Lessons I Learned While Sitting Besides The Dead

From 2012 through 2013, I was interning as a clinical chaplain at a phenomenal hospital. I had completed seminary and was an ordained Buddhist priest. My service lines, as a clinical chaplain, were oncology and trauma. Day after day, I found myself in rooms with the dead, injured and critically ill.

One evening, after a long gruesome night, I found myself shaking and crying in my supervisor’s office. “I witnessed a 13-year-old come into the trauma bay, tonight. I picked her mother off the ground as the doctors continued to list their concerns because of complications with her suicide attempt. This young girl, with flaking blue sparkle nail polish was barely alive. I held this young girl’s hand while the family asked me to offer a blessing.”

Is this a healthy career path for me? I am told I am ‘meant to do this work’; however, I am taking everything home with me.

I must go back in time to show you why assessing my career path was important.

In the fall of 2006, I found myself in my mother’s garage. Having two failed attempts in 2000 and 2002, I found myself hopeless, again. I determined I was not done fighting the good fight. I made the choice to shut the car off and call a dear friend.

I spent six days in a facility where the phone cords were short for a reason. My experience felt shameful because I knew some of the staff. At the time of my hospitalization, I worked as a resident assistant supporting adults with mental illness transitioning from hospital settings back into the community. The night prior to my third attempt, I had sat on the floor with a suicidal young man for three hours until he made the choice to voluntarily check himself into a hospital.

A New Path a New Choice.

Living with rapid cycling bipolar disorder is never boring. I am fortunate my medication allows me to navigate the subtle waves I now experience compared to the destructive emotional tsunamis of the past. In 2016, I decided to retire from priesthood. I needed to reevaluate my career path and assess my current stage of recovery.

In January 2017, I entered a new phase of my life. I am a proud Chatham University grad student enrolled in the Master of Professional Writing program. I am on track to graduate in August of 2019. My goal with writing is to promote mental health awareness initiatives within the behavioral health organization I am employed and the community I live in. Since starting the program, I have worked on eBooks, grants, proposals, podcasts, content generation for corporate blogs and assisted an amazing CEO with a speech delivered to 1,500 physicians.

Statistics are important to bring awareness to situations but how we choose to respond to life’s challenges is where change is born. As an attempt survivor, words matter more than ever. Knowing what is healthy for your recovery may not be healthy for another. Careers and relationships evolve. Our responsibility as individuals are to bring attention to ourselves and others.

My time as a clinical chaplain was a blessing. The dead, injured and critically ill I sat beside were among some of the greatest teachers I have ever met. I am forever grateful.

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Lauren is a native Baltimorean.  She has been publicly speaking over ten years about mental health issues.  Currently, she is finishing her Master of Professional Writing studies at Chatham University.