It’s hard to describe what it’s like to live on a psych ward for 4 weeks. To people who have never been through it, it sounds surreal, funny and scary. To those who have been through it, a simple nod or an all too well knowing “hm-hmmm” is enough.
First of all, let’s tell it like it is: you are a prisoner in the psych ward. You can’t leave unless someone gives you permission. You may require being escorted when you leave. You eat when you are told (the common area’s kitchen was locked except at mealtime), you shower when you are told, you go to bed when you are told. You can be searched, you can be restrained. If you play along, all can go very smoothly, if you do not, things can get very hard for you. And last but not least, you may only see visitors during two short visiting periods during the day.
You’re isolated and controlled. This is extremely frightening at first. Then it becomes comforting; you no longer need to make any damn decisions! No one depends on you. You can lie in bed and cry all day if you want. You are taken care of. You have food and shelter and you no longer have any responsibilities. It’s almost disheartening how quickly and easily a person will relinquish their control…
But it’s not all bad! After the initial shock, you realize you are surrounded by quite a few people just like you! Everyday people who have a mental illness or have become too emotionally exhausted to deal with life anymore and they need help. The psych ward is a great equalizer. You even find yourself realizing you’re not that different from the severe psychiatric cases; they’re just people too! You find out the guy who talks to himself is gifted with a great imagination… so what if he occasionally washes his dick in the common bathroom’s sink. You find out the girl you spend hours colouring with is an extraordinary singer with a heart of gold. You find out the schizophrenic lady who wigs out at the staff all the time is a loving and devoted adoptive mother. You find out that the stinky old lady who yells like a banshee at everyone is… lucky that you don’t have access to a cricket bat!
Let’s face it… it’s BAD! There was a few days of quiet after I arrived… and then… Lili arrived. When Lili arrived she loved us all immediately and we were all her best friends and she was actually so happy to be here with us all to spend the holidays. But Lili has anger issues, memory issues, physical issues and her issues have issues and yeah… After a couple of days, we all knew who Lili was. Lili woke us up by screaming at the staff, or other patients. Lili made meals a tense moment because she would start on long and LOUD passive aggressive rants, usually aimed at one of us specifically (I became her favourite target very quickly.). Lili was a horrible racist; which is a problem when half the nursing and orderly staff is black. Lili liked to call her daughter… 25 times a day. She and I ended up having quite a few run ins. She’s the one I will never forget because she made everything so much harder. She’s the one human being who came closest to earning herself the title of Arch Nemesis!
When god closes a Lili, he opens a Tania… er… wait, that makes no sense. Ignore it! Yes, I had to put up with Lili but there were some wonderful people too! People with whom I shared both time and tears. We talked, we coloured, we played cards, we talked, we coloured… you get the idea! We got to know each other, we saw that we were not alone; it made things so much easier. I made a few friends but Tania stood out. It’s funny because while at the hospital I was closer to other people but Tania is the one who managed to touch me the most. She’s the one I missed the most after I left the ward. But after a couple of months, I found her on Facebook, we reconnected and now I have a beautiful friend I love so dearly. The best part of my stay at the ward is now part of my life: I have a friend who has a perspective of mental illness that comes from the same place as mine. Her understanding of my issues comes from her own issues. We are not alone.
This entry could have been sooooooooooo much longer. I could have gone into so much more detail. I could have told so many anecdotes. But none of it is what I wish to take away from my stay at the ward. Ending up there is worst and the best thing that ever happened to me. It was the hardest thing, it was the scariest thing but it also helped me finally get my Fibromyalgia diagnosis and put me on a path to healing my battered psyche.