What’s the first thing that springs to mind when someone mentions ‘mental hospital’?
Is it locked doors, padded walls and crazy people? Straight jackets, screaming and lost causes perhaps? If so, you wouldn’t be alone. This is how most people envision psychiatric hospitals, thanks to the stigmatisation of society and the media. But this is completely and utterly wrong.
I have to admit; this is exactly what I thought. I thought that people in psychiatric hospitals were mad and violent. I thought such places were full of crazy people. I thought the hospitals were dark and terrible places to be. But this all changed one night after I was taken through to A and E in an ambulance following a suicide attempt. After almost 24 hours in hospital, hooked up to several monitors and an IV and violently puking, I was offered treatment at an inpatient facility about an hour away from my home town. Exhausted and terrified of my own mind, I accepted.
I spent that hour’s drive running all the possible scenarios over and over through my head. I had no idea what to expect. What would it be like? Would the other patients like me? What would I do? What would happen? It was the complete opposite of what I had thought. Expecting the stereotypical, large Victorian asylum building, the one storey modern build was the last thing I had thought it would be. It completely threw me-my previous expectations had been thrown straight out the window and I had no idea what would happen next.
I was greeted by the night staff, who showed me around the ward. It was bright, airy and colourful, with countless rooms dedicated to entertainment and distraction for the patients. It had been decorated to feel like home, intended to make us feel safe, but instead made me feel the opposite-scared and incredibly homesick. I spent that night lying awake, tossing and turning on the stuffy, rubber covered bedding, unable to sleep and terrified, miles away from home.
I would spend the next four months of my life here. The other patients, who I had originally expected to be ‘mad’, turned out to be the kindest people I have ever met. The girl who was anorexic, who would spend her day huddled in an oversized hoodie, refusing meals, was the most considerate person I had ever met, who cared about everyone other than herself, mothering the other patients, making sure that we were all eating, making sure that we were all doing well. The girl with crippling anxiety, who would experience panic attacks almost daily and would scream for hours on end had the best sense of humour and would make us all laugh when anyone was feeling down. The girl who was suicidal, with scars all up her arms, looked out for you and kept a close eye on you, making sure that we were all safe. The girl with OCD was the kindest person and would put everyone else’s need before her own. The girl who had borderline personality disorder, and whose mood could change like the flick of a switch was the kindest, most outgoing person-she would befriend everyone and encourage us all to engage with each other, to try our best to recover.
We are not who you think we are. We aren’t crazy, we aren’t mad. We are people. We are human too.