My visit to a psychiatric facility to see a friend was never going to be easy, units such as this one were once my life, a life that felt like a nightmare I couldn’t wake up from. Though thankfully this unit wasn’t one I had been contained within and as such I felt just about able to venture through the locked doors on my own.
As both a patient and a visitor I realise that I dislike the feeling of containment that locked doors instil. It’s unpleasant to drink from plastic cups and sit on furniture clearly designed to be heavy duty and not comfortable. I realised that no matter which side of the room you are on, patient or visitor being observed throughout a visit isn’t easy. But at least I knew that unlike many occasions in the past, as a visitor I could simply get up and leave.
The visit has really made me think, I couldn’t help recalling the horrors of my times in psychiatric care last evening as I thought about the impending visit. The horrors of restraint, forced injections and demeaning observation levels which infringed upon my privacy flooded back to me, I doubt I will ever truly forget those days. Days that I can only describe as the darkest of times.
Unless you have actually been an inpatient in such facilities it’s hard to comprehend the feelings these places can generate. It’s hard to understand the fear and helplessness that they evoke unless you have endured it yourself. I have realised over time that compared to many Mental Health service users my experiences are unique, my inpatient admissions were lengthy and at times to a level most would never imagine. You see most people never enter this domain, very few service users are hospitalised, even less compulsorily detained under the Mental Health Act and even less sent to forensics services.
The visit today was a big step forward, I was there not for me but for a friend, who needed a visit from someone who wouldn’t judge and who could understand. My friend is currently facing a battle with Mental illness, she has been on constant observation now in hospital for over five weeks. She keeps wondering why the staff are punishing her and as a result she keeps saying sorry, but my friend hasn’t done anything wrong, she is unwell and that is causing her to self injure frequently. The observation levels are there to protect her, to help her deal with the illness that currently has taken control over her life, it’s not a punishment.
I sat and watched as nursing staff interacted with her, they were caring and compassionate and yet my friend is so ill she really doesn’t understand how much help these individuals are giving her. I have seen and witnessed first hand badly performing Mental Health staff, but today I saw staff who truly are a credit to the caring profession.
Throughout the visit which lasted less than an hour my friend desperately tried to fight the inner voices and urges to hurt, but every now and again suddenly without warning she’d be gripped into responding. I witnessed the nurses trying to help keep her safe has she tried and tried again to harm herself, the need to be fully alert became very clear. I tried to help by holding one of her hands in order that she couldn’t use it to self injure, I tried to distract her and help her to understand the reason she was on constant observation.
Though I found myself wondering if the observation levels I had endured were to protect me, when I was on constant observation it felt intrusive and seemed to be an over reaction. Will my friend feel this way when she looks back at this time, or will she remember how unwell she was? Will she ask me why I didn’t stop them or why I said that it was because the staff cared.
My friend is somewhat medicated right now and so conversation is slow and not as easy or free flowing as it once was. It’s hard when every third word has to be her name as you try to get her to focus, it’s hard seeing her glaze over and no longer be fully conscious of the world around her.
I found myself wondering what had happened to my friend, we met in hospital and I’ve seen her unwell before, but never like this. This came out of the blue, without warning it just appeared one minute she was at home the next there was an incident and she was in hospital more unwell than at any other time.
Seeing a friend this ill is never going to be easy, but it’s even harder when you know that only a few weeks previous she was well. In fact just before the admission we had been laughing and joking as we paddled at a country park. I still have photos of that day on my phone, there is one of my friend sat next to our BBQ smiling, you see it was a truly great time for us both.
These were the days we dreamt of in hospital years ago, time when we’d both be well and could enjoy ordinary everyday activities. Now suddenly those days seem a long way off and that’s sad.
I have no doubt my friend will in time get better, she will respond to treatment and slowly be helped back to recovery. But it all seems so unfair, so senseless and so avoidable, if only she had the right level of care when she first left long term hospitalisation. Someone popping in every now and then after 24/7 care for over a decade was never enough, even I could see that.
For now all I can do is hope and pray, that she will recover and be able to gain back the life she so deserves. I will be there for her as much as I can, I will text and call her often and visit her when possible, you see she helped me survive some tough times and dark days. Now I need to be there for her, to understand and support her through these difficult times whilst reminding her of the fun we have shared and of the fun times we will share once again.
Copyright DID Dispatches 2014