The TRUTH of Being on a Psychiatric Ward

I feel that this is an important topic at the moment as I often come across people who do not understand or realise the true picture of what it is like to be a patient on a psychiatric ward.

I come across people who tend to think that a psychiatric hospital is full of ‘loonies’ and that the patients are put in rooms with no furniture wearing straight jackets. They seem to have this idea that these patients do not look similar to you or I and that any ‘normal’ looking person should not be in there. They tend to have the idea that patients behave in particular stereotypical ways, for example licking windows or biting people. I have had numerous admissions to several different wards and I can tell you that this is not the case. Ever.

I have also come across people who want to be admitted to a psychiatric ward and not because they are ill but because they glamorise them. These people seem to be under the idea that it’s a giant sleepover and they’ll make friends and have fun and have hugs off the nurses. I genuinely have come across a post on Tumblr saying, “I want to be sectioned so that I can have a hug whenever I’m sad.” I’m not sure I will ever stop being shocked by that post. There is nothing glamorous about psychiatric wards. The other patients tend to be very unwell and not a place where they want to make friends, the wards are often short staffed, you will be able to speak to someone if you are struggling but the staff aren’t there to make friends with you. It’s not a hotel, or a school residential. It’s a hospital.

There are also the people that assume you will be discharged and no longer have a mental health problem. They seem to believe that miracles and fairy tales exist. You will come home and be right as rain. That isn’t true. I often struggle to adjust to home and have to work incredibly hard not to relapse straight away. Standing on your own two feet after weeks or months in hospital is difficult. More importantly ‘true recovery’ takes place in the community. A hospital ward is an artificial environment, a bubble. It is very different to life outside of hospital. Hospital often stabilises the patient but that is only the beginning of what can be a very long journey. I know in my case that it will take me years to get better and even then it will be a life of relapse and remission. I am never going to be jumping for joy and completely free of my illness and I accept that but I know it can be difficult for others to accept.

This Is My Experience of Being On a Psychiatric Ward

At the start of my admission I was on level 3 observations, which means that I had a nurse or healthcare assistant with me at all times, and I mean ALL times. I was watched sleeping, bathing, going to the toilet, getting dressed. I had no privacy, no dignity. It was embarrassing, they even watched me go to the toilet in a pot and I would have to stand by them as they measured it. I hated it. You don’t particularly get better privacy if you aren’t on level 3 observations. There isn’t a single room that the staff can’t get into, your bedroom door will have a window in it and not all the staff knock before entering. It is quite likely that a male will walk in on you getting dressed in your bedroom.

Ward round happens once a week. I found it incredibly intimidating. I would walk into a room with 6-8 people in, doctors, social worker, home treatment team. The psychiatrist in charge of my care would expect me to talk about how things are and it would be my only opportunity to ask questions about my care and treatment. Often, I could not talk because the amount of people in the room made me feel too anxious, too much in the limelight. They told me I could ask to speak to the doctor alone but when I asked for this the doctor told me that it was important that everyone was in the room so that they could make decisions on a joint basis. I think it would’ve been more important for me to feel comfortable enough so that I could talk.

I had all of my belongings taken away. Not just my phone, or my shoes with laces. I had everything taken off of me including knickers, books, get well soon cards. They were all locked away in a cupboard.

There is no choice over medication, well there wasn’t for me as I was detained under the Mental Health Act. Several times a day a nurse would walk in with a little pot of pills for me that I couldn’t refuse. If I was becoming distressed I would be given lorezapam no matter what the reason behind my distress was. More annoyingly is that there are specific times for medication. Night meds are generally given out between 22:30 and 23:00. At home, I usually go to bed around 21:00-21:30. I would often be waiting around, sat in the corridor in my pyjamas waiting for meds so that I could go to bed. My night meds would not wear off very early in the morning as a result so I would be waken up for my breakfast feeling groggy and sleepy. It was not ideal.

I would often feel like a pin cushion. Hourly blood sugar tests. Daily blood tests. Daily blood pressure. Weighing. Regular ECGs. It could often feel like too much. My mood was low, I was exhausted. I just wanted to rest and have peace.

I did feel trapped. Locked in no matter what. If the ward became a loud, stressful place then I had to breathe through it. If I had a situation to sort outside of hospital then I couldn’t, even if that was bailiffs threatening to come to my house. I wondered if I would be able to see my sister on her Birthday. I was stuck in that building for 2 months.

It can get very boring, especially towards the end of an admission when I was beginning to feel better and stable. There was nothing to do and it isn’t just that day, I sat there bored knowing I would be in the same building for at least 2 more weeks. It felt like forever. There is no social life, but the world outside doesn’t stop. It makes it difficult to join back in after being discharged. There’s restrictions on visitors, they refused my best friend entry and I haven’t seen her since. That lost me my best friend. My mum was only able to visit at certain times and often her work and visiting hours didn’t fit in with each other. I spent a lot of time on my own.

There was the occasional positive moment. A one-off writing class or a Saturday morning spent glass painting. A game of pool during a quiet time on the ward. These moments were few and far between but I am grateful to the staff that managed to put a smile on my face even when I really didn’t feel like smiling.

Psychiatric wards save lives, they certainly saved mine. They did not put me in a straight jacket and I assure you I did not lick the windows! It certainly wasn’t fun, it was horrific. I am not now healthy and happy but hospital gave me the foundations on which I could begin to build my life again.

The night I spent in a cell: a post for Mind

I have written a post for the Mind blog about my experience of spending a night in a police cell due to a mental health crisis. I feel this is very important right now as today is the crisis care concordat summit.

People suffering from a mental health crisis need care and compassion and to be treated with dignity and respect. It is so important to speak out and raise awareness so that hopefully one day people will be treated in an appropriate way during a mental health crisis. No one should ever spend a night in a cell for being unwell.

This really needs to change.

http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/your-stories/the-night-i-spent-in-a-cell/#.VHcoM71FBAj

Christmas With A Mental Illness

Christmas time can be particularly hard for someone suffering from a mental illness. Often it can be a very lonely time despite being surrounded by people and I know that from my experience that I often find myself counting down until it’s all over so normality can resume again.

I love Christmas, the lights, the atmosphere, wrapping presents, Christmas films. I absolutely love it. I am one of those annoying people that starts singing Christmas songs in October. Even though I love getting into the spirit of it, even I really struggle with it.

I think one of the hardest things with Christmas is that it is a happy time. People are enjoying themselves and relaxing, letting their hair down. It’s hard during those celebrations to reach out and say that you are not okay. I often hide my struggles because I would feel guilty if I were to share, as though I was ruining everyone else’s Christmas. It’s a strange feeling to be sat in a room full of people laughing and having fun whilst you feel so separate from it all, so alone but not alone. Then comes the silent tears at nighttime, the sadness and despair that comes with mental illness ruining another celebration.

I also suffer from anorexia and food becomes another issue at Christmas time. On the run up to Christmas I always tell myself that Christmas isn’t about food, it’s about family, having fun and giving presents. This often leaves me very unprepared as I’ve avoided thinking about the food aspect and have no plans or strategies in place. It always feels like a bit of a no-win situation. Say for example my family have got a lovely box of Christmas chocolates from Hotel Chocolat. I can eat one and deal with the guilt, fear, urges to get ‘rid’ of the food or over exercise followed by the anxiety of the next day or meal and so on. Or I can not have a chocolate and feel sad that I can’t join in and jealous of everyone else who is eating them. I’ll feel as though I missed out as they are limited edition for Christmas. Either way I’m going to end up feeling distressed about it, but Christmas time isn’t just one box of chocolates is it? It’s chocolates, biscuits, savoury snacks, Christmas dinner, meals with extended family, edible presents. It’s that dilemma over and over and over again of whether to eat or not and it becomes so tiresome and overwhelming.

New Year can often be a lonely time too. Patients in hospitals don’t have a particularly warming count down and in my experience it isn’t much better at home. I’m young, most people my age go to house parties but I never get an invite. I count in New Year alone or with my parents but often I just go to bed and try to sleep through the countdown not wanting to face the loneliness.

At Christmas time it often feels like there is no one to talk to, everyone else is trying to have a good time and mental health services tend to go on shut down and run a reduced service sometimes leaving patients with no one to talk to for three weeks. Three weeks is a long time to struggle alone. I have often relapsed straight after Christmas or ended up in hospital days after New Year.

If you need help throughout the festive period this year, here are some contacts you may find useful:

http://www.mind.org.uk

http://www.b-eat.co.uk

http://www.samaritans.org

For Wales:

http://www.meiccymru.org

Internationally:

http://www.befrienders.org

Young People Can Be Lonely Too

Often when thinking about loneliness, people think about the elderly. There are schemes set up to support elderly people so that they do not have to be on their own all of the time. People have an awareness and understanding that elderly people are vulnerable to loneliness and will therefore call in for a cup of tea and so on. I remember as a child, my Great Gran lived alone and everybody knew she was lonely and so we would call in and take her out for lunch or bring fish and chips to her house. My extended family would always make sure that she had somewhere to go on Christmas day but on top of the support from family and friends she was part of a social group that would go to bingo or have dinners and so on.

I don’t feel that it is always recognised that young people can be, and are, lonely too. I am 22 years old and I often spend all day, every day on my own. The reason being mental illness.

The loneliness is crushing, painful. It makes me feel as though I’m nothing. Worthless. I am just an existence in a house that nobody knows about. There are times when I don’t notice the loneliness quite so much, maybe I spent the day listening to music or reading or I saw someone from my mental health team and it helped me to feel less alone but there are other days when it’s overwhelming.

I have an older sister who will often go for coffee or to Cardiff with her friends, she might go on a night out or go to a restaurant for someones’ birthday. Those are the times when the loneliness hits me. I let all these opportunities and events pass me by. I can’t go to see my favourite band in concert because I have nobody to go with. There are place I want to go, things I want to do and see but I can’t because I don’t want to go there on my own.

This year I went to a fireworks display for the first time in a years. I went with my Dad because I don’t have any friends my own age that live nearby. It was such a good display, everyone had glow sticks and they were playing songs with a beat and people were dancing in the dark, waving their glow sticks in the air and I was just stood there wishing that I had friends. I wanted to dance, I wanted to have fun but I couldn’t do that on my own.

I haven’t had an invite to a New Year’s party for the past 4 years. The past 4 years I have counted in the New Year alone or I’ve gone to bed and pretended to be asleep whilst silently crying to the sound of the fireworks going off. It always makes me feel so unimportant, so worthless that nobody thought of me, nobody wanted to count the New Year in with me. I absolutely dread that night, it is the worst night for loneliness by far.

I often make a joke at Christmas time that I love having no friends because it’s so cheap. It is only a joke though. How much I wish I could go to a Christmas party or take part in Secret Santa. I would love that. I love celebrating with my parents don’t get me wrong but I am 22 and I would love to do something more age appropriate.

I think it is important to remember that anybody can be lonely. The elderly man that gets on the bus each morning can be lonely but so can the young girl with perfectly straightened hair and fair isle leggings and the young man who always wears his headphones around his neck. This year at Christmas remember that people from all walks of life can be alone, but especially think about those around you that suffer with mental illness and have very few friends. Why not pop in for a cup of tea or invite them to your Christmas party? Lets conquer loneliness.

What Is It Like To Feel Suicidal?

I imagine that the average healthy person must have a hard time comprehending what it must be like to want to end your own life. The majority of people avoid death and breathe a sign of relief when they hit the breaks in time to avoid a smash on the motorway. I can totally understand why they would struggle to understand someone who is suicidal.

So what is it like to feel suicidal?

To me it starts with a niggling thought, almost like a seed of doubt in my mind that tells me I am not capable of living. Alongside this a repetitive thought says, “I can’t take much more” over and over again, gradually getting louder for weeks and weeks until it’s a screaming thought and all I can hear.

There are times when fear hits me like a bus smashing right into my face, tearing my lips open and bruising my gums. The fear is that I will never achieve what I want to. Right now it’s a fear that I will never make a difference to the world I live in, I want my blog to help people, I want my writing to reach out and make a change to at least one person. Maybe if I helped one person to understand mental illness or helped a sufferer to feel less alone then it would make living with my illnesses worth it, it would give meaning to the pain. I’m scared this isn’t achievable. Mix that fear in with my illnesses and it’s a recipe for a nightmare. Following the fear comes the feelings that my life is meaningless, worthless. I am nothing.

Sometimes these niggling thoughts and fears last weeks or months before they develop into something more serious. The thoughts of suicide are there but I manage to hang on to something. I somehow manage to drag myself from one day to the next.

When these thoughts become more powerful then my life becomes a terrifying, dark place. It’s like being trapped with no way out. As though I’m in a room with no doors and I’m running into the walls repeatedly out of desperation because I just need to get out. With this comes isolation, I become so withdrawn that I don’t hear what people are saying, I can’t concentrate on their sentences-written or verbal. I push them all out because I’m scared of hurting them and I feel guilty and ungrateful for the way I am feeling. I can be sat in a room packed with people and still feel totally alone. I can only hear my thoughts, nothing else.

I’ll see ‘signs’ that I need to die in everything I do. If I spill my drink then it’s because I should die. I drop a plate and it smashes then it’s because I should die. Someone doesn’t reply to my text, it’s because nobody wants me around and I should die. All those small, everyday problems begin to have meaning to me. I become so fragile that the smallest thing causes me to burst into tears.

Sleep becomes unimportant. I’m not sure if it’s because I can’t sleep or because I feel no need to. I end up spending the nights planning, thinking of methods and back up methods in case my plans fail. I’ll listen to music, write to people just in case. Everything is about preparing for my death. I think of little else.

In fact, self care in general becomes unimportant. I stop eating, barely bathe or get dressed. I don’t manage my finances. None of it matters anymore and even if it did I don’t have the energy or the head-space to deal with it all.

I lose sight of any other options. It’s like a tunnel vision, I can only see one thing, there is no peripheral vision. I feel weak, alone, tired. My thoughts scream at me and then I can’t stop myself. I get caught in the grips of it again. My plans are in place and I attempt to exit the world.

Fortunately I have survived each attempt and with the help and treatment I have received following them I always end up feeling glad that I survived. It was illness making me feel so suicidal, not life.

If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, please know that they are temporary and it will get better. One day you will be watching a fireworks display and you’ll remember the world can be a beautiful place and you’ll be glad you survived. Or you’ll meet a new person and instantly click with them and you’ll chat and laugh the afternoon away drinking hot chocolate. Or you’ll paddle in the sea and feel the waves against your shins. One day you will be glad you are alive.

Please seek help if you are struggling with suicidal thoughts:

http://www.befrienders.org

http://www.mind.org.uk

http://www.samaritans.org

Receiving Benefits Because of Mental Illness? Don’t Be Ashamed

Writing this post is taking a great deal of bravery as I am going to openly admit that I receive benefits. I am often ashamed that I do, I feel undeserving, ‘the scum of the earth’, ‘a benefits scrounger’. I just thought as I was writing this that I should say that my parents have always worked and paid taxes but I do not need to justify why I deserve benefits. I’m lucky to come from a family that have jobs, not everyone is so lucky but that does not make someone undeserving of benefits.

We live in a country that is often there to help people in need and we are very lucky that we do. If your relative were to crash their motorbike would you feel ashamed that the NHS treated him or her, or would the patient feel the need to justify their reasons as to why they deserved treatment…I doubt it.

There is so much shame and stigma attached to receiving benefits and I am aware that there are people who have given it a bad name, for example people who commit fraud and fake illnesses in order to get money and whilst the media may give a lot of coverage to people who abuse the benefits system, these people are the minority.

I am ill. I want to work, I want to go to university and earn my own money and I will one day but today I am ill. I feel that often people look at me and see what I can’t do, they see that I’m not capable of catching a bus into town on my own or I’m not capable of making myself dinner but look at what I can do instead. Today I got out of bed, today I got dressed, today I wrote a blog post. For me these a massive things, they take a lot of effort and energy. I have to fight my way through everything. I am not well enough to work, I might not be in a wheelchair, you might not be able to see my disability but it’s there.

There is nothing shameful about receiving benefits because you are mentally unwell. It does not make you weak or a drain on society. You are a person in need and it is okay to ask for help. It is okay to receive help. Everyone needs money to live.

Without benefits recovery would be almost impossible, people would have to rely on family or friends to house them, feed them, pay for travel and toiletries and not everyone is fortunate enough to have people who can do that. My recovery from anorexia would be pointless if I couldn’t buy food. Without recovery there is zero chance of me getting into a place where employment is possible again. Benefits actually help people to get back into work. Before you judge a person for receiving benefits think about this: if it was your mum, brother, daughter or spouse in need of help and support wouldn’t you feel differently? Wouldn’t you want them to be able to eat and have a roof over their head, particularly as they are already unwell and vulnerable?

Who Benefits also looks at the positive impact that benefits have on society in an attempt to change the debate surrounding claims and claimants.

http://www.whobenefits.org.uk/page/content/front

Depression: It doesn’t have to have a reason

I’ve suffered with depression for around 10 years now and it is only in the past 12 months that I have realised I do not need to give reason for my suffering. A bad day does not need to have a cause, other than depression.

I remember when I first experienced depression I felt as though I had to find a reason as to why I felt so horrendous, as though it wasn’t okay to feel that the world was such a dark and heavy place without good reason. I would speak to teachers or friends and say that I felt down and low because [insert whatever reason I could find] but of course it just made me look very sensitive to others. An argument with my mum would become the reason I felt so bad, then the grade in an exam or a comment from another pupil. I always latched onto it as a reason but then I would just be told not to dwell on things so much or that I needed to focus on the positives instead of the negatives but the ‘problems’ weren’t really problems, I just felt as though I couldn’t have depression without good reason.

I have now learnt that depression can be reactive or non-reactive. Depression can be caused by life events such as death, redundancy, moving house and so on but also it can occur for no ‘reason’ at all. As people often forget, depression is not an emotion but an illness that can be caused by many factors including genetic composition and chemical imbalance. Someone may have an excellent job, good earnings, a beautiful home and two gorgeous children and still suffer from depression, it doesn’t always need a life event or horrific circumstances to arrive in someone’s life.

I think the phrase, “I’m depressed” is used far too often in this society. Everyday I hear or see people jokingly saying that they are depressed:

“I’m depressed because there’s no biscuits.”

“I’m so depressed because all the tickets for the gig I wanted to go to are sold out.”

It makes it feel as though a reason is needed for having depression but it also takes away the seriousness of depression to the point people often forget that it is an illness and it is not just feeling a little bit sad. It’s horrific, numbing. Depression is a dark, heavy world which makes the simplest task feel like the most tiring thing in the world. It’s an illness of silence, loneliness and a form of tired that is unbearable but these little phrases of “I’m depressed” take that away which brings me to my next point.

Someone I am close to is physically disabled and I used to hate telling people because all through secondary school and college I was told by my ‘support’ that I should be grateful that I wasn’t born disabled and that I should look at how bad she has it and maybe then I would stop dwelling on my life. She’s been through horrific stuff and I know that. I care about her deeply but we’re both ill and neither of us chose our illnesses and yet I was told to pull myself together and appreciate that I could walk whilst her illness was seen in a heroic light. The people who were supposed to help me saw her as strong and me as weak. Their comments led to me feeling guilty for the way I was and caused me to bottle things up more and hide my illness away but dealing with depression alone is rarely a good thing and is often damaging.

I wish society would take a different view on people who suffer with depression. Sufferers are not lazy, weak or wallowing. Some of the sufferers I know are also among the bravest people I know. The strength and bravery it takes to wash your hair, walk down the street, sit at family dinners or sing happy birthday to a loved one when your illness is dragging you down to the ground, shouting in your ears and all of your energy has drained out of your body. That’s amazing.