Ten years ago my life changed for ever, this wasn’t a great moment of celebration, no this time ten years ago I was sent by my GP for a psychiatric assessment in Chester. It was an assessment that I really didn’t understand, I was in turmoil and a great deal of distress but I didn’t expect them to admit me. I mean I wasn’t aware of the system that operated within mental health, yes I’d seen a psychiatrist before but they never talked of admitting me. They usually gave me medication as a kind of sticking plaster to ease my symptoms and I think I assumed that’s what would happen.
Of course I was admitted after a very few prying questions into my state of affairs and self harm, I was honest I told the doctor how it was. I told him that I felt this intolerable sense of shame and guilt and pain and I wanted it all to stop, if that meant suicide then that was would happen. At the time I felt worthless as a wife and a mother so my family would in my opinion be better off without me, that was what my skewed irrational thinking had become.
In the end I recall him just saying it was probably best if I was admitted for a short while, I think I was disbelieving at first and I said no, not me, no never. I’m wasn’t prejudiced but if I’m honest I thought these units were for people who weren’t like me, you see only a few months earlier I had been working full time as a civil servant and I had a good home, family and marriage. I had been unwell for a while and my self harming was becoming an issue yet I still had work to go back too I’d only been off sick a few months. I didn’t need to be an inpatient on a mental health ward that just wasn’t for me, how wrong was I this was day one of many days and the first of many admissions.
I remember being taken to the ward and they showed me to a bed in a room with 3 others, we shared a sink between us and the toilets were down a corridor. This was an old Victorian institution and it felt eerie and very scary, the other patients were polite and observed me with a caution that I soon came to demonstrate myself. I had my favourite Ted with me the children had bought her a few months earlier and I clung to her for comfort in this place that felt so fearful, so alien, so unknown.
Back then I didn’t realise that the staff observe your every interaction, analyse it and often seemed to make wrong assumptions about me. I soon learnt that in this system I didn’t have rights, and holding an opinion was unacceptable especially if it wasn’t on the same wave length as the psychiatrist or his team.
I know that I didn’t sleep that first night, I think I wanted to just hide away but there wasn’t anywhere to hide, how do you deal with a memory or a flashback in a room with 3 other women. The staff expected me to sleep, I hadn’t slept properly for weeks and I was never going to sleep when male patients were literally just down the corridor and could so easily wander into the female bay. But they still expected me to sleep and kept checking every 10minutes to see why I hadn’t got to sleep yet.
If someone a stranger was walking up to your bed every ten minutes, in a strange place would you sleep, I doubt it. It wasn’t like they were quiet, they’d pull back the curtains that screened the beds, old and stained curtains that didn’t move freely and they shone a torch towards your face. Even if I had managed to fall asleep they made so much noise and disruption even the worlds best sleeper would have woken up and I wasn’t the best sleeper.
The rules and regulations of a psychiatric ward were odd and I really couldn’t comprehend them, they seemed draconian at times and unfair. We could only have hot drinks certain times of the day, and you had to queue for your medication in a way that resembled being back at school. The staff expected you to sit in the day room and not on the chair in the corridor, when I asked why I was told that was just the way it was.
I realised they didn’t like my response which was ‘well why have the chair in the corridor if patients can’t use it’, when they marched me to my bed area to calm down and said I was being awkward and unhelpful to my recovery.
I’m sure the staff wanted to be helpful, I’m sure they all started in their careers with good intentions at heart, yet they didn’t see patients like me as an equal human being with rights. I was no longer an equal I was the person who they were tasked to keep safe and to deal with when I got upset or failed to comply. The threat of being sent from the ward to the PICU (psychiatric Intensive care unit) was immense, those who went there returned with the stories of forced injections and worse.
I had witnessed my first restraint process on my first night, though not on me it was terrifying in its own right to just witness. The brutality and the fear was palpable and the girl cried out in pain when they injected her, I remember I wanted to rush in and help her but there were lots of them and they were forceful and strong. So I sat cowering in fear on my bed thinking what have I come too, who are these people I thought they were meant to help people.
That first night was tough, but in truth it wasn’t the hardest night I faced in the mental health system, but at the time it was because this was all new. I had no idea that night of what was to come, the misdiagnoses, the medication doctrine, the medicalised model that forgets to look at the individual, the whole nightmare of revolving door admissions and secure services.
You see ten years ago began a journey, a journey that led to nearly 1,400 days or 200 weeks of being an in-patient, it has changed me for ever. I will be forever scared by some of the things I witnessed and was subjected to, my views of psychiatry have been changed too as have my views on those who like me are mentally unwell. That night was the first night of a journey of many nights, a journey that I wouldn’t wish on my own worst enemies.
Ten years on I can say that in my case I don’t believe any of those nights helped me, yes I did get an accurate diagnosis but it took years to achieve and for someone like me with a Dissociative Disorder and a trauma background the impact was huge, too huge and far too damaging.
Copyright DID Dispatches 2014