For a few seconds I’m completely blinded. The first thing I see when my eyes recover from the light is the pink snout of the pig on the sign at pancake house Boshut de Big.
I arrive at the psychiatric institution. It’s built from the uninviting kind of grey extruded brick, with those gable-roofed greenhouses crammed in between. Apparently, that used to be beautiful.
I assess a patient together with the psychiatrist. It all starts with an overly penetrating look and a handshake that’s a bit too firm. What brought you here? “Well, I, you know, I was just on the bus on my way to see my family. My family had a party for me because I just got out of jail. Yeah, a lot has happened. I was abused by one of my aunts in the past. It all went wrong when I was twelve and I started doing drugs. I…” I glance sideways at the psychiatrist.
She interrupts him. “I understand that a lot has happened in your life. If I understand correctly, all of that has to do with the reason why you’ve ended up here. My colleague and I definitely want to know more about that, but a bit later in the conversation. What we’re curious about now is: what is the reason you’ve been admitted this time?”
A little later, she says to me: “A good psychiatrist reads between the lines. This man is having a manic episode. If you know that, you can apply the right conversational techniques. Ask closed questions. Be specific. Summarise if you don’t understand something. Remember: these people aren’t quite themselves when you’re speaking to them.”
In the evening before I go to sleep, I read some of Van der Heijden’s novel about the death of his son Tonio. I lie on my side in my underwear, like a Roman centurion on his chaise longue. Alleluia by Ukrainian composer Silvestrov blares from my Sonos speaker to heighten the already intense literary experience. The baritone – undoubtedly plucked from the Ukrainian countryside – fills the room with his sweet bass. Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
I turn off the music, put down my book, and look out my window. There are characteristically few celestial bodies in the metropolitan night sky of Rotterdam. I remember that you have to look just next to the star in order to see it.
Details about the patient and psychiatrist in this column have been changed to protect their identities.