Instead of saying “I’m damaged, I’m broken, I have trust issues;” say: “I’m healing, I’m rediscovering myself, I’m starting over!”
Some of you may know, but some of you may not… On February 18th I was detained under section 2 of the 1983 Mental Health Act and admitted to a psychiatric hospital for ten days. Whilst I have been sectioned before (the longest admission lasting for over two and a half years), it has been a long time since I was last hospitalised, and I have the distinct belief that the admission last month was so completely different to any other. Not just because it came about in a different way, but also because I was admitted to a ward I had never been on and it was literally terrible. I think the easiest, most general way to sum that up (without giving examples) is by saying that I was never listened to. I honestly felt like I had become half a person because what I said seemed to neither matter nor be believed. I felt completely dismissed and hopeless.Thankfully, the ward put me on some sleeping tablets and so the psychotic episode that caused my admission became more bearable. I found myself to have more energy to fight things and had the stamina to cope more safely – two things which I’d been lacking because the two weeks prior to being sectioned had consisted of very little sleep. Thankfully that meant that regardless of the abysmal attitude of the staff, I became stable enough to be discharged. And it is life after being in a psychiatric hospital that I’m going to talk about, because I’ve found that I’ve needed a number of different ‘things’ in my life to help prevent me from needing to be re-admitted. Things which I thought I’d share in a bid to provide encouragement, comfort, and inspiration for others upon their own discharge…
If you’ve been in a psychiatric hospital before – or have actually had any input from mental health services – you’ll know that to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital near where you live is becoming more and more of a rare occurrence. When I was first sectioned, they were saying that the nearest bed was in Norwich (almost 300 miles away from home) and I felt so terrified at the thought of being so far from my loved ones that I was almost tempted to refuse to cooperate with any of it! In the end though, I was transferred to a ward in a nearby city; however, it was still in a really difficult location for my Mum to be able to visit me on public transport.
So – sort of – fortunately, the actual Mental Health Act assessment ended up taking place in my home and that meant I was given the opportunity to pack a bag with a few things, but after four days, I was beginning to run out of clothes and with my discharge seeming to be nowhere in sight, my Mum managed to bring a bag of clothes to the ward. Unfortunately, I was in the nearby medical hospital, so I didn’t actually get to see her until I was granted home leave a few days later. For some people this might not sound like such a huge gap in time from seeing a family member, but since the admission that lasted over two and a half years was in a hospital over 100 miles away, my Mum and I have always viewed time together as a lovely blessing.
I had also really missed my pets – I have two mini Lionhead bunnies: Gracie and Luna) – because they’re obviously the ones I would see the most too. Luckily, the digital world exists, so when my Mum was going in to feed them she was sending me photos and videos of them and told me that they seemed really lively still. I was so grateful because Luna had been with my calico cat: Emmy for most of her life but Emmy was put to sleep a little while ago and so Luna had been following me everywhere and was always wanting attention. The Vet recommended getting her a friend so eventually, I brought Gracie home. After a nervous start, the two became fast friends and so, with me being in hospital; I was really glad Luna had a companion because I think that without one – and without me – she’d not have gotten through that time so well.
Whilst I was on the ward I really kept myself to myself because all the other inpatients seemed really unwell that I don’t think I could’ve struck up a conversation, even if I’d wanted to. From previous admissions, I also knew the dangers of bonding with other inpatients and how it can very quickly and easily turn into a really bad and extremely negative influential friendship. So, I really had no company in those days on the ward and again, I felt lucky to have social media, because it meant that once I was well enough, I could message my best-friends again and start making plans to get together in a way that would be more productive, a lot happier, and more positive.
This is an area that can mean something different for different people. For me, this has been about generally keeping busy and has mainly been through working on various projects on the computer and attending a heck ton of appointments with the team who are part of my after-care (the Step-Up team from the South Northumberland services of Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust – CNTW).
Having been a service user of CNTW for a number of years, I was actually surprised to find that there was a team/service within the Trust that I had never heard of! The way one of the Step-Up team explained their service to me, was that they’re pretty equal to the Crisis Team in terms of their ability to see a person often, their influence/power… They just aren’t 24/7. It’s literally perfect for me, because maybe I do need a few more mental health related appointments in addition to my Richmond Fellowship sessions… But the Crisis Team were heavily responsible for me being sectioned and so I hold a level of resentment there towards them. The Crisis team also struggle to guarantee that you see the same staff on each visit, but Step-Up are a small team with a small caseload, so you’ll more than likely see the same staff.
Since being discharged, I’ve obviously also done some blogging with two posts (INCASE YOU DIDN’T KNOW… AND P.S. THERE’S A NEW PROJECT DATE!! | I'm NOT Disordered (imnotdisordered.co.uk) and MASSIVE PROJECT TITLE REVEAL!!! | I'm NOT Disordered (imnotdisordered.co.uk)) and one guest post (GUEST POST: SO YOU WANT TO WRITE A BOOK? | HERE'S SOME ADVICE BEFORE YOU START | BY BLOGGER & AUTHOR; MARTIN BAKER | I'm NOT Disordered (imnotdisordered.co.uk)) going up in the time between then and now. I’ve also done a whole lot of work on another, lengthier, collaboration piece for Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (NUTH) on their brand-new Mental Health Strategy.
I’ve then also done some – but not a lot because I’ve been prioritising putting content on here for you all – work on my upcoming book; You’re NOT Disordered: The Ultimate Wellbeing Guide for Bloggers. I’ve come across a few lessons in this progress and I’m having to consider making some changes which I’m not a whole lot keen on, but which might end up being the best for you all! And there is a chance to find a compromise so I’m still optimistic that the book will be everything I hope and dream for it to be.
I’ve found ‘keeping busy’ to be something that should really be used cautiously and with balance. I mean, there needs to be some sort of an equality where the busy-ness is productive and distracting without it being a source of complete escapism and denial. It’s neither healthy nor safe to push back any memories of your hospital admission or being sectioned – there’s a level where it can be completely understandable and ‘right’ to not want to think of them or put any focus and attention on them. I mean, some of the horrible, dismissive instances I went through in hospital and the entire, dramatic ordeal that got me sectioned, are still upsetting to remember and to think about; so, I find staying occupied helpful, but if I’m asked to talk about things, I’m willing to… Just not exactly my favourite or most favourite topic of conversation.
I think a lot of that reluctance or sheer refusal can come from your opinion on these memories. If – after time – you’ve managed to find some sort of positive or a lesson from the experience, then it might be more easily approachable. I think that for me, I’m trying really hard to find something positive in the admission and to be able to take something mentally beneficial from it so that any reminders or memories that keep coming back, are manageable.
One of the skills from Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) and the Distress Tolerance module of it (which I learnt during my two-and-a-half-year admission) that I found helpful was self-soothe! It was one of a few things I learnt in DBT where I thought ‘this is such a normal, obvious thing; why haven’t I thought to try do this myself?!’ And it was just another example or sign of just how poorly my mental health was, that I hadn’t thought of doing something that might be a bit automatic usually. I mean, if you’re feeling sad and upset; why wouldn’t you do something to make yourself feel better? My answer? Because I believed that I deserved to feel that terrible.
Being in the psychiatric hospital last month, I mean the Social Workers had told me to pack for a couple of days and so luckily I had enough underwear and toiletries for the five days I was actually in there (I was granted home leave for the remaining five before being discharged). I also had my phone, iPad, laptop, and all my chargers… Now, there was a time where I was a bit embarrassed and reluctant to talk about how important my personal belongings were for me because I feared being branded superficial, materialistic and ingenuine. I thought that there would people out there saying “if her make-up is still so important, she can’t be that poorly!” or “she can do her contour, but can’t keep herself safe?!”
Over time, however, I’ve grown to adopt the attitude that whatever helps a person’s mental health, should accepted and appreciated, and not judged or belittled. Surely, if someone says a bubble bath helps, or someone likes chocolate, or someone likes doing their makeup, or playing a computer game, or going to a sports match… what does it matter, as long as it helps them to be happy and to stay safe? I mean, if you want to minimise a person’s self-harm or suicidal thoughts, feelings, and behaviours etc; how can you negatively judge, label, and berate the use of the healthy and positive coping skills that person has found helpful in stopping/coping with those things?
If a person feels that they’re favourite self-soothing activities – because it doesn’t have to be the obvious one of having a bath or shower; it can be snuggling up in your duvet or lighting a nice, scented candle – then where will they find the encouragement to utilise them? I mean, if someone struggles the way I have (and sometimes still do) of believing they don’t deserve to feel any better, then they might really rely on having someone else who can coax them into trying to self-soothe and persuade them that they’re worthy.
This worthiness feels especially true when it comes to being discharged from a psychiatric hospital… I really don’t understand the whole movement around people ‘wanting’ to be hospitalised – I mean I’m aware of people feeling institutionalised if they had previously been admitted for a lengthy period of time – but, I can validate the fact that a psychiatric hospital is not a barrel of laughs! Perhaps, even if you did want to be there! So, being discharged should really be a rationale to self-soothe.
Where your admission has been under the 1983 Mental Health Act, the following links might be helpful in providing information on any aftercare you’re lawfully entitled to:
For general helplines and advice etc. there’s a brand-new page to I’m NOT Disordered: