“I’ll just draw the curtains,”

I don’t know how or why this happens, but sometimes people find themselves opening up to me, sometimes people find their emotions bubbling very close to the surface and I appear as a likely vessel for the overspill. I don’t like it when people apologise for this – never, ever apologise for breaking and opening to me, I am always honoured.

There was a lady who was experiencing triple vision. It was scary and disorienting for her, she found it hard to recognise where things were in space and how to navigate herself. She was also experiencing hallucinations of dead relatives, come to speak to her, to guide her perhaps. I found her like this, we did some testing, and then she began to talk. She told me that she was afraid, she became quite tearful, she told me that she had never felt this way before and didn’t know how to deal with it.

As usual, I was laughably unqualified to deal with this situation, and yet deal with it I must! I don’t have the knowledge or the experience to dare to offer a genuine psych treatment plan, but I’ve found a few tools which seem to work in every situation.

  • Mindfulness. Being present in the moment, allowing yourself to breathe, take a second to take everything in, listen to your breath, listen to how your body feels – there, stay with me, okay?
  • Taking things one step at a time & having realistic goals. You don’t need to worry about what’s going to happen a month, a week, a day from now. We’re just going to get through these next few moments together, and I’m with you. One step. Don’t worry about how you’re going to get back to work, how you’re going to live at home – let’s just focus on the little things for now, such as learning how to make a tea again.
  • Being kind to yourself. If I had a car accident and broke my arm, you wouldn’t expect me to get right back to work, would you? You wouldn’t expect that I’d immediately be able to wash, dress and care for myself to the same standard as I did before the accident, right? So you shouldn’t expect that from yourself. Just because you can’t see your injury doesn’t mean it’s there. The brain is plastic until death, it can and will rewire itself, but you need to give it time – and celebrate the small victories. When you do learn to make that tea, congratulate yourself! Take a moment with that tea to remember what it felt like to not be able to make it, and how it feels now that you did it. Tell yourself that you’ve done a good job, be proud of yourself – I am proud of you.
  • Empathic reflection.
  • Active listening.
  • KINDNESS.
  • Being there. Not working, not rushing, not doing. Just being there, as a full person, with a full person. I am here, I am real, I am with you, I see you, I hear you. Right now, right here, you are not alone.

These things happen on hospital beds, behind hospital curtains, inside hospital wards. People break and remake themselves, lose and find themselves, over and over. It frustrates me that I never know what happens to these people after they leave the ward, but in some cases I think it’s better that way. It’s hard to be closed when someone breaks open to you, and I think that maybe I am most useful as a novel, singular experience – that maybe continuation of my presence would inhibit the candour we cultivate in those spaces? I dearly hope that to at least some of these people I was experienced as a relief, a break, a haven, a person they could really genuinely talk to and be with, if only for a short while.

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