in the voluntary kinds of programs once the immediate crisis has eased. Some of the nicest social times I’ve had have been with fellow wearers of the wristband in such places. In groups or in day programs, I enjoy talking with people who don’t expect me to be anything but strange. We can greet each other in the morning without the usual dilemmas that come with being asked how we are–it’s OK to say, “Well, I’m better than yesterday, but the suicidal thoughts are still up a lot.”
If you’ve never hung out with this kind of crowd, I think you might be surprised at the intelligence, humor and sensitivity that can be found. Of course, some patience and digging can be necessary depending on levels of depression or other issues. There can also be a real sense of camaraderie and group support (hopefully without an “us against the staff” dynamic going on.) Sometimes fun or creative activities are brought into the groups, and for short periods of time I can convince myself that I’m at some feelings-intensive adult summer camp.
It’s too bad the admission ticket comes at such a steep price. I wish there were more of a middle ground available; more ways to have a little structured interaction without having to go through a higher level of care first. Maybe it would help me avoid some of those really intense times. I’ve never been very good at creating structure for myself, socially or otherwise, and it’s something I want to keep working at.
When I was in my last rehab they didn’t have us wear wristbands, but there were the same kind of feelings associated with being there. Especially the relief. Like many of my peers, I felt nervous about leaving and starting to do recovery without the structure of residential treatment. I did the things we were advised to do to prepare for recovery on the outside, like planning exactly which twelve-step meetings I would attend the next day and week. But I did something else too.
I made my own wristband; well, ordered it by mail. It was just a medical ID bracelet, and I should have been wearing one already. It named my diabetes and my mental health diagnosis, but the first line on it said “Addiction.” It comforted me to think that even unconscious and injured, I would be speaking up to acknowledge the truth. I did it to feel that, structure or no structure, I was still part of a healing system. I still wear the bracelet today. I rub my thumb over its text when I am bored at a meeting or feeling anxious.
T.S. Eliot wrote that the whole Earth is our hospital. I suppose that’s the idea I am trying to remember. Though there may be times I need the specific help the medical folks can provide, I don’t always have to have a crisis to enter a healing state or get help: I’m surrounded by potential therapies for my senses and soul, if I can let go of my ego and reach for them.