Before you move house, you need to pack your life into a van. Before you go on holiday, you need to pack suncream and the inflatable dolphin into a suitcase, and before you go out rambling in the wilderness, you need to pack a picnic in a picnic basket (preferably one of those wicker ones with a gingham tablecloth and lots of little boxes inside…one must never go out rambling unless one is accompanied by a picnic).
There are however some things that are a little less fun to pack for, those being admissions to a hospital or inpatient psychiatric unit, which is nowhere near as much fun as a picnic (and involves 100% fewer wicker baskets…By God I love a wicker basket).
When I decided to write a blog about this topic I was therefore going to call it “Things you will need to pack for an inpatient admission” but as I have started writing I realised that sometimes when it comes to mental health hospital admissions, they are not planned like a two week cruise around the Mediterranean, and there is seldom time to “pack”. Even when an admission to a unit has been planned, you are going to be so nervous about it the night before that you forget to pack anyway, so instead here I thought I would offer a little help to all those who find themselves in that situation by providing a list of things that you will need during an admission to a mental health hospital.
It doesn’t matter if you are making a list of things to pack the night before or simply things you now need to start begging family/friends/online delivery people to bring to you because you were not prepared and only came onto the ward with a one way train ticket to Exeter (trust me, it happens…). Whatever the situation, this blog post is here for you, so lets get on and start this fabulous list of things you will need during an inpatient admission to a mental health hospital (things you will need if you have fabulous taste like me that is…)
BASIC LIFE THINGS: You may think that this is a rather obvious logical point to make but remember, mental health admissions are stressful times where “obvious logical things” turn into “I like ducks”, and you would be surprised by the number of people who turn up to hospital without a toothbrush (warning, this may make teeth angry and cause them to phone the tooth fairy emergency helpline for immediate assistance. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.) So yeah…I am not going to list all the miscellaneous nonsense you may use every day, but as a general note to start off with, when you are in hospital, you are probably going to need a lot of the general nonsense you use everyday (toothbrush/toothpaste/underwear etc.)
MOTIVATION: Of course I mean this point in the emotional sense of the word, but when you are isolated in hospital it can be easy to forget why you are there and what you are doing in this inpatient bubble, so practical pieces of motivation to get you through are also essential. Things in this category can include photos of friends or family, motivational books about people who have been through recovery for your disorder, quotes or even little prompts to give you a little boost when your brain refuses to do the boosting for you (e.g taking something like a list of things you want out of life to have at your place at the table on an eating disorder ward to help at meal times). I have known a lot of people to go all out with motivation and to bring enough cards/quotes/photos to decorate their entire room into a cave of inspiration (if that is allowed on your unit and you are not in a stripped room that is), so if that would help you, do that. Personally though, I prefer not to put up too many decorations because I am always so hopeful about leaving that I refuse to accept the idea that I should settle because I may be there a while…
THINGS TO DO: When you are in a psychiatric hospital it is likely that there will be things going on. On the week days there may be things like therapy groups, 1:1 sessions and opportunities for visitors, but aside from all of those things and the “spare hours” that will be taken up by things like crying hysterically, you are still going to end up with a fair bit of free time, especially on weekends when it is quieter and a lot of patients may have leave. Keeping yourself occupied therefore is going to make time pass quicker and distract you (a bit) from what is going on. For example on my ward there is a current craze with origami and people are making paper cranes faster than I can count (I tried to get into Origami too and managed to unfold one of these aforementioned cranes into a normal square piece of paper again but apparently that “isn’t the point”). There are also patients who knit and live in giant balls of wool, people who colour with crayons, draw, and there are patients like me who get through the day either by writing or by tossing reality out of the window and reading to get lost into alternative fictional worlds (This week I read “The Secret Garden” a book I highly recommend for times in hospital when you cant go outside and see a real garden yourself.)
COMFY CLOTHES: The first time I ever packed for an inpatient stay, I put all of my nice going out clothes into my suitcase and took them to the hospital ready to co-ordinate my outfits every day so that I would “look nice” for the other patients. I also wore mascara to a place I was highly likely to start crying in upon arrival. I was an idiot.
Listen, I get it, people like to look nice both for themselves and for other people but let’s be real, a psychiatric hospital is not a fashion shoot (cameras are not allowed), and after five minutes neither you nor anybody else is going to care what anyone looks like because you are all too busy being caught up in fighting your head demons and managing general anxiety. Even if you are not worried about what you look like or what people are thinking of your sense of style, “nice clothes” are simply not practical. When you are in hospital you are going to want to be comfy. Imagine you need to curl up on your bed for a good sob or find that you are so anxious that you start having panic attacks and problems breathing. Maybe things have got a little bit out of hand and staff need to carry you somewhere, carry out a quick blood test or give you an injection to calm you down. All of those things are going to be a hell of a lot more pleasant (as fun/pleasant as being injected in the rear can be at least), and a lot easier/more comfortable if you are wearing comfortable clothes rather than a corset and, skinny jeans.
Don’t get me wrong, if you want to dress up because it makes you feel better/more human then feel free to do so. I know a lot of patients who still like to wake up, wear a fancy skirt and put make up on in the mornings because that is what works for them, makes them feel less “mental hospitally”, more normal and lifts their mood (I am not one of those people…) However, even the people with the nicest most fashionable clothes will need a onesie and a lot of baggy trousers for “those days”. I would also add slippers to this both because they are comfy footwear and make a nice slip slop sound as you walk down the corridors. Trust me, stiletto heels are not a good idea (they tear the evacuation slide…or am I getting psychiatric hospital attire confused with ideal footwear for planes…)
TACTILE/FIDGETTY DISTRACTION THINGS: When people get anxious, their bodies get filled with adrenaline, and to calm down, that adrenaline needs to be released. Often this can happen via what the professionals call “unhealthy coping mechanisms” and that is not ideal because…well…it is unhealthy, and therefore you need other practical tools you can use to keep your hands busy releasing adrenaline whilst the rest of you remains safe. These things are different from the “things to do” category because they are not things that require any particular concentration, brain power or coherent thinking, these are for the times when your head is so loud that you cannot remember the alphabet and just need something to cling onto. I personally have what is called a “Tangle” (this weird thing that can be bent into all different kinds of shapes), and a fidget cube. Other things people may use include stress balls, squeezable spikey rubber balls, fidget spinners and putty. Sometimes things like a pebble to hold or little pebbles to pass from one hand to the other can also be helpful, but I will leave that up to you to decide because some people may not find those items to be safe to be around in a stressful situation.
And now to the final category, the most important thing you will need for an inpatient admission to a psychiatric hospital…
SOMETHING TO CUDDLE: Enough said. I don’t care how old or cool you are, everyone needs a cuddle once in a while/all the time so pack a damn teddy bear for the love of God.
So there you go! All the things you could possibly need to survive an inpatient admission in a psychiatric hospital. Obviously feel free to take other things as well, but as a basic guide I would say this list is a good one to start with.
I should point out before I finish here that as well as a list of things you will need to take to an inpatient unit there is usually a list of things that you should not take (like sledge hammers…mallets are ok though), so on the whole as a final tip, when you are packing, stick to things that are softer and squishier than a pick axe. If you are currently in an inpatient admission or are approaching one I hope this list helps, and if you are not then thank you for coming along for the ride anyway! I am thinking of and supporting you all, wherever you are, you are not alone in your fight.
Take care everyone x