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I remember when I first met the guy who became one of my few friends after I left the hospital. He was incredibly strange, he looked awkward and was very stuck up. One of the things I remember him doing was running up and down the hospital hallways in short bursts. One time, a nurse slighted him and he went on for hours about how he was going to look up the definition of a nurse in the library and photocopy it and put it where she could see it as revenge. Then, when I left the hospital I found out he lived just two blocks away and I ran into him now and then. One time he was carrying a bottle of milk and I asked him if I could have a sip and he gladly handed it over. It turned out that he had saved rotten milk in his fridge so he could fill a bottle with it and then take it back for a refund. I nearly threw up because of his desire to lie and cheat.
I ended up knowing this guy for a long time. It was hard to let go of friends when I was living marginalized and had few people to talk to. At one point I moved in with a roommate and he kept ending up sleeping on our floor, and being in the way most of the morning. If I didn’t give him permission, he would get permission from my roommate who he barely knew. I was soon ready to carry him off and put him in a dumpster. The bad incidents went on and on, and cumulated in him accusing me of backstabbing and cheating him when he was so clearly in the wrong it was obvious.
It wouldn’t be bad if this was an isolated incident, but this situation kept repeating itself. I had to come to realize that people in the hospital are seriously ill and not necessarily capable of forming a normal friendship. There was one guy who I really liked being friends with, I thought he was the end of the world. We had tons in common, had even been in the same Air Cadet Squadron. But he was a pathological liar. And man, did he tell some doozies. Every day I saw him he told me he had just had sex with another beautiful young woman. On and on he would talk about the money he had, from a farm he supposedly owned to millions of dollars he had made one way or another. He even promised me a job when I left the hospital. I left before him and was unable to contact him, which should have been a good thing. A couple of years later I met him at a camping trip sponsored by the building I lived in. All of a sudden, all the good times and good stories were back, and somehow I believed them.
It might not have been so bad that he was always lying about everything, but the problem was that he wanted to use his lies to control me. Near the end of our friendship, he had me convinced that he had gotten a lawyer to seize a vehicle from a guy that owed me money and that if it weren’t for the fact that I had slept in (I hadn’t) I would have been able to get a cheque for the full amount owed. I had no choice, I had to tell him the friendship was over. He actually tried to convince me that I had to go to a counsellor with him so we could talk about how we crossed each other’s boundaries. He actually thought somehow that by being friends with him we were married or that he owned me. The incidents went on.
It can be so hard to get through those long days in the hospital. I don’t disagree that people should have friends, but I think that you really shouldn’t meet people in the hospital that you continue to be friends with when you leave. There are so many better ways to meet people who will become real friends. I met a lot of people volunteering for my community newspaper. I met my best friend because I worked hard on and then sought help with a book I wrote. Another close friend was someone I simply cared a great deal for who I have been close with for 30 years and we talk every day. I also prefer the company of my family most of the time, the people who will really stick with you through tough times.
If you need a way to get through the long, boring days on a psychiatric ward, consider drawing, doing puzzles, playing board games. Fill up the time in any way you can, you will feel better and get better sooner. I was never any good at drawing until one day a fellow patient suggested I try drawing something, a picture of a tiger, and after a few minutes I was transported to a place where it didn’t matter that I was ill and that I didn’t like my surroundings.
Three times while I was in a psychiatric ward I found romantic partners and learned too late that not only were these people in a vulnerable state, but that soon after leaving the hospital they became ill again and it was literally living hell having a relationship with them.
Another thing I think is important to mention here is that your doctors and nurses are not your friends. You may like them a great deal, and there is nothing wrong with that, it actually may help you recover faster if you feel motivated to take professional advice. But you have to remember that these people are professionals who have strict ethics about how far they are allowed to let the doctor/nurse–patient relationship go. Don’t try and make friends with these people either. Friends mostly come from a shared interest in something, a unique ability to communicate with each other and mutual respect, along with good times. Though they may seem to be nice and treat you well, the sad reality is that they have to treat everyone well and a few years down the road these people will likely not even remember you, they just treat so many people.
I have seen exceptions to this rule, I actually really like my present psychiatrist. She has bought books I wrote and I have loaned her Canadian Poetry books as she is from Scotland and hasn’t experienced Canadian Poetry much. And my nurse/therapist I have known for 30 years and he is a truly exceptional and kind person. But this is in an ongoing clinical setting where I continue to see these people and will pretty much keep seeing them until they retire. I recall running into a former psychiatrist of mine who I had for years and who I had deep respect for. I asked him if since he was retired I could call him “Brian” and he simply said no. But at least he was kind enough to buy, read and write an introduction for one of my books. Sadly though, as much as I respect and admire him, we really aren’t friends.