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'We Are Not Who You Think We Are': A Poem About Psychiatric Hospitalization

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My name is Eileen, I am currently 18 and I have spent almost a year of my life in psychiatric hospitalization. This is a poem I wrote about a year ago, during my nine-month hospital stay, about some of the people I have met and the friends I have made during that time.

When you say the words “psychiatric hospital,” we often picture a sterile, white environment with locked doors and screaming patients. Yes, that sometimes is the case, and yes, I have previously been one of those screaming patients, but I have also been a friend, a singer, a dancer and a student. All within those same four white walls.

You see, there is so much more to psychiatric hospitalization than medication and mindfulness – there is friendship, vulnerability, so much support and yes, there are happy moments. Sitting in the communal area with friends just being silly, playing “Just Dance” on the Wii for hours on end, bringing in a guitar and singing, making hot chocolates and doing jigsaws together. It may be a sterile and cold environment, but it is us, the patients, who come together and make it our home, make it warm, friendly, comforting and most importantly, bearable. Without the companionship of my fellow patients, I have no idea how I would have made it through my months in the hospital.

Here are the words to the poem:

My friends and I live on a supermarket shelf

Inside jars tins and boxes our labels announcing that we are

50 percent depressed, 30 percent psychotic, 20 percent suicidal

100 percent mentally ill, check the lid for the “best before” date

And although we live under lock and key

My friends are the bravest people you’ll ever meet

We may be shattered but that doesn’t mean

That we can’t still gleam

In the sunlight

Tarnished silver still shines

In the right light

And so do we

The pain may be constant but we are not

Always screaming, crying, shouting

Hitting, kicking, throwing

Pulling, pushing, scratching, scarring


We are not wrong because we “malfunction”

Because we missed the right junction

In our lives

Why should we be cast aside for the mess

In our minds which could be tidied

Up with the sweep of a brush or failing that,

Some strong soap and elbow grease?

Get down on your knees

And scrub.

My friends and I, we may be partners in illness but we are partners

In crime

We laugh and we dance and it’s about time

We were recognized

As people.

Not as symptoms or fears

But as kids who lost a couple of years

To illness and hurt but that doesn’t mean this defines us or makes us broken

Or at least not irreparable.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

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Originally published: June 10, 2017
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