369 Days

Two years ago I was in the back of an ambulance.
I waited in A&E for my turn.
I got out 369 days later.
That’s a bloody long turn.

In the first six months I learnt:
That they could physically restrain me,
They could drug me,
They could detain me,
But I would survive.

I could survive:
Violent patients,
Being forced to eat,
24/7 surveillance,
and my heart would still beat.


After the tyranny freedom was elected.
I was no longer an animal- held down and injected.
I found that words made me lighter,
Each time I said or read them I shone a little brighter.
My talents lay in living not dying
and every step forward is a person I’m defying.

Once it is broken the glass does not fear the floor.
Tell me I shan’t.
Tell me I can’t.
I’ve heard them all before.

Inside a Children’s Psychiatric Unit At Christmas

There is a group of ill children in hospital that probably never cross your mind. You won’t find them in slushy adverts or the subject of a charity single. Nor will A-list celebrities drop by their wards to wish them a Merry Christmas. They are mentally ill children and young people in inpatient psychiatric units. These children and young people are just like any in a hospital ward, they are away from home because they have an acute illness that needs specialist treatment. They don’t get the attention of celebrities or the tireless work of charities like kids with other illnesses do. For all intents and purposes mentally ill children and young people in hospital are all but forgotten at Christmas.

So what is it really like to spend Christmas in a CAMHS unit? I found out last year. If I gain nothing else from spending Christmas 2014 in hospital, at least I have some writing material to take away from it.

The setting was hardly festive; decorations on *Heron unit were extremely lacking since the unit tree had been taken away a few days before Christmas because the patients had found a way of extracting metal spikes from the artificial stem. There was no tinsel (ligature risk) and no lights. Staff did their best to make our isolated snowglobe world festive with activities and films- but there are only so many paper chain and toilet roll tube crafts that depressed teenagers can partake in before losing interest in Christmas entirely. The Wednesday before Christmas patients were told in X Factor audition style if they’d have time away from the unit over the holidays. Both joy and desperation were on the unit that day, but when Christmas itself came along everyone had a glazey-eyed determination to try and make it ‘OK’. The patients made a pact to try not to cause incidents and try to prevent the bellowing wail of the pinpoint panic alarm as much as we could.

We all woke up to a basket of fairly edible croissants from the kitchen. At around 9am the procession of relatives began to file through the locked doors of the unit. They wore smiles and laughs like uniform as they met their offsprings. There was no illusion- it was not going to be a typical Christmas for any of the families.

My Dad brought with him presents which I opened like every Christmas previous. These were then searched and risk assessed by a member of staff who placed half in the office for supervised use or safe keeping. One of the confiscated gifts was a tin of teabags because they weren’t decaffinated.

 The only leave I had been granted was to go to church on 1:1 with a unit nurse. This was one of the best parts of the day as I had always found her easy to be around. I knew she was a strident atheist which made me somewhat jubilant with the hilarity of her accompanying me to church. I think she was a little overwhelmed by the clapping and singing and we ended up secretively giggling for the most part of the service.

I went back to the ward where I met my Dad for Christmas dinner. I was on a meal plan so the meal was compulsory. To quote my Dad: “It will take until new year to digest”. While our intestines struggled with the dinner we played board games; chess and monopoly. We attempted Cluedo but discovered that the unit set had had the knife confiscated for safety reasons. 

By lunchtime I was really struggling. I found it difficult to be out of bed for any period of time. I fell asleep under my blanket on the floor. Dad left shortly after because it had clearly got a bit much for me. Several of the patients like myself had family over for only part of the day. Though our families understood we were ill we still felt a pressure to try to perform our way through the day. There was intense guilt for, if nothing else, putting them through the dinner! One girl on the ward’s family brought her tiny pet chihuahua to come and see her. The family then made the executive decision to go out for lunch but left the dog with their daughter and the adoring ward. I seem to remember we watched frozen and cooed over the chihuahua for the rest of the afternoon.

When all the families and relatives had made tracks the mood dropped, as it did most evenings. The kitchen staff had the night off so we had a strange assortment of pre-made samosas and egg sandwiches for dinner. No one enjoyed it or found it edible, we all laughed as we dissected strange lumps to try and work out what they consisted of. I don’t remember the rest of the night very well. The faces we had all put on to get through the day were beginning to crack and there were alarms and medication.

It wasn’t a bad day on the ward, it was actually quite a good one. But Christmas in hospital could not compare to Christmas at home. Spare a thought this Christmas for those in CAMHS units and their families. If you can, donate safe items to your local unit. Chocolate and cake always go down a treat- and teddies, games or a good DVD! Children and young people in psychiatric care are often forgotten about in comparison to children in general hospitals. We don’t get to hug celebrities or have charities to help us. Just knowing that someone donated something out of kindness could make a patient’s day. That was my Christmas last year. I hope this year will be better for myself and the others I spent last year with. I can also hope that anyone spending Christmas in the same way is safe and a tiny bit happy in the morning. They deserve it.

The Findings and Thoughts of a Newly Released Inpatient

  1. Toilet seats are very underrated.
  2. Oh shower with temperature control I love thee…
  3. AND I don’t have to dance around to keep it going.
  4. Sleeping in is a simple pleasure.
  5. There’s food that tastes like something I would want to eat here.
  6. Windows and doors that actually open are fantastic.
  7. Fresh air has never felt so good! 
  8. I can even do my own tea the right way. In case you need clarification on this: water, teabag out, sugar THEN milk.
  9. The reality of having more than the same two options every day for lunch is mind blowing.
  10. Toilet paper in the real world is so soft!
  11. Go out? Now? Brilliant!
  12. Watching something on TV at the same time as everyone else rather than slumping over iplayer is doing wonders for my Twitter life. 
  13. Space to dance around in is a good use of space.
  14. Support workers? Who have time to support? Wow.
  15. Having free reign of my phone feels so good.
  16. It’s a pain having to walk more than a couple of meters to see a doctor.
  17. The real world is a lot calmer than the inside of a CAMHS unit.
  18. Bedroom access is useful during the day for quick naps or picking up forgotten items.
  19. Space to hang my clothes means I don’t have to work the crinkled bag look.
  20. And just the knowledge that I’m no longer in hospital is pretty amazing in itself.

  

Brutal Murder in The Name of Cake

Today I was feeling rubbish. I was in my pyjamas sorting assorted stuff out; when a sinister friend surfaced from the storage boxes it had been skulking in. The set of portable scales that this time last year I was carrying around in my handbag like a soldier carries a bible. So I did to it what I intend to eventually do to my mental illness as a whole- brutally attack it with a hammer. My Dad filmed the occasion.

No apologies for the baggy jumper, lack of make up or PJs. It’s just one of those days.

The scales prior to the attack.

The scales prior to the attack.

Why I Might Need to Say Goodbye

Through being in hospital I have come into contact with around a hundred other young people. Possibly more. Some were just brief acquaintances- admitted for a day or so and some I built friendships with.  But there are a lot of people who I won’t stay in contact with post-discharge. I have to let go.

In particular I am talking about people who I follow online who share their struggle with the world. Like me they share experiences but most do it through social networks. Minute by minute highs and terrifying lows. Rushed instagrams about pills and razors. I have called the police several times for several people who said they were trying to end their lives online. Every time I stayed up all night until the police got back to me and said that they were fine. My OCD goes overboard with the worry and it is frustrating to be so useless in a situation. I know these posts are sometimes cries for help or attention but if something happened I couldn’t live with myself. What if they are doing something bad but no one else hears the cry? 

I’m not going to lie- this action is completely selfish. I can’t cope with what I’m seeing. I know that some people feel great benefit from lsharing during their deepest darkest moments but I personally don’t. This blog is written in hindsight. I would never post anything that would make people concerned to the point that they would phone the police. Truthfully this is because in those times I don’t want anyone to save me so posting would be an unnecessary risk. It has never occurred to me to publish that I am in the process of, or planning to, hurt myself. I talk about the times I have been- but I am always standing in a better place when I do. Sharing my story and my experience is my attempt at awareness raising so I try hard to keep my blog rational, honest and informative. 

When I go on social media I don’t want to be reminded of my time in hospital. Hypocritical as it sounds from a mental health blogger, I don’t want to look at it. I’ve had traumatic experiences involving other patients in hospital and though people didn’t mean to hurt me the memories spark from the smallest of posts. I need to process my experiences for myself and having other people rip off the metaphoric plaster and making me remember is hard. Plus when you struggle with thoughts about weight and food the last thing you need is a selfie by someone who hasn’t eaten for a week or a picture of a salad they’ve nibbled when you just fought the demons and ate a burger. I know that behind the usernames they are struggling, even if they do not realise it. However, for people trying to recover, following those accounts is the equivalent of swigging G&T at the back of Alcoholics Anonymous. 

I want to make clear that I do genuinely care about everyone who I have met during this process. I really do. I wish them nothing but positive things. But I’m not able to actually help any of them, and by trying to I am hurting myself. I write letters to people I want to stay in contact with because the fact that they take a while to produce and arrive means they are less spontaneous. Where as with a few taps of a finger you can share your perils online. I might follow people on some platforms (the ones they share with family and real life friends) but not the ones they use to network with other warriors or vent. I feel safer like this because there are other followers who would be much more of a help than I if a crisis came about. I don’t even know the addresses of the people I was in hospital with and if something happens I can only offer the police a mobile number at best.

I won’t forget those I’ve met and I’m so angry that these illnesses have intruded into such vibrant young lives. I wish I could help more. If I do step away from you online; I hope you can understand that I wish nothing but the absolute best for you, but this is a step I have to take for my own recovery and I hope one day you will take it too.

  

Plans, Progress, Poetry

This is one of those practical posts where I talk about blog and life stuff. Sorry.

So after a lot of thinking I decided to start my Gold Arts Award- it is a level three qualification based on developing arts practice. It is coursework based and involves making up a portfolio of work. I have loads of time on my hands and I’m in constant need of distraction so I thought it would be great. I’m really enjoying it so far. I’ve chosen to focus on poetry and storytelling as my art forms and I’m very excited about all the project work. I have two awesome mentors and a long road ahead involving many bits of paper and eventually running some poetry workshops of my own. Eek!

This brings me on to the next topic: I have decided to post my poetry and fiction onto a new blog. This means that Upside Down Chronicles can be devoted completely to writing about disability and mental health. This is something I have been considering for a while and now that it has been done I feel a lot freer with ideas and like I have more direction in my writing.

It is also looking like discharge is at last approaching and my time of being ‘Of No Fixed Abode’ is coming to an end! Hoorah! Only a few more things to slot into place. The nightmare might be ending soon.

So expect to hear a bit more from me and if you could follow my new blog Poetry Boots that would be fantastic.

Artistically Pained Bus Stop Pose (I was anxious)

Do What You Have To, Get Out That Door

At the bottom of the washing machine is a very unappetising pulp stuck onto the ankle of my jeans. It is one of those days where bailing on checking the pockets of my washing pile has come back to bite me. These sluggish remains of yellow paper have been hiding in the back pockets of my jeans. They are instructions for my brain. 

It may sound bizarre but for the last few months when going out I have made myself a crib sheet to follow on how to function, like the kind you would need if you were using a very temperamental second hand computer. On some sheets are just the basics- “You need to get the number 6 bus before 5pm” or “return library books so they don’t fine you”. On others the detail is much more and without that scrap of paper I wouldn’t be able to get out of the door.

Take this weekend for example- Gay Pride. A familiar bus ride and then a one hour train journey to a familiar city. A whole day out, which I had been mentally planning for a fortnight. My yellow piece of paper is A4 and double sided. It gives a complete itinerary for the day with planned times to make sure I eat something to avoid blood sugar crashes. It even suggests what to eat and where from, avoiding foods which will trigger OCD thoughts and cause unnecessary stress on an already daunting day. There are multiple choice, step by step instructions of all the things I usually do without batting an eyelid; worst case scenarios, distraction ideas and helpful thoughts to tell myself. It all sounds odd. I know. 

But actually this is a coping strategy that I have learnt and it works. It means I can get out and about and do things I want to do. Granted with limited spontaneity. It isn’t something that I have been told to do by any therapist, it’s just what I taught myself. There have been, and are, times where I need much more than my plans. Backpacks with enough water to end a hosepipe ban and enough hand sanitiser to supply a particularly hygiene conscious surgeon operating in a swamp. Sometimes just to go down to the shops I take half my sensory box and something to cuddle. I won’t use even a quarter of these things but it’s knowing I have them which allows me to go out. 

My point here is do what you have to do. Survival, backpacking mode. At the end of the day nobody knows or cares what you have in your bag. No one knows how much you have planned the day or how many things you had to do things to make it happen. Do what you have to do to get out the door and have a good time. I had a pretty awesome time at pride, my plans worked fine and I didn’t use any of the listed distractions for train journeys or the second battery pack for my phone. 

I repeat I am not a therapist, or qualified with anything other than experience. I just want to share what I have found to help my neuroboiler to keep ticking on. Maybe it will help someone.