“One must still have chaos in oneself to give birth to a dancing star” (Nietzche)
I’m tired. So very tired. Let me take you back to last night. It’s 3am and I am lying in bed. But I am also wide awake. My neighbour is screaming and kicking my door violently. I don’t know if they will get in. But I am hyper-vigilant. I am scared. I feel alone. Back to the morning and it’s my first full day in a Cygnet hospital, this time a rehab hospital for mental health. I’ve been transferred from an acute ward in another hospital after six months there. Prior to that I was in an East London hospital for four months because my borough had no beds. I am now close to having been in a hospital setting for nearly two years. That weighs heavily on my conscious mind. For almost two years I have not walked down the street on my own. I have not been to a shop on my own. I have not seen my friends. Arriving at cygnet, it’s that same familiar daunting feeling to have to start again. New faces, new structure, new rules. I know no one.
As I sit on my bed, writing this, 12 months have passed. I am still in hospital. So much has changed. So much has not. I am still here under section 3 of the Mental health Act. What that means is that I can be held against my will and be forcibly given treatment if need be. This section has been renewed 3 times. That means that while I am here I have been through every season in the past year: winter, spring, summer, autumn. For the most part, the outer world, the weather, nature, and people going about their lives, have been seen through a window. Today the weather is boiling, but to me it is a furnace. The windows in my room do not open, except for one which opens a fraction.
It is mental health awareness week. What better time to share my perspective, when I am currently on section in hospital to treat my mental health. This is my reality, my story, and mine alone. There is sadness, there is hurt, there are blessings, some things cursed. This is rawness, this is my truth, but along with the pain, the hospital has also given me gifts, and these go unmentioned much of the time, due to the stress of my freedom being so curtailed. The country is on lock down. Well I have spent the past year in a lock down of sorts.
I still wake up wondering where I am, because I have been in so many hospitals, and I still wake up wondering just how I got here, into a long term rehab hospital. The day I received my section 2, after waking up in a medical hospital following a large overdose, the consultant on the acute ward who has known me for years, said “Kate, you have had so many admissions that this time I’m thinking you need rehab”. The idea of rehab is that you learn to cut down the frequency of your mental health episodes. But my fellow peers, and myself, never realised what a difficult admission it would be. It is so hard to live here in a stand alone women’s ward, in a big house. There may be 14 others here. But I still feel so lonely.
Before I came here I had undergone a terrible episode of psychosis in Edgware hospital, my usual acute ward. I thought I was trampling on the dead bodies of snakes and mice wherever I walked, I thought I had been brought in at gunpoint and ordered to kill my mum’s dog. I thought the staff were attacking me and stopping me from going to the toilet so I urinated in bins. I drank shampoo because I thought it was my methadone. I thought my phone was bugged so I put it in the washing machine. It came out dead but very clean.
The most serious issue though was that I planned my suicide, and I did not want my mum to be distressed so I plotted to murder her. Most of these things, among others, I barely remember, I was told what I had done. I was acting so bizarrely that I had an emergency CT scan incase my behaviour was organic and I had a bleed on the brain. Slowly, I recovered and was sent to rehab in cygnet. My 15 hospital admissions over the years had taken its toll, stolen my life, and it was last chance saloon. In Newham, prior to Edgware, I was in an extreme manic state. I thought I was from Texas, and had moved to LA and had become a celebrity. I spoke in a Texan accent for 6 months. Apparently everyone was deeply irritated but me. I was so high I thought I could fly.
I have rapid cycling bipolar, along with other labels and that means I have extreme ups and extreme downs. I have had every medication available, along with the side effects such as weight gain. That is devastating for a young person and their self esteem. I have even had ECT (Electro convulsion Therapy). That required two general anesthetics a week, with electrodes on your head, and a convulsion stimulated while you are unconscious. Traumatic. But it worked for my unmovable depression.
So back to now. May 2020, Cygnet Kenton. I sobbed every day for months when I arrived because I hated it so much. I connected with nobody for some time. The sense of separation was profound. Speaking today, I have found friends, some here, some gone. I’ve learnt that having good fellow patients is the key to a having a more fulfilling stay. I have seen people of every extreme, every illness, and moreover, I have met incredible human beings. I have seen people at their best, people at their worst. Primarily, I have seen people – not labels, just human beings
That applies to the staff too. I hated their abruptness, what seemed to be rudeness, less than comforting behaviour. Now I have come to see just how hard they have to work. How they may be internally experiencing what we are. We all suffer at points of our lives. The staff are not the total separate entities I believed them to be. Some of them have gone out of their way to help me, and I will always be grateful for that.
On my journey of numerous hospital I have met such characters. I have met some of the most intelligent, creative, sensitive people. I have seen and felt so much pain and so much beauty, so many gifts and so many curses, so many blessings and such hurt. I’ve seen joy, I’ve seen sorrow, I’ve seen tragedy. I’ve laughed, I’ve cried, I’ve lost people, and I’ve gained friends. And while I’ve seen suicide and death, I’ve seen hope. Only a glimmer sometimes. But nonetheless, that is enough to keep going. Hope.
That hope had left me for a time, and in the last few years I took 3 deliberate overdoses. This admission shames me, but where I stand today I believe, for myself, that raw honesty helps diminish that shame. It also helps others in the same place who cannot speak up. I’ve injected heroin, smoked crack, all for self medication, not for fun or sociability. In cygnet hospital I’ve come off methadone and that I have to feel proud of. I’ve been high, I’ve been low, I’m on a lot of medication but I’m working towards stability. More than anything I just want peace. Not the grand things in life. Just inner peace. Sometimes I feel like I have lost everything. I have no stable relationship, no children, no job or career, living on benefits with little money. This illness has ruined my life. But I have also gained. I can now paint again, I’m writing again after years of a debilitating tremor in my hands. I am grateful for this. I believe that I have been given gifts and seen things in life that others haven’t and it has given me a big heart and wisdom. I’m not sure I would turn the clock back on all of it.
I have tried to run away from cygnet a few times because I couldn’t bear it here earlier in my stay. I was so low. But it didn’t help, I just got painfully restrained and had my leave to go out suspended. I don’t hate it here anymore. Its the system I hate. The staff tend to give only the best, but the bureaucracy is astonishing. There are not enough workers. Some, like anywhere, I find difficult to work with. But the vast majority are angels.
In hospital there are moments of beauty, flashes of love. Moments that move my soul, a hug, or a hello from someone who never speaks. People you see who go from distress you cannot hide, animalistic cries, to the joy when they rise. Some don’t. I see the scars, literal and internal. They hurt my heart, but they are beautiful. They tell a story, a hard life lived, a history, they are only part of a person. Do not be ashamed.
The theme of mental health awareness week is Kindness. The definition of kindness is, :”the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate”.
So be kind. The person standing in front of you has their own story, their own issues, their own journeys. You don’t know what they are going through. Small gestures go a long way. A greeting, a good morning, may mean a lot to someone who is suffering. Indeed to everyone. So once again, Be kind.
“A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees” (Amelia Earhart)