I once saw a book entitled The Space Between Before and After. I believe that space exists, and it is a long and painful journey moving through that space to “after.” It was after my second trip to a hospital psych ward in less than a week, “the space between,” that this belief was forged.
The immediate cause of my downward spiral into hell was a doctor’s arrogance: insisting I take a medication he was told I could not tolerate then hospitalizing me only to discharge and abandon me when I needed him most. Four days after, I presented myself to the emergency department triage nurse and told her I did not feel safe (a code phrase for suicidal).
Earlier that gloomy February day I could not get out of bed, turn on a light, or attempt even the simplest acts of self-care. The phone went unanswered. I did not want to acknowledge to myself, much less anyone else, how completely I was falling apart. Yet, late in the afternoon, no longer wanting to be part of this life, I picked up the phone when it rang. A friend who had felt compelled to call me took charge: making me promise to brush my teeth, shower, change, and go to the hospital.
With only one social worker on a busy Friday night, my husband and I waited hours to see her. After questioning me, the social worker determined I could go home if I wished. Desperately wanting to be home with my family, I was more than willing to grasp at the straw she held out. Though unlike my husband, I knew it was only a straw and there would be no second chance.
As surely as I knew I had not needed to be hospitalized the week before, I knew that my life now depended on me saying the one word I could not —“Yes”—“Yes, I cannot take care of myself”—“Yes, I need to put my life and my freedom into someone else’s hands” — “Yes, I need to be in the one place that terrifies me most.” Despite the high stakes, I could not make myself say that word.
Late in the night, tears pouring down my face, I was too tired to hold out any longer. When asked again if I wanted the last available bed, I whispered, ”yes.” “That’s all you had to say,” the social worker said as she set into motion the process that ended with me exhausted and terrified, trying to wish myself home while a tech took my vital signs at 7:30 in the morning. The social worker never knew the cost of that one little word torn from the very depths my soul.
I believe that I have been given the chance to move to “after” because of a friend who answered when God called, and a single, whispered word that is the hardest thing I have ever been asked to do.
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