Stories from the psych hospital [Archives:2007/1032/Reportage]

March 12 2007
Olafats suffering will continue unless she finds her father or a human rights organization adopts her.
Olafats suffering will continue unless she finds her father or a human rights organization adopts her.
Fatima Al-Ajel
[email protected]

Every day people hear many stories; some are happy while others end sadly. One place from where such stories come is the psych hospital. People expect only to hear about people enduring suffering in their lives. The following stories concern various people and each has a different reason and ending. Sometimes we need to read such stories, not to bring sadness to our hearts but to learn and understand more about life.

Olafat and Suffering: Companions in a journey of despair and homelessness

The hardest and most alarming cases among the patients that have undergone treatment at the psychiatric hospital are the homeless. These patients have no family or friends that can receive them (sometimes even if they do have family, they are rejected, regardless of being related or not) post-hospitalization. Olafat Al-Ramiy, a 15 year old, is one such patient I recently met at the psychiatric hospital. She is like many children who have lost their families for one reason or another and end up homeless.

“Are you a journalist? I see you have a camera and you interviewed many patients. Why don't you interview me?” She approached me and I thought she was surprisingly lucid for a psychiatric patient. She wanted to tell me her story, and like most people, I had thought normality was not part of a psychiatric patient's life. Yet here she was, lucid, and I was curious to know more about her.

“My story is long. I was born in Hadhramout. My mother died when I was five years old, and my father has been missing since the 1994 war. My mother had no family, only neighbors that took care of me for three years after her death. Then they told me to leave the house, there was nothing more they would do for me. That day I started my life's journey with suffering as my companion.”

“I was on the streets, alone. I knew no one. For a while I was put in a juvenile center, and then into an orphanage. I was kept there for more than three years, and I was able to study until the third grade. Unfortunately, I was a very unruly child, fighting with everyone around me for no apparent reason. I was rude to teachers, never following instructions.” Her life without the guiding hand of a parent or near relatives made her anxious and stressed. She felt she wasn't like many of the children she saw. Yet I wonder, growing up in an orphanage as she did, she would have met many who were in the same state of affairs as she- motherless, fatherless.

The very idea of being alone opened an empty void before her. She felt her life held no meaning and should not go on. “I tried killing myself many times.” She had used a knife and medication. Her case worsened; the orphanage administration had decided it was time to have her confined at the psychiatric hospital.

Now, after treatment she says she feels relaxed and better, yet admits that she does get anxious quickly. This concerns me because anxiety is an inhibiting factor in people diagnosed with mental disorders. Could her anxiety escalate and bring on another crisis? Who would see it? Who would take her to the doctor? Would anyone notice? Would anyone care?

She spoke a little about her dreams for the future, “I want to be a lawyer and win for the oppressed their rights and to make them happy …” This fills you with hope, but she stops mid-sentence, overcome by a deep sadness, “But I will be back on the streets shortly. It is just a dream!” I tried to assure her of a better future, but that internal voice of hers revealed itself through her silence, 'you know my situation and the difficulties I face', telling me wordlessly that mine were empty words.

After talking to the media personnel, I realized this child would soon leave the hospital to land homeless on the streets. The hospital was releasing her to no one's care. I wonder at the answers to the question she asked aloud, “Will I meet my father one day? Is he still alive? What is he doing now if he is alive? Does he know he has a daughter living alone on the streets?” More importantly, though never uttered, was 'Would he care if he did?'

Before I left, she held my hand and said \”please pray for me that I can find my father and fulfill my dream.\”” \””I will\”” I said