There are so many stories and websites telling you how to cope when you’re actually admitted to a psychiatric ward or hospital. But there seems to be a big gap in support for when you leave. For some people, adjusting to life outside the ward can be just as, if not more, difficult than adjusting to life inside the ward!
Waking up is strange. You open your eyes and look around, adjusting to the darkness.
Your room is dark. There are no shafts of light coming under your door.
It’s quiet. No knocking on your door to wake you up at 7:15 a.m. every day, no staff walking down the corridor, no alarms or shouting or noise. You can choose when you want to get up, when to eat, when to have a shower.
You’d think that would be fun, right?
Finally, the freedom to do what you want, when you want. But it’s harder than it sounds. For three weeks now, you have been told exactly what to do and when to do it. Your life has been dictated by timetables and care plans and rotas. Filled with individual therapy and group therapy and endless “distractions” of arts and crafts and board games. At the time, you probably complained about it. In fact, you definitely complained about it even if only to yourself.
But now, left to your own devices. it’s harder than you think to fill the time. Your time is yours, which for some people would be great. But when you’re living with a mental illness, filling your time is hard. Maybe you have no motivation and can only bring yourself to sit and watch TV, to stare at the walls and wait for the clock to tick by. Or maybe you’re so restless you think you have to fill the time and pace around and rush and be on the move constantly. The quilt you started at the hospital in arts and crafts beckons you from the dining room chair adding to the guilt of “you must do something”.
Maybe you’re happy to be out, but don’t know how to cope with this new found independence.
Maybe you miss it.
That might sound strange, but it’s a lot more common than you would think. For months on end, there has been somebody by your side all day and all night. Whether that is literally by your side during 1-1 observations or sitting in the next room, there has been somebody there to talk to, a hand to hold at 2 a.m. when the world just feels unbearable. That’s how I felt.
However you feel, that’s OK. Your feelings are always OK. Never feel as though you’re “wrong” or “stupid” for feeling what you feel.
But it does get better.
That sounds like a cliché but it does. Day by day, hour by hour, you get stronger and you learn to adjust. Exactly the same way as you became used to being there, you will become used to being at home.
Don’t rush. Take it slow. Push yourself, but not too far.
Be gentle. It will come. But for now, just breathe. And remember that you can get through anything. Just like you have overcome all the obstacles before you, you will overcome this as well.
Use the strategies they taught you in group. They do work. Implement them one at a time. Don’t be hard on yourself if you fail one day, there’s always tomorrow.
Most importantly use your safety plan that you drew up in hospital and employ your support network. They dearly want to help you. They want to be there for you and keep you safe and well. You can do it.