Surrounded by bizarre characters and nonsensical routines, humour became my shield against the stigma and isolation of life as a mental health patient
Will Sampson as Chief Bromden in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975). ‘Since One
Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, all psychiatric wards must be issued a giant Native American as standard.’ Photograph: Allstar/United Artist
Ten years ago I spent time in a residential psychiatric ward. Not to visit a friend, or as research, but because I was mentally ill and a danger to myself.
Two things become clear when I read my diary from that period. One is that I was an utter state, and the other is that everyday life on the ward was ridiculous, with a cast of characters to match any sitcom. The diary names a lot of them: the Sleeping Chief, the Knitting Lady, Kid Zombie and “Norman Wisdom”. In the next bed along from mine – and I promise I’m not making this up – was a 6ft 6in Native American man, probably because since One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, all psychiatric wards must be issued a giant Native American as standard. Sadly I never saw him throw a concrete water fountain through a window, though I’m sure the shockwaves from his constant, rumbling flatulence must have caused some structural damage to the building. more