I know how to care for my seriously mentally ill patients, while shielding myself from the pain of this work–how to let the ache go and not bring it home. But I’ve been away for a while, my guard has dropped, and there is no Star-Trek–like force field to keep my heart safe today.
My job as a psychiatrist in a large county jail provides some protections; cell doors and corrections officers guard my body. And unlike the young man I’m meeting with today, I started life in relative safety. I was not born with a congenital brain malformation giving

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Secrets and Suicides

I must disguise the truth.

Because of HIPAA.

I must hold these heavy truths within my small-framed body. Because of HIPAA, I can’t tell you the real reasons I’m so upset–the death tolls, the suicides, the real-life people who are my patients and the real tragedies that they suffer. I have to change the identifying facts about this person or these people to the point that they are unrecognizable. They are my secret, my deep, dark secret that can fester inside of me and cause me to feel terrible. Incapable of saving. Inadequate at what I do, because what I

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Hidden Wounds

“Growing up in an abusive home completely changed my outlook on life. There’s no love inside the home, only fear. Eventually, the pain and fear became normal. You’re afraid of your parents but you’re also afraid of a world without them because they’re all you know. You’re anxious, depressed, even suicidal. You have no social skills. It’s a lonely world with no way to cope.”
That was the searing testimony of Wyatt, a thirty-year-old military veteran in my developmental psychology class. On the first night of class, he warned me that he might pace in the back of

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The Spirit of the Holidays

Snow is drifting down lightly outside my window, and the early-morning light is just starting to shine into my room. I am nestled in my bed, snug and content. Nothing is going to get me out of bed this morning, I think. Then my alarm goes off, and the realization that it is Thursday, that I have a more important place to be, pulls me out of the warmth of my bed. I know I am headed to a place filled with more joy than even a comfy bed can offer me. 
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Poor Me

Usually, I loved my work as an RN in the coronary care unit. But I always dreaded leaving my family on Christmas. Poor me.
So, whenever the schedule called for me to work on the holiday, I’d think back to 1980 and my patient, Mr. Watkins. 
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The Masks We Wear

Every day we pass by friends, acquaintances, classmates and strangers, and all of us are wearing smiles on our faces. For some, that reflects feelings of bliss, joy or contentment. For others, though, it can be a mask.

I often think about my pain and the smile I wear to mask it. Most days, I am have the ability to express my troubles and fight the uphill battle against chronic depression. I tell myself, “You can do it! Just go and talk it out with your therapist.”

At least I had the ability to express myself and fight the

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“What do you think?”

“How long does she have?”

…”We need you here.”

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A Different Kind of Holiday

Ever since I was hit hard with myalgic encephalopathy/chronic fatique syndrome, the illness so eloquently portrayed by Jen Brea in the film Unrest, the holidays have been very different for me. Gone are the holiday gatherings, the caroling with friends and neighbors, the concerts. My body is too weak to attend any of these festivities, and the sound makes me dizzy within a very short time. I’ve been mostly housebound these 27 years.
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Not Sharing

I’m not going to share the whole story. That period of time was awkward and painful and private. Health scares and hospital stays seem more personal when they happen over the holidays. There’s something a little more permanent about them in the collective family memory. We’ll never forget that Christmas in the hospital.
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A Time of Tribulation and Thanks

Ma always made the most delicious Thanksgivings: turkey with stuffing; mounds of mashed potatoes dotted with bright green peas; a Jell-O mold containing pineapple and cranberry sauce; cole slaw and candied yams. Her holiday dinners were culinary feasts—meals that stretched the elastic waistband of my pants but still left room for me to nibble on leftovers later in the evening. Thanksgiving with my parents, maternal grandmother, and two children was the perfect holiday—until the year it wasn’t.

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Last Call

It’s been a few months since he died. A simple, white stone now stands watch for him at Camp Butler National Cemetery.

I have put off canceling his cell-phone service as long as possible. His children, friends and family from all over the world still call to hear him say “Leave me a message,” then weep and pour their hearts out into his voice mail.

But money is tight. The phone has to go. It really wasn’t much good, when none of his doctors would call him on it when he so desperately needed them.

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Counting to Thirty

I am with people when they are most vulnerable: in the hospital, stripped of their clothes, with nothing on but a thin gown that has been worn by many bodies before. My role is a constant balance between “human” and “robot.”

T-minus three minutes. The room is ready; the positions are assumed; the monitors are set. We stare at the clock as the seconds slowly pass, standing in silence to conjure up the stillness before the storm.

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