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  • Clive Vanderwagen

How I ended up in a psychiatric hospital

Updated: May 1, 2022

In 2019 I was working in a job that was paralysing me. I was depressed and hated what I was doing. The company was a lovely organisation to work for, but I was in completely the wrong role. I was in an admin-heavy, process-riddled role, that required me to be heavily detail-oriented and quite cold with people. There were corporate politics at play, and my role placed me in the midst of the mayhem, and often with what felt like a target on my back. All too much for this creative, big picture, empathic mind of mine.

In June of that year, I was admitted into a mental health hospital for three weeks. I've never written about this publicly, not because I'm ashamed of it, but I've never wanted to implicate the company I worked for. Blame is pointless and unhelpful.

I really felt at the end. I'm not sure I had ever been so unhappy in my life. I had certainly never felt that close to the edge. I couldn't separate my work unhappiness from my life at home. I had learnt to compartmentalise happiness – if I was unhappy at home, I worked hard not to let it affect my work life and vice versa. But this time I found myself riddled with meaninglessness and hopelessness. I felt trapped, and guilty that I felt this way. After all, I was on one of the executive committees of a blue-chip company. I was a head of department and earning more money than I had in my life.

But life felt purposeless. You see, I want to live a life where I make people better. It's my one-line purpose and business plan. I had suddenly found myself in a position where I was retrenching people, issuing disciplinaries, and working out how we could get rid of certain races to hit our BEE scores.

I felt defeated, and not like I was worth very much, even though I looked hugely successful from an exterior lens.

While I sat in the psychiatric hospital making macaroni necklaces and being fed every anti-depressant that could possibly be prescribed, I started thinking about happiness. I realised, through discussions with the lovely therapist they assigned me, that happiness was a choice. I had found myself in a place where I felt unhappy, but it was my choice to stay there.

We're allowed to be unhappy, but we can't allow ourselves to stay there.

I had to actively choose to be happy, do things in my life that made me happy, and remove whatever felt like it was contaminating.

So, after all of this, here are some things I learnt in my journey to happiness. Because to be completely honest, I don't think I've ever been happier. It's been a journey to get here, but the need to choose to be happy was the epiphany I needed to step into a place of power and freedom.

Happiness doesn't just happen. You decide to be happy. And here's some of the ways how. There are a lot more. But hopefully these will help.

Choose to be happy.

I know I've said this already, but it really is a choice. It's the decision to lie in the dark or choose to get up off the bed and switch on the light. It requires us to sit up and walk. Often the most successful way to step out of unhappiness is to be active. To actively do something that will make you happy. For me, it was to resign and start my own business. It can be as simple as starting to exercise, or meditate, or meet someone who makes you laugh until you wee once a month for coffee.


Ask for help. Tell people how you are feeling. Not in a victim, happy to be where I am, kind of way, but in a way that looks for solutions and searches for the power to make the move to stand up to the discontent. We're allowed to be a victim – we often are victims to circumstances – but we can't allow ourselves to step into a victim mentality. The opposite of victim is voice. Find your voice. Speak about how you're feeling. Go to a therapist. Allow your feelings to have a voice, but also allow yourself to hear offers of help and accept them. The victim enjoys being unhappy. The voice walks towards the light.

Be grateful

Don't roll your eyes like that. I know I'm going all Oprah on you, but it really works. When I was working in the wrong job, I was so focused on the shit that was happening. My eyes were set on the muck and I never allowed myself to see what potential there was. I saw myself as trapped instead of seeing myself in a job I didn't want but could use as a stepping-stone to more. I focused on the value I couldn't offer rather than working towards a position that could add value.

I had to end up in a hospital ward where the bathroom doors couldn't be locked for fear of the mentally unhealthy inmates locking themselves away. I realised I needed to take a moment to see what I had in my life and work out how I could use that for good. To move out of where I was to where I wanted to be. I got so caught in the web of where I was that I lost sight of the pair of scissors that were right in front of me to free me. Stupid analogy, but just go with it okay.

You have and are enough

I knew I had to leave the company I was working in. For my sanity and for the benefit of the business. When you hate your job, you're usually not very good at it or giving it your all. The most decent thing to do is move on and let someone who really wants it serve the company to the best of their ability.

I was terrified to go on my own. Who would work with me? Who would book me? Who would pay me for what was in my little old brain? What made me so special that I could make it work when others have tried and failed?

I had to dig deep and believe that the years of experience I had gathered, even the awful work I was doing at the time, all added to the impressive skillset I really have, that can offer real value to those who need it.

Only I have what I have. No one else does. People can write articles about happiness, but no one else will write it like I have in this piece. You may think someone else's is better. Then read them okay. I'm writing this for the people who will see value in it. They are my audience. They are my purpose. I am enough, even if this post reaches only one person.

I may do what hundreds do, but I do it authentically. My way. And when you trust your way, your uniqueness, and embrace your strange, clunky self, you show up in the world in a way that people will notice. It may not be the entire room, but it may be a few. And that's a whole lot better than sitting in a room in the dark.

Okay, I'll stop now.

I could write pages on my journey to being happy, when I spent so much time being unhappy. And listen, I'm not talking about clinical depression here. If you see no way out, get help immediately. Drugs work for some, and maybe you need anti-depressants to help you along.

Fight for your worth. Fight for your happiness. Let nothing contaminate your 'enoughness.' Happiness is worth fighting for. And It’s a decision you need to make daily. Sometimes even hourly.

You can and deserve to be happy. Choose this for yourself. You’ll never be happier. I promise.

Shout if you want to chat more. Sending love to all who read this far.

1 Comment

Dec 09, 2021

Phenomenal insights Clive. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt and I 100% agree. The turning point is when we make the choice to be happy. Every day.

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