Category: CAMHS Inpatient Chronicles

‘Metaphorically Working for DynoRod Without a Toolkit’

“No negativity” Karen* says for the fifth time this afternoon. She is doling out post it notes onto the two tables at which we are sitting. She disappears to the lounge, where most of the patients still remain, to remind staff that no fun was to be permitted whilst the group was running. “Let’s make them wish they were here” she whispers to us before closing the door on the group therapy truants.

There are only four of us in the group, it is half term and I do not fancy a ‘Solution Based’ workshop. But I was woken at 8am in order to ‘be on track’ for this 2pm group and not having fun in the lounge sounded even less appetising. Every time Karen barks ‘No Negativity’ I push back my personal tidal wave of hopelessness with copious amounts of tea. The tide thrashing makes me cynical.

“I don’t want to hear about problems!” Karen, the psychologist for the entire unit, announces. In my head are many retorts, most around the fact she is in the wrong career if she is going for a negativity boycott. “This is about SOLUTIONS!” She enthuses.

Task one is working in teams to shout out ‘well done’ in as many different ways as we could. ‘Good job old chap’, ‘excellent’, ‘spiffing’: we had them all. On the compulsory group flip chart Karen listed all of our efforts. And then Karen began explaining to us, for a much longer time than necessary, how the best solution to most things is finding something that works and keeping doing it.

*Unloads barrels of scepticism*

I would say the major flaw in this theory, though I’m no psychologist myself, is that if you don’t have anything that works in the first place you’re stuffed. Considering we are all under eighteens being treated for mental illness, I’d say ‘can do’ strategies were not going to be in abundance for Karen’s niche. We find ourselves metaphorically working for DynoRod (famous sewage problem busters) without a toolkit. To find such solutions I imagine that one would presumably have to go soul searching in Thailand or gain some renewed perspective on life whilst working for a charity on minimum wage.  Karen left us to ponder this issue for a while before she suggested that if you haven’t found anything that helps you, you could ask someone else what helps them..

So in more metaphors:

Everyone has a set of Alan keys lying about somewhere. Most people have no idea which key fits what, but that something you own, somewhere in the house, requires them. If your new bike needs it’s seat heightening you try all your keys but none fit. You know from your own attempts that the key needed would be somewhere between the sizes you’ve got. What I think the message of the group was is that your Alan keys are your solutions and sometimes the ready-made solutions you have won’t fit into every problem. However, go ask your neighbour if you can borrow their useless bunch of Alan keys and you might find the answer.

I guess the theory is that a solution can be found in any problem if you just ask enough people. Which is true, I suppose. At the end of the session Karen asked for feedback.

“But remember we don’t deal with NEGATIVES or PROBLEMS.” She says as she hands out the sticky notes. What a good criteria to give out when asking for a critique!

My Furry Colleague and Her Sneeze of Needing Back Up

Well Noodle has done it again. Worked her way as an assistance dog into yet another hospital! Regular readers will remember the first part of the saga when I battled to keep her with me in a Paediatrics ward. You can read ‘How to Smuggle a Dog into a Hospital’ here.

We had a very difficult first fortnight in my new unit, questions and issues rained down on myself and my furry colleague near constantly. The subsequent flood filled me with hate for the whole hospital and very nearly washed me out the door. But we got through it. We learnt to groom before seeing the staff who will comment on Noodle’s shedding winter coat and we compromised on many an issue.

On admission I told the hospital about Noodle’s magic powers. But I don’t think they really believed that the little dog (rather shabby looking after a seven hour drive) could do all these things I was telling them.

The first time it happened they thought it was a fluke.
The second time they thought it was odd.
The third, they thought it was lucky.
The fourth, they realised that she is amazing.

And then it clicked. When Noodle watches me go into crisis, often dangerous or disabling for me, she will get out of the room. In fact sometimes she predicts it and won’t go in to the room at all. She will then do everything she can to get human assistance for me. In a ward like my current one there are many fire doors, so she is limited to pacing and barking, but at my old open plan unit she could run straight to the office and then straight back to me. Staff find her at the other side of a door and she greets them with what I have coined ‘The Sneeze of Needing Back Up’. It is distinctively loud and repeated over and over. Head up, head down, head up, head down. In all honesty it does look like the dog is trying to tell you she needs to place an urgent last minute bid on EBay. Either that or she has been given some sort of amphetamine.

Naturally, the incoming member of staff is usually slightly surprised at being so enthusiastically greeted by a Guide Dog who is usually the definition of cool, calm and reserved. On realising that I am not with her they begin checking for me everywhere, but I will always be behind the door that the dog runs to.

I have no idea what I would do without her. She’s learnt her technique over time. It has evolved as my health has deteriorated. She has done ambulances, she’s done three hospitals AND survived my final year of secondary school. I am beginning to wonder if there is anything this little dog can’t do?!

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Stop the Clock

Not beating about the bush- this is a miserable blog post. I wrote it yesterday when I was freaking out about OCD and recovery and TIME. Time before I have to go into adult inpatient services (which I don’t want to do) and time I need to be getting better in. But I don’t seem to know how to do that… Anyway: here’s the poem.

Stop The Clock
Time is sneaking away from me.
Six months been and gone.
Six months of doors with windows.
And six months of pills in pretty white pots.
Stop the clock- I need to take stock.

Time is pulling me along.
The days are carved into six slices where I must eat and drink,
The place I want to run away from.
But that I hope will save me.
Before I sink.

Time is dragging me down.
Soon I’ll be an adult
Support being switched.
So I am a case number in other people’s books.
If I don’t hurry; In the psych wards where I’m told old men give you funny looks.
It’s the adult services which make my twitter friend’s despair.
Timelines telling tales of a care service without care.
Stop the clock- I need a rock.

Six months of trying.
Six months of fighting.
But my best just isn’t enough.
How can it be- when I’m still laden with all this stuff.
I’m pushing the pedals as hard as I can, Trying to make the damn thing go.
Go somewhere sunny.
Somewhere safe.
But the recovery car just won’t go.

They push my compulsions down like a game of whack-a-rat,
Causing sheer black distress to crash and shatter around me .
It’s torture as they squeeze and pinch at it.
But as the tide settles, the problems just pop up somewhere else.
I tell them “I’d take X symptom over Y“.
But they tell me it is a disease with which you cannot compromise.
“We will get it all. That’s our job.” The nurses say
Six months.
And I’m still waiting for ceasefire day.
The clock won’t stop – and I’m going to pop.

Time is running short.
How can we batter them all?
I’m pushing the pedals so hard.
But I’m scared that maybe it’s the motor that’s broken.
Stop the clock: because I can’t take another knock.

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The World’s Worst Kidnap and I

It’s the second of February and finally, after being transferring unit ‘really soon’ since November, I am being moved from Southampton to Yorkshire. On climbing inside the private ambulance at dawn I discovered that I was being transported in what appeared to be a mobile padded cell. The floor to ceiling carpet and barred cage gave an amazingly authentic insane asylum on-the-go vibe. I hasten to add I was not travelling in the cage; though if I had there would at least have been the benefit of being able to face the same way that we were travelling.

It turns out that playing card games at dawn whilst rattling backwards down a motorway is pretty hard. All parties- myself, dog and occupational therapist were unimpressed at the early start. Myself and OT Supremo were travelling backwards with ambulance man Dave, who kept falling asleep in his seat, facing us. When he wasn’t asleep he was telling us about the bit of motorway we were on or beating us both at Uno.

“Is this how they transfer criminals?” I asked, about an hour and several games of uno in to the journey.
“Sometimes… But we’d have them in the cage with a lot more escorts.” Dave replied, as I wasn’t in the cage and had been told I was being transferred by the ‘secure’ service for petrol cost cutting benefits only, I began to feel more at ease.

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At the service station a couple of hours later (and now in daylight) I realised that the vehicle looked to all the world like a white, rather grubby, transit van. This coupled with the soundproofed interior, cage and blacked out windows made me wonder if I was in fact involved in the world’s most ineffectual kidnap and whether I would actually ever get to Yorkshire. I decided that most hostages don’t merrily play card games with their abductors, so I was safe.

If given the choice on any long journey, one should always take an Occupational Therapist. The things they hold on their person on a daily basis is undeniably impressive. The OT Supremo I travelled with had in her handbag alone; a colouring book, a large assortment of pens, a decorative fabric heart to be customised, and a multilayer Tupperware box of nuts and seeds. All of which were put to good use on the journey.

Seven hours on, the van pulled up and we all jumped out lead by Brian the driver. With his clipboard in hand he went into a rather decrepit looking building, only to return five minutes later.
“I went in and said we’re here and they says that it was a unit for the deaf… So I think: ‘she’s blind’ and then they tell me that the outpatient bit is Nextdoor. So… I go to outpatient, but I says ‘we don’t need outpatient, we need inpatient’. So they gives me this address.” He recounts whilst gesturing to the mobile padded cell and clutching a street name on the back of a leaflet, clearly a bit perplexed.

“He’s good is Brian. Used to be a traffic cop. Driving’s in his blood.” Dave tells us when we are belted back in the van. “Isn’t that right Bri?!” He shouts through the tiny Perspex hatch which Brian had been silently driving behind all day. Brian then proceeded to sail past my new unit three times, whilst grumbling about not having the post code. It was on the third time that we saw *Cheery Lodge sail by that OT Supreme spoke up and got Brian and Dave to pull up and move my luggage inside.

And then I was there. In the appropriate region and with genuine northern people at last. However I was also saying goodbye to someone who helped me infinitely during my time at *Heron. Saying goodbye to OT Supremo was hard, and with her I said goodbye to my make-shift home for the last six months. And the future, in a brand new unit, seemed a whole lot scarier.

The ‘Nuh-Huh-Suh’: Just North of Basingstoke

It is Saturday the 31st of January and I am walking my usual circuit around the grounds of *Heron Unit. A nurse is with me, amicably filling me with optimism about my upcoming transition to a new unit.

“So where exactly is it?” She asks as we turn down the path and pass some adult patients in their usual cloud of smoke.
“Back up North. It’s in Yorkshire!” I have spent the last five months being ‘the Northerner’ in a hospital in which all the patients are Southerners from about as south as you could get. Any further south and the hospital would be in France. The thought of going back up North had never failed to cheer me up over the past few weeks.
“So that is north of Basingstoke right?” There was an amazed silence as I stop walking to give her a withering look. “I’ve never been north of Winchester…” She admits, unable to meet my gaze.

This example was overall representative of what the whole patient and staff body felt about my move.
“Yorkshire? Is Birmingham near there?” They would ask with an alarming lack of irony.
The new unit is indeed North of Birmingham, and Basingstoke. Excessively North of Basingstoke in fact. 246 miles North from it.

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To the girls, all of whom I have seen arrive on the ward, my move is a huge conversation point. To them it seems inconceivable that there won’t be a dog on the unit. Plus the concept of ‘The North’ appears to be of similar sustenance in their heads as that of Neverland. They have never been, they can’t imagine it and they get alarmed when they get confronted with Northern propaganda such as Coronation Street.

“Is it NHS?” Was another top question. The word NHS was said in a Miranda style whisper. We were, after all, in a private unit which we unanimously agreed was appalling, so the idea of anyone going for treatment on the National Health was worrying. I’m pretty sure children who get put in psychiatric units on the ‘Nuh-Huh-Suh’ appear, looking sad and impoverished, on comic relief. I’m no snob- but by the time move day came I was convinced I was going to get frostbite on the journey up and starve to death on a diet of gruel when I arrived. But still- it was north. So it certainly would be better than anything that the south could offer me.

Make it Up

Today I left the hospital for a couple of hours. It was not only amazing to be outside and not in a room painted entirely white, but I took the opportunity to do a bit of retail therapy. I spent far too much money… *cough*

But I remembered something that I forgot a long time ago. Spending the last six months in pyjamas with my hair scraped up (because I used the time as a way to grow out the notoriously tricky pixie cut) made the knowledge work its way out of my system. The knowledge that… Make up helps.

I never wore it a lot, but I have always liked treating myself to a little bit of good quality cosmetics now and again. It’s nice. It’s a chance to be what you want to be. Like any feminist; I do find it sad that so many girls hide behind their foundation, scraping on the war paint like a sacred ritual. But as someone who’s current favoured method of hiding involves a duvet and a sleep mask that reads “F*ck Off”- make up is a whole lot healthier.

I treated myself to a nice eye shadow and easy-application eyeliner which unfortunately resembles a Stanley knife. It has been the cause of confusion for more than one nurse as they jump to conclusions and… Discover the tip is silicone. I don’t think it looks too shabby on even with my glasses off. I suppose the challenge is to break the old habits and get a new face on my bad days now…

So tonight has been a rough night on the unit. Bathrooms have flooded, people have runaway and the police have been in. But instead of getting stressed I have applied and reapplied my new eyeliner. Focus. Focus. Focus.

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When Lacie Came to Play!

This story starts years ago with this girl, my best friend Maria.

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She is one of the select handful of people who I would say I have grown up with. Throughout my teenage years she has always been there for me; recommending books, chatting and making things. We both have a lot in common, for one we were both not the biggest fans of mainstream school and spent time as home and flexi-schoolers. We used to do all sorts of slightly eccentric things- such as make artistic creations in the outhouse Maria named her Studio and devouring a large carton of strawberry smoothie each during the afternoons we spent hanging out together .

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But then all went quiet. It looked like we had grown apart for a while until I got a message. The message was a text which told me that she and her boyfriend had just found out that she was pregnant, that she was happy about the news but sad that we had grown apart. I always imagined the day a friend tells me that they are pregnant, I always pictured that if they were young it would be dramatic and tearful like the movies. But not Maria. Maria is smart, funny, loving and capable. I knew from the word go that having a baby would be the making, rather than the breaking, of her. And from then on we were knitted back together as best friends. We watched the tiny bump grow in her tummy while we came up with lists of potential future names.

Then I had to go away to college, and then I was hospitalised. Lacie Harper was born healthy and well but I was too far away to meet her… Until today! Maria brought baby Lacie onto the unit with her so that we could have a catch up, baby cuddle and natter.

Lacie, having been perfectly behaved on the drive up, on arrival made the staff discover that there are no baby change facilities of any description on site. She subsequently joyfully pooed her nappy in the Multi-Disciplinary Team room. Maria, who has always been one of the most calm and capable people I know, sorted the poos with ease on one of the chairs and ditched them in a nearby bin. The thought of the MDT going into their important meeting room on Monday and being greeted by the strong aroma of poo doesn’t half make me smile, But I think (hope) that the smell may have subsided by then. Oh the life of a baby- being so adorable that no one even minds if you are pooing everywhere…

So I am proud to say that I get to call myself an auntie to this beautiful little girl. She is such a smiley and lively little one.

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It was great to see Maria again, and of course we put the world right by discussing things like: why people always say ‘Tah’ when a baby does anything that looks even relatively like handing something to someone. Wouldn’t it be strange to do this to any grown human? As a barista starts to walk to the counter with your coffee you saying ‘tar’ until it is actually given to you? Also why do people put on a baby voice when it is clearly patronising and limiting the vocabulary a baby can learn?

But thank you Lacie for bringing your Mummy and I back together. I promise to be a good auntie (and Maria when she’s older I never really will fill her with sugar and then hand her back to you- I promise).

You can Follow Maria and Lacie on their blog here!

The Negatives of CAMHS Inpatient Treatment

This is the second part of my views on inpatient treatment in the Children and Adolescent Mental Health Service. To see the first part, covering my Positives of Inpatient CAMHS Treatment, you can find it here. The following post will be focused on what I consider to be the negatives of inpatient care.

The first point I want to make might seem obvious. You are going to be with other ill people. This can be good because you can meet some amazing and supportive people who truly understand what you’re going through. But it can also be hard. Making friends with another ill person can mean you are taking on their problems as well as your own, and this could make your stay in hospital even longer. Plus if you go to a unit where there is an excessively negative vibe amongst the patients you can find yourself with ‘friends’ who will help you to feed your illness. For example I have witnessed people passing sharp items between their friends, if you want a deterrent from doing this: hepatitis C isn’t too great.

In most CAMHS units young people have limited access to mobile phones and internet, if any. This means it can be quite easy to become detached from the real world and people who don’t have a mental illness. I’m pretty sure that whilst in *Heron unit a zombie apocalypse could have occurred and I would have had no idea. In my new unit, more on that in another post, we luckily have more access to devices.

Ward dynamics are everything. At times being in a unit can feel like the front line of a war zone with alarms and screaming people. It isn’t pleasant. But at the same time there can also be a lovely family-like atmosphere. It really is draw of the hat as to which you get, but most people experience a bit of both. There is actually pros and cons to both atmospheres as the family-like scenario can turn a bit pack-like and with that comes a dangerous patients VS staff situation. My advice is the four P’s: Plotting patients produces nothing but problems.

Stomach drop situations are all too common. That gut wrenching feeling when a problem presents itself and you are torn over what to do. I can think of lots of times over the last six months where I have seen things I shouldn’t have and had to make tough decisions. I’ve been the ‘tell-tale’ in a lot of situations where patients could have got seriously hurt or worse. But the sad truth is that on some psychiatric wards you are in a parallel universe where between patients “Hey I’ve just taken an overdose” is worth a giggle and a high five. There is always rule breaking of some sort going on of course, but I just know that in serious cases if I kept quiet and someone got hurt I would never forgive myself.

I can’t quite make an overall decision on whether my inpatient experience has been positive or negative, but I’m hoping that in the future I can make it a positive experience for myself. I live in hope that one day I will be grateful for this time because with it hopefully I will have managed to turn my life around.

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Why I am In: Blog for Mental Health 2015

I stumbled upon Blog for Mental Health on a friend’s blog. Awareness and general stigma kicking? I’m in!

So here we go:
“I pledge my commitment to the Blog for Mental Health 2015 Project. I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others. By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health. I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma.”

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Why I’m in:
I have struggled with mental illness for the last five years. I have struggled with low mood, self harm, OCD, panic disorder, psychosis and disordered eating during this time and I have had enough! Mental illness is a nasty, manipulative thing. And the worst bit? People can be so unaware and insensitive about its very existence. I have been hospitalised since August 2014 and I write regularly about my experiences as both an inpatient and a CAMHS outpatient service user. I read somewhere that having a mental illness is like fighting in a war where the enemy’s main strategy is to convince you there is no war. I can’t think of anything more truthful. I’ve had friends and family worry about me sharing my story due to the stigma.
“What about employers?”
“Are you sure you want to share this?”
But how else will the stigma be beaten if no one is going to speak out?
I want to live in a world where people can have their mental illness treated and understood just like anyone with a physical illness can. I want workmen when entering inpatient units to not be nervous of the patients. I want mental health screening in schools to save lives. I want my friends to be seen as the warriors they truly are.

For more information head over to: Blog For Mental Health 2015

The Positives of CAMHS Inpatient Treatment

Having been an inpatient on *Heron ward for the last five months I feel I have gained enough experience to write a bit about the positives and negatives of inpatient treatment. Please note that I have only experienced two hospitals, and treatment varies from unit to unit. This first post will be on what I consider to be the positives of inpatient treatment.

Hospital treatment means that you are in a place of safety 24/7 and have round the clock care. For those who need it this makes inpatient treatment the safest out of the tier four CAMHS care options. This can take the pressure away from a family which is likely suffering from the stress of maintaining the safety of a mentally ill young person. Family therapy can also be used to build better communication in the family for when the young person’s inpatient treatment ends and they return home.

The amount of actual 1:1 psychological therapy received varies from unit to unit, but nursing and care staff, in my experience, are kind and supportive- these are, after all, the qualities they get paid for. I have seen members of staff stay on after a twelve and a half hour shift, sometimes for four hours or more, because the ward is in trouble. This is because they care, nothing more and nothing less. They understand that a patient in crisis can throw the whole ward out, and they want to try to keep everyone as safe as possible. Depending on the ward or unit different therapies are available; DBT, CBT, art therapy, occupational therapy, family therapy, psychotherapy or groups. It means you can often do more than one therapy at a time, in theory making therapeutic success much more likely.

In hospital you also get some space away from all the *stuff*- the static in your day to day life which can wear you out and make a mental illness trickier to fight. Things like the constant bombardment of social media, deadlines and commitments. Not that these things should be avoided, but that it gives you a rare opportunity to focus on purely recovery.

When in hospital medication can also be altered straight away without waiting for a consultant’s appointment, and for anyone who has experience of attempting to get hold of a duty psychiatrist in the middle of the night this will come as a massive pro! It also means that PRN (as and when medication) can be given when immediately, this is really good for people whose illness fluctuates or those who experience episodic symptoms.

So those are my positives of inpatient treatment, however it is definitely not something which works for everybody and I also think there are a lot of negatives. To get the balance, keep an eye out for my Negatives of CAMHS Inpatient Treatment post coming up in the next couple of days.

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