First person: 'I was locked up in a Thai hospital'

Lizzie Allan, 29
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The Independent Online

I was 19 years old when I set off for India. I'd just finished my A-levels, was at a loose end, and thought if I went travelling for a year then by the time I came back, I'd know what I wanted to do with my life. My friend and I booked a trip to India, Singapore, Thailand, Australia and Fiji. I was streetwise in England, and thought it would get me around the world. It was completely naïve; I didn't know anything. India was tough, but it taught me that so many of the things we obsess over in the UK just don't figure there because there are so many bigger problems.

By the time we hit Bangkok I was smoking loads of weed and started to lose myself, mentally. I missed India; there, at least, the suffering was open, but in Thailand it was all hidden. I was really upset by the sex tourism and felt like no-one wanted to see the exploitation behind the smiles. We were meeting horrible skinheads and seeing fights and I started to get really depressed. Soon my friend and I fell out. I felt she was just jollying along, not seeing things for what they really were. I was feeling lost; I had no plans and nothing to do, and the more lost I felt, the more dope I smoked.

Soon we parted ways. I headed south and met an older English woman from London who was coming off heroin. She had pharmaceuticals to dull the pain, and being young and stupid, I took the things she was taking. By the time I had been reunited with my friend on Koh Panang, I was off my head. I used to go down to the beach and watch the clouds exploding from the sea, talking manically to my mum and sister in England across the water. I couldn't sleep, my head was rushing at 100 miles an hour. If anyone told me to calm down, I thought they were just sucking out my energy.

It sounds totally bizarre when I say it now, but I started taking my clothes off in front of people, to prove that I was still a child. I'd do a sort of war dance, naked; it was utterly crazy. I did this on the beach and a group of people nearby grabbed me. I thought they were going to throw me in the sea, but they bundled me into the back of a truck like a kicking animal, and drove me to a hospital on the island, which was just a small hut. The nurses there tied me to a bed with T-shirts and injected me with a tranquilliser. Soon, I was out cold.

When I came round my mum was there, and she took me to a private hospital in Bangkok. I thought I had all these really important messages to give and kept rambling, but the drugs I'd been prescribed quickly wore me down. When I arrived I was given a neon-coloured pill, and within 20 minutes I was shuffling and dribbling. A week later, I was flown back to Britain. There, I was sectioned. I'd somehow lost the mental filter people have that stops you saying certain things, and didn't know when to stop. I was over-wrought. Eventually I was discharged, but they kept me on heavy drugs. I knew that drugs had triggered this problem and couldn't understand why they thought more drugs would solve them.

The moment I decided to stop taking the pills, I felt better. The realisation of how I'd behaved was devastating and for ages I didn't want to see anyone, I was so ashamed of what I'd done. Luckily, my mum is amazing and took me for progressive counselling, which teaches coping strategies. These were utterly liberating. I realised that you need a strong body to support your mind. I also realised that you need to do things, to have an aim in life. I started voluntary work, enrolled in courses, joined local clubs to keep busy. Since then, I've trained as a care worker and worked in psychiatric wards. I wouldn't take back a moment of that crazy journey; now I have learned things that help me to help others. It was the best insight I could have had.