White walls everywhere you look. Locked doors, buzzers to go in, buzzers to go out. "Crazy" people with bugged out eyes and drool trickling down their chins, slowly shuffling down the halls. These people are condemned. They are ghosts. They are ugly reminders of what you only think you don't want to become, these people, these outcasts, these friends of mine.
When I walked through the front doors of this psychiatric hospital for the first time, I was quiet and shy. I was afraid. I saw the shuffling bodies and drooling faces and all I wanted to do was run. My legs itched to turn myself around and run as fast as I could as far away from this place as possible. My fingers played with the cuff on my bright green sweater as I sat nervously in front of the panel of doctors and nurses.
When the doctors were done talking, I was led down a dimly lit hallway. Doors after doors were lined up along one side of the wall. Crazy people stared at me from every direction. Their eyes bore into me, slowly burning holes into my skin. Their eyes showed how unstable, how unpredictable these people really were.
However, what once used to be frightening and anxiety producing, is now comfortable and eye opening. We crazies here see beauty in the simple things in life. Like how special a phone call from a loved one can truly be, especially if you haven't had one in over a month. Hugs actually mean something. They hold power and understanding. Getting out of bed is something to be applauded. Receiving a free cup of coffee is a good enough reason to have a very good day. The people who stay here are not crazy. Perhaps they understand more about the world than most "normal" people do.
Psychiatric wards are not scary places. They aren't here to lock up the "bad guys." The patients here are not crazy. Maybe the rest of the world is crazy for not accepting who these patients really are, and how much the world needs more people with mental disabilities to show the "normal" people the right way to live a meaningful life.
These days, I walk down our dimly lit hallways and see the bright smiles of patients, warm, welcoming and non-judgmental. Getting to see the doctor is a gift in itself, because he might give me a new privilege. These shuffling bodies here shuffle with purpose. My legs walk me towards the shufflers with the promise of a great conversation. The only eyes burning holes into my skin now are the ones that belong to visitors and newcomers, oblivious to how smart and uncrazy I really am.
This is a school were we learn new things every day and where we teach just as much as we learn. This is a playground where we make new friends. This is a church where we can seek sanctuary and feel forgiven for our past mistakes. This is the place the soul starts to heal. This is not a nuthouse. This is a home.