What I Learned From Being In A Psychiatric Ward

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Over the years, I’ve become all too familiar with these periods of darkness, but never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I’d be admitted to a mental health hospital. How it feels to be partly recovered from depression Being a psychiatric inpatient was a distressing, dehumanising experience, but nevertheless, those weeks of misery opened my eyes to some new truths.

These are some of the things I learnt during my stays on the psych ward:

Mental illness has many different faces Depression told me that I was a fraud. It made me believe that because I was still able to brush my hair and have a shower, I couldn’t possibly be unwell, and that my so-called illness was nothing more than attention seeking self-pity. But in the psych ward, I realised that mental illness has many different faces. Yes, some in patients huddled in grubby dressing gowns with unwashed hair, but others were immaculately dressed and made up. They were ill, and so was I, regardless of what our appearances suggested. Mental Illness comes from all walks of life and every socio economic group and once you enter the psychiatric ward we are as one and no matter what education you have, how big your house is, what your job is, how much money you have, none of it matters. You are all equal in the mental health ward. The illness doesn’t discriminate and hurts each and every family just as cruelly. No amount of money can lessen the blows rained on you by Complex PTSD or suicide. The shame isn’t lessened by your postcode. Therefore a camaraderie builds up amongst the patients. You discover yourself developing friendships with people you wouldn’t have given the time of day to two weeks previously. It is very challenging.

My family doesn’t fall apart in my absence

As a mother, I saw it as my responsibility to keep everything going on the home front, despite my deteriorating mental health. My enforced time away from my family showed me that actually, they could cope without me. My husband proved that he’s just as capable of cooking meals, checking homework and doing the laundry as I am (and that has made me better at asking him for help and not shouldering all the burdens of family life single-handed.

But that doesn’t mean they’re better off without me My children could only visit me for short periods while I was an inpatient, but they didn’t seem to pine for me at all. I took that as evidence that they wouldn’t miss me if I was gone. But when I said that to the hospital psychologist, she told me in no uncertain terms that losing a parent to suicide is a loss that you can never come to terms with, and that if I killed myself, my children would be more likely to die by suicide themselves.My psychotherapist said no child is ever better off without it’s mother and they never get over loosing a mother to suicide. Sobering. 

Sometimes brain and body just need a break As much as I hated being on the psych ward, it gave me something that I desperately needed: a complete break from the real world. I spent eleven weeks doing nothing more than sleeping, colouring and watching DVDs,reading, giving my brain and body the time and space to begin to heal.

I have the best friends in the world Visiting someone in a psychiatric hospital is a pretty unpleasant experience. The atmosphere is often volatile, the visiting hours are inconvenient and you can’t even take in a bunch of flowers. Despite this, barely a week went past without visitors. I’ll forever be indebted to my amazing friends who helped me through the most distressing time of my life.

Small pleasures make a big difference Nice gel pens, posh hand cream, homemade brownies – simple treats made the long, lonely days in hospital a little more bearable, and helped me to realise that even when you’re at rock bottom, there are always chinks of light.

Coming home is just the beginning Just as you’d expect a period of recuperation after being in hospital with a physical illness, so it takes time to get back on your feet after a psych hospital admission. When I was discharged, I felt overwhelming pressure to show that I was ‘fixed,’ whereas actually, my recovery was just beginning. I’ve learnt that it’s OK to be gentle on yourself: baby steps may seem insignificant, but over time, they add up to a long distance covered. I suffer from Complex PTSD and Dissociative Identity Disorder with co-morbid depression and anxiety which are works in progress. I attend a psychotherapist twice a week for EMDR therapy and a psychiatrist once a month for medication monitoring. I’m struggling with two of my alters who are very dangerous and cause self harm and suicide attempts when they switch. It is a lot of pressure on my family with respect to supervision but one they are happy to undertake. I am very lucky to have their unquestioned support and I am so grateful for it.

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