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My Experience in a Psychiatric Ward

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I began writing in April 2018 when worsening symptoms of PTSD and depression stopped me working as an ED nurse. Writing is therapy.

Entering the Psychiatric Ward

I’ve never engaged with any mental health services prior to my overdose in April ’18. I’ve also never been at an inpatient in a psychiatric hospital. At this point, my eyes are wide open and darting from one thing to the next, unable to sit still or communicate with any commitment.

I spent the first five days in my room, without eating a thing or talking to any patients, apart from the brief hello as I occasionally went to the kitchen to make a decaf coffee. It’s hard to say what happened during this time; it’s a little blurry due to the level of anxiety I was experiencing at the time. However, I can imagine that with each day that I was not noticing any improvement, it would have felt to me like going backwards. The external focus of control, the limited movement, frequent observation and utter dependence on staff for basics will have seemed worse than prison to me.

Challenging Myself to Socialise With Others

As the days continued to roll by, I had extended hellos to a few patients who were more than patient and supportive and seemed to display a level of understanding of my isolation. Throughout this time I was on 15-minute observations which meant that a member of staff has to document my movement from bed to chair to pacing the room to chair and back to bed etc. throughout each 24 hour period for the first few weeks.

Out of these staff, there were only two or three that made any extra effort to encourage me to leave my room or eat or socialise. Each time I passed these particular patients, the ‘hellos’ became ‘hello, how are you?’ and I genuinely wanted to know the honest answer to that question. Even though I myself opted for a simple, ‘I’m fine, thank you’, which was so obviously a lie due to my physical appearance and behaviour. Nevertheless, this seemed like progress and I was pleased with myself for trying as hard as I did to speak to people that were clearly reaching out. I will always remember these few and will be forever grateful.

Eventually, I would get the nerve to leave my room for brief periods to sit in the lounge or to attend therapy ground whilst I trialed a series of different medications. This would be so uncomfortable to begin with that I asked myself whether it was worth it, but I persisted with it and tried to appear as relaxed as I could. The first few weeks seemed very ‘try this, try that’ so I wasn’t aware of any particular movement forward or backward necessarily, just continuation which was fine by me.

One Month in

As the one month mark came around and left, I realised I was not going to recover half as quickly as I believed or was lead to believe prior to admission. The team responsible for my care told me two weeks would do the job. This made me nervous and made me doubt recovery was possible for me, which I remember voicing to the consultant who was supportive and consistent with reassurance. This was definitely what I needed to hear and might have just prevented a panicked downward spiral; instead, I maintained the status quo for a little longer.

I had tried a selection of different drugs including lithium, which never had a chance due to my reduced renal function after they failed in ICU last year. The consultant continued to add, subtract and write up completely new drug charts regularly to find the correct chemical balance for me. Some of these switches were really not good at all, and I experienced some horrendous withdrawal symptoms from stopping one antidepressant, not great timing either due to a family birthday that was particularly triggering thus leading to an awful week and taking a backward step.

Gradually over time I’d notice I just felt a little bit better than I did which brought about a little freedom which was fun at first but the novelty soon runs out with these things. Up until recently, there was a gradual upward trend in my mood and functionality despite the steady and uncomfortable anxiety.

I was free to go to the gym alone for two hours and to spend as much time as I like in the hospital grounds without being escorted which was amazing really. I was able to write outside in the sun, walk laps around the grounds and focus on my gym routine.

Then I noticed after a series of little stressors that I had started to dissociate during the day with intensifying flashbacks, this then lead to worsening nightmares over a few days. Ultimately I was unable to hide my anxiety and consequential low mood which then got the attention of the staff.

This was a real set back. I felt just the same as I did on arrival to the hospital which was awful and disheartening, to say the least. Despite all the medication, the therapy groups and engaging with people, I’ve still plummeted to step one, I was devastated. I couldn’t write, play guitar, read, eat and avoided all people as much as I could. The worst day was about 2 weeks ago now and I’m slowly starting to rebuild my routines to get out of this setback.

Both the consultant and the therapy staff are convinced that I will be able to get back to my independent self soon enough, with yet another change of medication and another prescription up his sleeve if required.

I’ll admit, I find that quite hard to hear when I’m still treading water but I have been better than this before so I deep down, I know I’m capable of it, I just need to believe it and let it happen.

Recovery is not linear; I’m a living, breathing example of that.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.