What I learnt in the Psych ward by Sofia Merce

I realised that perhaps my depression was too overwhelming when I woke up each day, angry with all the Gods for not taking me in my sleep. I once read somewhere that if your appetite wanes to the point of non existence and you lose your dress-sense simultaneously, it’s time to check into the psych ward.

So I did exactly that. I voluntarily admitted myself via casualty to the psych ward of a private clinic in the leafy Northern suburbs of Johannesburg. That poor recently qualified casualty doctor possibly felt more helpless than I did when I broke down into sobs when she asked me what my symptoms were. I am sure I personally inspired her to specialise in dermatology as opposed to psychiatry.

After the niceties were over, I was shown to my ward. I was so relieved it was a private ward. I recall eyeing some of the “inmates” as I arrived and making a mental note to stay away from the nutters ……after all, I was totally normal and was merely here to convalesce in the comfort of a private ward under the influence of some lovely hard-core narcotics. The next two days were a blessed oblivion…..a magnificent escape from the heart-wrenching reality of my newfound divorcehood. When I eventually woke, I decided it was definitely time for a cigarette. It took me a while to pry my lips apart – anti anxiety drugs are notorious for causing a parched mouth and making your lips into a constant smooch position. I made my way to the outside garden and noticed that people were dodging me. I wondered if I smelled. I took a sniff at my underarms…. I then remembered that personal hygiene takes a backseat when one is in a semi-coma. I did smell. I understood their dodging. I then caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror en route to the smoker’s garden. Let’s just say that I have certainly looked prettier in my time!

I arrived in the smoker’s garden and felt the first twinge of nicotine in the back of my throat. It was as if I could breathe again. There was only one bench with one vacant bum-space….and on it were perched the three “nutters” that I made a mental note of avoiding, lest I become infected with their madness. So, I began to chat to these ladies. And……guess what…..they were no more nuts than I was. We were all suffering from the same thing…the human condition. Two out of the three ladies has been left by their husbands and were grappling with devastation and anxiety. The other lady had just emerged from the closet and was being ostracized by her family.

I spent a week in this ward. Me and the nutters were a support for each other. I still giggle when I think of the day one of the ladies had asked me to help her blowdry her hair, which I gladly obliged. During said hairdressing session, the weekend locum psychiatrist walked into the room. An hour later, my psychologist arrived unexpectedly to check up on me. She had been told by the locum that there was concern that I was delusional and that I thought I was a hairdresser!!! All I was doing was helping out a fellow nutter, as we affectionately called one another.

I found my time in the cocoon of the psych ward to be life-changing and humbling. I learned that it’s okay to ask for help, I learned not to judge others and put labels on people and I learned to laugh at myself.

Leave a Comment