break-down to breakthrough?
Based on a true story by Sacred Walker
Founding CEO of Kuumba Health LLC
Student Wellness and Leadership Initiative
She slumped down in the chair in front of us, her care team. Her facial expression and body language was clear: “I do not want to be here, I do not belong here, and I do not want to talk with any of you.” We, her chaplain, social worker, nurse, and lead psychiatrist sat in a circle of chairs for her interview and welcome to the women’s in patient unit. She answered slowly under her breath and the mutterings spilled out of her mouth like crumbs of a bread half eaten and a life unfinished. Patience was in the air and yet the long line of intakes spoke to a long morning of rounds ahead.
Our team was very compassionate and was present to her silence. Slowly her silence became murmurs of disapproval of being committed to a mental health hospital. At the age of 18 years old, she wasn’t young enough to be in a youth wing and she wasn’t old enough to fully be present to the experience of the women’s wing. Yet, here she was. Through the mutterings, what screamed loud and clear behind her sullen eyes was: “Please just leave me alone.”
I asked one question prior to the initial interview being over, that pulled on my intuitive voice. Where would you rather be? Sitting up slightly at attention to the question, she answered: “My graduation.” She continued with sudden strength… “I was just stressed out at school and everyone is over worried. I have never been in one of these [institutions] before. Now I will never make it in time for graduating.” I thanked her for sharing with a commitment to speak with her after.
The interview closed. The reality was that her resistance to medication adherence would elongate her stay. Her not taking her medicine because she wanted to be present for her graduation would be another barrier to her attending graduation.
After the rounds, I was fortunate to be running a women’s empowerment training, per request of the staff. She sat in the corner of the group of roughly 20. Through out the group she stared off through the window. It was as if imagining she were home would take her there. At the close of the experience women left the room lighter and joyful. She sat in the same spot with the same sullen look. I touched base with her. [See what this method has become HERE]
Visionary leaders deeply listen for innovative and creative solutions. Spending time deep listening to her, I heard her story. Behind the mask of frustration was a young women longing to feel a sense of completion. How many of us want to feel a sense of completion? Her struggle as part of an immigrant family was far too familiar. The hope for being able to make it to the big day for both her family and herself. Her disappointment and her sorry, intensified as she spoke. She was releasing the emotion that were held inside since being admitted. She was having a natural reaction to a real life challenge, which only exacerbated her anxiety and depression. Unfortunately, her sadness at missing her graduation would be read as a clear sign that she was inconsolable and depressed. Yet, the why would be the shift in her favor.
“If you could have your graduation here, would you be open to that?” My drama therapy, clinical, and interfaith training clicked in. Suddenly the spark of light in her returned. “How could we do that?” she asked. According to medical doctors out of the University of Florida, there is power in envisioning your own healing and making positive meaning out of it. Researchers show that envisioning and guided imagery have positive impacts on health outcomes, and she was in a stable place to envision what her graduation would look like. She described her graduation, who she would want there, what she would wear, where it would be, and what it meant for her. She gave meaning to the vision, and suddenly, in her being she was experiencing graduation. She was experiencing the stability, accomplishment, and confidenc that came with it. She was now a visionary leader of her own life. Her positive vision gave her agency, and set her free slightly more that before.
With her road map in mind, I took her wish back to the care team. They whole-heartedly, said yes. I hence went about collaborating with her psychiatrist, her social worker, who invited her family, and the support crew so we could be on the same page and gain their buy in. The next day, like practical , it happened. Her mom showed up with her cap and graduation gown at the in-patient wing. She stigma of visiting her daughter in in-patient was lifted. She was there to see her daughter graduate and her smile spoke volumes. Her diploma granted by her principal came with her mom as well, making the impact all the more real. That day her daughter would walk her down the garden of the in patient wing with her daughter, for it had been changed into a graduation hall. With imagination and heart. the lined trees guided the way of the mock graduation. I solicited our Franciscan Friar, who has quite the musical gift, to play the graduation music for her.
She graduated that day diploma in hand, in her graduation gown, surrounded by those she loved. We were all touched, myself especially. That was real to her, so it was real- that it is all that mattered! To her family, their disbelief at who this shining star was that stood before them, versus the sullen young women of earlier spoke volumes. Play and ritual became the great therapeutic healing equalizer. The ritual was an act of what I and others before me call “Love Medicine.”
What was the impact of visionary leadership for this 18 year old senior student’s in-patient experience?
Her psychiatrists played her assistant Principal, I played her Principle, the other staff were school admin, and her family was her escort. She was allowed to come fully dressed in the outfit she would have worn for her graduation. It was held outside, in the sun, at the same courtyard she looked at longingly when she first came.
Physiologists out of Duke University remind us that the skin is the largest organ of the body, followed by the brain and the heart. How do we treat the people we serve? How do we respond to the color of their skin or the age it shows- with health or harm? How do we respond to their hearts when they say I don’t want to be here because…? How good are we to their heart’s wishes when they have a need while depressed?
Instead of being labeled Oppositional Defiant Disorder for refusing to take her medication at first, deep listening became her gift. She was identified as a soon-to-be-graduate versus a patient resisting medicine. Her skin became vibrant and breathed in the affirmation of her family and new friends in a whole new way. Her brain that was going into fright and flight on the women’s unit, went into face the love coming your way with openness and ease. The stress of school expectations were matched by a new outlook of success. Her heart that was racing when sat in front of our circle of chairs during her intake, opened to the sunshine of being in the garden as a graduate, outside of the locked unit to experience the gift of making her family proud. I dare say her nervous system tempered as she felt held in the loving arms of the medical staff who showed up for this young woman in a whole new way. Instead of rage and resentment, she ate cake and laughed with women who had resilient stories of their own.
Have you ever had an experience where you missed an opportunity, and you still look back with regret?
What would you do to be able to immerse yourself in the experience of fulfilling your deepest desire?
How would you live differently if you, like this young woman, felt deeply listened to at the age of 18?
1) Ask the people you serve, when they say no- Why?
2) Encourage your staff to be visionary leaders who will be open to out of the box approaches to care that work
3) Invite in the power of play when all else fails by a trained professional who can hold the space from start to finish
4) Reach out if your young adults or student’s need support in preventing stress and fostering wellness and leadership development. I am the CEO of Kuumba Health’s Student Wellness and Leadership Institute- a truly wrap around approach to care for student’s and organizations of caring professionals. I would honored to bring the gift of deep listening to serve you.
or learn more here: Student Wellness and Leadership Program