Today has been a significant day, 6 years ago I was driven by my local NHS trust 200 plus miles from home to a privately run secure service. I had been on my first ever section 3 for less than 2 months and was in an open acute ward; no lock on the door and a fair degree of freedom.
The professionals decided I needed trauma therapy and to get that therapy, they needed to separate me from my children and relocate me to the south west coast of the UK. Suddenly for the very first time I felt like a third class citizen, I was deprived of all my clothes bar the ones I was wearing, all my possessions except my teddy were taken away and locked in a room to be searched. I had to eat with a spoon, drink from a plastic cup and worst of all be watched on a 1-1 observation when I used the bathroom, even when I showered. I was on constant observations, both day and night and had NO PRIVACY. My first night men sat feet from my bed as they expected me to sleep!
To say I was terrified would be an understatement, I remember begging my family for help on the phone but they had been told I would do this, so at first were not quite so sure of how I was being treated. Just like they were told that only a few patients would have committed crimes and be held under ministry of justice sections, when the reality was over 70% of the patients were being held by the ministry of Justice.
I sat petrified as people told me they were in for murder and other offences, I had no criminal history, I used to work for the government, I had served on boards focussed on policing and probation so I had to lie when asked what work I used to do because basically it was the only safe thing to do.
It was 12 days before Christmas and I felt so alone, so unhappy and so desperate, this was an unfamiliar environment. I was locked out of my bedroom for most of the day, in fact from about 8am till gone 10pm. I had to sit in a room crowded with women and staff, the noise levels were frightening and there was a lot of conflict, violence and anger.
I didn’t get to go outside for a few days and the window of my room was screwed shut. My things were not searched for days so I remember being in the same clothes for days, though they did give me access to nightwear and my toothbrush after I kicked up a fuss, but that’s all. I didn’t even have a photo of my children to look at, nor the small keepsakes they had chosen to ensure I could remind myself of them. Things they had given me on my last night in hospital close to home.
To say this was a nightmare would be an understatement, it was worse than a nightmare because I couldn’t wake up from this. This was now my reality!
The professionals thought they were helping me, they convinced me that it was for my best interests to go, but this wasn’t helping me it was absolutely without a doubt re-traumatising me.
I am a victim of childhood trauma and I now know have DID, so being in this alien monster of a place so full of power imbalances was horrendous. I had been stripped of my dignity once more and felt the isolated terrified child I had once been before, and yet now this was being done legally and in the name of treatment.
My children insisted on a pre-Christmas visit given we had all had less than 24 hours notice of the move, it was odd to see them with a person watching our every move, listening to every word. They bought me flowers, I couldn’t keep them because vases were a non starter in this place. They gave me gifts for Christmas, that the following month I had to send home because they weren’t allowed. The sad irony is my daughter checked before they came what they could bring me and yet somehow the rules changed and I wasn’t allowed them after all.
There were locks of every door, swipe cards, an massive wire fence ran around the whole place, it must have been 10ft high. This was my world, day in and day out, and I felt trapped. I felt cheated by my mental health team back home, lied to even conned.
I trusted no one, and nothing, I lived in fear and felt fear, I felt alone and truly felt abandoned.
I clung to my bear hoping to find some small crumb of comfort from the touch of her fur I waited in desperation to get access to the phone, my calls home to speak to my children became my lifeline. Once I got some of things; those I was allowed to keep, I looked every day at the children’s photo remembering the good times before my memories had returned and I fell apart mentally because of my past long ago.
I was already dissociative, I had memories, flashbacks, nightmares, triggered all the time by anything and everything and yet now I was in an environment where no one understood and I couldn’t escape the triggers.
I learnt to press on and dig deep for survival, to play the game and look ok. It wasn’t easy and I learnt as I went along. I realised that observations would get reduced in the staff’s time and not mine and I couldn’t challenge things it just didn’t work that way. I knew if they wanted to sanction me they could. The whole place operated by sanctions and there really was no rhyme nor reason to them at all. People who kicked off would get grounds access, people who didn’t would lose it.
There were times when the phone didn’t work for days, times when restrictions on the unit as a whole where harsher due to the level of incidents. It didn’t matter if you were involved everyone paid the price for others indiscretions..
My children visited me often, well as much as they could but each visit required 10 hours of travelling for about 2 hours with me. I cherished those times, always trying to smile and be brave for them. We wrote often to each other and I began studying with the Open University to occupy my time.
My children bought me a devotional bible for Christmas that year and it became my constant source of strength. I never fully realised then, just how much that bible gave me but I can honestly say that it was the best gift my Children could have ever given me, because it gave me HOPE.
Hope in the darkest of times, and in the darkest of places to know that I wasn’t alone, I wasn’t in this on my own, I had an awesome God who loved me and cared for me so much. Together we would get through this ordeal, and we did.
It wasn’t easy and yes it did leave a scar, a scar that I think will take some time to heal. I lost my faith in the NHS, I lost my faith in the healthcare system as a whole.
The nightmare did finally end, but not until 2009; by which time I was institutionalised and damaged even more.
But I also learnt what love is, I realised I wanted life not death, I wanted to be a SURVIVOR. I found the beginnings of my faith, and I learnt a lot about myself.
I was finally diagnosed with DID and then everyone realised I needed to be in the community after all. It wasn’t an easy journey and it’s not one I would wish upon anyone, yet because of that time I graduated last year, and I know I earned every ounce of my degree because most of it was completed in hospital; in the darkest of places and in the hardest of times.
Today as I woke this morning and thought about the feelings I held back in 2007 on that first day in the secure unit, I realised I should blog about my experience. This hasn’t been an easy blog to write, I have shed a few tears in the process but it needed to be written all the same.
If one healthcare professional thinks before they make a decision to do to someone else what was done to me, if they reconsidered their decision, then it will have been worth it.
My advice to healthcare professionals based upon my experience is that unless you know what a place is truly like, then no one should send another human being into the unknown.
I don’t doubt some people need such places, nor that other hospitals run differently and are better than the ones I experienced.
But the people who cared for me back then and made the final decision, they failed me. I was vulnerable, defenceless and highly traumatised already, yet they in my honest opinion neglected their duty of care. It nearly destroyed me and it nearly destroyed my family too, we live with the aftermath its etched on our memories forever.
I hope no one else is failed ever again.