The Comfort Room
I sat in an old, ratty recliner
In The Comfort Room.
With supervision, of course
Someone to judge my every facial expression
A bout of laughter
Or a single tear
I sat in that chair staring at
Bare, concrete walls
And a mural
Of a beach.
Oh, the irony.
Here is your view of what exists
“On the outside”
(Your only view through
A place you can go
Once you pop your pills and your
Screw the weight gain.
The facial ticks.
And how you got here.
YOUR BRAIN WILL FIT IN!
When I am “on the outside”
I will go to that beach.
Dig my toes in the hot sand and
Leisurely sip a piña colada.
Watch an orange sun set over crashing waves.
I will get out
And find a new job.
They don’t like Delusional Teachers.
Screw my passion
Screw my degree of mastery
I will get out
And find a place to live.
Screw the family and friends who wouldn’t visit
Or accept my desperate phone calls.
The slumlord who won’t accept welfare.
I will go to that beach.
But first I will repossess my car
From the Possessers.
I will go there
Once I peel off this
Wet, sticky, bulky, dense coat
I have an outburst.
Laughter, tears, my head thrusts back and
The old, ratty recliner screeches.
“Now THAT is irony.”
“OK, time’s up.”
The Comfort Room.
I wrote this poem as an expression of my feelings about what my sister experienced less than a year ago. She was committed to ECMC for over a week in January of 2017, and I was absolutely mortified by what she experienced. I had never so much as given the mental health industry a thought and suddenly my family was thrown into the thick of it. It was eye-opening and horrifying for many reasons, and has made me my sister’s partner in action to try to make some positive changes in our society with regard to how mental health patients are treated and cared for while in such facilities.
One thing that stuck with me after visiting her at ECMC on a daily basis was this small room labeled ‘the Comfort Room’. It was just as stale as every other room on the psych floor. The only differences were the recliner and a painting of a beach to cover one of the walls. They “allowed” our family to sit in there one night while we were visiting. Normally, patients aren’t allowed in there unless they are being supervised, even though the room itself is open (as all of them are). The irony of this room brought me to tears, fed me great anxiety, and made me angry. Most of the people committed to this floor will be heavily medicated and thrown out on the streets once deemed stable and normal by the doctors, without any cognitive-behavioral therapy, creating a very vicious cycle, and so the idea of sitting on a beach would not be a realistic one for many. To me, the room was an obvious symbol of the many flaws in how the mental health industry operates.
The experience that my sister faced has completely opened my eyes to the fact that people who are deemed mentally ill are truly seen as the bottom feeders of society. They are not treated as patients who need and receive compassionate medical care, they are seen as problems. It is as if the question asked by people who envisioned facilities like ECMC was, “What do we do with these people?” as opposed to, “How do we best help people who are experiencing mental illness?” I have concluded that their answer was “lock them up and medicate them.”
People who experience mental illness or mental health symptoms are human beings who deserve the same compassionate care as people who experience other physical medical conditions. I would like to see much more focus on cognitive-behavioral therapy to address the experiences of patients that have led them to their current state, as well as more time, energy, and resources spent addressing current life situations that may be detrimental to a patient’s mental well-being. Although this will be difficult when you are up against the wealthiest industry in the world (big pharma), I think that MITA can be a starting point in making people aware that change is necessary.
Melissa Bennett, M.Ed., is a mother, an athlete, a coach, and a teacher in the Western New York area. She graduated from SUNY Geneseo in 2007 with a degree in childhood education and earned her master’s degree in education, with a specialization in literacy in 2010. She enjoys yoga, reading, sports, and time with her daughter and family. Melissa was driven to create MITA as a result of seeing her sister/best friend suffer the effects of the mental health system in Erie County and observing the maltreatment of mental health patients by staff members, nurses, and doctors. She hopes that MITA will offer support to those who have suffered trauma as a result of being in the system, raise awareness about patient rights, and lessen the stigma associated with mental health issues.
Note: All rights revert back to the author. Images used in this post were appropriated from Steven Spielberg’s 1985 adaptation of Alice Walker’s The Color Purple.