Just lately there have been quite a few news articles and posts on other blogs relating to mental health issues which have inspired me to want to write my own views on the various topics. Of course that’s all very well but it takes me away from my original purpose of writing this blog; that is to relate our own experiences in coming to terms with living with Schizophrenia and in dealing with mental health services. The logical thing for me to do would be to continue writing “our story” and in so doing I will probably make my views on the other various topics obvious in time.
In the post entitled “ One Flesh ” I left our story at the point where Mr Man had become so suicidal that he really needed 24 hour care, which of course I couldn’t give, and so he was admitted into the psychiatric ward in our local general hospital.
It was a Friday, and I remember that it was sunny. We had been to see his Psychiatrist that afternoon as an emergency appointment after Mr Man had admitted to me the night before that he had thought about waiting until I was asleep before attempting suicide. The Psychiatrist asked Mr Man where and how he had planned to kill himself, and he gave clear and precise answers. This was enough to show her that he was serious about his intentions, and she immediately phoned the ward and had one of the emergency beds arranged for him.
It must have been about 6 pm as we loaded Mr Mans bags into the boot of the car. This was a move we had tried to avoid for so long and yet now although there was a feeling of uncertainty I also felt that a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I’m not sure why, maybe because I felt he would be “looked after” and I wouldn’t have to fear for his safety anymore. Maybe because I thought this would be the start of a recovery for him. That feeling of relief was short lived though; walking away from the hospital that night was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.
The admission took hours, literally. There were lots of forms and paper work for the staff to fill in and lots of waiting around for doctors and such like. The staff were very friendly though and I really appreciated the fact that they showed me around the ward that would be home to my husband for a while. His bed was in a bay with 5 others and coincidentally the man in the bed next to him was Darren, mentioned earlier, who Mr Man had worked with previously. We didn’t realise this at the time though, and it wasn’t long before Darren was moved on to the Psychiatric hospital at the other end of town.
Although everyone was very friendly it was still quite nerve wracking being shown around. Everything was new to us, neither of us knew what to expect, and the whole ward was full of people - strangers. These strangers would look at us as we entered the room, and it all felt very awkward. We were shown into the lounge where some people watched TV while others played board games, including one of the nurses. It wasn’t an atmosphere that we had experienced on a hospital ward before; it was very relaxed and it was immediately apparent that everyone knew each other very well. Although they were all very accepting we felt like outsiders, unfamiliar with even the concept of a mental health community.
There was no room for privacy anywhere. Mr Man must have felt this more than I can imagine but of course at this point I didn’t know that he felt that he was being watched all of the time. It must have been very hard for him to not even have any privacy when he went to bed at night, something I expect most of us take for granted. But of course privacy was the one thing he couldn’t afford to be given; privacy was dangerous for him.
It was late by the time I left the ward that night. As I looked back through the little window on the locked ward door I could see Mr Man sitting on the edge of his bed; his hands in his lap, looking down towards the floor, looking abandoned and lonely. I wanted to take him back home with me again. I wanted to hold him and protect him and make him feel safe and loved, instead I felt guilty of making him feel vulnerable and abandoned. It was a dreadful feeling. It was so hard to let go and trust others to keep him safe and yet I knew I couldn’t do it myself anymore. I drove home alone that night and went into the dark empty house. It was so quiet. I went straight to bed, alone, thinking of how alone Mr Man would also be feeling.
For so long I had been used to barely leaving the house for fear of Mr Man harming himself without me there to protect him. Now suddenly there was nothing to stay home for. The house was so empty and quiet. It wasn’t a home anymore, only a house. I couldn’t bear to be there so each day I would get up and go out and stay out for as long as I could. I would do anything: window shop, visit friends or family, or just drink coffee on my own in a café. Most times I stayed out all day until it was time to go to bed. The rest of the house was hardly used and most of the time I ate out or bought ready made sandwiches to eat in the car on the way to the hospital. There were times when I felt that I really needed to be alone and yet the house was just too lonely. I suppose I didn’t really want to be alone, I just got tired of talking about the situation all the time with other people. I know people cared about Mr Mans progress, how I felt, and how I was coping, but I didn’t want to keep talking about it all the time. I wanted to talk about “normal” things. I needed a break from the reality of the situation. That sounds really selfish now; after all, what break was there for Mr Man? But these were the times when I would buy myself a microwave meal on the way home from the hospital and pick up a DVD from the video shop and just “switch off” for the evening. These times were the longest periods I spent in the house, but I spent them “somewhere else”, not wanting to think about the fact that I was alone, or why.
After 3 hospital admissions I can now say from experience that the first 3 weeks after admission and the first 3 weeks after discharge are always the worst - yes, even after discharge. Each time there is a complete change in routine and that can be so hard to get used to.
Back at the hospital Mr Man was having to get used to a new routine of his own. Whereas I was having to get used to being alone, Mr Man was having to get used to the constant company of strangers, which in itself brings a different kind of loneliness. He was used to me always being there for him, but now I could only visit for a few hours in the evening*. There were activities on the ward each day organised by the Occupational Therapists and he was encouraged to take part. This was a big change to hiding away in bed for 18 hours a day. I think most of the activities seemed tedious to him but he played along thinking that he would get into trouble for not trying to help himself if he didn’t. Also he thought that by doing as he was told he could be discharged sooner. The meals were good and he got to choose what he wanted from a menu the day before.
The ward was a mixed sex ward and the patients were quite varied – different ages, different races, different psychiatric problems – but they all had one thing in common: they all seemed to feel secure in the knowledge that everyone around them was just like them – broken in some way – and no one would judge them. There was a strong feeling of community and understanding between the patients, and the staff interacted very well with them. Often it was hard to tell who was the patient and who was the nurse as the nurses didn’t wear a uniform and there didn’t seem to be any air of superiority from them. They would sit and play board games with the patients, or chat and laugh with them.
There were a few patients who seemed “strange” but mostly they were all very “normal” and friendly – perhaps not what people would expect to find on a Psychiatric ward. Actually, I’m not sure what people expect to find on a Psychiatric ward. Most patients suffer some kind of depressive illness, and yet the atmosphere wasn’t depressing. People played CD’s, chatted, played pool and watched TV. The ones who obviously needed some time alone were left to be alone, and yet would occasionally receive an “are you ok mate?” from another patient. Together they seemed to have a strong community, but individually they were all suffering inside.
*Visiting times were different to the other wards in the hospital. There was a short visiting period at lunch time, and then from 6 pm – 10 pm in the evening.