Lately I’ve been grappling with a few questions. Firstly, what do I truly believe about myself? Secondly, how many of those are actually true? Finally, have I allowed any untruths to negatively impact me? You know, just a couple of easy ones to answer – nothing too taxing.
This journey of self-discovery actually started a long time ago, when I was a newlywed and recent college grad, thanks to a job I had at a psychiatric hospital. Aside from motherhood, my time at the hospital was the most difficult and rewarding endeavor I’ve experienced. I loved my time working one-on-one with patients. I worked primarily with women, but occasionally would do a shift on the general adult unit. I have lots of stories from my time there and it’s a safe bet a few of them will end up here, or in a book, someday. It all began with a pair of glasses.
When hospitalized for a mental illness it’s pretty standard to have a multi-pronged approach to your care. A mixture of medication, individual therapy sessions, group and family sessions as well as other treatment modalities like art or even a ROPES (think trust building through an outdoor activity) course. It’s not just a bunch of people sitting around in straight jackets and staring off into space, it’s work. For the patient, their family and the entire treatment team.
One day I was working a shift on the adult unit and the best Cognitive-Behavioral therapist I’ve ever met, we’ll call her Carol, was escorting a group of patients back from a group session. As Carol was preparing to open the locked door to the unit, one of her patients stopped her. “I’m going to prove to you right now that I am in fact God,” declared (HIPAA violation avoiding) Steve. “Alright Steve, you have the floor,” replied Carol. Steve, certain he was about to prove to the entire group that he was truly God, squared his shoulders and confidently charged the door. Before Carol had time to figure out how he intended to prove his divine constitution, there was a loud bang. Steve had attempted to walk through the closed, locked door.
First of all, Steve was fine. Aside from the wound to his pride, he was unharmed by his encounter with the solid wood door. But to say he was dazed and confused is an understatement. He was totally and completely befuddled by his failure. “But I know I’m God! I should be on the other side of this door!”
Carol took a beat to allow Steve, and the rest of the group, to puzzle through his current location. Just when it was about to feel incredibly awkward, Carol, with a straight face and very caring tone, looked at Steve and said, “Now Steve, I’m certain you know deep down that you are not God.” He looked unconvinced, so she explained. “If you really believed you were God, you would not have removed your glasses before trying to walk through the door.” Steve was shocked at first, and then thanked her for pointing that out. I never heard him claim to be a deity again. Told you, best Cognitive-Behavioral Therapist out there.
I’ll admit it, having heard the entire conversation from the other side of the door, it took all my energy not to guffaw out loud. Shaking with the laugh that was threatening to make its way out, and joined by the nurse on duty that day, I ran to the med room, shut the door and laughed so hard I cried. I’m so grateful I hadn’t already had a child because if I had, I would’ve needed a new pair of pants. Honestly, I’m in danger of needing a wardrobe change now as I recount the story.
Would it have been funny if Steve was hurt? No, and I’m eternally grateful he wasn’t. Neither was the door, despite Steve’s stubborn nature. Really two miracles happened that day when I think about it – there was no head injury and the door was unscathed.
Why have I shared this story with you? Because I’ve come to the conclusion that I am (albeit slightly less delusional) like Steve. And I’ll bet you are a little bit too.The saga of Steve and the door isn’t just a funny story; it’s challenged me to ask myself the questions I started this post off with. Answering them feels like a mammoth undertaking but I know I’m up to the task – at least I hope I am. And if not? It’s been long enough since I worked at that hospital. I’m fairly confident I can go check myself in without running into any of my former co-workers. Although if Carol’s still there she might be able to help.
If this post has you questioning your own self-beliefs (I know, not a real word but it’s my blog so I do what I want), I encourage you to start your own expedition. If you decide to tackle the tough questions I’ve posed, I’d love to hear about it in the comments. The journey may not be easy, but sharing it with someone can help lighten the load.
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