Reflecting on my first inpatient admission....
Today I arrived in London for a conference tomorrow. London holds a lot of memories and emotions for me. At 16 I went into the depths of mental illness and was admitted to a child and adolescent psychiatric unit in London. London was, and still is, 5 hours away from my home but due to the national shortage of beds it was the only place for me at the time. It was my first psychiatric inpatient admission and, to put it lightly, it was a terrifying experience. I was still a child, effectively, very unwell, and had never really been away from home. To be bundled into a car with nurse escorts and carted off 5 hours away, at the time, felt apocalyptic. This stuff only happened in movies, surely?! No, it happened a lot to many people, and it still happens now. Being ripped from your home and community is like having part of who you are taken away from you. For this to happen when you are ill and not quite attached to reality it is like being in the centre of a Hollywood apocalypse movie. No words I can string together will truly express what that experience was like for me. I did however write a poem at the time, which may express some of the things that were going through my mind;
Over the horizon an orange glow,
Over where the stars don’t go.
Fields of green flick past in seconds,
Not far now the driver reckons.
The world flurries, flurries past,
From one village to the last.
I wonder how it is my mind
Reached this state of such unwind.
Sat in a car escorted by nurses;
With my dad, one converses,
the other keeps an eye on me
prepared to pounce should I flee.
The orange city dome approaches
As my dread and fear encroaches.
Skyline replaced by staggered concrete
As I shift nervously in my car seat.
Not quite sure if anything‘s real,
Not quite sure if my mind will heal.
Not quite sure where I’m headed,
But this is exactly what I dreaded.
My mind has gone, and in its place
Sinister, bizarre thoughts deface.
I don’t understand what is happening,
My world is continuously blackening.
Driving through the night-time city
In another mind it could be pretty.
Stepping out of the car I condemn
My future to the hands of a system.
Windows guarded by steel bars
From here you can’t see the stars
Am I a prisoner or a patient?
We enter a guarded door adjacent.
Searched and shown the psych ward
Nurse marks her suspicious clipboard
And then I realise my dad will leave
For my home and family, I grieve.
One last hug before he goes
His smell lingers in his clothes
I see the door lock between us
Too devastated to show any fuss.
Catching tears before they fall,
I watch ‘til it’s just an empty hall
Between these walls I have to stay
For unknown time, ‘til unknown day.
It took me a long time to settle into the psychiatric ward environment, as you’d expect. On top of the new immediate environment, I was also trying to attune to being in a city having lived in the middle of green fields for most of my life. As time passed, I grew accustomed to London; weekend trips out with visitors meant I familiarised myself with the city. It became a place I started to feel a part of. Through all the tears, pain, medication and illness, I was slowly making steps forward. I grew used to, even institutionalised to, the hospital environment. I made friends with the other patients, I learned to trust a handful of staff. My departure was sudden and traumatising. I was transferred with little warning; told to pack my stuff and placed on a train before I’d even had a chance to say goodbye to staff and other patients. In the grand scheme of things it was a relatively short experience, but, heck, it was an intense one.
It seems odd to reflect on my time in London; it was such a dark and painful part of my life, but the city was part of my journey, for that it holds a special significance. I still hold a lot of memories; even pointless ones, like the 176 bus from elephant and castle. I think about the other young people who were on the ward with me a lot; I hope they are okay and getting on with life. I think about the staff too and wonder if they are still working on the same ward. I many ways the people around me on the ward saved my life, they’ll always have a place in my memory.
When I return to London now, usually for work, it feels like I’m suddenly 6 years younger wondering around the streets with a deadline for returning to the ward. I ask myself, what would 16 year-old me have thought about everything I have been through in the time since my first psychiatric inpatient admission? Being in London is a chance for me to contemplate and reflect on everything I have been through since that inpatient admission and challenge my thoughts and feelings about my future. 6 years ago, sat in that car being escorted to a psychiatric ward for the first time I would have sworn blind to you that I had no future. Since then, despite massive ups and downs with my illness, I have become a successful and passionate activist and public speaker with the privilege of working with amazing organisations and people. I still find it difficult to see my future but reflecting on the past 6 years reminds me that the future is scary, and I have no idea what’s going to happen, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t one. I thank London for being a part of my journey and giving me the opportunity to reflect when I return.