CW: self harm, suicide
So, it happened. I spent the first months of my PhD fighting crippling anxiety, but ultimately, it won and I decided to quit.
But me being me, it couldn’t be a quiet decision, I had to hit the bottom and hit it hard. I was scared shitless of my supervisor’s reaction, I feared I had to face anger and disappointment (spoiler: my supervisor was instead incredibly sweet and sympathetic) and that fear caused me to fall down a spiral of anxiety and self-destructive thoughts.
I was convinced I had to physically hurt in order for anyone to understand why I chose to quit my PhD, as if my mental distress wasn’t enough. I was scared shitless of the uncertainty of the future, and thus I begun to be haunted by suicidal thoughts. I ended up pouring boiling water on my left hand, inflicting me a wound that is only now beginning to heal, my mind full to burst with thoughts of ending my own life.
This is why I called my psychiatrist and told her, between sobs and tears, that I needed help. And this is why she suggested I spent some days in a S.P.D.C (Servizio Psichiatrico di Diagnosi e Cura) – basically a psych ward – at the local hospital. I wholeheartedly agreed.
So, how was my experience? How can I describe it? It was incredibly alienating, but also… kind of positive? I think back at those days and I feel almost nostalgic for that place. That drab, sad, but safe place.
After speaking with my psychiatrist, a nurse drove me to the S.P.D.C where they gave me a bed in a freezing cold room with nazi graffiti (yeah, badly drawn swastikas and stuff) I had to share with a middle aged woman also suffering from anxiety. They took my phone and computer chargers – no wires allowed, you can guess why – and run me through a group of doctors and interns. They were all very friendly, and I was very calm by then (thanks, Tavor drops).
I spent four days there, and overall, it was a good experience for me. I needed it. But some of the things I saw… as I mentioned, were very alienating.
THE GOOD THINGS
- The routine. Breakfast at eight, lunch at twelve, dinner at six pm. Bf visiting me from four to six. Everything was marked by meaningful repetition. It could be hell for somebody, but to me, it was soothing – the lack of a routine was what threw me down the anxiety road in the first place, after all.
- The food was not half bad
- Met some interesting people, and not even joking
- To live in a sort of bubble, shielded from society, just minding my own business all the time was like a balm and it’s what I miss most
THE ALIENATING THINGS
- Some of the patients were like me, people who committed self harm or attempted suicide, others were people with more severe illnesses who were constantly sedated. To see them drag their feet by the smoke-smelling corridors of the S.P.D.C. was… very disheartening and alienating
- I made friends with a girl suffering from borderline disorder, it wasn’t her first hospitalization. Listening to her life story really made an impact on me – so many people have it way worse than me. At least I have my family’s support, both financially and emotionally, and my bf would come to see me every day. My friend? They would not let anyone come to visit her because of her history as a drug addict.
- It was difficult not to see my future reflected in the old people there.
- The nurse were mostly friendly with me, I think because I was very responsive and polite, but to the more heavily sedated patients? They would treat them like toddlers or worse. And I get it, being a nurse in a psych ward is a hell of a stressing job. But the way they treated some patients was so dehumanizing, in a way
At the end, I was lucky. I am lucky. The future still scares me, but I can afford a couple of sabbatical months to focus on my mental health, and my family and bf all have my back. If my brief stay at the S.P.D.C. taught me anything, is that many people are not so lucky.