I’ve wished very few people a happy new year this year. Partly because of the realisation that, in fact, it’s just another day, and it happens to have a digit that’s one higher than yesterday at the end of it. Partly because it doesn’t feel very happy. You see, I spent all but a couple of hours of the first 5 days of 2016 in a psychiatric ward. If you read my previous post about my time in the 136 suite at a hospital in Oxford, you’ll know how the story starts a bit, because it was the same this time.
I chose my outfit a bit more carefully this time. It sounds cold to say that, but not as cold as if I had gone out in my pyjamas again, and truth be told I didn’t want to be noticed as I went out that night, so I figured jeans would be a better choice. The idea of 2016 was too much, in the end, so I went out to do something about it. The details of that aren’t interesting, to be honest, although I daresay it takes little imagination to work out that my proposed solution was permanent. For those who know me personally, that’s not a fun fact at all, and I’m sorry.
In the light of the above plan, I left an answerphone message to someone I loved very much, explaining what I was about to do and that it wasn’t his fault, and that I would still love him to the end of the earth. I guess I faltered at that point, long enough for (I think) this person to alert the Police to where I was, and before I knew it, I was virtually hysterical in the back of a patrol car waiting for an ambulance to take me to hospital again. Being new year’s night, it was a busy one, so it took a while for the ambulance to arrive, and I should point out that I wish they didn’t feel the need to apologise for that. Anyway, I was taken to the same hospital I’d been to last time, in to the same cornerless room with the uncomfortable bed and rip-proof blanket (I’m not kidding). I arrived at about 4am, was seen by the Doctor and Social Worker at about 6, and it was decided that admitting me to hospital was the best and safest option. This is not, absolutely not because home was a bad place to go. It was a question of where I could get the best care, as it always is when you go from the holding stage of a hospital (be it the 136 suite or A&E) to the more permanent option. The ambulance came for me at about 8, I think, but having not slept or eaten, the details are very hazy.
So started my stay in the ward, which I will leave unnamed but is in Oxford. It felt very strange to be 20 minutes away from my home in this sterile, controlled bubble, with nothing but the clothes I was standing up in, my phone, and my keys. I was a voluntary patient, which means that unlike a formal admission under section 2 (28 days) or section 3 (90 days), I wasn’t pinned to a time frame for my stay, and subject to all the medical checks and being signed off by the psychiatrist, I could leave when I wanted. I couldn’t just walk out, but it made things much more flexible, and meant that I had more choices while I was there about how things went.
Time goes strangely when you’re in a place like that. It was only 5 days, in the end, and I spent a lot of it asleep, but it felt like a lifetime while it was happening. I met lots of the other patients, and it struck me how different my experience was to theirs, especially when you think that, of course, some of them weren’t there voluntarily. It was strange to be asked how long I was going to be there and whether I was on a section 2 or 3 before people even asked my name, but I suppose it’s a logical question. I calmed down a lot after my Mum’s first visit (she was in almost every day, for which she gets lots of kudos for being really awesome) when she brought me some more clothes, my Kindle, jigsaws, and my phone loaded up with audiobooks. I now had something to do, at least.
I saw the psychiatrist on Monday morning, and she talked a lot of sense about how I was, how my depression presents, and what sort of things might help in terms of treatment. She spoke about what was going on with me differently to how anyone had done it, but I couldn’t pinpoint what the difference was. Either way, I came out feeling tentatively positive, especially as she said she would advocated as short a stay as we could get away with.
There wasn’t that much “interesting” that happened over the course of my time there, other than the fire the night before I left. Someone dropped a cigarette in the bin in the toilet (no, we weren’t meant to have cigarettes and lighters on us, yes it was a big deal – apparently the Police are dealing with it), and it inevitably caused a problem. Nonetheless, although it wasn’t nearly as problematic as these places can be, it was clear to everyone, particularly all the staff I spoke to, that this wasn’t the place that was going to help me get better. I was discharged on the 5th of January, with the blessing from the psychiatrist (and I’m sure if I’d needed it, a kindly boot on the arse!) to go home to my parents’ place again. This time, there is a care plan in place. I booked my first appointment with my new therapist this afternoon, and I’m thinking about my plans for this year without nearly the level of fear I had on new year’s night. It’s hard to believe that, a week ago, I had been in there for 8 hours already, and that I really needed to be there. I don’t now, of course, but it’s a little frightening to me that I went to that level of need – it’s a million miles from what I know lots of people see, and I hate that I lost control so badly in front of the Police officers, though to be fair, I know I won’t have been the most ill person they’ve ever dealt with.
The point of writing about this has several parts. Mental health still needs to be talked about, of course, but I think there’s also a certain mystique about the idea of a psychiatric ward that needs to be debunked to an extent. It’s a place for people to stay and get better for a time, just like any other hospital. There are lots of things that are different, obviously, but in the end, it provided a structure that gave me space to settle out a bit. There was some settling out to be done when I got out too, and I know I wasn’t altogether pleasant to be around as I adjusted to getting out. There’s a lot about the experience that made me shut down a lot of my emotions, and I was warned about it when I got out, that there would be lots of things that would come crashing back. They were right, of course, but the dust is settling now and I’m starting to put things in their boxes and work out what it all means.
There are a lot a thank yous on the back of this story. The staff at the ward were very kind and understanding to me, and always gave the time when I needed it. Some were more helpful than others, of course, but the ward manager who admitted me was particularly awesome, and I’m glad I got to thank her in person. My psychiatrist is a fabulous woman and I’m very glad to have met her to had her help. My Mum, obviously, for reasons that take no imagining. The person I left the answerphone message to might have saved my life if I am right in my suspicions based on what the officers said when they picked me up. The officers themselves, who were kind and gentle as much as they could be while trying to keep me safe. My friends, old and new, who I had previously totally underestimated, deserve my thanks, and my apology for not trusting them to be there. You were and are there, and I had missed that. I’m a muppet, you’re all brilliant.
I’m not as scared of plans as I was, although it still can feel overwhelming. Either way, I know I need to leave Oxford, and I’m looking at a masters course that I’m interested in up in Sheffield. I’m putting things in place one at a time, as much as I can, and if I can just build up the bits of my life that have fallen apart recently, with the aid of therapy and ongoing support from my mental health team, plus the usual maternal input and cuddles from my grandparents’ dog, this might just work. Naturally, I’ll keep you all posted.
Until the next time then, good luck with this year. Happiness isn’t something I can feel or wish greatly right now, but I hope you all have a good one.