TW – discussion of mental illness, suicidal thoughts and psychiatric wards

I always held the societal misconception of in-patient care – that they were filled with strait-jackets and padded rooms. Psychiatric wards are not like the “loony bins” you see on TV. I detest that phrase – like hospitals are some kind of place to rid the world of the ill.

Sometimes, it seems like everyone supports those with mental illness, until they start showing symptoms that aren’t the image of the “cute and quirky” girl with social anxiety. The ward is a cruel reminder that mental illness comes in many forms. From the boy with cuts up his arm to the girl with psychosis-based delusions, the two wards that I’ve been on served to remind me of the realities of mental health difficulties.

I remember my first night in the adult ward. I went to my room and there was a cuddly toy tucked into my bed and a soaking wet hospital gown on the floor. At first, I was scared, but then I thought about how ill the girl who did this must be. The adult ward was not a pleasant experience for me, but it did one thing – it kept me (and all of my fellow patients) safe.

I was admitted to the psychiatric ward when I told I mother I couldn’t keep myself safe, that I was concerned that I was going to commit suicide if left unattended.  I suffer a lot with impulsivity, a sudden urge surging through me to do something self-destructive. I never usually planned the attempts to end my life – my instincts take over and I feel like a helpless puppet; my unwell mind pulling at the strings, willing me to take the pills

The first time I went into in-patient care was when I was 17, so I was admitted to an adolescent ward. The night before, I couldn’t sleep. It was five-forty-five in the morning and I was standing outside. I felt the air marginally warm as the sun began to rise and the light wash over me.My breath was visible in the cold air and the night heavy with silence (or as close to silence you can get, living in London suburbs). From my early teenage years, I enjoyed standing outside at night or early morning. My friends and I used to go to the park in our pyjamas and I loved the feeling of freedom you get when nobody is around.

When a reasonable time came around, it was time to formally get up and get myself ready to leave. As I arrived, I watched the group of teenagers stretch their necks to look at the new arrival. Scared? Understatement. ‘Fucking terrified’ may be a more accurate turn of phrase…

Near enough instantly, I felt welcomed. The group, as per tradition, had made me a door sign with my name on and welcome messages neatly written around where my name stood. It was decorated with glitter glue and crepe paper, two things which always made me feel nostalgic to the artsy-crafty childhood I had.

It was hard being in the ward and away from home. The first night I was there was rough; one of the patients attempted suicide in their unescorted leave (this meant you had 15 minutes to walk the grounds or go to the shop unattended, but usually meant that you bought some cigarettes and smoked half a pack, returning and the nurses commenting on your “new perfume” and you feeling a bit sick). The ward was in crisis, people were crying and I thought to myself “how nice it must be to have people care about you so much”. Selfish thought, I know. It seems to be the people who care the most, also hurt the most. This group of people I met in the adolescent ward were the most caring and supportive people I’ve ever met in my life. One person is feeling down? The whole ward comes together to cheer that person up.

There is one moment in the ward I will never forget. We were all sat around in the group room idly chatting when we started throwing glue at the ceiling to see if it would stick. I have never laughed so genuinely as that moment. When you’re stuck in a psychiatric unit, you gotta laugh at the little things! It remained on the ceiling for the two weeks I had left on the ward and a small part of me hopes its still there

I want to leave on this note – there is no weakness in seeking help and admitting you need help. Being admitted into in-patient care is not a sign of weakness; rather it’s an indicator of strength. Whether you it was a voluntary admission or you were sectioned under the Mental Health Act – you are strong. You are surviving through torment in one’s head and that, my dears, is what I call strength.

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