I had more I wanted to say about challenges one gets to face inside the walls of a psychiatric ward. But the first essay was daring to push three-thousand words so I concluded that one and decided to make it a surprise two-parter.
Right, so what’s left to say after the heavy and difficult subjects covered in Part One? Let’s start with the showers. All the plumbing here is designed in such a way that there’s no protruding parts that can be broken off and used as a weapon or have something tied around for anyone to try and hang themselves. Everything is button activated and comes from recessed nozzles.
The water pressure isn’t great. Washing hands in a sink, for example, has to be done by pressing your hands to the back of the sink and letting the gentle dribble of cold water mixed with the friction of rubbing against the inside of the sink remove any soap or dirt.
The water automatically shuts off after a few seconds and can only be activated a set number of times in succession before it goes into a time-out. This is a safety mechanism to prevent people trying to block up the drains and flood the rooms.
Unfortunately, it’s also a mechanism to make having a satisfying shower very, very difficult. Typically, I quite enjoy letting the water run over me and then I start getting down to business. And I approached my first shower in the ward with this mindset.
Once the water had shut off the first time, I located the soap sachets I had been issued, which were impossible to open with wet hands and so I ended up having to rip them open with my teeth and then spend a few moments spitting shampoo at the floor.
I hit the button for the shower again and began washing. This happened a few times until I only had hair left to do. I lathered up, hit the button for water and…
I jabbed at the button a few times but it was for nought. The shower had decided I’d activated it enough times to need a time-out. I had to use the sink – which can’t be plugged – to splash water at my head until I had washed off the shampoo. Not an easy task given how weak the trickle was.
Back in here again, I’ve got the showers worked out and I have developed a routine that makes it quick and painless. Painless that is once the water has gone from sub-zero to tepid. First thing on the agenda when I get home is to have a ‘hot’ shower.
Interactions with other patients is possibly my biggest challenge. In the grand scheme of things, I’m a fairly ‘normal’ person and can articulate and speak about as well as any ‘typical’ human adult. But the range of difficulties the other patients are facing is extraordinary and it poses a real challenge for me.
Take for example – again, names changed to respect privacy – Jim; He can speak but for some reason his voice is strained and high pitched. Imagine if you tried to speak while inhaling deeply, that’s probably about the closest thing I can liken it to.
I can’t understand a bloody thing he says. He’s always got a someone watching over him so his troubles – whatever they are – are such that he needs constant supervision. He’ll sometimes look right at me and say something and I have to just shrug and say ‘I don’t know, mate’ which seems to frustrate him.
At one point, he’d sat down opposite me and was mumbling away in his funny little voice, and then all of sudden, said with some remarkable clarity, “…soldiers deployed in the battle of Stalingrad…” before becoming incoherent again.
I mean, what the hell am I supposed to do with that? I’ve got into the habit of wearing earphones and/or ear defenders regularly, not just when I need to, but also as a deterrent to avoid situations that I might start to flounder in. For the most part, this tactic has worked.
However, I’ve developed a tail. A paranoid delusional young lad who believes the food is hexed and that mind control is being used. There are monitoring devices in the mattresses, spying equipment in boxes above the beds, and people who wear glasses or face masks are especially suspicious.
One poor chap who works here, Lee, a nice bloke who’s totally unassuming and easy going, has spent the last two days being called Craig by this young paranoid lad because he’s convinced it’s a false identity being used to cover up that Lee’s actually the mastermind behind this whole thing and is also keeping Terry Pratchett locked away illegally in a secret facility.
The staff here, for the most part, are actually superb. The challenges they must face every day dealing with these people must be incredibly draining, demanding and place them under great strain. But while on shift, they bear it well and rarely show any sign of bother.
Sleep has become a challenging thing to manage. Some nights I do okay, some nights are quite poor. I’m being given meds to help with this but if someone goes batshit mental at 4am, then I’m awake from 4am. I’m trying to get early nights to make up for this, but nothing will ever be a substitute for being able to sleep in until 8am.
Mealtimes are easier now that I’m in general population. When I first arrived, I had to be kept isolated until they could be sure I didn’t have Covid. This meant that my meals were brought to my room. But, you’re not allowed sharp objects on the ward, so the only cutlery allowed to be issued was a large, chunky plastic spoon.
If it was curry and rice, its not so hard, but when you’re trying to cut up a little minted-lamb steak with a spoon, things can become a bit more of a nuisance. Since I was let out of my room, I’ve been able to go along to the cafeteria and use real cutlery again. It’s the little things in life that make the real difference.
It’s funny when I think back to my first experience in this place back in December. It was utter hell and I fought hard to get out. And when I did, I was still a mess and in a terrible way. I asked myself earlier today why this time was any different. How am I now on six days already in this – literal – madhouse and not going stir-crazy?
I’ve been a little more cooperative this time around. I’ve not fought the system as hard and have been going with the flow. Additionally, I’ve been more open to medications that will try to level me out a bit. That was, if you’ll excuse the pun, a hard ill to swallow.
I had been so adamant that anti-depressants were not the answer, but friends and family were pleading with me to give them a chance. When I was up before the consultants, sort of like a parole hearing you see on TV, four people sat at a long desk and me in the middle of the room sat on small chair, I was honest and open and told them that I had to consider meds as an option but I was reluctant to go back to any that I had tried previously.
They gave me printouts for two types of pill that I’d never tried before and asked me to do some reading up and decide which one I preferred the sound of. It didn’t take long for me to formulate my response.
Something called Venlafaxine. It had fewer adverse side-effects than the other option and this one caught m eye for other reasons too. It claims to have also been used successfully for treating post traumatic stress, OCD and even ADHD… All things that have been suggested to me over the last few weeks as conditions I’m going to need to understand and manage.
It’s early days. I won’t really begin to feel the benefits of the pills for a couple of week at least. But I’m taking them and am engaging with the support programmes in place at the hospital as best I can. I’m going to groups. I’m visiting the gym. I’m getting out into the garden when opportunity arises. I’m getting involved. I’m showing them that I’m willing to work with them, that I’m willing to be interactive, that I want to make an effort.
Deep down, I’m still miserable. I may be masking it a bit, but they can see it and they know it by how I’m answering their questions. I’m not the first guy they’ve ever seen attempt to put on a brave face to cover up his shame.
A notable thing though, I’ve not cried, nor have I hurt myself for three days now. I can’t quite pin a reason on this. I still feel right on the edge of tears all the time, but I haven’t actually had a cry. Perhaps this is because there is so little here to frustrate me anymore. Perhaps the anti-anxiety meds I take ‘as and when required’ have been keeping me a little calmer… Who knows?
Something is better. That’s all we need to focus on right now. One of the greatest challenges I faced a week ago was trying to figure out how to get through a day without trying to beat myself unconscious.
Now, my greatest challenge is trying to tell my lawyer that I want to represent myself from now on.
I’ve got a long way to go before I’m better. I’ve had my problems with depression in the past and slowly overcame them with the help of medicine. But it kept coming back, time and time again, and each time was always much worse than the one prior.
This was the mental crash to end all mental crashes. It was either going to completely destroy me, or it was going to be the one to finally find the root of the problems and start to tackle them properly. A week ago, I couldn’t see any way out. I saw no potential for a future.
I’ll admit, I’m still a bit scared about what the next few weeks/months has in store for me. I’m at the mercy of my mortgage lender and whatever the government will let me claim to see how well I cope with maintaining my home.
I feel like there’s still a chance I could be backed into a corner and do something regrettable. But there are good people here who are both willing and able to help me to find answers to the questions I’m afraid to ask. And I’m accepting any and all help that is being offered.
The path ahead may be shrouded in darkness, but people here are showing me sign posts to help me find a way through. I don’t know for how long I’ll be kept here. Although I’m a voluntary patient and not under any section, I’m not going to discharge myself this time. I’m going to wait until the doctors and the consultants are satisfied that I’m making the progress they want to see and that I’ve got all the tools and mechanisms in place to see that I can return to the outside world safely and with fewer worries to burden me.
As I said last time, let’s not count chickens before they hatch, but we do now have a glimmer of possibility way, way off in the distance.
In the meantime, I shall continue to share a ward with the commander of the Special Boat Service at RAF Brize Norton, a gypsy king worth £157b who’s also a pro footballer and my lawyer who thinks that custard is a delivery mechanism for surveillance chips to be put into the human body.
Life ain’t ever dull in a mental hospital.