I ended up in a psychiatric hospital one day. Psychosis was the diagnosis. I wasn’t scared of the psychosis but I got scared of the diagnosis, and when you are proclaimed as “ill,” it leads to certain assumptions and in disbelief in oneself.
I came distressed into the hospital, my stay of rest when things spiral out of control. I like some things in it, such as the fact that in theory, one can let go off things, and stop feeling over-responsible in the daily, “normal” life. They have meals three times a day, a garden, and art therapy. It was a good place, looking at it from outside.
W became my main nurse. She was so kind to me, it was almost beyond belief. W checked on me, took me on walks, closed her eyes when I started buying things in a shop. She was relaxed and non-judgmental, a dream nurse for the psychiatric establishment, where some rules make one scream. One gets a “leave” instead of a walk, and one isn’t allowed to have any fun, such as normal consumer activities in a normal shop.
My creams started to disappear at some point. I use good creams, they aren’t cheap. I like Estée Lauder, which restores my stressed skin. It’s smoothing and calming, and I feel good when I use their creams. I had a face mask of them, a scrub, and some other nice, delicious things, such as a lipstick, a mascara, and a nice perfume. I put it all on my shelf above my bed, because it was a place of rest, and I wanted some pampering.
The face mask was the first good thing that disappeared. I didn’t ring the alarm, simply because psychiatric patients don’t have much voice. We are annihilated to nobody, once we cross that line that separates the normal world from the psychiatric hospital. The attitude is patronising, and one has to take medication and wait for ages before being discharged into the community.
Being distressed, or “confused” is not tolerated, and once you are inside the psychiatric establishment, you know that everything that falls outside the bounds of normality is considered to be a sin. You feel guilty that you dared to be ill. You feel afraid, lost, and discouraged.
W was nice to me. I had a bottle of wine hidden in my cupboard and I knew that W was aware of it. She had seen me buying it in the shop, but said nothing. Wine is not allowed inside the hospital, apparently, but I tried to maintain my sense of dignity by disobeying some of their rules, and by making sure I had some small luxuries. Some chocolate, a small glass of wine before bed, good books to read, and excellent creams to put on my face. It was all brand new: a serum, another face mask, delicious night cleansing balm.
The lipstick disappeared too at some point. I knew by then that there was a thief, but I tried not to rush to conclusions. My room was cleaned every day by a nice good woman, and I knew that it wasn’t her. It was impossible, because she was friendly and cheerful, and her eyes were sincere and kind. I thought that maybe it was one of the patients.
I couldn’t even think of the possibility that it could be one of the staff. They go into the field in order to help people. They are supposed to be people of good moral standing. Otherwise, how could they do a good job when they are responsible for vulnerable people?
I asked for a key for my cupboard and put all my creams there and took the keys with me at all times. My stay in the hospital acquired a sinister taste. It was no longer a place of rest, but a prison, where bad things can happen. A theft in one’s life is a very unpleasant experience. It goes into your core, because it violates your personal space and your belongings.
I was shaking from the violation and I felt distressed. A face mask was gone, two of my lipsticks, and a pair of earrings. Someone was meddling in my stuff when I was gone for walks, and walking stopped being relaxing and calming, because someone was after my possessions, and everything I acquired came from hard work and superhuman efforts in my life. I changed a country for my job. I love working. I deserve every penny I earn. I deserve nice creams and nice perfumes. I bought them with pride. “Look,” I was telling myself, “You have done well in life with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder.” Estée Lauder became my price, the present to myself, because I am worth it.
W came into my room right before my walk. She opened the cupboard (the key was in the lock). Out of curiosity, she said. She commented on how many nice things I had inside, and the bottle of my serum looked so appealing. She added that I seemed to like nice things in life. I smiled at her and almost hugged her for her kindness. She was an excellent nurse, I thought. Nice and caring.
She left the room and I put on my coat to go for a walk. But when I approached the cupboard to close it, the key wasn’t there. I panicked and ran to W. She said she would take care of everything. She would close my room and watch it over. I went on a walk with a calm mind. If W was in charge, then nothing bad would happen. No one would invade my privacy under her watch.
I went for a nice, quiet walk. It’s beautiful where I live now, in the north. We have lots of water, and the landscape is amazing. Canals run through parks, and people bike.
When I came back, the door to my room was closed. W was no longer there, as her shift had ended. I asked another nurse to open the room for me.
Once inside, I approached the cupboard with a feeling of trepidation. Surely not, I thought? And back at me, an empty shelf stared. My earrings, my serum, everything was gone.
I collapsed on the bed and I cried. I could run to the nurses and complain, but I knew that no one would take me seriously. I was a patient in the mental institution, I might have hallucinated the entire thing. It would be impossible to prove it in any case. W looked so nice and caring, no one would believe me that she was a thief.
The next day I started to beg for discharge. It was not a place of rest. It wasn’t safe or nice or caring. The abuse of power was so brusque that I almost ended up depressed. The shock of it, its impact, was so big that I can’t stop thinking about it even now. It chases me in my dreams. How is it possible, why? Why would anyone take advantage of a vulnerable human being, of someone in real distress?
I never bought the serum or the mask back. I can’t afford such luxuries that often. I use only cream instead and I think about W. I hope she enjoyed the serum, and my mask, and that she enjoys the earrings. And I hope that she goes to sleep everyday with a calm mind, unlike me. I wish her the best, really, because someone who is capable of stealing like that, is ill in her mind.
If only we could change places. I would be her nurse. I would be nice and caring, and would offer her my creams for free if only she asked.
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.