Writing Convincing Mental Patients – ‘Write What You Know’

I’m working on a section of my novel where my main character, Adolai Shungyosai, has a stay in the psych ward after unwittingly ingesting some LSD at a Halloween party. It causes some developments on his character as he meets revelations about aspects of the world he was hiterto uninformed about, as well as meeting a new character inside who is kind to him. The character who initiates him through the experience, ‘the Regular’, is a person who experiences mental illness symptoms, and is so resigned to his personal plight that he shamelessly and willingly at times makes use of the institutional comforts of the inpatient surroundings, which shocks Adolai because it is all so terrifying and strange to him. ‘The Regular’ is visiting the hospital because his Mother whom he lives with had to leave town for a while and he has trouble looking out for himself when alone.

Adolai also has an experience that makes the visit akin to a short jail term, exposed to a culture filled with criminal types that is not sufficiently set up to its espoused goals of rehabilitation. He is dipped into a culture of mental illness, and takes on more qualities of this underworld than he finds time to shed in this quick immersion. He begins to think himself chosen or special because he doesn’t see himself as actually sick as many arround him appear, or are being treated outwardly as by the staff. He starts smoking at the daily smoke breaks when it is the only thrill available to break up the routine.

When his parents finagle a quick rescue due to their money and influence, enforcing the system whereby the poor are overly punished by long stays and a clean bill of mental health can be ‘bought’, it cements the idea in his head that he was never really sick. Even though the acid trip he underwent has clearly shaken free some latent mental issues at work in his head. Now he ventures back out into the world and he is brimming with the contradictions of someone who has seen too much. Also, he’s no whit less cocky and privileged in his view of himself.

“The man who comes back through the Door in the Wall will never be quite the same as the man who went out. He will be wiser but less sure, happier but less self-satisfied, humbler in acknowledging his ignorance yet better equipped to understand the relationship of words to things, of systematic reasoning to the unfathomable mystery which it tries, forever vainly, to comprehend” – Aldous Huxley, The Doors of Perception

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