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Behind the Locked Doors of a Psychiatric Unit

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If you think a psychiatric ward is a place full of patients with NG-tubes in their noses and self-harm scars up their arms, you are not necessarily wrong. You may picture patients lining up four times a day for medication and sitting down to eat with plastic utensils. Yes, some people are detained against their will because their loved ones say they don’t have the capacity to make decisions or are too unwell to act in their own best interest. And yeah, sometimes you can hear the screams coming from the girl in bedroom 10 begging the staff to let her go home, let her out, let her die.

But you know what? That girl was me. Me, the successful student. Yet within the depths of my illness I couldn’t tell wrong from right, and the voices in my head screamed so loud I lost track of reality and believed the staff feeding me through a tube were trying to make me “morbidly obese.” But if you were to look at me now, one year on, you wouldn’t look twice. Because yes, I lost myself, but I found myself too.

Behind the locked doors of a psychiatric ward is a place full of compassion, kindness, and forgiveness. A place where other patients will stay up for hours sitting in the corridor with you to make you feel a little less alone after visiting time has ended and your family has gone home. They push notes under your door to reassure you that you’re not as terrible a person as you think you are and that you are worthy of love. You will meet people fighting for their lives, looking for support, and though every day is a battle, each morning they wake up and fight another day. The walls may be covered with canvases with positive quotes and lyrics and thank-you cards from ex-patients who have made it to the other side, and the lounge is often full of bean bags all pushed together from the movie night you all had the night before. The staff may hold your hand when you can’t stop your body from shaking or the tears from falling. They’re there to talk, to play cards with you in the middle of the night when the sadness comes creeping in and you don’t know how you’re going to make it to morning. They may thread your eyebrows or help do your makeup or come in on their days off to take you out to the cinema to make sure you remember what the “real world” is like when you’re ready to face it.

So yes, some of us eat with plastic utensils and sometimes we needed someone to stop us from hurting ourselves, but every single one of those people I’ve met inside those locked doors have hearts bigger than anyone and would do anything they could to stop someone going through what they have. They are intelligent, compassionate, but most of all accepting. So before you write us off as “insane” or “lost causes,” please remember that mental illness doesn’t discriminate, and we’re all human. It’s not a flaw in character. It’s not contagious, and you can’t “catch it” by being kind.

Thinkstock photo by sudok1

Originally published: February 9, 2017
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