“When you are out there tell them we are just like everyone else.” – Napa State Hospital patient.
Yesterday I had the opportunity to speak at Napa State Hospital. Napa State Hospital is a forensic institution that treats patients who have been tried and found not guilty by reason of insanity.
I was buzzed in, patted down and escorted to the auditorium. “Mr. Rahim, thank you for being here, the patients are very excited to be with you,” one of the staff member stated appreciatively. The patients filed in, some shuffled with their heads down, others were wide eyed, excited and gave me thumbs up.
When I saw the patients, I remembered. I remembered my time on a psychiatric ward 16 years ago. When stood there, I recalled when I was prisoner to delusions of grandeur, walking up and down the streets of Hempstead, my hometown, in a manic haze. I recalled and realized that in my psychosis, if just one thing happened differently, I could be in a different space, a different place, maybe there; just as easily, I am sure in some cases, it could be the other way around.
I spoke for 40 min, sharing my journey, poetry and insights from living with mental illness – equipped with my “PhD. in bipolar disorder,” as was my response to a patient who asked how I gained my insights into living with mental illness. The patients shared ways they make it over and through, “I try to be around people that are positive and make you feel good,” one older black man stated.
I stood in front of 200 men and women, grateful, connected and glad to be able to share; men and women who share diagnoses similar to mine and who like me walk through the shame. For them there is the added stigma, burden and consequences of their actions, actions which have altered the lives of many people in tragic ways. However yesterday I was able to speak, share, inspire and be inspired.
So yes, on my journeys to colleges and keynotes, to stages and classes, I will share that between the bars, scars and convictions, there men and women who too have goals, gifts, skills and dreams. I will share that where we are is not who we are; I will share that we are more than our labels; and I will share that mental illness does not define us. Lives have been deeply altered and transformed by their actions, but also their lives can be transformed by their intent and actions. I will share what I heard because he asked me to. I will share what I heard it because it is true.