One of the main reasons I decided to start blogging about my journey through the treacherous waters of dealing with mental illness was to try and spread the word and increase people’s awareness and knowledge of what’s going on around us everyday (whether we realise it or not).
Thankfully as a society we are living in a very exciting time. Mental health is becoming increasingly accepted as a legitimate illness that afflicts far too many of us. And with that legitimacy comes a much needed spotlight. People are slowly starting to feel more able to admit they are struggling and as a result they are more open about asking for help. And this can only ever be a good thing.
I’ve been to hell and back in the last few months. There were times I genuinely just wanted to give up and stop fighting just so I wouldn’t have to feel all the emotional pain I’d been bottling up for most of my life. But I hung on, spurred on by all the love and support I was getting from my family and friends (my amazing wife especially).
At my absolute worst, when I’d given up all hope of ever getting better, I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital. It wasn’t a decision that was made lightly. In fact at the time I wasn’t in much of a state to make any decisions for myself. My wife and psychiatrist both thought it would be for the best and strongly encouraged me to say yes.
So I did, and I can honestly say that choice probably saved my life.
Lots of people have asked me what it was like to be an inpatient. I think there are a lot of misconceptions out there. Some of my friends jokingly assumed that they had straightjackets and padded rooms. And I think a lot of people (I used to include myself) are afraid to ask exactly what it’s like in a mental health facility.
For me the overall experience really challenged my perceptions and fears of what a psychiatric hospital is actually like. Admittedly I was admitted to a private facility which was better funded and resourced than a humble NHS psych ward.
I was expecting an overcrowded, sterile and cheerless environment.
Instead it was more like a Travel Lodge with nursing staff. It was safe and non threatening, exactly what I needed at the time.
After settling in I was given a timetable of classes and therapy that I could attend. It was all voluntary but the staff did a great job of gently encouraging your participation.
Having that structure and support in place was vital. Rather than spending all my time alone and brooding I was interacting with therapists and other patients. The daily classes provided much needed education and support. I found the lessons on the various therapies (CBT and DBT) fascinating. We also learned about the importance of simple things like sleep and nutrition and how they can affect your mood.
And the group therapy sessions gave me a safe, non judgemental space to explore my issues. They also gave me the opportunity to expand my perspective and increase my empathy by listening to other people’s stories.
I had previously found dealing with my own depression to be a very isolating experience. I pushed people away and tried to deal with it on my own. My reasoning being that I was protecting people from my negativity. I also assumed that no one could possibly understand what it felt like to be me.
After my first group therapy session all of those misconceptions were blown away. I found that opening up and sharing how I felt with others was incredibly therapeutic. I discovered I wasn’t as unique as I thought I was. The other patients had remarkably similar stories and lived under incredibly similar circumstances as me.
The understanding and support I received, and gave, during those sessions amazed me.
As reluctant as I was to be admitted I can look back now and see just how important it was for my recovery.
The hospital provided me with a safe and secure space. It also gave me much needed structure and routine. I also received a really good education in the fundamentals of mental health and how to focus that towards understanding and dealing with my own problems.
It also taught be what I consider to be a vital lesson. You should never be afraid to ask for help. Suffering alone can only ever lead to more suffering. Whether it’s seeking professional help, going to see your GP or even just talking to your friends and family. It can make such a big difference.
Overall my time as a psychiatric patient was life changing. And definitely not scary. No dingy cells. No creepy, seemingly endless, dark corridors. No nutty professors. And not a single straightjacket in sight!