I love this piece by Beth, which explains her experience of inpatient treatment for PTSD and depression. It’s so well written and I think a must read for anyone who fears seeking help for whatever reason, or has a friend who is the same. You can find Beth on Instagram.
I spent the majority of 2011 in a psychiatric hospital. Eventually, I was discharged on my fifteenth birthday. The cook made me flapjack and I ate it with my mum in the communal food hall. Happy birthday and goodbye!
Seven years after, the surreal experience is still clouded by shame and ugliness. The recent discourse about mental health is that we need to be open and talk more. Yet, it’s not an experience I know when, how or why I’d bring up. Now seems like a good time.
Before my admission, the depth of my knowledge of hospital was second-hand accounts and a grisly watching of Girl, Interrupted. Hospital, however, was much less Girl, Interrupted and more boarding school with mentally ill teenagers (this is paraphrased from another patient, but it’s the best description). If I had known this before, I probably wouldn’t have hidden in my room on the first night.
I was initially diagnosed at thirteen with depression, and later post-traumatic stress disorder. My triggers were easy to trace, but felt hard to talk about or treat: the death of my father and being sexually assaulted. I had a mix of relatively helpful to completely useless talking therapies, CBT, art therapy and medications. My advice now: say when therapies aren’t working. Don’t waste your time and health when there are different options.
My admission followed a half-hearted suicide attempt (it’s easier to ask for help) and a week stay in a general hospital. To be admitted, I was interviewed by nurses in the hospital and then transferred to the psychiatric ward. There, more interviews. Psychiatrists, doctor, nurses and occupational therapists. It was intimidating, exhausting and I’d told multiple people various traumatic events over and over. I felt terrified, and alone. They told me, you are here voluntary. But if you want to leave, we will section you. Plus, this is a locked unit.
After being admitted, my mum had to leave. I’d never been away from home before. I curled up in fluffy owl pyjamas and cried. My first night’s cry was interrupted by other inpatients game of knock, knock ginger. Like, I said, hospital is not like Girl, Interrupted.
Hospital was bizarre, amusing and embarrassing. On a day out with occupational therapy kayaking, I nearly capsized and drowned another patient, I had an endless collection (to this day) of stickers for daily ‘arts and crafts’, my care team confiscated pencils sharpeners for being a ‘risk’ (colouring is hard with blunt pencils). Hospital, for me, provided a safe space for me to be ill. It provided me with access to care. I was with other patients and I didn’t have to pretend. Hospital can help you if you need it.
Hospital was hard and lonely. Observation initially included fifteen minutes, arduous checks. Yes, I’m okay. I never said anything else. Struggling to get up for morning breakfast, drowsy with meds. Nurses checking your tongue to see you aren’t spitting meds out. Missing family, school, and friends. I longed for visiting hours. My mum would take me to a Costa nearby. A Tiffin and a hot chocolate was an essential part of my care plan.
The treatment was intense. I had weekly meetings with a psychiatrist who would assess me (somewhat brutally and painfully, I used to believe) and a doctor for medication. I had intensive trauma therapy; three, long sessions a week. Family therapy, too, which makes my toes curl now. Recovery and treatment is hard, but you’re health is worth the hard work.
Now, I have a supportive, loving relationship, I’m achieving at university, and I live independently in my flat and am surrounded by beautiful people. This is not to say I don’t struggle. I rely on my anxiety medication, I feel debilitated by self-doubt and I’m constantly pushing to be kinder to myself, to let go, and to counter the constant negativity. Hospital was valuable in finding better coping strategies. This advice is out there already: but for me, hospital confirmed it and I hope it’s helpful.
Ground yourself: Self-care can definitely ground you. However, hospital had more on this. At the time, this was the worst advice I’d ever heard and I scoffed and took it personally. In group therapy, we were told that when we had low moods, read the news, current affairs. I thought the sentiment was “some people have it worse”. It wasn’t, and no one needs to hear that. But mental illness can isolate you and take up your whole focus. Looking outside of that reminded me that pain is an experience humans share. I wasn’t alone. It enabled me to understand pain as a normal experience of being human.
Be kind: This is, of course, something we hear a lot. Be kinder to yourself. In hospital, I gained four stone (it was primarily an eating disorder unit and I was happy to keep up with the meal and snack times). I ignored family and friends. I was horrible to my mum. I was so hard on myself for this. It’s not necessary, recovery is difficult and takes a lot. Be kind, focus on getting better.
Shame has no place in your life: Get it out, get rid of it. No thank you. Tell people you’re down. Overshare. For such a long time, it felt easier to pretend it wasn’t happening. Yes, I’m okay. Mental health is nothing to be ashamed of, your scars are nothing to be ashamed of.
You don’t need a justification: The recurrent themes of my observation notes were ‘lacks confidence and self-belief’. I remember thinking, so? Doesn’t everyone? I felt wholly inadequate, never ill enough, to be there. How ridiculous is it that I couldn’t see the blinding contradiction – even in hospital, a botched suicide later, I thought I’m not good enough to be here. You deserve treatment, you deserve help, and you deserve love. You don’t need to justify your mental illness, you don’t need to find a reason, and you need to know you deserve to feel better.
This has to be one of my favourite pieces written for this series, as it so eloquently describes Beth’s experiences of hospital and the many thoughts of people with mental health issues. Mental health can be funny sometimes – when you’re at your lowest point that’s sometimes when you see things without a filter, and there can be a sort of dark humour in those moments. Thank you Beth for writing this!