I sat this week just for a while and let my mind wander, wander back into that place I used to be, before I entered the mental health system. It was hard not to think of all those missed opportunities and long lost hopes and aspirations, those dreams I had of career promotions at a job I now no longer hold.
I also began to think of all the things I have learnt over this time and I realise how much I have changed as a result of my interactions too. I am far more sceptical of medical professionals, more willing to challenge and ask questions of those who are involved in my care. In truth I guess I’m a different person shaped by my experiences in a system that at times has felt more like an enemy than a friend who is trying to help me.
The reality is so much has changed since I first became unwell and so much of that change has been negative. I lost my job due to my mental health admission, it was it seemed impossible for my employer to employ someone who had been in a psychiatric ward. I can still remember being let go and thinking how unfair and unjust it was, I knew I wasn’t well and I knew it might be a while before I could work full time again and yet I so wanted to keep my job. It gave me hope and a future and something to hold on to and strive for and then suddenly it was gone.
I lost my dignity the little that I held, the first time I was forcibly restrained and held against my will – it didn’t feel good, it felt disempowering and it hurt. Here I was a vulnerable person being treated like an animal to be caged, no one spoke to me they just seemed to shout orders. I felt like no one cared and no one understood.
Before I entered mental health services I knew nothing about mental health law, sections, forcible restraint, forced medication, deprivation of liberty or locked wards. I’d never had to live by the law of a hospital ward, those that dictate when you can and can’t have a drink and even then it’s from a machine. I learnt to tolerate powdered milk and powered tea from machines that gave patients lukewarm drinks, some days I use to beg for a hot drink like normal human beings have. I just wanted to be treated like a normal human being not some second or third class citizen.
Time off the ward was a luxury and one which once on a section had to be negotiated, pre planned and approved, suddenly I became adept at forward planning my entire life. That’s what being in a mental health hospital does for you, it makes you an automotive robot who is controlled by others rules and commands.
Before I entered the system, I didn’t realise how scarce talking therapies were, how things were time limited no matter if you were well or not. I can recall my first therapy was CBT and once I had the maximum number of sessions allowed, no matter how well I was it stopped. What a waste of public money to withdraw a service before it’s had the desired outcome, it’s a bit like taking a cast of a broken limb before it’s healed.
During my time in mental health services I learnt that good old saying that seemed to come from mental health nurses I encountered, “in five minutes” of course I soon leant that meant not now, go away. I often wondered why these people couldn’t be honest and tell me they were too busy.
I also learnt that people judge by appearances, so if you happen to look clean and tidy then they assume your mentally well and coping. Though of course that may not be the case, but they had their rule that tidy means well. The number of times I have been told but you look tidy and that equals well, I might not have showered in a month but because I didn’t smell they thought I was ok, they never asked they just assumed.
Just like they assumed if you challenged them or asked questions you were deemed aggressive and labeled as having violent tendencies. Of course it couldn’t be the case you were just asking a question or challenging archaic rules and regulations which made no sense to anyone but the hospital staff.
I soon learnt about labels too the ones which medical professionals use at will and stick on a person like some kind of post it note. The very first label I got was actually wrong, yet it’s still on my file for all to see. The doctor who gave it me had seen me for just a few minutes yet his skill was such he could diagnose so quickly and as it turned out so wrong!
Labels, judgements, assumptions all seem to be things I have learnt and in truth they are negatives I’d rather not have seen. I guess mental health services are an eye opener for those who suddenly find themselves thrown into this world of chaos and confusion.
Before I entered this system I wasn’t aware of so much disparity between mental and physical health existed. I also didn’t realise so many things about myself, I have faced many negatives and yes they have changed how I view the world and how it views me, but I have also learnt much too. Not just about the mental health system but about myself as well, I know now that I am a fighter, I want to learn to cope with dissociative Identity disorder and one day in the future I will get back to work. But it won’t be in the job I once did, oh no my aspirations have changed and I like to think for the better.
Copyright DID Dispatches 2014