I was 23 years old, newly married and unbeknownst to anyone, 10 weeks pregnant.
At this vulnerable time in my life I was deep into an internship at Weskoppies Psychiatric Hospital, located in Pretoria, South Africa. Being at Weskoppies was an eye-opening experience for me. It’s hard to describe in words the people I encountered and the extreme experiences I had there.
On my first day, I went to the communal canteen for lunch and sat next to both Elvis Presley and Madonna. These were not look-alikes or people who dressed up so we could take photos. These were people who simply knew, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that they were Elvis and Madonna. That was only one day of a fascinating year.
I came home one night and was settling into an evening at home. It was about 6 p.m. when I got a call from an acquaintance in the community. She must have known I was studying psychology. She was screaming and crying into the phone, “Lynne, please come and help me, please come now.”
Young, ignorant and full of confidence that I could help, I jumped into my car and drove over to this young woman’s house. She was living alone with her baby. I walked in (front door open) to find her sitting in a chair. She was white as a ghost, in a catatonic (immobile) state staring straight ahead. She had a butcher’s knife in her left hand and blood pooled from her wrists to the floor.
I went into shock, but somehow managed to go up to her to see if she was okay, vaguely worried that she might stab me, too. I managed to get help for her. She was okay and is thankfully still okay 24 years later.
She did not want to die. She had been feeling fractured, tortured, confused and scared. And she needed someone to empathically feel her pain and despair. It’s a defense mechanism called projective identification, whereby someone unconsciously does something to get another to feel what they are feeling.
One week later I miscarried. Months later I was still struggling with post-traumatic stress symptoms.
Author: Lynne Woolfson
Apprentice Editor: Czarina Morgan; Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock
Article as feartured in elephant journal