What’s Life Like Inside a Psychiatric Clinic?

Source: https://unsplash.com/photos/FXgU6iQTbe8.

In 2020 I spent two months inside a psychiatric clinic.

Historically, my mental health was often somewhat off, but therapy and Brazilian jiu-jitsu helped me to remain somewhat stable. Another agent I consumed for my mental health was LSD or Lysergic acid diethylamide.

I had many memorable experiences and feel like acid made me grow as a person and broaden my horizon. Unfortunately, I lost my respect for the substance and became hooked on it. I started to overuse it pretty drastically, so my stay at the clinic was due to a rough breakdown induced by LSD.It was a valuable learning experience and a time during which I met a lot of interesting people coming from all sorts of backgrounds and all walks of life.

In this article, I want to summarize my experience of those two months, fully aware that I am by no means an expert on that topic. The clinic life will most definitely depend upon the country you live in and the specific clinic you find yourself in.

In those trying times, I was pleased about staying in a country with a good healthcare system and about that system having my back and supporting me when I wasn´t fully functional.

I am also aware of the fact that there are many people more experienced and with more time spent in different clinics, and I am glad to hear from people like this in the comments!

For me, the following account centers around a german clinic in which I stayed from August to October 2020.

My father’s stay at the clinic

After my sister and I had to sit through a few rough hours of trying to convince the clinic staff actually to keep me there, I had managed to score a place at the same clinic my father had been to many years prior. It was just a week after my birthday, and we had spent the day celebrating it with my family. Obviously, the party’s vibe was somewhat off because my manic attitude made me appear like a completely different person.

My father was treated for manic depression in 2011 and, unfortunately, committed suicide in 2012. So, as I stated in my previous article, I was pretty skeptical of checking myself into that clinic, since for my father, it apparently did not work out in the end.

The only thing I remember about his stay at the clinic was that he did not particularly enjoy it but made some cool wood carvings. I still have them sitting on my bookshelf to this day.

My dad’s wood carving. Picture by me.

When I visited him in the clinic back in 2011, we hastily left the clinic area to grab a coffee in the nearby village, and my father talked about how he did not like to be at that place.

As I found out later, he experienced a feeling that was not uncommon amongst the patients at the clinic. He did not feel like he belonged there; he did not feel mentally ill. My father told me that he was taken aback by a questionnaire he had to fill out upon his admission into the clinic.

In that questionnaire, he was asked whether he ever had the urge to hurt little animals and questions of that sort that made him feel like the people asking those questions were thinking of him as some psychopath.

So understandably, that conversation made an impression on my pretty young and undeveloped mind at that point; I mean, I was roughly 14 years of age and had no idea about what depression even was or how serious it would turn out to be in the end.

Still, after a long conversation with my mother and sister, I realized that my condition was serious, and I should probably have it looked at or be in a safe surrounding once the comedown of my month-long trip would end. I did not share the worry about my life that my sister and mother seemed to have, though. I was not suicidal, just pretty manic. But who knows, maybe my manic carelessness and abnormal energy levels would have led to some disaster. So, looking back with a sober mind, I can share their worry.

The semi-closed station

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Coming off my massive acid abuse and the combination of alcohol and cannabis, the first week at the clinic is still pretty blurry to me. When I reached my station (the semi-closed one), I was given some tranquilizer to slow down and to be able to sleep.

After conversations with the clinic staff, I was told that I slept for about 12 hours and even went back to sleep multiple times while the clinic staff was trying to convince me to get my breakfast.

It turns out that the long period of sleep I finally got after sustaining on about 4–5 hours per night during my period of acid abuse had one handy benefit. I slept through the whole time it took for my corona test to come back negative and was therefore allowed to walk around the station as soon as I woke up.

In my mania, I had picked up smoking again and was pretty thrilled once I found out that the station had a huge balcony (that was fenced off), where most of the patients spent most of their day smoking cigarette after cigarette.

(Smoking became I big part of my daily life since there was not terribly much else to do, so I breezed through a pack a day pretty quickly.)

I believe that my ego was still pretty much dissolved at this point, which made it easy for me to get into conversations with the other patients at the station, a thing that I was usually pretty bad at.

After I spoke with a few of my co-inmates, I found out that this station seemed to be geared towards psychotic patients, many of whom had experienced some prior head injury or trauma. I guess the many blotters of acid I took hit me over the head pretty hard as well, so I guess I was put into the right station.

And yes, I just referred to the other patients as inmates. I mean, we were locked off from the outside, and I was only allowed to leave the station after a few days, during which the staff seemed to have categorized me as of no threat to myself or others. Except for the half an hour of outside time I was granted after that, there were multiple daily walks and activities, during which about 5–6 patients went out with staff.

We went on walks or played basketball with the staff, which always had a careful eye on all participants. Looking back, I believe those walks‘ timings were chosen pretty carefully so that there wasn´t terribly much going on outside.

The closed station

Still, it could have been worse. Close to us, on the fenced-off balcony right beside us, was the closed station. Not semi- closed but fully closed. I have never been to that station but was told by one psychologist during our sessions that this station would be the one I was most likely gonna end up in case I would not stop the acid consumption. Well, that’s great news!

The only contact I had with people from that station was being asked for a cigarette by one patient, which I gave him, and he thanked me for—nothing out of the ordinary. Still, after more conversations with staff and patients, I was notified that that station was where the tough cases stayed. Sometimes you heard people screaming over there. You also heard people singing over there quite frequently, which did not seem to be too bad.

So while I was staying at that station, I was visited by my mother and friends frequently, until COVID regulations only allowed me visits from two persons, which turned out to be my mother and her sister.

So my first week at the clinic pretty much consisted of eating the clinic food (which was surprisingly tasty, in my opinion) and hanging out with the friends I made at the station. Oh, and I also played a lot of chess. I was always drawn to that game, even though I always sucked at it. Still, I look back fondly on the interesting games with staff and patients alike to this day. One older fellow, who was way better than me at the game, always insisted that I was purposefully playing bad and wanted me to play like the “real me finally.” Funnily that wasn´t remotely true, and I always gave it my best; I simply suck at the game.

One memorable moment was when I asked the patient who was the best chess player of the station if I should continue playing chess and why. He replied instantly: “Yes, you should, for your son.” At that point, I was like, “I don´t have a… oh.. that’s deep”.

Besides chess, I really enjoyed occupational therapy, during which I spent most of my time drawing. I always enjoyed drawing as a kid, but that love was somehow drawn out by the school or my upbringing. While tripping on LSD, I rediscovered that creative side and wanted to save over that reignited interest in my sober personality. Here are a few of my drawings:

Drawing no. 1. Photo by me.
Drawing no. 2. Photo by me.

During my stay at that station, the staff paid careful attention to our medication and whether we were taking our meds or not. I actually tended to forget to take my meds after eating and was routinely reminded by staff to do so.

The depression station

After roughly one week, I was transferred to another station, giving me way more freedom than before. I was allowed to go outside as often as I wanted to.

Another benefit of the new station became apparent quite quickly: There were many patients that were roughly my age, in the midst of many older people.

So while I also had many meaningful conversations with the more experienced patients, most of my time I spent with the younger inhabitants of the station.

Those conversations were a lot of fun. Finally, I had met people my age, or even younger than me, that were in similar and often even worse situations than I was in. Everyone was really open about their past and the stuff that had happened to them. Many of the stories I heard made me happy for only having gone through psychosis and otherwise living a pretty privileged life.

What made those conversations so special was their ease and lightness. While drug addiction is a pretty grim topic, for example, joking around it and about my past fuckups with my peer group somehow made those experiences seem less dark and made it easier to accept them as a part of my personality.

So while the type of people around me changed (i had now been transferred to the depression station), the types of activities I did on a day-to-day basis stayed pretty equal. Chain-smoking cigarettes, playing chess, hanging around with other inhabitants of the clinic. I continued drawing at occupational therapy and had a few group sessions, mostly focussed on battling depression or your “black dog.”

So while the first half of our day was preoccupied with activities at the station, we used our evenings mostly to hang around the clinic’s basketball course, listen to music, and (of course) chain-smoke cigarettes. On rare occasions, we got to get together in a cooking group and actually whipped up some pretty tasty meals (Due to the fact of two of the patients being cooks).

In that manner, the days sped by, and eventually, two months had gone by. All my friends at the clinic came from different backgrounds and had different paths in front of them. Some left the clinic before me; some were transitioned to other clinics around the country. Still, on the day of my departure from the clinic, many of them were at the clinic. So it was time to say goodbye for a while.

The departure from the clinic

source: https://unsplash.com/photos/FEPfs43yiPE.

The departure from the clinic was way harder than I initially imagined. A place I expected to let me out worse than I came in had actually done the exact opposite.

Not only did I spent the time of my psychosis in a safe environment, but I also made a lot of friends during my stay. Friends, with which I´m still in contact to this day, and with whom I can talk about absolutely everything.

Friends, that made me realize that there actually was something wrong with me and that I am not going to be able to continue my heavy consumption of psychedelics into the future. Once I had accepted the fact that there was something off with me (namely my psychosis), I became open to therapeutic measures and realized that the people around me, who I had feared were trying to manipulate me, were just worried about me and trying their best to help.

So in case you are ever thrust into a similar position, I´d advise you to stay open-minded and have trust in the psychiatric system. Historically I did not really have that. After I got out of the clinic, I actually fell into the worst depression I experienced. That might be due to the acid or the huge amount of medication I was put on during my stay.

But after changing my mind about cold-turkey my way out of medication, I actually talked to my psychiatrist, and we were able to put down the dosage by a lot. I feel excellent now, and I am happy that I did not go on without the medication due to the high risk of falling back into psychosis.

Actually, one thing my father did not do, was to take the medication that was prescribed to him. If he had, he might have still been here today; who knows. All I know is that I am deeply grateful for my stay at the clinic and all the new experiences I made and the people I met.

I noticed that it took quite a while for me to actually accept that I was, or maybe even still am, mentally ill. I felt excellent when I arrived at the clinic and was more than skeptical of the staff in the beginning. That was partly due to one pretty douchy psychiatrist who took a pretty judgemental stance on my drug consumption. That was probably the right thing to do, but I noticed that I actually enjoy being treated like a grown-up man with a problem rather than a child punished by his parents.

Fortunately, I was able to get rid of the doctor pretty quickly, and he was replaced by staff that was actually warm and caring. If all my doctors had been like this one gentleman, I definitely would not have benefited from this experience. So thank god for every healthcare worker who puts their soul into their work and makes not only the clinic but also the world a better place.

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