October 22, 2020

Success often product of privilege

By Emmy Liederman
Opinions Editor

During spring break of my junior year in high school, I happily accompanied my family on a vacation to Florida. Just one year later, I was admitted to the psych ward at Trinitas Hospital in Elizabeth, New Jersey.

Unfortunate circumstances prevent some from succeeding. (tcnj.edu)

After a visit to Overlook Medical Center to be treated for a state of depression, a psychiatrist who had never met me before deemed that I needed inpatient care at a psychiatric hospital. At 1 a.m., I was transported to Trinitas Regional Medical Center in an ambulance. I then changed into hospital scrubs and said goodbye to my parents in tears. “Be that brave girl that I know and love,” my mother said to me in between sobs.

My state of depression was triggered by some terrible college application results — 10 rejections really took a toll on my self-confidence. I am not trying to dismiss what I was going through, but this experience definitely put my life in perspective. Elizabeth is a 20-minute drive from my hometown of Westfield, New Jersey, but in this case, it was a world away.

The next morning, I began to learn how extensive the rules at this hospital were. Patients were rarely allowed to talk to each other. During meals and most activities, patients had to yell, “Staff, can I come out?” every time they needed to leave their bedrooms and had to raise their hand and request to throw something out even if the trash was only feet away.

When we were permitted to talk, anything “personal” was off limits. I was scolded after asking a high school junior if she planned to apply to college next year. Any type of writing utensil was prohibited from the bedrooms, which was difficult for me to accept. In times of sadness or fear, I turn to a pen and paper. Because the hospital was so rule-oriented, it felt a lot more like punishment than rehabilitation. I was only in the unit for 48 hours, and felt isolated and deprived of my freedom. I can’t imagine how difficult it was for some of the other patients I met, who had much longer stays.

In group-therapy sessions, I sat in disbelief as I listened to the stories of other patients, many of whom lived in Elizabeth. We all had stories, but some of these revealed to me how difficult I could have it. I was eager to remain silent, fearful that someone would ask me what I was doing there. My background would be compared to that of a girl with a schizophrenic mother and alcoholic father, or someone who believed that getting into physical fights in school was the only way to gain respect. These sessions made me realize that while I am more fortunate than many of the patients I came in contact with, I am in no way more capable.

The powder blue walls of the unit were coated with juvenile art projects, in which patients had to fill in a response to prompts like “I am special because…” and “I am unique because…” Grammar and punctuation errors in these projects were commonplace, but the ideas were sophisticated. If those projects had gone through spell check, they would have been indistinguishable from art hanging on any prestigious school’s walls. An underfunded education system is faulty — not its students.

We all like to believe that talent always breeds success since it makes us feel more in control of the uncontrollable. But the more time I spent around other patients at Trinitas, the more I came to realize that success has a lot more to do with luck. We all just happened to be born in the right zip code.

I had a 12-year-old and a 13-year-old roommate at Trinitas. The 12-year-old had been arrested twice and was put in the hospital for attempted suicide. The 13-year-old was raped as a young girl by her mother’s ex-boyfriend and ended up at Trinitas after attempting to run away from her foster care center. I, on the other hand, was dealing with some depression about college. I laughed with my roommates, complained with my roommates and sat in sorrow with my roommates. We come from different worlds but share the same potential. I just have the opportunity to use mine a lot more often.

48 hours after I was admitted, the hospital decided to discharge me. As I waved goodbye to the patients at Trinitas, I couldn’t help but notice their envious expressions. I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital because I felt like I was cheated out of something I deserved. But the other patients I met have truly deserved better for their entire lives.

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