"Trigger warning: article contains references that could trigger self harming behaviour."
I can’t really remember my first time on the psych ward, but I can tell you, it was the first time I made connections with people who were, at their core, just like me. On the psych ward, you can openly talk about suicide, overdosing, or you can just shoot the shit. You gain perspectives of people suffering with PTSD, of alcoholics struggling to become sober, of suicide survivors who may or may not be happy to still be breathing.
Walking onto a psych ward as a patient is akin to walking into a post-game discussion; you don’t know the score nor do you understand the game. No one has explained to you what the protocols are, and you certainly don’t have a copy of the playbook. You feel out of place, you feel like you stick out like a sore thumb, and you feel that you don’t belong.
Then, not long after your arrival, someone says hi, and before you know it, there you are, sitting amongst people and carrying on a most excellent conversation with folks you’d never choose to associate with in the ‘real’ world. It’s at this point where you understand the meaning of humility if you hadn’t before. There are paramedics, teachers, addicts, students, alcoholics and mothers, all living with demons. You rub elbows with high school dropouts who weren’t educationally stimulated enough to graduate, with musicians whose parent(s)/teachers gently suggested that music wouldn’t pave the way to success (meaning what, exactly), and astrophysicists who were told repeatedly that they were losers because they didn’t fit into societal “norms.”
Background or status aside, the gaggle of us who have needed a safe place so as not to harm ourselves, or others, suddenly becomes one in the same ilk. Sure, our ‘real world’ levels of education and/or experience and/or “success” are a mish-mash of hierarchy, but this holds no clout on the psych ward. Here, we are flung together, and while we connect with those who most closely resemble ourselves, there are micro interactions that hint of acceptance because you are “one of us.” There are people on the ward who personify the kind of folk your parent warned you about, like the scary looking dude with a blanket over his head who you tiptoe gently around any time he comes near you. Like any real world situation, you judge, but then you hear his soft whisper greet you with a heartfelt “good morning.” Suddenly, you have a significantly tighter grip on the meaning of humanity.
On the psych ward, societal ‘rules’ and judgements are cast aside because you realize that every patient is both as different from you as you can imagine and just like you in the most intimate way. You are one in the same, and you are sharing the same space for the same reason: your brain has failed you.
The ward is, beyond doubt, a safe place. It is a place where you can truly be yourself. It is a place where you can openly talk about taboo subjects such as self-harm and suicide. It is a place where you cry with others who share their pain one minute, while you laugh hysterically about something as simple as a belt in the next. Think about it. A belt on the psych ward. I remember laughing uncontrollably with a new-found friend over the fact that she was allowed to keep her belt while I had to turn over my headphones ‘cause they were worried I might harm myself with them. You just don’t get this freedom of expression anywhere else.
Many of the connections I’ve made in the psych ward have burgeoned into intimate friendships, friendships unlike any others I have. I have cried and laughed with these friends; I have listened to and shared difficult, personal moments; and they have pulled me from suicide’s grasp. These friends know. They understand. They get it. They’ve lived it.
I would not trade any of my psych ward ”visits” for anything. Besides the wonderful human connections I’ve made, being on the ward has made me a better, more empathic, and most certainly, a less judgmental person. What could be more beautiful?
About the author:
NKC is an animal lover, adores nature, and strives to be outside enjoying any one of the seasons. She is a passionate advocate for the rights of animals, the environment, youth, and mental health, something she has struggled with for many years. Her favourite quote: “I’m here to pet all the dogs.” She is also a self-professed grammar nerd. Feel free to leave her a comment.