5. Other patients (Hospital and Me and BPD)

As I said in my introduction to this series, I won’t be discussing any of the other patients on Stanage Ward in detail, or by name, but obviously it would be weird to not mention this aspect of my time there. Looking back, I can’t remember exactly how many us there were at the time. I think between 15 and 25 at once, although this was constantly changing.

I met a real range of people while I was in there, and learned a lot about different mental illnesses and the way they impact people. Most of the people there had been ‘sectioned’ which means their admission had been mandatory under the Mental Health Act. Unlike voluntary patients like myself, they were subject to strict rules about if and when they were allowed to leave the ward at all, and their time in hospital could be extended at any time, despite what their own wishes were. Whilst it would have been foolish of me to discharge myself, I could have done if I’d chosen to, and as long as I spoke to a member of staff who did a risk assessment before I left the ward, I could do so pretty much whenever I asked during the day, as long as someone was with me. 

The people I met were all so different, although many of them were grouped under similar diagnoses. Paranoid schizophrenia, personality disorder, eating disorder, severe depression, dementia. As a society we find these kinds of labels scary and often assume that those they are attached to are also scary or ‘other’, but everyone I met was just a person who wasn’t very well. Some were a lot more unwell than others, some would need to be on medication or under care for the rest of their lives to help manage their illnesses. Stanage is an acute ward, which means that most patients are sort of passing through on their way to the next stage of their treatment or care. Whilst a handful of patients were there for the entirety of my 18 days, most came and went within a week or so, either to another more specialised ward, to the next stage of their ‘step-down’ back into the community, or to their own home.

Some spent their days shut in their rooms, only leaving to venture to the outside space to smoke , but most like me sat in the communal areas, chatting to support workers and each other, and we all had to eat together in the dining room. I met some amazing, brave and inspiring people on Stanage. Some wrote poetry, some drew amazing pictures, others were kind enough to comfort me during my meltdowns despite how they were feeling. At times, the way some behaved was a bit scary, but none of it was ever directed towards me, and was usually based on some way they felt they were being unfairly treated. Which would make anyone angry, I think.

Sometimes I wonder where they all are and how they’re doing. You can’t help but grow close to people in that situation, and I did swap numbers with some of them before I left, but I’m not really in touch with anyone from Stanage now. I think when you’re coping with your own mental ill health, it can sometimes be hard to stay connected with others who are in their own dark place. 

I’m grateful for everything those people taught me about life, humanity and mental health. I wish as a society we weren’t so scared to see those with mental illnesses as people who deserve just as much love, respect and care as everyone else.

Sarah x

4. Wedding Anniversary (Hospital and Me and BPD)

***Trigger warning: explicit references to self harm***

What better way to spend your first wedding anniversary than on a psychiatric ward where your husband can only visit for a little while in the evening and the staff check on you every hour?

Three days after I was admitted was one year since our wedding day. I don’t think I’ve ever felt lower. That morning, in my ward room on my own, I used a sharpened pencil crayon to cut my arm and thigh repeatedly. I screamed and I cried. It was just so fucking unfair. A year before had been the happiest day of my life, and now here I was being the worst wife in the world, having trapped Tom into a marriage with a mad woman. Or at least that was what my very poorly brain was telling me. It wasn’t an amazing start to the day. I remember one of the scariest nurses telling me off (fair enough) and telling me that I needed to see my marriage as a reason to keep going, not a sign that I had failed. She was scary, but she was right.

On the ward we had a team of staff who organised occupational therapy sessions for us (more on these sessions in a later post), and on one of the first few days I was there we were making cards. Yes, the cliché is true – arts and crafts were deployed freely for us as a way of de-stressing and helping us be creative. Wait until you see the bowl I made in pottery… but I digress. 

The amazing work of art I made for Tom in OT.

I decided to face the fact that I was spending our anniversary apart from Tom, and made him a card. I drew, glued and bejazzled the shit out of it, with tears pouring down my face the whole time. It is possibly the tackiest thing I have ever made, and yet when I gave it to him he was thrilled, and that evening he sent me a photo of it in situ in our lounge. Bless his heart. He brought me a card into the ward (NOT homemade, what a slacker) and I put it up on top of my wardrobe so that I’d see it every day.

I’ve written previously about how supportive Tom is, and how he made sure I was as okay as possibly in hospital. He never made me feel guilty about being away from him, and a few days after our anniversary he picked me up from the ward and took me out on leave for the evening, to one of our favourite Sheffield restaurants.

As first anniversaries go, it wasn’t a conventional one, but it was ours, and it reflected what was going on in our marriage at the time. 

Tonight we’re going out for a meal to celebrate our second anniversary, and I won’t have a nurse checking me every hour. At least I hope I won’t, because that’d be weird.

Sarah x

3. My Room. (Hospital and Me and BPD)

Even a year on, I can still picture my room on Stanage really clearly. And as I write this, I realise that I actually took a photo on the day I left the ward. I haven’t looked at it since and if I can find it I will add it to this post.

Not an amazing photo, but it shows the hospital-style bed and the stylish plastic chair, plus the garish curtains. This was taken on the day I left, hence the packed bags. Yes, that is a cuddly grey cat that I’ve had since I was 7. Her name is Delilah.

First off, I was not expecting to have my own room. During a previous crisis, about a month before I arrived on Stanage, I had been offered a bed on another ward, had looked round it and been scared out of my tree by the cramped dormitory-style wards, and the angry, unhappy people I saw. At that point, I felt that being in that situation would not be beneficial to my mental health, so I declined the place. I guess it shows how desperate I was a month later, on 26th October, that when they offered again to find me a place, I didn’t even care that it might be like the first ward I’d seen. I just knew I needed to accept the help.

In the end, it was a completely different set-up, and this ward (Stanage) had a much calmer, less chaotic feel to it. Purely circumstantial, I’m sure, but I guess it shows just how much of a lottery mental health provision is, even within the same city.

Anyway, I did have my own room. It was very basic, but clean and pretty large. It contained just a hospital-style bed with a plastic mattress, a wardrobe with no coat-hangers, I guess for obvious reasons, and an easy chair that was slung very close to the floor.

The en suite toilet and shower were separated from the room by a thick plastic swing door, and again the en suite was very clean and very basic. The square shower tray was surrounded all the way round by a plastic curtain that liked to adhere itself to you while you tried to wash your hair and the towels were approximately the size of a sheet of A4, but for the time I was there it was all mine.

Along one side of my room was a massive window, which took up most of the wall. Very lovely, except that it looked out onto the outdoor space for the other ward in the building, so I often had my, garishly patterned, curtains closed. 

Overall, it may not have been much, but at the time it was my little sanctuary in the middle of the chaos of the ward and my own brain. I’ll always remember it really fondly as the place I first began to feel better, and it makes me extra-grateful for the lovely, comfy home Tom and I share.

Sarah x

2. First Day (Hospital and Me and BPD)

I arrived on Stanage Ward at the Michael Carlisle Centre in Sheffield late on the evening of 26th October. I was met by the Ward Manager, Tom, and told the basics of how everything worked. I was shown past the nurses’ office, through the communal area (including ping pong table and some plastic sofas), down a long corridor to my own (!) room, which had a mini en suite (!!!). Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t The Ritz, but it was mine, and I could close the door on the rest of the ward, and the world. The shower that evening, after the day I had had, could not have felt better. Even if Dwayne The Rock Johnson had joined me. Mmm, Dwayne The Rock Johnson. 

ANYWAY.

I waited until 10pm when I could go and collect my sleeping medication, then I crashed out my teeny hospital bed, under a very thin duvet, right up against a radiator belting out some RIGHT heat. I must have been exhausted from the previous day as I slept until about 6am the next day, which at that point was a lie-in for me.

If I’m honest I can’t remember many details about that first day, which is weird as my memory is generally pretty good. I can’t even tell you what I ate that day, which is unheard of. (My mum will tell you that as a kid she could ask me what she’d served to guests the last time they had visited, in order to not serve them the same meal this time.)

That first day on the ward was a Saturday, which is a pretty quiet day on wards in general. The doctors weren’t doing rounds and there was no chance of me seeing the consultant psychiatrist until at least the Monday. That was at least two days stretching ahead of me, two days with no contact with the people who I was hoping were going to help me get better. After the initial relief of being admitted and of accepting the help I so desperately needed, I started to feel hopeless again.

I remember speaking to one of the support workers on the ward (a poorly-paid and mainly thankless job, but the SWs were some of the most amazing people I have ever met), Sally, who was very kind and let me pour out my mixed-up thoughts to her. I saw a lot of her during my time on Stanage – she was straight-talking, funny and bonkers (in a good way). I will always remember that chat, the first proper one I’d had with anyone there, and although the details are hazy, I do recall that the overriding message from her was to try and use the time on the ward to take pressure off myself and relax as much as I could. She told me to treat it ‘like a really shit holiday camp’. At the time I had no idea what she was talking about, but looking back I know what she was doing was telling me to trust the process and let go of what I couldn’t control.

I don’t remember much else about that day. I must have met more people, staff and patients, that day but all I really remember is mainly thinking one thing over and over: 

‘What if this doesn’t make me better?’

Sarah x

1: Admission (Hospital and Me and BPD)

***Trigger warning: references to suicidal thoughts and self harm***

My recovery from my breakdown began on 26th October 2018, five and half months after I first became ill. That Friday was one of the worst days of my life but, looking back, I know it had to happen and I’m beyond glad that it did. I’m going to try and be as honest as possible in these next few posts, but I will be skating over a few of the grimmer details about how bad things became. I’m not entirely sure why I’m doing this, and if I’m being honest I think I still feel ashamed of some of the things BPD has made me do. I also don’t want to put those close to me in an awkward position by oversharing, as this is their story too, and not all of it is mine to tell. But I will do my best.

In the weeks prior to 26th October 2018, I was a complete mess, doing all the wrong things, and deep in denial about how ill I actually was. I tried to go back to work in this time, believing that maybe if I went back to having the life I was living before I was ill I would become that person again. It went spectacularly badly (entirely as the result of me misjudging what I could cope with; my work were incredibly supportive) and triggered a series of events and A&E crisis visits. I was not even slightly managing my difficult emotions, and I can barely remember a lot of what was happening in that time. I know I wasn’t sleeping well at all, and the team looking after me at the time had changed my medication, meaning I was taking a large dose of a sleeping aid every night and waking up in the absolute terrors at 3am or 4am every day, unable to get back to sleep, terrified of the thoughts and images my brain was churning out.

The morning of this Friday I woke even earlier than normal. I think it was about 1am. I couldn’t settle back to sleep, my brain was on fire, everything was wrong, wrong, wrong. I needed to escape my own mind, and I could think of only one way to do that. I needed to not exist anymore. God, I’m crying now just thinking about how desperate I was. I didn’t want to die, but I just could not continue as I was. I did not know how to save myself, and I couldn’t stand what I was putting my family through anymore. These thoughts triggered a series of awful events early that morning that meant I was taken to Bassetlaw A&E in crisis, and in floods of tears. Panic had consumed me and I did not know what was going to happen next. I had lost.

We had been staying at my in-laws house that night, and with me in the hospital were my husband, Tom, and my lovely sister-in-law, Hannah. I honestly don’t know what I would have done without them there with me. We were put in a windowless room all day, whilst the medical professionals assessed me and I climbed the walls with panic and despair. Again, I won’t go into details, but they had put me in a separate room so that my distress did not disturb other patients, and they had to sedate me at times. Tom and Hannah talked to me, held me, calmed me down, distracted me and encouraged me to eat whatever food I was brought. They helped me talk to the man from psychiatry liaison, and explain what had been happening. And, ultimately, they helped me make the decision to admit myself as a voluntary in-patient to a psychiatric ward.

I’m going to stop writing here, it is way more intense writing about all this than I expected it to be. Not in an awful way, I guess this is all pretty cathartic, but I feel so deeply sorry for that broken and desperate person I am writing about, and also so deeply grateful to her for holding on and believing that things could get better, that she could get better.

Cheers, Me.

Sarah x

Hospital and Me and BPD: A series of posts -‘What am I doing?’

***Trigger warning – references to suicidal thoughts and self harm***

26th October will, I think, always be a date that is meaningful for me, as will 13th November.

Between those dates in 2018 I was a voluntary inpatient on the Stanage Ward (an acute psychiatric ward) in Sheffield, following a prolonged period of mental ill-health. If you’ve already read some of my posts, you’ll know that mental ill-health is putting it mildly. I broke down, lost myself, was stalked by a black dog, stared into a seemingly bottomless void. All those things are clichés for a reason, it turns out.

During that period of complete and total mental annihilation (May – October 2018) I battled suicidal thoughts and self harm. I couldn’t sleep or eat properly. I stopped doing everything. I was not myself, I couldn’t even remember who ‘myself’ was. So that was where my hospital admission came in.

I’ve doing a lot of thinking about how to address this time in hospital on my blog, and I’ve decided that the best way to tackle it is to take it in little bits. So I’m going to be posting every day this year between 26th October and 13th November, with each post discussing a different aspect of my time on the ward. Quite a few people have asked me what it was like, so I’m going to try and address some of the questions I’ve had, and also use it as a bit of a chance to work through some of the stuff that happened during that time.

I will not be discussing other patients, except in a general sense; I will be focusing on my own experience while I was in there, the ups and downs, the really crap bits, and how I feel the decision to accept the help and admit myself was the best decision I made for my recovery.

I hope you find it interesting!

Sarah x

World Mental Health Day and Me and BPD

On Thursday last week, someone pissed me off on Twitter. Not exactly big news, as Twitter is full of people getting irked on a minute-by-minute basis.

This was someone tweeting that they disliked the sentiments ‘it’s okay not to be okay’ and ‘it’s okay to talk’, because in their line of work they would be judged negatively for opening up about their poor mental health. The tone of the tweet was a bit resentful and sanctimonious, or at least that’s how I read it.

Thursday (10th October) was World Mental Health Day and, from what I could see, social media and news feeds were flooded with people engaging in the conversation about it. I felt a bit like this person on Twitter was saying that those of us are able to talk about it should maybe be a bit quieter when doing it. I felt this person was saying that in a REAL job (which I don’t have at the moment) and in the REAL ADULT world, talking about mental health was not the done thing. So I got cross and stroppy.

Then I pulled my head out of my own arse and had a word with myself.

Now, I am aware that I am in a really privileged position to be able to share as much as I do about my mental health. I have met with very little judgement from people (at least to my face!) and I don’t work in a job where I feel forced to conceal when I’m not okay. Even when I was still working I received nothing but support from my colleagues and the leadership team. I’m white, I’m straight, I’m cisgendered – all of which mean that I I am a lot freer to seek about my mental health than a lot of others. My situation is by no means representative of everyone.

So, even though initially I was quite cross with this person for being so down on the idea of WMHD and of people talking more, that quickly morphed into just feeling really sad that they have not had good experiences of talking about their mental health, and that they feel it would be detrimental to their job to do so.

It also reminded me that, like everything, talking about mental health is a very personal thing, and what feels comfortable to one person would be unthinkable for another. 

I’ll also say that, considering I bang on about mental health so much myself, I am still sometimes surprised by the things people share and reveal. On Thursday, people who I have never before seen speak about their mental health in public shared stories, anecdotes, messages of support and reassurances that their metaphorical doors are always open. 

Despite knowing that mental illness does not discriminate at all, I still found myself going ‘but X is so pretty, surely they can’t feel anxious?’ or ‘woah, I always thought Y seemed so confident and successful, I can’t believe they ever feel down!’ We can all fall into the trap of thinking that some are immune to unhappiness or illness, and in my opinion the more people share their stories, big or small, the more the mental health narrative grows and a much more realistic picture is created. So this massive outpouring of mental-health related messages on Thursday was amazing, and I think everyone who shared their sentiments is so incredibly brave.

I love this quote by CS Lewis. Mental ill health can feel so isolating, so when you find others who have felt the same way, it can ease the pain little.

It’s great that so many people felt able to talk that day, and I hope they found their words were met with support and kindness, and that they can continue to talk all year round. But equally, I hope people who do not feel comfortable sharing do not feel they HAVE to. I hope that, for them, just seeing that they are not alone will be enough to offer some comfort. 

Just because in an ideal world we would be as comfortable speaking about mental health as we are about physical health, does not mean that everyone should feel compelled to.

Sarah x