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The Types of People You'll Likely Meet in the Psych Ward

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My third time in a behavioral health hospital was different from the previous times. This time I was observant, taking note of everything around me. But what struck me most was the people. The variety, the stories, the souls who are often desperately seeking some sort of salvation from their pain.

The Girl In Too Much Make Up, Every Day.

She wakes long before the rest of us, hauling her stash of beauty products out to the community area where she is allowed to use them. She meticulously paints on her red lips and perfect eyeliner. She’s still hiding — she isn’t ready to face the pain that landed her there. So she paints on a smile, puts on a dress and tries to convince everyone that somehow she is different. But she isn’t. She’s probably just as broken, and one day she will realize it.

The IT Manager Whose Job Probably Landed Him There.

The guy with degrees in things like computer science and mathematics. Too smart for his own good, his high pressure job surely did him no favors when landing in the psych ward. He’s raw and open, maybe even scared. But still he is there to support everyone around him. In this place, he knows that being smart isn’t going to help him. But overanalyzing doesn’t die easily, so he fights the urge to dissect every thought and feeling until it is too much and he finally breaks down from the emotions he has been working so hard to keep hidden. In this place, he can’t out run — or out work — what haunts him. It comes crashing down in a way that no amount of intellect can stop. But he is strong, he will survive and leave that place with a renewed faith and sense of purpose.

The One With All The Tattoos, But The Gentlest Voice.

His looks might scare, but his story is heart breaking. Hard working, blue collar, father, husband. He sees things other people don’t. Clowns and spiders haunt his waking hours and terrorize his dreams. He leaves and comes right back. He’s not better yet. He’s trying, but he’ll probably be on disability soon, unable to work before his 25th birthday because of the overwhelming urge to make it all end. But still, he is kind. Too kind. It’s heart breaking to watch him, humble and genuine, knowing what must torment his head. His gentleness brings a sort of unexpected peace to those around him. If only he could find the same peace for himself.

The PhD Student Who Is Still Studying.

If you ask him why he’s there, he will hesitate. He isn’t sure how this happened, but it did. He was heading to the library, and he ended up here. His bag isn’t full of clothes, it’s full of notes. His Clark Kent good looks and obvious academic prowess make some people keep their distance. Surely this guy doesn’t really understand what the rest of us are struggling with. He’s too perfect, he can’t. But in the dimly lit community room one lonely night he sits down next to you and comforts you through the tears you can’t stop crying. And you realize that he really does understand, on some level, the pain that torments you. The good looks and high qualifications don’t mean anything, because here he is like the rest of us. And he isn’t too proud to admit he needed help, or to sit with you in your darkest hour.

The One Who Feels Like A Lost Cause.

She smiles, and participates, and is quick to help new people feel comfortable — but she has been there too long. Many medication changes later, she still wants to end her life. She’s not getting better, but no one knows it. No one knows that the psychiatrist threatened to send her to the state hospital — also known as the asylum — because she just isn’t getting better. No one knows that she will fake a smile and pretend to be better so she can get out before that happens. She is always smiling, but inside she is dying. She hurts in a quiet, private way. The only tears she cries are alone in the dark. She feels hopeless, but she doesn’t show it. Well crafted confidence disguises the tortured soul inside. She wants to reach out, to tell someone what haunts her, but she doesn’t. Because she doesn’t want to be a burden. So she stays quiet and smiles.

The cast of characters in any psych ward will be different, but some things are universal. The next time you imagine the psych ward full of “crazy” people, remember that for the most part they are people you could easily know. “Normal” people who needed a little extra help — and had the courage to ask for it. They deserve to be proud of themselves for knowing they needed to ask for help, and for doing it. They are real people. They aren’t something to be feared or pitied. They are humans, seeking peace.

Getty image via blackdovfox

Originally published: June 6, 2018
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