Living in a mental asylum, fighting the darkness within

Published: February 27, 2018

I had overdosed on prescribed anti-depressants and sleeping medication, and had been taken in for observation for a few weeks. PHOTO: PINTEREST

When I was about five or six-years-old, I did something I am deeply ashamed of. It is the most shameful act I have ever committed, and even recalling it makes me shudder. It’s something that I have never confessed to anyone before.

It was recess time in school and all the kids were playing. I stood somewhere in the middle of the sandy ground and looked around for pebbles. I was just fascinated by their shapes and sizes, and was excited to be examining the ants alongside them. I picked up a pebble and all of a sudden an idea popped in my mind. I saw Hamid, a classmate, standing alongside one of the walls and looking towards something to my right. I immediately lifted the small stone in front of my eyes to take aim. I closed one eye, carefully aimed for the temple and threw it at him. I was not expecting anything to happen. I thought it would be like a dream, where everything starts to float, just like a feather.

However, this was reality – the pebble smashed right into his head and he began bleeding. The teachers came and asked me why I had done it and I said I was only throwing pebbles at the wall and Hamid had come in the way. They seemed to be satisfied with the explanation, but the reality is much grimmer. I had consciously aimed at him just to see what would happen. From that day till now, I have never hurt anyone willingly again, but I know that there is a darkness within me and it makes me greatly ashamed of myself.

I am a depraved man. I always have been. By the time I reached my 20s, rather than punishing others, I began to punish myself. Deprived myself of food and the basic necessities of everyday life; even tried to hang myself several times. I always thought the things that were most important were far away and so I began to move from one country to the next, year after year, but was unable to find solace in any one place. The relationships I would form were ephemeral, and although I have developed some lasting bonds, there is a general sense of isolation and dreariness that surrounds me.

It was in my 30th year that I found myself in a mental asylum in Stockholm while pursuing my graduate studies. I had been there before but this time I was to stay longer. I had overdosed on prescribed anti-depressants and sleeping medication, and had been taken in for observation for a few weeks before the new medication began to take effect.

The first few nights I was alone in my room, hardly venturing out other than during smoking hours and mealtimes. I kept to myself and had asked a friend of mine to bring my paints and books to me so that I could pass the days painting and reading.

Self-portrait at Danderyds sjukhus

Faisal Mosque

Autumn day in Khanpur

I was not given any sleeping medication, which I had developed a dependence upon, and so I hardly slept for over two or three hours in those days. I would start my day at five, with a one-hour workout that consisted of push-ups, sit-ups and crunches. The first smoking time was at 6 am and I would make sure to be there so the nurse could accompany us smokers outside. Visiting times were from 1pm to 8pm, and sometimes I had a visitor which was a great change from the daily routine of nothingness. We weren’t allowed to have any kinds of chargers either, for safety purposes, so we had to hand in our phones every time we had to charge it, which I found to be a bit tedious. We didn’t have access to the internet so I could not work from the ward (since most of my work is theoretical and computational in nature and can’t be done without a laptop).

After a few days, I had a bit more freedom and was allowed to leave the building by myself for a few hours in the afternoon. During these times, I would just sit outside drinking coffee and stare at the people walking around the small island of Gamla Stan.

Gamla Stan

I would observe the routines of everyone who would walk by. I always wondered why it seemed that the majority of the population was always in such a hurry. Do each of them have their own dreams, their own goals and things that inspire them? I always wondered about such things and how people felt about achieving their goals. Then again, I knew I wasn’t the only one who suffered from anxiety, and that about a 100,000 people in Stockholm alone needed a pill of some sort or a drink just to get out of the house and function properly. Moreover, I even became a regular in some cafes, and on one occasion, the staff member nodded towards me silently and had already prepared my usual order that I strictly abided by.

In any case, I made quite a few paintings during these few weeks. The one entitled ‘View of Tirich Mir’ depicts a lone, isolated figure standing during a foggy morning, staring at a distant mountain. I remember painting this when I had gained more courage and was sitting in the common room area.

I thought I might capture some nice inspiration from the change in environment of my room, and it was indeed calming just to paint out there, since no one there really cared about what I was doing. The painting of the flower, which I made in the comfort of my room, shows a single withered red tulip and has the axiom: “meeting is the beginning of separation” written in Japanese on it.

Soon I became a bit more comfortable living there. I would go on the daily group walks at 10am and even played ping pong with one of the other patients. Granted, there were sometimes extremely strange and eccentric conversations taking place around me, but considering where I was, it made sense to come across them. After my initial week, I had a roommate move in with me, who told me he was a healer and no one was allowing him to perform his duties. He seemed quite young, perhaps about 20-years-old, and used to live in the suburban part of the town with his mother. He was quite talkative and would talk late into the night about his dreams and goals. Then he would always say,

“You are a good man! I knew it the first time I shook your hand that you are a good man!”

Generally, the nurses there were quite friendly and helpful. Overall, I lived a much healthier lifestyle than I did before and feel that I became a bit more stable to slowly face the world again.

When I was reintroduced to the world, I felt a bit different this time. I thought to myself that this is my life, it is all I have. I don’t believe that material possessions make you rich or happy. I have always wanted to get in touch with something within that connects me to a higher self. I am not even searching for happiness but a state of being content. I often reach this meditative state when I am most productive; while painting something, writing or even while researching something in theoretical physics.

In the end, I would like to give a message to all those suffering from depression. It is often a life-long battle which one has to endure silently. There will be periods when things are great, and you should cherish every moment of that. Times when things aren’t going well, it can be difficult to keep going, but please remember that it is your life and only you can change it, and the change must start from within; taking care of your body, mind and soul. I would like to end with a quote from Hunter S Thompson:

“Anything worth doing, is worth doing right.”

Sher Khan

Sher Khan

The author is an outsider artist based in Stockholm. Check out his art on Instagram @sherkhan_art (

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Salman Raheel

    Refreshing to read something like this on Tribune blogs. Recommend

  • Desi

    Your article is very thoughtful. Recommend

  • Sane

    Your paintings are good and meaningful.Recommend

  • Amar

    Thoroughly enjoyed reading the article, specially the quote “Anything worth doing, is worth doing right.” Recommend

  • sab n

    Great article…I can totally relate how it feels like to be in this state of mind. Keep up the good work and also your paintings are really expressive.Recommend