Why I'm Not Sorry for Being the 'Difficult Patient' in Psychiatric Hospital


Editor's Note

If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

Dear past in-patient psychiatrists,

Imagine having your freedom stripped from you “for your own good.” Imagine that consisting of: being handcuffed, placed in the back of a police car and locked in a psychiatric ward for an unspecified amount of time.

Being in a psychiatric unit can feel so dehumanizing.

In the psychiatric ER, you are told you cannot wear your own clothes. You are given scrubs (mine were purple) which you realize is the color of the psychiatric patients, an instant indicator to the nurses that the patient is one of the “crazy” ones.

You are placed in a claustrophobic “room” (the size of a small bathroom) which only worsens the mania, quickly making your manic state darker and darker. With your heightened manic senses, you are hyper-aware of everything: your racing heart, the desperate scrawls on the unit’s walls (“KILL ME”), the toxic level of adrenaline coursing through your veins.

This is what treatment looks like? Being yelled at by a nurse for being deemed suicidal? Being isolated from your entire support network? Being stripped of your possessions? Being told to strip completely in order to be examined? Being surrounded by people who are suicidal, a state that feels contagious with your manic excessive empathy? Being in a windowless room which makes it hard to even have a sense of how much time has passed? Being constantly in rooms of people who are in incredible amounts of pain and feeling like a failure for being unable to save them? Being stripped of all of your social contacts and coping mechanisms, not even allowed to be outside for five minutes of the day?

This is not treatment. This is a hell.

So, it may make sense that a patient rebels in any way, just to gain some small sense of control. Maybe that rebellion is in the form of rejecting their meals at mealtime. Maybe that rebellion is in the form of ripping off their patient wristband whenever it is placed upon their wrist. Maybe that rebellion is in the form of skipping all of the unit’s scheduled activities. Maybe that rebellion is in the form of refusing to go to sleep. Maybe that rebellion is refusing medication, insisting that no medication is good enough. Maybe that rebellion is insisting that the given diagnosis is just plain wrong. Maybe that rebellion is not accepting you belong in the psychiatric unit at all.

Maybe it is making the doctors’ workday hell, just to give them a taste of the hell their decision to keep you in the unit is causing you.

Perhaps, if I had received sympathy rather than threats (i.e., “You will not be able to leave this unit until you take these pills”), I would have been more cooperative. Perhaps, if I had actually felt heard when I said things like the pills were dragging me into a severe depressive episode and making it difficult to even walk, rather than being seen as difficult and non-compliant, I would have been more cooperative. Perhaps, if I had a psychiatrist take more than five minutes of the day to talk to me in a sensitive, respectable manner — as an equal — I would have been more cooperative.

So, yes, I realize I am a “difficult patient”… and I’m not sorry.

Photo by Jose A.Thompson on Unsplash


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