Tension

As of late, insomnia seems to be my greatest adversary. I often lie tossing and turning trying in vain to find some degree of slumber and rest before my alarm signals the beginning of the day. This morning I woke up early and rather than just lying in bed, I decided to get up and be productive. I opted to go ahead and come into work early. As I sat down at my desk, I noticed two things. The first thing that I noticed was the beautiful sunrise outside of my office window. Then, as I sat taking in the beauty, I heard the screams and the rants of a floridly psychotic psychiatric patient going through the process of being admitted. These two observations were in direct contrast to one another. As I reflected on my own feelings related to what I was observing I felt a tension. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that those of us that work in psychiatric care live in a state of tension. On one hand, we cherish the moments when we are able to help a patient in a meaningful way. On the other hand, we also deal with some of the most challenging behaviors that exist in society. While other health professionals are exposed to pain, psychiatric professionals are exposed to raw human anguish. We see the what results from one human being abusing and subjugating another. We often see a pain that moves past physical discomfort to a place where it seems to be emanating from their very soul. To not be in control of one’s own mind is perhaps the greatest form of torture one can endure. For those of us offering support in this environment, there is no way to fully escape being affected. As Nietzche said: “When one looks into the abyss, the abyss stares back.” However, in spite of the darkness inherent in the work, there is good too. There are the proverbial “sunshine moments.” In these moments we see a patient move to the next level in their recovery or we see treatment plans become successful. Sadly, these successes are less frequent than the failures. This causes us a deep tension. I see the frustration in staff’s eyes when a patient targets them or says offensive and inappropriate things to them. I see the tension in staff’s faces and feel it within myself when we have to hold down another suffering human being to administer medication to help calm the patient and to keep them and others safe. I see the tension in the patient’s eyes when the symptoms of their schizophrenia include hallucinations of demons and other terrible and frightening things. I see the tension as they confuse their mental illness with a spiritual problem. As they see themselves as not “good enough” or “valuable enough” for God to heal. I see their tension, and as I sit with them to offer comfort to them, I again feel my own tension. In these moments, one question persists for me: “Where is God in the midst of all of this pain?” I would be remiss if I sat here and told you that I have a definitive answer. I don’t. I can however tell you where I see God in all of this. So, here goes: I see God in every nurse and patient care giver who pushes through the daily emotional and physical challenges to protect and care for those who do not have full control over their own minds. I see God in the social workers and psychologists as they connect with the patients in real and tangible ways through therapy and discharge planning. I see God in the network of non-direct care staff that assure things continue to operate in the background so others can be freed up to offer patient care. I see God in the opening up of a placement after a patient has had a long period of hospitalization. I see God in the medication that exists to make the hallucinations go away and to help the moods of those in great mental and emotional pain. I see God when I look into the eyes of a patient who sees their own brokenness, but has the courage to continue to do everything in their power to heal. I see God in the staff members whose own personal emotional pain is sometimes dredged to the surface through their actions as a care giver and I see God in the amazing capacity for healing that is inherent to all of us…staff and patient alike. The face of God is not always evident when we are standing in the tension of our work, but the fact that there is tension is indicative of there being a counterbalance to the pain and darkness that we deal with daily. Perhaps that tension is held by those of us who hold the space for healing to occur. It seems difficult to imagine God within this tension, but now, as the patient’s emotional outburst in the background has subsided, I am sitting here enjoying the remainder of this morning’s sunrise. The warmth of the light on my skin through the window serves as a reminder to me that even in the midst of pain and challenge there can be beauty. Sometimes the moments where we feel the greatest struggles become the very moments when God is working through our hands. Perhaps we can be the sunshine in someone’s life to counter the pain and darkness. This is what it means to be part of the “body” of Christ.-

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