Shared Rooms In Psychiatric Wards Do Not Work

One of my biggest worries when I am being admitted to hospital for my mental illness is that I will have to share a room. It’s not fair on the other patients and it’s not fair on me because when I am unwell I try to harm myself or take my own life in whichever way seems possible. It isn’t fair that other unwell people have to see that and neither is it fair that they have to witness me being restrained and injected. Shared rooms make patient’s dignity and confidentially difficult to maintain. I was unwell at the time and it didn’t bother me at that moment but looking back now I am upset that someone saw me in that state, that someone saw my buttocks and staff holding me down whilst a nurse administered an injection. I would’ve rather that stayed private.

People are not admitted to psychiatric wards for mild symptoms, everybody on the ward is very unwell and each patient needs their own space. If I need a good cry then I would like to have a wall between me and the other patients. If I need to talk to staff I would prefer it if I didn’t have to whisper and constantly worry that the other people in the room could hear what I was saying.

When myself and others are too unwell to stay at home and have to come into hospital then personal space is needed, calm and quiet is needed, confidentiality is needed. That patient needs to feel safe, supported and comfortable. Shared rooms don’t meet the requirements of the patient.

What Is It Like To Feel Suicidal?

It’s like the world has lost all colour, everything seems black and white. The orange in the Autumn leaves has faded to a dirty grey, the grass is no longer green. Did I even notice the grass? Did I even notice the ground I was walking on? It’s claustrophobic, like the whole world has collapsed onto me and I can feel it’s weight restricting me, laying heavy on me and making any motion difficult. The ten fingers I write with no longer have anything to say. Even breathing feels like too much hard work.

There’s no enjoyment anymore. I can’t concentrate on anything and when I do the pleasure is no longer there. Sometimes I do things like allow myself a chocolate whilst my mind acknowledges that it might be the last time. Every activity feels like the last time because surviving is so difficult. Living feels so unbearable.

I don’t feel like me anymore, I wonder if I even look like me. I feel a million miles away from the Claire I was a few months ago and I’m certain nobody would recognise me anymore. The make up bag has stayed zipped up, showers rarely happen and clothes are no longer about style, they’re just about hiding the body that I detest strongly.

My lips are often sealed shut. I cannot relax my face and my lips stay together as though my mind is telling them to shut tight so that they don’t tell anyone how bad things are. My glasses remain unworn as I no longer notice what is around me. My mouth is dry and my stomach is empty. My smile has ended up in lost property somewhere in this world.

Emptiness. Darkness. Closeness. Heaviness. In pain and yet numbed. Quiet yet so loud. That’s what it’s like to feel suicidal.

Accepting The Label

This is genuinely one of the most difficult things I have ever written about because it’s the one label that I rip from my skin and pretend it isn’t there. I really struggle to accept it as my diagnosis because of the stigma and shame surrounding it. I have Personality Disorder NOS (Not Otherwise Specified) and it is incredibly difficult to live with.

I’ve not accepted the diagnosis before and always told myself that my diagnosis was wrong but reading through my Section papers made me realise that actually it is a problem and that realisation is heart-breaking. I guess I’m scared of who I am. I’ve never really talked about it before but some of the symptoms that come along with my personality disorder include:

  • Avoidance of everything that is uncomfortable. I avoid the scales at my eating disorder appointments, I avoid awkward or difficult conversations, confrontations, subjects I don’t want to talk about, social situations and so on.
  • Believing I am inadequate and worthless.
  • Low self-esteem.
  • Relationship difficulties. I have an intense fear of abandonment from those who are around me and I have intense positive emotions about them but this often leaves the other person feeling under pressure and strain and then it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy as real abandonment often happens.
  • Confusion over what happened, what was said and who was at fault.
  • Finding it difficult to trust others. I am always suspicious that people are trying to hurt me.
  • I feel that as relationships cause problems, I am better off alone.
  • Anxiety.
  • Acting impulsively, for example spending lots of money that I don’t have.
  • I have a lot of issues around anger.
  • Auditory hallucinations. I hear voices from time to time.
  • Self-harm and suicidal tendencies.
  • I feel dependent on other’s approvals and struggle if I do not get this.
  • I’m easily influenced by other people.
  • I’m very sensitive to any type of criticism.
  • A need for order and control.
  • Catastrophising hugely when small things go wrong.

I think my difficulty with accepting the diagnosis is that I feel I cannot control the personality disorder and I often feel like a bad person for the way I handle difficult situations. I fear that people will see me as a bad person if they know my diagnosis. I hate the term ‘Personality Disorder’ too, it’s like with an Eating Disorder the flaw is with eating, with a Mood Disorder the flaw is with the mood but with a Personality Disorder it is a flaw in personality, of who I am and who I was made to be. I want to be a good person but stigma and shame makes me feel as though this diagnosis makes me a bad person. I mean who would want to hang around with someone sensitive and dependent on others, someone with trust issues and relationship difficulties? It makes me fear that I will be alone forever or that I’ll hurt those I love by accident. Having a personality disorder makes me want to run away from myself but that’s not possible. I fear enduring another 50, 60 or even 70 years like this. That seems unbearable. I’m scared of who I am and what is wrong with me and I’m terrified that I may never be alright.

Health Check Wales: Eating Disorders

I recently wrote a piece about eating disorders for Health Check Wales. Here is the article:

My battle with mental illness began at such a young age that I don’t really know what it’s like not to have one. But I can understand how it must be difficult for someone to understand it if their lives have not yet been touched by it. I’ve seen the stares, heard the comments and read the hate I’ve been sent over the internet. Being unwell is hard enough on its own without the added ignorance and stigma. I became fearful and anxious around food when I was five years old. After seeing a family member become unwell I thought that I would become poorly if I ate food too. As I grew older food became more of an issue. First it was about fear, then it was about perfectionism and control. I was seven years old and banging my head against the school toilet walls for getting a question wrong. By the end of primary school not eating had become my identity. Other children in my class were good at PE or art or maths. I was known for eating “like a bird” and I finally felt like I had a something that I could do. Secondary school complicated life even more. I was bullied, I didn’t feel welcome in any of the friendship groups that I tried to hang around with. I felt geeky, ugly and hated myself. I saw the bigger girls wearing gym knickers in PE and I was scared that I’d get big and be laughed at in my gym knickers too. I began to walk for hours before school, I’d barely eat anything and anything that was eaten would be thrown up. I was self-harming several times a day and overdosing at the back of class – and yet my school didn’t get me help. At this point I didn’t even know that I had a mental illness. Once I left school life became more difficult because with each sad event that happened in my life anorexia and depression seemed to grip their hands tighter and tighter around my neck. I became withdrawn and isolated myself from everyone. It’s scary how mental illness can blend seven whole years into one big blur of hospital admissions, detentions under the Mental Health Act, numbers, scales and suicide attempts. Growing up I wanted to be a nurse or a dancer, battling severe mental illness was not a part of the plan. Often eating disorders are on a spectrum and it is recognised that symptoms change. Someone who meets the criteria for anorexia may months or years down the line meet the criteria for bulimia, or binge-eating disorder. I have certainly experienced many different symptoms with my eating disorder. My primary diagnosis is anorexia. Many months of my life have been spent surviving – or dying – on very little food. I would eat so little food that my body couldn’t keep itself warm. I’d spend my day in the bath or leaning against a radiator. The cold that an eating disorder brings is different from the cold of a winter’s day. It is unbearable, painful and numbing. I’d see the number on the scale drop and the outfit options in the wardrobe became minimal as nothing would stay on my tiny frame, and yet the reflection in the mirror never changed. The girl I saw in front of me didn’t seem to be shrinking, and therefore any weight I lost did not feel like enough. I’m not sure it would ever have been enough. I was slipping towards death, not happiness, perfection or body satisfaction. Then comes the bingeing and purging. The uncontrollable binges that extreme hunger brings. I’d sit on the kitchen floor and eat and eat and eat. I’d work my way around the room, from the fridge to the cupboards, and sometimes, once the food had all gone, I’d eat icing and drink vinegar. I’d try to make myself sick but nothing took away the feelings of guilt and self-disgust, anger and fear that would be left behind for the coming weeks. I hate bingeing and purging and I hate the way I feel I have no control over it. I’ve tried to stop it by attempting to end my life in the past – that’s how desperate and horrific it has made me feel. I also struggled with abusing laxatives and diet pills. I would take far more than the recommended amount but the more I took, the more I felt I needed. I knew exactly the time to take my laxatives so that it would have an effect at night when my family were asleep. Every night spent in agony in the bathroom, sweating and biting onto a towel with pain. It was horrible. One night I took 20 times the recommended dose and I genuinely thought I was going to die. I was in so much pain that it made me sick. My body was weak and I was lying on the bathroom floor, convinced it was the end. I was admitted to hospital the next day and laxatives have not been a part of my life since. I’m still in treatment now and I still really struggle with my mental health. I’m on medication for depression and the other symptoms that affect me and I’m in Dialectical Behaviour Therapy for my eating disorder, which has helped me cope with the distress that an eating disorder can bring, as well as recognising when decisions are fuelled by emotions. Eating is still a challenge. Regular eating is not something I’ve ever really done and I struggle to eat regularly every day but I’m better than I was. Depression and mental illness still take over my life and there are days when the suicidal thoughts are a whisper in my head, but there are still days where the suicidal thoughts are loud and repetitive and I struggle to find a reason to carry on with my life. My hospital admissions are getting shorter and the length between them is getting longer and I see that as a positive sign. I recognise I’ve got a long way to come but I am already on the journey and I never thought that I would be where I am now. While I would never wish mental illness on myself or anyone else I am grateful for the lessons it has taught me. I’ve learnt that everything happens for a reason and the best days of my life have happened as a direct result of the worst days of my life. I spent a night in a police cell when there were no hospital beds available. I was law-abiding, not violent and very shy. That night was terrifying and traumatising and made me feel a lot of shame, but without that night I would never have appeared on national radio and news, live TV and newspapers like I have. I would never have started my blog or found my love for writing again. Without anorexia I would never have met my best friend in treatment, my recovery buddy, who I have shared many happy memories with at the beach, or at a restaurant winning against our eating disorders. I would never have been to London to speak at conferences and meetings. The help and treatment I receive from South East Wales Eating Disorder Service has been life-changing, and without their help I wouldn’t have achieved these things either.

Why Is It Important That People Get The Help They Need At The Right Time?

Getting the right care at the right time makes a huge difference. It’s like when someone has a stroke, the quicker the emergency services reach them and treat them then the more likely they are to recover and the less damage is done. It’s the same with mental illness, if someone is given help when they need it then the prognosis is often much brighter. I didn’t get the help I needed when I needed it and I wonder if I did would I have less scars on my body and stronger bones without the damage of anorexia and maybe I wouldn’t have had to go through the trauma of spending a night in a police cell and months sectioned in hospital. Not getting the right services and support cost me time. Years and years of my life that just blurred into one mess of mental illness, hopelessness and despair. I remember being sent a letter from my mental health team discharging me and explaining that my prognosis was poor. I thought that if no one could help me then there was no hope left and I made a very serious attempt on my life. I am incredibly lucky to be alive today. My best friend was not so lucky. Laying flowers at the multi-storey car park wasn’t meant to be the way our story ended. If people with mental health problems were able to get help when they needed it then it wouldn’t just be life changing, it would be lifesaving because not getting the right support when it’s needed costs lives. We are not a poor country, we shouldn’t be leaving people alone to suffer so badly that the only option they can see for themselves is death. Everyone has mental health and everyone should be able to access the service they need if they become unwell.

Sectioned: A Spoken Word Piece

Last August I was sectioned under the Mental Health Act and spend two months in hospital. When I was discharged I decided that I wanted to do something with my life and turn a negative into a positive and so I began working with Fixers. Around the same time I noticed a lot of pro-ana and pro-mental illness posts appearing all over social networking and one comment that really stuck out to me was someone saying that they wanted to be sectioned so that they could have a hug whenever their sad. I was also shocked by the amount of comments about mental illness being fashionable and people likening the psychiatric ward to a big sleepover but that is not the reality.

I wrote a spoken word piece and used my photography along with Fixer’s filming and editing to create a piece to explain what being sectioned is like from a patient’s perspective whilst also targeting the groups in social media that aspire to be unwell. Being sectioned often feels like something I should keep secret and be ashamed of  so that’s exactly why I decided to shout about it publicly. There should be no stigma.

Feel free to share this video and spread it’s message.

We’ve Got a Long Way To Go

Yesterday the Independent posted an article after Belgium doctors ruled that a 24 year old woman with depression has the right to die. I have no opinion on this article, on whether or not she should have the right to die because I have not lived her life and whilst I have my illness, I do not have hers. However what this article made me realise was just how far we have to go in terms of mental health stigma and discrimination.

These are some of the comments from the Facebook page along with my commentary:

“I am intrigued to know what kind of life lead to be so selfishly depressed. Deaths? Rape? Abuse? What exactly have you got to be so depressed about.”

Selfishly depressed? Have I missed something in this society? See I thought an illness you have no control over has nothing to do with your selfishness or selflessness. I know many people with depression, most of whom are incredibly selfless human beings. What have I got to be depressed about? Well the my neurotransmitter function is disrupted in my brain meaning that the transmission of serotonin fails to function and therefore the signal is disrupted.

“She should be grateful for life there’s a brain surgery op that turns off depression permanently via a small chip planted in the brain so she hasn’t tried every option I hope she donated her organs to give someone else the chance to live”

Are you her doctor or surgeon or have you had any access to her medical records? You do not know the options she has or has not tried or the options that would work for her specifically. Organ donation has nothing to do with this story. Her life is her life, she is not responsible for anyone with a physical illness.

“Bye then.”

Did you accidentally post this comment? You know when you’re texting and talking at the same time? Like maybe you were saying ‘Bye’ to your friend but typed it on this post by accident or maybe you’re incredibly ignorant and cruel.

“She sounds like an attention seeker.”

If I wanted attention, I probably wouldn’t try to die for it because as far as I am aware you don’t get attention once your life has ended. Mental illnesses are not easy to live with, nobody would choose to be unwell. If I go to bed with a migraine am I an attention seeker?

“She needs #yoga”

Oh yes the cure for all cancers, organ failures and blood borne viruses. Yoga. I’m on a waiting list for it now! Who needs medication and doctors and medical school, just stick to PE!! Erm…no!

“She’s 24…she hasn’t seen life yet. The best cure for her would be to visit a real third world country and see how people live through real hardship, forcing smiles on their impoverished faces.”

Cure? Or would it just make her feel even more guilty because no matter what she sees, whether it be hardship or freedom then she will still be poorly and still be stuck in a stigmatising and discriminating society that doesn’t want to be educated.

“To the woman who wants to end her life. Go join ISIS, they’ll give different ways you can end your life.”

I hope this is a joke…but then again I don’t. How inappropriate and disgusting especially only a week on from 30 Brits losing their life to terrorists. Why bring ISIS into this? What have the got to do with a woman’s mental health in Belgium?

“Send her to Syria, she will see the true depression and suffering…she will appreciate the life she has now…”

True depression? Hold on…I might be mistaken here but I thought that depression was an illness not an emotion. Sadness, heart break and devastation is what is happening in Syria but there are probably people with depression too and guess what? They would probably have depression had they been born and bred in Oxford because the issue is the brain chemistry. There is suffering in Syria but there is also suffering in the EU. Slavery, rape, trafficking, poverty and more so shall we not assume that she has an easy life? Last time I checked the only life you have lived was yours.

“She just needs a good old fashioned life check there’s people starving in Africa and they have to provide for there family’s yet she had an upbringing, grandparents who actually cared and loved her yet she wants to end her life she gets no sympathy from me ending your life is a cowards way out she should fight for what’s right and if she sat down and flipping snapped out of it then maybe she could find a resolve, a way out by helping others! This is a weird world we live in people but this is ridiculous!”

And breathe…There are also people with mental illness and clinical depression in Africa. Mental illness isn’t just for the developed countries because it isn’t a choice! Oh damn…that’s where I’ve been going wrong! All these years of illness, hospital and medication and I could have just sat down and snapped out of it. What a shame the doctors didn’t give me that advice….or maybe they have the education to know that isn’t how illness works. Got the flu and need to run a marathon? Oh just snap out of it! Okay then. Sorted. Why do we need doctors?

“Come to me lady I am sure I will remove ur depression and make u happiest girl in this world.”

Yes, that’s what her brain chemistry is missing, some egotistical, sexist and very single man. Depression cured.

“Shame she could not go to nepal or some other problem area and see how people handle disasters!  it would give her a new and much needed perspective”

This morning I was thinking, ‘Ahh how can I cure my chronic mental illness’ and then I thought, ‘Yes, new perspective, that’s what I need!’ Plane tickets to Nepal booked and hopefully this new perspective will cure my arthritis and asthma too. Who needs medication and medical professionals when you can see more trauma and devastation to cure you.

“Natural selection, why doesn’t she then.”

Whoa

“In latin american and in africa people gets killed every day for less than nothing…she wants to die? Pay the proper taxes so everybody really DONT CARE jump off a bridge”

I’m really struggling to jump on your wave length here. I’m not sure what taxes or any of this has to do with an individual’s health in Belgium. Little bit of advice for the future…Don’t tell people to jump off of bridges because one day it might be someone you know and you will wish you had been less closed-minded and more compassionate so that they had someone to talk to instead of ending their life through isolation and shame.

“Give her something real and external to be depressed about and she’ll soon want to live. North Korea or Saudi Arabia should make her realise things aren’t so bad.”

Is that how it works? Give a poorly person more trauma and sadness and they become happy? This feels a little bit like 2+2=5

“She needs to get married, have a family and trust she will as happy as Larry”

Ahh marriage! I haven’t tried that one yet…oh I won’t bother taking my medication today, I’ll just go and get engaged!! I wonder if marriage and a family cures post-natal depression too?!

“No! No! Go to Africa!”

Why would that be? Some new form of medication? Or maybe they are less discriminating that the Brits on Facebook? Who knows.

The problem is that these comments are happening every single day and I feel like a blind eye is turned. Would these comments be on a cancer story? Or a multiple sclerosis story? I doubt it and if they were then there would be many arguments starting. Nobody chooses to have depression and nobody wants to spend any length of time in a psychiatric hospital. We’ve got a long way to go. We have got many people to educate. It can be done. Attitudes towards racism and cancer and same sex marriage have changed and I have every belief that we can change these damaging attitudes too. Let’s dissolve stigma.