When I woke up the first time in a psych ward, I was terribly disoriented. I just had an emotionally exhausting night after overdosing on my antidepressants, in a futile attempt to end my life. I woke up to an old woman staring at me with big dark eyes, as if I were a specimen in a lab. Flabbergasted, I covered my face with a thin white blanket, not knowing what to do. When it finally dawned on me that I was admitted in the hospital, it started to make sense. I was no longer in the outside world. I was in this new dimension where people are being treated because they’re sick — not because they have a bum stomach, but because they’re unwell psychologically, and they have to be confined in this cold place. I slowly lifted my blanket and saw the old lady again, but this time, she was talking to herself and acted as if I didn’t exist.
Contrary to what most people may think, psych wards are not all about straitjackets, restraints, or electroconvulsive therapies (although there are isolated rooms for those). It’s just like a hospital ward with its own set of rules. Here are some things that you probably didn’t know about the psych ward:
1.There’s a schedule for everything.
There’s a time for waking up, eating, brushing your teeth, exercising, taking your medicines, going to occupational therapy, and sleeping at night. There’s even a day in the week allotted for grooming — cutting your nails, shaving, and the occasional foot spa — all under strict supervision.
2. Orderlies are bouncers in white.
Aside from the doctors and nurses, orderlies are vital to the peace and order of the psych ward. Never underestimate these men in white — they’re experts in breaking up fights, restraining violent patients, and of course, making sure no one escapes through the double doors, among other things.
3. The bathrooms have no locks.
Yes, and there’s a window where nurses can peek and see you in your naked glory. Thankfully, this doesn’t happen a lot.
4. You can’t eat with a fork and knife.
You’ll have to make do with two flimsy plastic spoons to carve that tough piece of meat. Tough luck.
5. There’s a day for karaoke.
Yes, you can belt out “Unwell” by Matchbox 20 at the top of your lungs. Hopefully, you get a score of 100 for bragging rights.
6. You’ll have to do Zumba in flip-flops.
Shoelaces are not allowed, since you tend to be more creative and resourceful in a place like that. Pens are not allowed either, unless you earned the privilege. And speaking of privilege…
7. …McDonald’s is a privilege — not a right.
Say goodbye to fries and Coke and say hello to overcooked veggies and bland protein. But if you’ve been “good,” (i.e. you didn’t try to poke anyone’s eye, or your own for that matter) Santa is more than happy to send one of his reindeers for your much-needed guilty pleasure. No sharing, though. Or else you get in trouble again.
8. It’s a digital detox by default.
Gadgets are out of the question. You’ll feel like you’re transported back in time. It’s cool and frustrating at the same time. But hey, you get to play boardgames to while away the long hours.
9. You’ll get attracted to one another.
There is such a thing called “psych ward goggles”. You’ll end up falling for people you wouldn’t even give a second look at on a normal day in the mall.
10. There’s surprisingly a lot of laughter.
For a place filled with a mix of patients with various mental illnesses, you’ll meet the most insightful, kind-hearted and fun-loving people ever. The best part? They know exactly what you’re going through.
On my way out to the “real world” and through the double doors, the old woman that greeted me on my first day gave me a big wet kiss on the cheek. Little did I know that I’d be seeing her again in “the place with no forks” some few months later for the same reason. But this time around, I unusually felt at home.
Disclaimer: All psych wards are different. The content in this blog is based on my own experience. Please don’t take this as gospel truth.