I am sitting in a chair in a meeting room in a psychiatric hospital. I have been here before, many times, and yet, every time I expect something different. I always hope for a better treatment, some compassion, some sort of a dialogue. The hospital in itself isn’t bad. The food at least is absolutely fantastic. They feed you five times a day, and even have theme nights: Indian on Tuesday, Chinese buffet on Saturday, coffee and tea come unlimited. Biscuits and sandwiches in the evening. One would forget about being stuck in a psychiatric hospital, if not for the fact that I am here totally against my will. I made a mistake. I called emergency services when I felt that I was in psychosis and after spending twenty-four hours in the emergency department, finally got a visit from a psychiatrist and two other assessors.
“Here, please, sign that you agree to being sectioned. Section number three,” the psychiatrist told me with a smile on her face, as if we were discussing some beauty treatment, not a document deriving me of my human rights. I would sign anything by that point. I knew by that time that I had made a huge mistake by trying to get ‘official’ help and should have instead increased my antipsychotic medication and sorted myself out at home, but after spending a day in the emergency department, you agree to anything, just to get out of there.
And so, I sit in the meeting room in the psychiatric hospital. I am a dream patient. Complacent, calm, always smiling to the staff and understanding that they have a tough job. I smile despite the fact that I have been detained for more than a month, that I am ready to go home, that actually I have a life outside the hospital. But no, they continue ‘treating’ me as if something is wrong with me. Nothing is wrong with me, I just hold some bizarre thoughts. The first time I ended up in a psychiatric hospital, I thought I was Buddha — you know, just a ‘normal’ feeling when you experience enlightenment. I felt happy and divine. I thought that I had finally arrived. Only I didn’t realise that the destination would be psychiatry which crashed my happy feelings one by one, attaching to them a feeling of shame. They don’t want to admit that psychosis can indeed be a spiritual awakening that only a few can dream of. They define it as ‘illness’ and say that what you experience in your psychosis isn’t real. How do they know?
The psychiatrist comes into the room. She is a pleasant Greek lady, a consultant in the hospital. I genuinely like her. She worked at a university as a researcher before deciding to go into the field. I would become friends with her, if not for the fact that she is a psychiatrist who absolutely doesn’t get me.
“So, Katerina, how are you doing today?” she asks in a pleasant voice, while a nurse types the entire conversation. Not a good practice, in my opinion, as I often wonder what becomes of the patient’s treatises later on. Do they write a book? Send it to the Vatican? Keep it for future generations to demonstrate all kinds of manifestations of weirdness?
“I am fine,” I answer, knowing what the next question will be. I know that I shouldn’t tell the psychiatrist what I really think, but I have nothing to lose. They are trying a new medication, aripiprazole, and so, according to my calculations, I am stuck in the hospital for another three weeks at least. I can’t leave as I signed my own punishment, I am sectioned.
“Last time you said you thought you were Anne Frank, do you still think so?”
I chuckle because I knew it was coming. I also debate about whether to answer that I dropped ‘the belief’ while being on my new medication or convince her that medication doesn’t help when the belief is real. I also believe I could be Buddha in another past life, and so what?
“As I said before, I do believe I was Anne Frank in a past life, yes.”
The psychiatrist writes something down in her notebook before asking another question.
“And what are we supposed to do with this belief? I mean, how are we supposed to react when someone comes in here and says that she was Anne Frank?”
“I don’t know, maybe ask the Dutch government for all the money they owe me?” I volunteer. “From the visits to the Anne Frank museum?”
I expect her to laugh, but instead the psychiatrist looks very serious.
“I think we should increase your dose of medication. We started on ten milligrams but I would like to increase it to twenty.” She looks at my face to see my reaction.
“The belief that I was Anne Frank in my past life has nothing to do with the dose,” I tell her, feeling frustrated. I realise by now that I made another big mistake: I engaged in conversation with the doctor. I should have stayed quiet. I should have ‘officially’ dropped my belief. “I have this belief all the time, regardless of medication. It is just who I am!”
They decide to increase my medication. I develop terrible side effects. I spend another month in the hospital. I miss out on my family and the life I have outside of the hospital. I lose my teaching hours at my job because I was away for so long. When I finally emerge from the hospital I am totally broken.
I don’t believe in psychiatry anymore, or that a ‘safe stay’ in the hospital can help. I don’t believe in medication anymore either. I realise that something is very wrong with how they treat people who come for help.
I still believe I was Anne Frank in my past life, and nothing is wrong with such a belief. I am no longer Buddha, though, because they crashed my spiritual awakening when it was happening. But I go on. I deserve to be happy. I have a family to think of, I want to contribute to society on some level. I want to live. They won’t crash me. Or so I hope.
Editor’s note: This author has chosen to publish under a pseudonym due to concerns about stigma affecting employment.
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.