Crash & Recovery: 2016 Edition

Two weeks and six days: that’s how long I’ve spent in psychiatric units this time.  Looking at it all long-term, my times in hospital have become more spread out and my recovery from them quicker, so much so with the latter that I’m almost looking over my shoulder wondering how this recovery could have taken place.

Although the warning signs were there – I was yearning for the past times I’d spent in hospital, I was neglecting my social life and becoming increasingly disconnected – I’m starting to view these times spent in care as somehow necessary, something of a release from the build-up of detrimental environmental factors in the absence of adequate problem-solving skills, things you can only really pick up after the event.

My psychiatrist, however, doesn’t take the more positive, recovery-oriented view of all this that I do.  To him, any form of ‘relapse’ is a sign of failure and yet, since 2007-8, every relapse has been followed by improved functioning and greater clarity.

It hasn’t been easy but the results may be worth it. Identifying that I was probably right in concluding that my initial – and mistaken – spell in hospital led to post-traumatic stress, I’ve had to almost apply treatment for this on my own though I’m pretty sure I’ve been successful, talking out issues which had been dancing in the back of my mind for years.

The plan had been to rework my relationship with past thinking and events so that they’re more power-balanced, losing their ability to cause disruption in the back of my mind, and to confuse by bringing them to the front.  Again, I’m pretty sure I’ve pulled this off, but time will tell, I suppose, and it’s way too early to predict whether this has been a successful venture or some Quixotic folly.

My first week and four days, at the County’s central unit, were chaos.  I was too far gone. Then, returning to home ground (where I’m writing this now) – Kidderminster’s ward – I was met with familiar faces who soon had me levelling off, stabilised, to be followed by compounding improvements in the following days to the point of a near full recovery now, though with the sense that it’s all happened so rapidly it’s a wonder any of it has.

Facebook, although the bulk of its content has become pitiful, would also provide a link to the integration of the personality, reminding me of better times and places – reacquainting me with my social self, the person I’m agreed to be.  Mental health wards used to be almost hermetically-sealed worlds with no ‘outside’. You were there, that’s all there was and, before you knew it, you, too, could find yourself policing on behalf of the powerful against the weak.

Social media has changed things and, although it’s taken the NHS and psychiatry some time to jump on board and allow common access to smartphones on many wards, access to a forum which can, while being hazardous when paranoid, for example, offers an link to the wider community and providing a counterbalance to an environment which can be so conservative and infantilising as to almost drive you insane.

Things have changed.  I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve been admitted to various hospitals, but when I first came here 16 years ago, I was struck with how archaic psychiatry is.  All these years later, though change is traditionally slow, there are positive signs and I’m now struck with how much these people – the staff and patients – have to deal with and how well they often manage, against the odds, and usually with ideas and approaches which, although now almost taken for granted they’re so popularly – and blindly – accepted, can leave a lot to be desired. Improvements in even basic problem solving skills are needed here.

In those 16 years, services have declined, with all manner of initiatives dropped and space once used for activities now used for offices as managerialism has swept through the sector and paperwork rather than actual nursing and care have become the name of the game.  Staff have come and gone, too.  With many, because you’re meeting them at emotionally-charged times across a prolonged period, you build up an interesting and unique relationship.  When they retire, the place just isn’t the same.

That said, things have improved in the two years since I was last here.  Communication has improved greatly – staff are now not so rushed in prioritising paperwork and instead are frequently to be found making concerted efforts to reach out to patients and develop relationships, echoing the approach and personality of the new ward manager.  That said, the issues with activities and space remain so that only one communal area has been left in place and even that’s a confined, restricted and at times claustrophobic area.

As time passes, I’m becoming one of the older patients. I first noticed it the last time I was in hospital as I developed a more conciliatory partnership with staff, rather than the old confrontational approach.  The edges do tend to soften with age and I still see newbies making the same mistakes I did way back when while noticing myself making the same mistakes the oldies made when I was a newbie.

All told, though, this admission has been welcome in retrospect.  Things had built up over time which I needed to stop and think about though it was unlikely that would happen the way things were.  It’s also been good to reconnect with people I’d become way too dismissive of as I researched the background of mental health. And I can feel the difference even now, at this early stage, of having cleared out a lot of baggage to reach some new, better stage.

Following this spell in hospital, I’ve realised that I need to develop my social life, not shutting myself away like I did in the time between this and my last admission. Social media, alone, clearly isn’t enough.  I’ll go over that, and other things, in a planning meeting scheduled for tomorrow afternoon, where I should be allowed back home for a week before being discharged from the hospital and removed off the section.

As for the future, in productive terms, there’s a project I’ve been working on for quite some time, now.  I’ve now decided to target it at a general audience, rather than a mental health one as I initially planned, but I’m also thinking of postponing it to set up some sort of drop-in centre, as current offerings just aren’t cutting it, something needs to be done and the people I’ve met on my travels need something that currently isn’t being offered to them.


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