What the psych ward taught me

With my parents’ support, I admitted myself to a psychiatric ward in July 2004. I wasn’t there very long, but it left a lasting impact on the way I view “crazy” people.

I’m not crazy. At least, I don’t fit into the “she needs to be locked up because she hears voices” or “she’s psychotic and about to kill someone” crazy mold. I spent my time away from the other patients while I was there. I wasn’t running around trying to get out or screaming that “they” were coming to get me.

And actually, most of the other people there weren’t, either. It’s nothing like in the movies, and thank heavens for that, right? Admittedly, there were some characters who tried to draw on the walls and talked to people only they could see, but for the most part, the inpatients in that hospital were more like me.

I was admitted as a 5150—in L.A. that means “danger to self and others”—and when I left, I was given a prescription for Ativan PRN. I had a panic attack one night and my parents took me to the hospital. I’m glad my mom was there; she was basically my nurse advocate. She knew the lingo and didn’t take kindly to the social worker disbelieving me. (There were no cuts on my arms, so why should he believe me when I said I was afraid I was going to hurt myself?)

The following Autumn, while I was back at school, I started cutting. I engaged in other self-destructive behaviors. I didn’t want anyone to not believe me again.

The nurses and doctors running the hospital where I was an inpatient were tired, bitter, and suspicious. The patients were primarily decent people who just couldn’t get a handle on one part of their lives. I couldn’t see myself not hurting myself (and later, I did hurt myself), but I wasn’t classically crazy. I was just depressed. Suicidally depressed, which is in itself a form of insanity, but it wasn’t the kind you think of when you think of the psych ward.

I learned enough to know that I never want to go back.

Viannah E. Duncan

Viannah E. Duncan is a writer and activist hailing originally from Los Angeles. She lives outside of Baltimore, Maryland, and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University. She has a cat, Cleo.

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