59: The Gold Miners

59: The Gold Miners

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Nurses

The Gold Miners

Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.

~Leo Buscaglia

I struggled with mental health issues for most of my life. Growing up I thought I was just odd but in my late twenties I decided that something was wrong and I needed help. I started off with a therapist, then another one, added some drugs to the mix and finally went into the hospital for a lengthy assessment.

My time there was not well spent. Fear left me almost mute and the new pills they gave me did nothing for me but make me fat. On that rare occasion when I absolutely had to speak I would choose a nurse carefully. By watching and listening I figured out who might be safe. Trust came hard for me so talking to anyone required an indescribable amount of grit. Some nurses viewed this selection process as favoritism. Of course I had favorites, just like I had favorite teachers in school and favorite pajamas. Why would I speak with someone who pushed too hard or judged without understanding? I needed to be understood.

Once someone decided it would be good for me to have a student follow me around for a few days a week. It was a strange choice considering the fact that I never spoke. What would the student learn? Fortunately there was a nurse I had identified as being “safe.” For the first time, I spoke up. I went to her and while studying my shoes I told her how I felt about having a student.

“Then you don’t have to have one.” She just smiled and I walked away feeling as if I had passed a test. I had talked and somebody had listened.

Over time there were many visits to the hospital, as doctors tried to find the right pills, a proper diagnosis, and a treatment plan. With each admission new faces replaced old ones and I would have to evaluate the new people. Once, when I went down to the nurse’s station to see who came on shift, a new person was sitting there. I was told that I would be her patient. But I wanted a nurse who I knew. I scowled and she just kept smiling. I almost stomped my feet as I headed back to my room.

This “scowl–smile” form of communication went on for a few days. Then one night this nurse dropped in to see how I was doing. I was very sad about something. Lo and behold I talked! I have no memory of the words I used, but when I was finished she didn’t push for me to go further. Instead she asked if I could use a hug and I shocked myself by saying yes. This was huge for me.

Bedtimes were difficult and long after other patients were fast asleep I stayed hyper vigilant. I would read or write in my journal, occasionally drawing stick people. Late one night the nurse who had hugged me dropped in for a visit. Coffee in hand, she plunked herself down in the visitor’s chair. And we talked. Not really about my issues, as I still had little insight into them, but about everyday things. She laughed at some of my dryly-expressed observations on life.

This coffee talk became a ritual when she worked nights. It helped me so much. She wasn’t trying to pry me open and our interactions made me feel valued as a human being. If I said something that she found to be unacceptable, I received a light reprimand, but not very often. Eventually she would finish her coffee, give me a hug and wander off to do paperwork.

During one of my early admissions it was acknowledged that a high level of anxiety was what left me tongue-tied. It also left me with a need for solitude. If I got stuck with a roommate, I found great places to hide around the hospital. Everyone who worked with me assumed that I was an introvert. When things were good I could talk the ears off a deaf donkey, but then I would be discharged, so the staff seldom saw this extroverted side of me. It was as if there was a me who laughed and talked and a me who shut down, leaving everyone around me puzzled and concerned. Switching between these selves meant another admission to a hospital room with yellow blankets and shower curtains that clung to me like live snakes.

I met a male nurse after one shift change. His wife had actually been my therapist for a short time. I didn’t talk to her either. By this time though, I had begun to find my voice. As with the Coffee Cup Nurse, the man would drop by to see me after the other patients were settled. Nurse Husband spoke to me kindly and with respect, as if he were searching for things that would draw me out. One night he began to talk about children’s developmental stages. He brought a textbook in, pointing out one particular theorist, and left it with me.

I read it with a keen sense of interest and I talked about it eagerly the next evening. I discussed each section, reciting incidents that would have caused part of me to become stuck in each emotional stage. It was actually one of the most interesting conversations I had during my stays. Being treated like a normal intelligent person was like putting a stake in the ground to mark a spot from which I could make progress.

When I wasn’t in the hospital, I worked with a therapist. That hard work with her was combined with the help of the nurses who viewed me as an intelligent person, I opened up more and more. I started to find my way past the walls I had erected around myself. In time, I gained enough control over my peaks and valleys that I was able to work on myself without further need of hospitalization.

The work helped me to realize what caused my fear and withdrawal. I have Dissociative Identity Disorder, formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder. Receiving that book from Nurse Husband was a turning point. It explained that various traumas left part of me stuck in each of Erikson’s stages of growth. That was how I had become “we.” It was because of this condition that I could rarely speak, having been trained not to talk or trust.

Many professionals have helped me to understand my world in order to gain more control over it. Without the nurses who saw past my games of emotional hide and seek, I truly believe it would have taken me a lot longer to reach the level of awareness I have today.

The trust I developed allowed me to retrain myself with guidance from many people. Among them were determined nurses who were like gold miners, never giving up until they uncovered the parts of me that could shake off the dust and shine.

~Catherine Hannah Grey

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