Cast Aside No One

Melissa Toni
97
1847

Last Christmas Eve, I drove to Yale New Haven Hospital to drop off 150 hand-written cards for the psychiatric patients. The response was so effective and heartwarming, I decided to continue the tradition this year by making 57 hand-painted holiday cards, each with an inspirational quote and the words “You are loved and you are far from forgotten” written inside. I dropped the majority off at Yale and brought the rest to Newport Hospital in order to expand my positive reach, but surprisingly, my gift was not quite as well received in Newport as it was in New Haven.

The contrast made me remember why I started this tradition in the first place: people who have been labeled ‘mentally ill’ are often not treated as equals, both inside and outside of the hospital. Judgments and stigma still surround the labels, and psychiatric care is in desperate need of improvements and humanizing. I don’t believe anyone deserves to be cast aside or forgotten, especially on a day like Christmas Eve. I believe we all deserve love, hope, and a personalized reminder that we are in this life together.

When I first presented my cards to the woman at Newport Hospital’s front desk, I was greeted with a smile, but when I told her to whom I wanted them sent, her smile quickly faded. She told me that in order to have my cards delivered to the psychiatric patients, I would probably have to remove all the decorative buttons, to which I agreed. She sighed, took a closer look at the cards, and then said that I would also need to black out my name and website from the back, to which I also readily agreed. She sighed again and then, without further instruction for modification, simply asked me to consider handing out my cards to “the other patients” instead, as if the patients in the psychiatric unit didn’t matter at all.

I was shocked. A moment ago, before she knew my intended card recipients, she had been so kind, and now she almost seemed annoyed by my request. By contrast, the security guard at Yale had not only accepted my gift gratefully, but he also invited me up to the psychiatric unit to personally hand out my cards to the patients. Sad but still determined, I made all the necessary alterations and stood by my original plan. In the end, I was able to have my cards sent upstairs for approval, but not without much difficulty and pushback. I don’t believe it should be that hard to let someone in the psychiatric unit know that you care. I don’t believe patients labeled as ‘mentally ill’ should be viewed any differently than physically ill patients, but unfortunately they still are.

Luckily, I am not alone in recognizing the current mental health system’s faults and wanting to make a serious change. Because of my experience on Christmas Eve, I have started following Mad in America, a community of open-minded people devoted to breaking down barriers and pushing for a more effective mental health care system. I very much agree that our current ‘brain disease’ model is flawed in so many ways, and “needs to be replaced by a model that emphasizes our common humanity, and promotes robust, long-term recovery and wellness.”

Each obstacle I encounter on my way to making a positive difference in this world serves as added motivation, and so I view my experience this Christmas Eve as a blessing. The difficulty I had in simply providing a bit of hope to the psychiatric patients at Newport Hospital reminded me that there are still people affected by the broken mental health system. They need our help—real, human-to-human, nonjudgmental, loving help. Just because they are trapped in a system that makes it hard for them to be reached doesn’t mean they aren’t worth reaching out to. I plan to be back next Christmas Eve with even more cards and even more drive to let the psychiatric patients know that there is someone on the outside who cares and doesn’t judge. Casting aside a few decorative buttons? No problem. Casting aside a human being? Not on my watch.

97 COMMENTS

  1. That was very kind of you Melissa. Thank you for taking the time and trouble for showing love to people our culture wants to forget.

    Some of the most judgmental, unloving attitudes toward the “mentally ill” come from the experts who diagnose them.

    I’ll have to visit your blog. It’s a struggle to keep positive.

  2. Hi Melissa,
    That was a very kind act.
    I am wondering if your buttons might have been seen as inspiration for the patients, perhaps to sew and do something productive? And lord forbid that positive influence should transpire.
    Curious that you had to remove them and were still refused.
    Glad to see you here, but we can be kind of leaning towards anti-psychiatry. You might hear some folks call it radical.
    I don’t think of it as radical at all, I am simply opposed to anyone involved in the care of people, to be able to destroy the lives of those people.
    It goes way beyond cards, even though it affected you…. a small window to what really happens.

  3. A psychiatric ward is not a happy place. I dare imagine what it is like at Christmas or New Years. The smell that taints every object in those establishments can’t be overcome by the smell of a Christmas turkey dinner and the sound of bubbly. Not that that occurs. I’m sure they have candy canes.

    But I can imagine the lonely patient opening one of your beautiful cards and reading the hope and trust and kindess that you send through your words.The novelty of your cards must be very appreciated. I say novelty because everything is old there – the puzzles, the magazines, the books, the crayons. I would imagine your card would be like a message in a bottle.

    Can I say something that may surprise you? I agree that your name and coordinates should not appear on your cards. I’m speaking from experience. That is for your own protection (from the people who work there). Now, now, don’t exaggerate my comment here…my personal experience is that you may think twice about volonteering your services…I’ll leave it at that.

    I think it’s great what you do. Cards means so much sometimes.

  4. You are AWESOME!

    What a beautiful person, with such a beautiful smile!

    God bless you.

    My only disagreement with you is that psychiatric care is in desperate need of improvements and humanizing. If you frequent this site often it will probably become clear to you that psychiatry is inherently rotten and dehumanizing. It is not something that can be improved. Only its abolition will prevent the kinds of atrocities that you witnessed first hand as you, from your kind heart, sought to help those in need.

    Thank you for your kind deeds and for making this world a better place.

  5. Your work with humanity is awesome. Thank you for bringing light to the planet as you do. The woman at the desk at Newport Hospital, and others who work in the system with that same attitude, are what concern me. It’s what I’d call “not allowing in light.”

    These are gatekeepers to the system, protecting and perpetuating its prejudices, injustices, and profound lack of compassion, as well as the social division on which the “mental health” world and system thrive. Thank GOD you are doing what you are doing, this is what we need more of in the world. Indeed, step by step. On *my* Earth, all acts of kindness are welcome, encouraged, meaningful, and healing for all concerned, the greater good. Please keep it up!

    • P.S.–Melissa, your article inspired me so much, that I actually had the opportunity to take action this morning. After I made this post, I went out to get a cup of coffee, and there was an older gentleman in line in front of me who discovered after ordering that he had forgotten his wallet, so without even thinking I offered to pay for him, and he accepted appreciatively. I told the barista about this artlce I had just read about acts of kindness, and this was the perfect opportunity to pay it forward. Great synchroncity! It felt good to do so, and I imagined making a difference, just with this one little thing. More and more of these in ANY arena would make a huge difference and help to restore people’s faith in humankind, and perhaps they would pay it forward, too, rippling kindness into society through selfless inspired actions. Thank you again, great start to 2020 🙂

  6. Over 30 years ago now, I spent Christmas in the Forensic Unit of the State Prison….
    (I was being held in the State Prison Forensic Unit “pre-trial”, and had NOT been convicted of a crime….)….
    The local Salvation Army visited us, bringing cards, snacks, and a large white Teddy Bear with a red Christmas ribbon…. Yes, having ANY visitors was better than the NO visitors which we would otherwise have had….
    But even then, and still, I found the experience insulting, demeaning, condescending, and self-serving on the part of these liberal Christian do-gooders…. They did it MORE so they could burnish their “Christian compassion” image, than out of any genuine compassion or understanding…. It was fairly nauseating, really….
    Too bad they couldn’t have gotten us a reduction in our psych meds…. That’s what we MOST needed….
    Looks to me AS IF MAYBE Melissa was raised in a Salvation Army/”Christian” home….

    • I completely understand that feeling, the feeling of being scared, vulnerable,
      dehumanized, and the guards let the glimpses of niceness come in, and we dam well better be grateful etc.
      I came from a religious upbringing that had people in it that loved to fly to the needy areas to preach the gospel and convert. The needy would be given second hand clothes, and I always wondered why second hand?
      I am not religious and many reasons for it.
      I swallow the bitterness that you must have felt. I’m just validating your thoughts, since I feel like that often.
      I think sometimes we are cursed to see a broader perspective, even though those who bring their gifts really mean well, they don’t always see how it might make the receiver feel.
      So just remember Bradford that perhaps some that bring cards, also want to make themselves feel better.
      Perhaps you too could give someone something.
      I don’t think people realize that psychiatry and many societal constructs are demeaning and already gifts us with the imbalance of power, and that sometimes a gift is a reminder that the person gifting is having a family Christmas while you are sad, angry, dehumanized feeling.
      I find the most difficult thing is to ask for love, receive and give love, it is so hard to achieve a feeling of inner power.
      Feeling vulnerable is supposed to be okay, but we should never feel it’s okay for someone that has always felt vulnerable.
      Sometimes Bradford the power lies in accepting the card and knowing by accepting it, you won a small battle.

    • I respectfully disagree. I read the blog and see a young woman trying to spread love and light in what seems like a very dark world these days. While such efforts might seem disingenuous when not accompanied by a clear understanding of very complex sociopplitical issues, I think these fledgling efforts should still be encouraged. Nobody wins a Nobel on their first attempt at anything but criticism of a genuine effort threatens to extinguish the spark that created it.

      Maybe this kind of outreach isn’t up your alley or “enough” for your expectations, but it’s a pretty good start with clearly the best of intentions. If we could all let our light shine just a little brighter, imagine the possibilities…

      • “If we could all let our light shine just a little brighter, imagine the possibilities…”

        This bears repeating, thank you kindredspirit.

        This is not to anyone in particular because it happens often, but my general question here is, when will the absolute truth that “we are all in this together” actually register as the reailty which it is? Bringing light and love to the world should not have to be an act of courage from fear of reproach but I thank GOD for brave people. I know from experience that it is so not fun to open your heart to help and inspire others and then get slammed for it in return, for any reason, that’s about as dispiriting as it gets. Do we want a better, kinder, more generally supportive world or not? EVERYONE is responsible for this!

        Melissa’s work is inspiration, that’s a gift to world, by example, and we need as much of that as we can muster right about now.

  7. I don’t want to be all over this blog but just as an aside, I can’t help but to notice that there are interesting issues surfacing here regarding giving and receiving. This is an important aspect of our collective because it is how energy flows between us. Giving is fulfilling to the giver when it comes from the heart. If it’s neither satisfying to or welcome by the receiver, a simple no thank you would communicate that directly and graciously.

    I do understand the dynamic of “giving as charity” in a “do-gooder” and marginalizing way. In Kabbalah, that is called “giving bread of shame,” and it is, sadly, real in this world, and oh yes, it is felt. But aside from that sinister dynamic, I’d say that overall, to give is an act of faith, and to receive is an act of generosity. Both require kindness.

  8. That is really generous kind of you. Thank you for your work! I had this idea that just came to me. Has anyone ever done something similar and included a resource list with the card or gift they are giving like a link to this website, specific articles here or from other sources, link to the Inner Compass Initiative, Etc.? Something along those lines?

  9. There is a very obvious divide here. There are people who are/were Mad but are finding acceptance in society, partly by “giving”. Then there are the Mad people who are condemned, who are not accepted back into society. This is also part of the dilemma of the “peer” movement–is it selling out?

    It is pretty obvious that there is “giving bread of shame”; and that itself is shameful, in my opinion. What Alex wrote did sound like the truth on that subject.

  10. The phrase is:
    If you can’t beat them, join them.

    That is what is corrupt about the peer movement; and it turns psych survivors against each other.
    That is what is happening; and it happens over and over.

    I notice that there is little to no mention of the dehumanizing labels in this article, which I think the author was given. It would be refreshing if the author could look at her situation from a Mad Pride perspective, instead of as an altruistic giving perspective.

    Then there would be less of the stigma by the people who are left out.

  11. One person is golden because she recognizes humanity that is locked up and stigmatized. However, I think she is very careful not to identify too closely with those people–especially the ones who have been condemned.

    She is doing a political dance. She is saying in effect: I am free now/ I got my freedom. It must be lousy to be stuck in there. She is not saying: we are all human and we all make human mistakes. At least I don’t hear that.

  12. Hi Melissa, who would have thought a gesture of good will would end up so misconstrued. Isn’t there an old saying… “No good deed goes unpunished”. Seriously I am glad you are staying positive as your heart is in the right place and this world needs more kind people like you! Sometimes we are not always privy to ‘all’ the reasons/details of why someone holds a different viewpoint. I can relate as a while ago when I realized how helpful MIA is to so many I encouraged people to pass the link and donate whatever they can to keep the site going, but my encouragement to support MIA was criticized by another commenter and actually linked to “social abuse”.

    Let’s all strive to see the damaging reign of psychiatry toppled. Thanks for getting involved! There is strength in numbers and also the power of one. Best wishes to you.

    • I was surprised to see this here but I do hear you and thanks for speaking your truth, Rosalee. In honor of the giving and receiving theme of this blog, I’d say forgiveness is one of the greatest gifts we can offer to ourselves and to other human beings, to humanity in general. I think it’s most practical, too, given that we are trying to bring more loving kindness, support, and safety to the planet, and that is not easy in a rough world, to maintain that.

      No one is perfect and we all have growth potential here that at least will start to provide this planet with a bit more light, which is what we’re all trying to bring in our own way, so people will NOT suffer so readily, the world can become less stressful. Forgiveness is an energy that is one way to bring light and uplift the collective.

      It is not to excuse or allow abuse, not in the slightest and that should be a given as far as I’m concerned, and indeed things do need to change. We’re all part of that process, it’s a collective issue, the whole world is involved in this.

      But forgiveness does acknowledge that we are all human and in a process of healing, growth and evolution. Permission to make mistakes should be allowed if they are corrected and not repeated. How else do we learn and grow?

      I love the title of this blog, Cast Aside No One. I’d love to see that vision manifest in the entire world, if at all possible. Call me crazy, sure wouldn’t be the first time. And if that’s crazy, then I am happy to be. I know I’m not alone, not by a long shot!

      • “Alex, This blog was about trying to do something helpful and positive, i.e. giving, but unfortunately Melissa was criticized by some for it and that struck a nerve with me. I wanted to support Melissa and let her know I relate to how it feels to try be positive/helpful but get criticized. I wanted to explain we can’t always know what is behind someone’s criticism and not to take it personal.

        Yes I believe in forgiveness but it is easier if a correction IS actually made.”

        Regards,

        Rosalee

        • I just don’t think it’s a comparable situtation. Other than that, not sure what a “correction” would look like in this case. Regardless, as always I appreciate hearing your truth. It’s not the same as mine, and I think that’s ok. I believe we can disagree peaceably and move on from all this, and that is for the greater good because no one’s truth is cast aside. It’s why I love the title of this blog, which, in and of itself, is a powerful truth to live by and practice.

          • Alex, your first comment (to me) on this blog certainly tied giving, receiving and “forgiveness” altogether. Yes “cast no one aside” is “a powerful truth” and no one should be shamed or silenced for their “truth” or their support for Robert and MIA. (or have a comment to defend their position reported) Too much negative energy has gone on here and that is a real shame as energy should be used for the good of everyone – which is what MIA is all about. Yes I am moving on. I wish you well and will not respond any further.

          • Ok, well, this whole thing makes me sad but it is what it is. Truth isn’t always easy, but it does shine a light. I believe that IS for the greater good, regardless of anything. My best to you.

      • When you talk about forgiveness, I think about restorative justice. It is beneficial for everyone and strengthens the whole community. Obviously, we have a long way to go to make restorative justice the preferred method of justice; but I think it IS the future.
        Letting people speak who have been shut down in the past can have a profound healing effect. I feel better just thinking about the possibilities of open dialogue.

  13. I understand the frustration many here feel. Like others I share a small living space as the only alternative to homelessness and am still too messed up for a regular job. Autoimmune diseases and trouble concentrating, remembering or organizing.

    Plus the MI System strongly discouraged me from finding work–partly by requiring long hours in “day treatment” and “clubhouse.” So my work history is very poor.

    Others of you are worse off. Living under a bridge or abandoned warehouse. Maybe forced into AOT or locked up or forced to live with abusers. Maybe you don’t even get disability to live off.

    Melissa’s cards are not a solution to problems like homelessness. Houses of cards are for shrinks to construct. 😉 Nor do they free the imprisoned nor end the pharmacological torture. But these problems are things even the greatest medical and legal experts struggle with. Dr. Goezhe, Dr. Breggin, Jim Gottstein….

    At least Melissa is trying to bring the teeniest ray of comfort into the lives of those who exist just to serve as scapegoats for all that’s wrong with humanity today. Letting them know that someone still sees them as Human Beings instead of monsters or garbage.

    I’m trying to do more of that myself. Maybe volunteer for a warmline for survivors.

    There are other contributors here far worthier of our ire. One of them is a mainstream psychiatrist who posted a mocking comment on a young man’s memorial page a while back. It makes more sense to get angry at people like him.

  14. Melissa this brought a smile to my face. I think you are doing valuable work especially in that you hopefully made the person who would not let you in think a bit more about how ridiculous their policies are. If we had more people like you doing the same thing then it would maybe send a message that people outside the ward are paying attention. I don’t think that can hurt.

    • Frank,
      Do you consider yourself a “trash” person? Let me answer that for you. No; so can we move forward and talk about social justice and restorative justice? Cards to me are like the bread of shame that Alex was talking about. It is intentionally marginalizing; and people on both sides know it.

      • johnchristine, I do not believe that Melissa’s gesture falls into this category, she is being inclusive, she makes these cards for everyone. The marginalizer in this story is the nurse at the desk who is not allowing light to get into the psych unit, she is intentionally blocking positive energy from getting to “certain people.”

        I’d call her a gatekeeper to the system, she is protecting and supporting it at the front lines, doing the shaming. It’s covert and where the problem is most obviously visible, especially because it is her job, she gets paid for this and it is supported by her colleagues and work culture. Makes it systemic.

        This is exactly why I think this article is brilliant: it’s an example of sharing love from one’s heart, and exactly how that gets cut off from some people, based purely on prejudice, which leads to dismissiveness, which in turn leads to non-deservedness along with feelings of lack and unworthiness. Obviously, that’s incredibly and profoundly harmful for people! It’s totally dehumanizing and despiriting, the essence of these.

        And I agree that restorative justice is exactly what we seek and should tolerate nothing less. When I talk about forgiveness, I’m talking more on a personal level, heart to heart. When it comes to corrupt institutions and social abuse, “forgiveness” would be on a different scale (like forgiving a debt), and is an option for people. But it won’t be everyone’s choice, and that seems reasonable to me.

        When it is institutional, it is about our society and humanity on the whole, how we are being influenced, by what social model? Obviously, we need repair here–even radical change–but where to begin?

        What this article highlights is a good place to start, to realize and become aware of where truth and light are being blocked, and break through or dissolve those blocks, somehow. Melissa is calling this out, which I applaud because that’s where we begin, the light is now shining on the most visible aspect of the problem, it is unmistakable here.

        These blocks are stubborn because gatekeepers will become irrational and deceitful to protect their turf, but it is where I would put my focus if we want truth to come to light, once and for all. I believe justice would follow, it would certainly be my hope. And it stands to reason that once truth comes to light, justice can be served. When the light shines brightly, it exposes the hidden shadows. Can’t help it, that’s the nature of light.

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