Commentary by Chaplain Brian Greenwood
When I awoke that brisk November morning, I realized my spirit was depleted of everything. There was nothing left to give; the numbness in my spirit was palpable. Depression had crept up on me for a lot of good reasons, and I fantasized ending my own life. Terrified and humiliated, I called a psychiatrist. Either I reached out or I followed through on the plan.
Within the hour I found myself in the Emergency department at the Grey Nuns Community Hospital, where I serve as a chaplain. Familiar faces, sights, sounds and smells at once reassured me—then unsettled me. “How irresponsible and embarrassing to come to the hospital I serve for such a humiliating disorder,” I thought.
“You’re a chaplain,” I scolded. “You should have never gotten sick in the first place."
I was admitted for three weeks of treatment, observation and electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and I wrestled with my fears. I was afraid I would not improve or, if I did get better, would not be accepted back into my workplace.
I’m making my story public because I have a lot of gratitude to express. Not only did I get better, I was accepted back with open arms. I feel healed today—the combination of psychiatric intervention, medication, spiritual reframing and ECT have me back on the floors caring for patients and staff alike. I feel in touch with a newfound compassion and competence. I truly feel spiritually integrated and well.
Since my return to work, I’ve been called to support patients on the unit to which I was admitted. This has brought me face to face with the people who cared for me while I was ill. To their credit, at no point in my reintegration to ministry have I felt ostracized or demeaned. There have been no judgments passed my way or words expressed that would undermine my work with patients or staff.
My two biggest fears—that I would not improve or that I would somehow be humiliated—turned out to be paper tigers.
So I share my story for a few reasons. I want to emphasize that any of us can become ill and reaching out is not the end of the world. We really do provide good care in this hospital; we can get better and retain our sense of community while promoting personal dignity.
I’m grateful to all those who cared for me when I was ill, and I am thankful for the sense of community I have at the Grey Nuns.
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