There are cameras in the patient rooms on our psych units. The images they produce are tiny, black and white, and grainy. (That’s not really by design; they’re just very old, and they aren’t broken, so there’s no reason to replace them.) They don’t show much detail — just enough to allow us to keep an eye on people who might be liable to hang themselves with a bed sheet or try to dance naked on one foot on the back of a plastic chair. No, I didn’t just randomly make that up. I’m not nearly as imaginative as some of our patients.

There aren’t, since I know you’re wondering, any cameras in the bathrooms. This ensures the patients some modicum of privacy, but also means that when some of them take showers fully clothed, or stuff their toilets full of socks and underwear to keep the FBI from monitoring their output, or paint pictures on the walls with excrement, we might not find out about it in time to keep from having to clean up some pretty huge sloppy (and possibly smelly) messes.

The cameras are no secret, and are taken for granted by most of the patients, but once in a while we get someone who’s never been on a psych unit before, and they can be a bit startled by the idea.

Recently, one of the latter sort of patients shared this story with me. We’ll call her “Cantalope,” in keeping with my previous post, despite the fact that (oh, no!) I’ve already revealed her gender. (You never know, though. I might have already changed it to protect his her identity, just in case the fictitious fruit name wasn’t enough to fool you!)

Cantalope wasn’t psychotic, just depressed, and had no previous experience with psych units. Her roommate, “Artichoke,” however, had a long history of psychosis and paranoid delusions, a veritable psych unit veteran.

The morning after Cantalope arrived on the unit, she and Artichoke were in their room lying on their respective beds chatting, when Cantalope noticed the camera for the first time.

“Is that a CAMERA?” she asked Artichoke, pointing to the ceiling.

“Oh, don’t ask me,” replied Artichoke, smiling ruefully and shaking her head. “I think everything’s a camera.”

Cantalope laughed, probably for the first time in months. And began to realize that there was a lot she could learn from “these crazy people,” as she had referred to them angrily the night before when informing me that she did NOT belong there with them. After telling me the camera story, she said, referring to Artichoke, “You know, underneath all the craziness, she’s really intelligent, and interesting. And funny. I really like her.”

Artichoke has learned the secret of contentment. Know your weaknesses, and love yourself anyway. Then you’ll be happy, no matter how many standard deviations away from “normal” you happen to live. And Cantalope has learned that “crazy people” really aren’t so different from the rest of us after all.

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