True Isolation - A Darkness Few Understand

Most people don’t know that I spent a number of years working in mental health. More specifically, I worked at an inpatient psychiatric hospital. The four years I was employed there opened my eyes to new kinds of pain and suffering; types of torment I didn’t know existed.

One patient in particular had a major impact on me. Her life was normal just a few weeks prior to my meeting her for the first time. The decline I witnessed in a bright and vibrant young woman was painful for everyone to watch. Toward the end of my time working with this particular patient, she said something to me that I have never been able to shake, “Patrick, do you know what it’s like to be completely alone? You might be here in front of me, but in my head it just me, and all the versions of me that scare me.” As we dug a little deeper, she explained how the world inside her brain was where she spent all of her time even though she wanted to be somewhere else and how the sense of isolation she felt was crippling.

I went home that night and wrote some of her words down and they inspired a piece of poetry. Last week, as I dug through my files on my computer, I came across that poem:

Here I lie underneath this white sky
Where the sun never sets and never will rise
With all these people why do I feel so alone?

 I hear the voices, but can’t see the faces
Remember the where, but can’t find the places
I just some need someone to lead me back home.

 I have fallen
And now I am broken
And all these words that I’ve spoken
Mean so much to me but nobody cares.
I am my family
I am my friends
This isolation is a terrible means to a tragic end.

 The darkness in this room made of pure white
Is blacker than an eve with no moon light
And louder than the voices that sound from these walls.

 Surrounded by people who are paid to listen
My mind perceives their weak intentions
I just need someone to wipe my tears as they fall. 

I have fallen
And now I am broken
And all these words that I’ve spoken
Mean so much to me but nobody cares.
I am my family
I am my friends
This isolation is a terrible means to a tragic end

I have fallen
And now I lie here all broken
A shell of a man who once had a place in this world 

But the world has failed me
And now has compelled me
To create this place where I exist on my own,

I exist all alone

This is a stark reminder that we are all surrounded by people who are hurting and broken and often we don’t even know it. Their pain can be from a struggle with mental illness, trauma, death, loss of a job, addictions, and the list goes on.

I wish I had taken more time with this young woman. I couldn’t have changed her outcome, but maybe, if only for a moment, I could have made sure she didn’t feel alone.

We can’t fix people’s problems or take on their pain and trauma, but all of us have the capacity to step into others stories, to listen, to love, and to make sure they know they aren’t alone.