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Christmas Eve in the Psychiatric Unit

December 1, AD2016

ornament-gold-cross

In the Hospital

I was not just in the hospital but in the “Psychiatric Unit” of the hospital. This is what happened to me on Christmas Eve, 2003. I was granted a pass to go home either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. It wasn’t much of a choice but I chose the second option. This meant staying in the Psychiatric Unit on Christmas Eve. While expecting “the blues”, depression, gloom, loneliness, self-pity because of this first Christmas Eve without parties, presents, decorations, “normal ?” people, lots of food, I was visited, instead, by a “Silent Night” full of peace, joy, contentment, hope. I felt a “Spiritual” presence unparalleled by any other that I had had before. I was more than satisfied to bask in that contemplative mood, which, by comparison, beat any of my other moods.

Bipolar

It was because of a mood disorder called “bipolar” that I landed at the hospital. This disorder rendered me unstable because my moods would fluctuate from “depression” to “mania” and vice-versa, even in a short span of time. A new “normal ?” or a loss with reality because it had gotten too heavy to handle? All I know is that bipolar chose me “out of the blue” and left me quite vulnerable. Since I hit bottom, I knew that I needed help psychologically. When depressed, I lacked the will to do anything – no motivation, no energy, no drive – just lethargy and anxiety. When manic, I would have plenty of energy. I felt I could take on the world. I’d be loud and boisterous, annoying and inappropriate in my behaviour.

Although there’s no cure for bipolar yet, I was, nevertheless, introduced to medications, which help to balance chemicals in the brain and to cope better with the illness. Medication, however important, needs to be accompanied by psychotherapy. Combined, they can help a great deal. True, there’s a period of adjustment in order to hit the right medication and best dosage. Perseverance, communication, and openness, good rapport, respect, trust, prayer, acceptance, encouragement, etc. are all factors helping the recovery process. Not only is patience a virtue, but it is a “must” because, like an onion, the healing process contains many layers.

Therapy

What’s to gain from therapy? – Freedom! Wholeness! Finding our true selves! Wellness! Holiness! Resurrection! Life in the Spirit! Going back in time to that contemplative stance, mood, the presence of Christmas Eve, 2003, I felt “transfigured”. I was given a glimpse of the First Christmas – real, simple and beautiful. Looking at my display of Christmas cards in my hospital room, I saw, as I contemplated, Jesus, Mary, Joseph, shepherds, sheep, cow and donkey, angels, kings, camels and a few slaves. And I saw a “star”. Since 2003, the magic of that star continues to draw me back to the quiet, the solitude, the contemplation, the stillness of Christmas Eve. In this “Silent Night”, my mood is not bipolar but healthy- full of love, peace, joy, hope and good will. This is possible because the “Star” of stars- Jesus- is the reason for the season. O, come let us adore Him- the Prince of Peace, our “Saviour”.

Over the last 12 years with bipolar, I’m now like “the people who walked in darkness” that “have seen a great Light”. Yes, I did experience darkness: unforgiveness, anger, fear, failure and discouragement but lately, in my recovery, I do see a great Light. I am grateful for this grace. Whereas before I saw bipolar as a curse and a great burden with its ugly “stigma”, I now see its gifts in the form of compassion, understanding, reverence, acceptance, wisdom and joy, despite its cross.

Transformed

I am being transformed, set free, resurrected. The butterfly in me is unfurling its wings. Soon, it will be time to “soar”, to be “set free”, amidst beauty and wonder. Let those who have eyes see that “there is hope for the flowers”. With God, there’s always hope, hope for the flowers and hope for everyone and everything in Creation. This I learned in the dark of my hopelessness and in the furnace of my affliction and anguish.

I remember, in my past despair, a time when there was only one thread of hope. As I trusted and leaned on God, He made the miracle of making that thread “enough” for me to go on. This is why “hope” is now so pivotal to me; it’s empowering me to be a “positive magnet”.

In conclusion, not only did I survive but I’ve been acting as a catalyst or advocate for hope in other people’s lives. It feels good to be able “to pay forward”. My reward is deep peace, joy, love, hope and gratitude. Thus, spending Christmas Eve with Jesus, even in a Psychiatric Unit, can be a pleasant, blissful, peaceful and intimate surprise, wrapped up in love, joy and glad tidings of HOPE. Merry Christmas!…  

Guest contributor: Brother Henry Arruda OMI

Henry Arruda was born in The Azores, Portugal on the island of S. Miguel. He immigrated to Canada in 1966, along with his parents, his brother Antonio and his sister Aldavina. He was then 16 years old. In order to help financially, he did various jobs. Later on, he became an educator. In 1980, he entered a Roman Catholic missionary order called Oblates of Mary Immaculate. Since then, he has been stationed in Northern Ontario, Labrador, as well as Ottawa. He helped in these places often being the liaison between parishes and the schools.

According to the author, his experience and perception of bipolar and paranoia were felt as a “nightmare” at the beginning but, over time, they have become a teaching.

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