The Fear Of Moving Out With Mental Health Problems

So it has happened. My parents have finally had enough of my mental health problems and consequently I am being forced to move out this week on July 14th 2018 (it was supposed to be Friday the 13th but when I realised the date I, being a very superstitious bean, begged for an extra night at home.) I am absolutely dreading it and could not be more terrified if I tried (not that I imagine anyone would try to be more terrified than they were in any given situation…that would be weird). It is what I have been dreading my whole life, leaving home, especially now when things are particularly prickly in my old brain, but that is why I have to leave. 

Don’t get me wrong, I am not being kicked out with nothing more than a bag of my belongings and a tent, I am in fact going to live in a small flat my mum and I bought with some inheritance money (god bless Grandma and Grandad), but at this stage in my life I think I would be terrified even if I were moving into the Ritz. A lot of fellow 26 year olds may read this and think that there isn’t much to be afraid of, but I am not your average 26 year old and I don’t know how to do anything I should have learnt by now. Because of my OCD I have never done a load of washing nor do I know how to, I have never changed a bed sheet, done a weekly shop for food,  nor have I ever paid a bill. Ok my parents will be living five minutes away and will hopefully help me out a bit for the first few weeks but within a month of me moving in they will be jetting off to Malaysia for their summer holiday and consequently I will be all alone in my flat with no safety net for two and a half weeks. I don’t know quite what else to say other than that I am crying as I type this as I have never been so scared in all my life. I cannot believe it has actually come to this. 

My parents have mentioned that they couldn’t cope with me before, but I always figured that we would work it out like those previous times, yet this week there is no working out, I am actually going and it makes my stomach do all those fancy somersaults you see trapeze artists do in the circus just thinking about it. I just wish I could have recovered from all my illnesses before now so that it never had to come to this. To be fair I guess a lot of people my age are moving out from home, if not now then earlier, but i simply don’t feel ready. Maybe nobody ever feels ready to move away from home and maybe this is normal, but regardless I don’t like it at all. I want to stay at home in my childhood house where I grew up with my mum and dad. I want to live in my room that I have slept in for 26 years and I want to shower in the same shower I have used for all of that time too. I want to pour water from the same kitchen tap I have lived with all my life and I want to sit on the same sofa I have sat on for every movie marathon I have ever had with my mum. I am not ready to be alone, being alone is my biggest fear and now I am being forced to face it head on. I don’t know what I am going to do with myself. It is pathetic but because of my mental illnesses I have become so dependant on my parents that I seriously have no idea how to manage without them. How do I wake up without my mum there to help me get ready in the morning? How do I prepare food alone with all the voices screaming in my head? How do I avoid alcohol as I have been trying to and failing to do for the past month? How do I get through the day? How do I go to bed? How do I breathe? How on earth do I survive? 

I know I must sound extremely melodramatic and immature to be worrying about all these things at my age, but I think that when you have mental illnesses your ageing process slows down so in reality I am mentally nowhere near where I should be in comparison to other people my age. I have written about it before but I must reiterate the fact that when other people were growing up and learning to do all these things, I was too busy washing my hands or starving myself or crying into a pillow because I was so depressed. I never did the usual teenage rebellion of independence, I never snuck out of the house, dated people who were bad for me or got grounded, because I never had time to do anything wrong. I was mental, that was my identity and it still is and now I am going to have to live as this mental lunatic alone, with no idea how to cope. 

I guess my message this week then is that if you are mentally ill and are still living at home, seek help now before it gets to the stage where you have to leave home and figure it out alone too. Seek help now and learn to be independent before it is too late, cherish living with loved ones before they run out of patience and cherish knowing that there are people there when you struggle. Hopefully within the next few weeks I will be getting a carer from social services to help me figure all of this out in my flat, but for now that carer isn’t available so like I said I will be trying to do it all myself. Just please seek help out there even if you have the most loving parents in the world as I have, because at some point, with mental illness, everybody breaks down and gets to the point where they cannot manage. It feels weird to think that the next time I post a blog it will be from inside my new flat. I still cannot quite believe it, although I am sure reality will kick in and I will realise what is happening soon enough. Until then I hope you are all well and are keeping yourselves safe. 

Take care everyone x 

LifeChange

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A Message To Parents Of People With Mental Health Problems

In life, people like to blame people for things that happen, regardless of whether or not it was the person’s fault. If there is nobody to blame, things that happen are random and don’t make sense, so really we blame people to make the world tidy. When I was younger I lost my banana scented gel pen (it was a tough time in my life but I think I am just about getting over it), and in my head it was incomprehensible that the pen was just lost. I didn’t think at all about the fact its loss was probably the result of many little events, dropping it somewhere, someone spotting it and tidying it away, a gust of wind blowing it off a table under a chair, that was too much to think about, so instead who did I blame? My cuddly monkey, a culprit who made a lot more sense than some complex chain of events I couldn’t figure out. It was the perfect story, my cuddly monkey was clearly having jungle withdrawal symptoms living with me in Bristol, in my eyes he had heard the call of the wild and hankered after the scent of his favourite food in his homeland. I assumed he must not like the invisible bananas and cups of tea I provided (let it be known I did pretend to feed him and in my eyes this thievery was not an act of desperation out of hunger, I am not a monster who starves cuddly monkeys thank you very much), and that the taking of my pen was for nostalgic scent purposes. Obviously, my monkey did not really steal my banana pen (I am 99% sure he didn’t anyway…), and it was silly to jump to that conclusion before the idea that the pen was just lost, but like I said, people like to blame people to make the world simple. 

Unfortunately, this desire to blame often happens when someone gets diagnosed with mental health problems. After the initial surprise has worn off and people have time to really think, they always look for someone to blame. They start wondering why someone is ill, what could have caused it, and often, especially in young adults or children, the conclusion will be that it must have been something to do with the parents. Even professionals say it sometimes. My mum used to work in a school and one day a nurse came in to talk about how to spot eating disorders in pupils. One of the possible causes for eating disorders listed in her presentation was “Troubled upbringing/home life”, which naturally upset my mum and had her worrying more than usual that the past decade of madness in our household has been because she failed as a parent. To her and to all parents I therefore want to say this:

If your child has been diagnosed with mental health problems, that does not mean that it is all your fault or that you have done anything wrong. 

Your child does not have anorexia simply because you tried a lot of different diets when they were growing up. Your child does not have OCD rituals around washing because you insisted they washed their hands before meals. Your child is not depressed because you didn’t hug them enough and they don’t cut their bodies just because you didn’t give lessons in self acceptance over breakfast. Maybe you did all of those things, maybe you did none of them, but either way they are not the reason your child is ill. Many people with eating disorders grew up in houses that promoted a healthy relationship with food just as many people without eating disorders grew up in houses with parents who ran weight loss classes at the local leisure centre. The complexities of mental health problems are not as simple as A causes B, they are often frighteningly random, they don’t make sense enough to have someone to blame at all, and sometimes you can do everything right and things will still go wrong. 

Like all illnesses, mental health problems do not discriminate. Depression doesn’t go door to door and interview the parents to see how well they have brought their child up before it attacks. If depression is going to happen, it will just charge in and make itself known, it will not peer through a window, notice that you have a lovely home with a matching three piece suite and freshly plumped cushions and walk away to find someone whose mum didn’t cut the crust off their sandwiches. 

Now I will admit, upbringing can have an impact on a child’s development and mental health, if you locked your child in a basement and beat them with a wet slipper every morning, that may have played a part in their low self esteem, but generally things are not that clear cut and the reasons are so numerous and so bound up in random life nonsense anyway that you can never pin point a cause. You can list a thousand reasons why I have mental health problems, a history of mental illness in the family, certain events, loss of loved ones, broken hearts, a desire to control a world whose unpredictability frightened me, being the geek with glasses, you can say anything and even then you could not grasp the reason why, because all of those potential influences are glued together with a million invisible things that nobody will ever know or understand. It is rare that an illness can be pinned down to one thing, just as you can’t entirely blame a cancer on the fact someone smokes, when it comes to any illness, it is too complicated to be anyone’s fault. If someone watches a man on a bus stop raise his arm and stop the bus they could conclude that the stopping of the bus was caused by the arm lifting into the air. Okay it may look like that on the surface and make sense as a neat tidy story, but it takes no account whatsoever of all the other knots in that chain of events stopping the bus. For example the driver had his eyes open to see the arm, his brain recognising it as a symbol for “stop” (and hopefully not “Heil Hitler”), someone else having already pressed the button, a foot had to go on the brakes and various cogs and things in the mechanics of the bus played a part too. Blaming someone for causing a mental health problem is like blaming that man for stopping the bus without thinking of all the other things that come into play. 

If you are a parent and your offspring has mental health problems, I beg you, please do not blame yourself and assume you must have done a bad job in raising the baby you dreamed would grow up to have a perfect life, that is unlike the one you see in reality. In life, shit just happens and there is very little you can do about it. Your role as a parent is not to stop the bad things from happening, to wrap them in cotton wool so that the monsters don’t get in. Monsters do not give two hoots about cotton wool. Don’t blame yourself for things that were not your fault and that you cannot change (for even if you could blame someone, talking about whose fault something is will never resolve the situation), instead do what you can with what you have. Love and support your child even when those monsters get in and help them fight those assholes until they flee the house rather than checking the locks and wondering how the hell they got in in the first place. Nobody can raise someone to not have mental health problems and that is  not a necessary requirement of a parent. Mental illnesses suck, but nobody can stop them, your only job is to offer love and support regardless of what is going on. That is what a good parent is, so relax, if you are doing that, then you are doing everything. 

Take care everyone x

Parents

The Difficulty Of Managing When Mental Health Carers Go Away On Holiday

So last week I did a whole blog about tips as to how to manage when carers go away on holiday and do you know what? I was totally unqualified in giving that advice because good lord…as of today it has been seven days since my parents, aka my regular carers, went away (with three still left to go), and boy have I not been managing to a degree I seriously didn’t expect.

I think the hardest thing about planning for your carers to be away on holiday is that until it happens, you don’t realise how much you needed them in the first place. It is easy to imagine how you will cope without your mental health carers around, but it isn’t until it actually happens that you see all the little things that they do for you that you never would have thought of.
In my last blog I mentioned the importance of writing a list of the things your carers do for you so that you can figure out solutions and alternative ways to manage those things without them, but something I have realised in this past seven days is that I don’t just need general carers, I need my parents as carers specifically, and as a 25 year old I am ashamed to admit how dependant I am on both of them. I am 25 years old so I should be living an independent life without needing family around, but as much as I hate to say it…this past seven days…I have really needed my mum, and you have no idea how pathetic I feel in admitting that.

As you know, in preparation for the holiday my parents hired a nurse to look after me, but it only took a few minutes with said nurse for me to realise that things were not going to work out. Don’t get me wrong, the nurse my parents hired was lovely. If you were to be casting parts in a play and needed someone to play the role of “extremely kind, supportive and understanding mental health nurse” you would have cast this guy in a second, no audition needed and I doubt he would even have to read the script before knowing all the lines required. In short, this guy (we shall call him Eggbert for now because I am fond of names that start with the three letters used to denote the object laid by chickens and often eaten by members of the public for breakfast), was amazing and I couldn’t have asked for anyone better. Indeed, I knew he was going to be lovely from the start so I expected it all to be fine but like I said, I don’t just need a general carer, at this stage in my life with my mental health as it is, I specifically and ashamedly need my mum so this guy was not going to work purely due to the fact that he was not familiar to me.

Eggbert arrived to take care of me on my very first day and was more than capable of carrying out all the tasks and helping me in all the ways that my parents help me, but there was one problem, he was a stranger, and that was where we ran into issues. Rather than finding his presence a comfort, I started to have a panic attack because all of a sudden there was this stranger in the house who I didn’t know, and even if a stranger is lovely and comes bearing bouquets of flowers and freshly baked cookies (which Eggbert didn’t do actually…if you are reading this Eggbert however please rest assured that your lack of foliage and baked goods was not the issue, rather it was my incredibly silly brain), they are still a stranger.
I tried to calm down and remind myself that this person was not a threat to me at all but a trained registered professional mental health nurse who was there to help me but the bit of my brain that controls my “panic” mode was not listening to any of that and consequently it wasn’t until I had asked my nurse to leave that I managed to calm down.

The obvious problem then however was what to do as an alternative because there was no way I could manage by myself, a point that was proven to me after I tried to survive a mere few hours alone. It is very hard to describe how those hours felt because I didn’t myself expect or comprehend the difficulties I would face and to be honest I am still left baffled by it all, but if I had to try and explain it in the simplest terms I would just say that I fell into an extremely dark pit of depression highlighted by a heart attack pang of anxiety and I became so suicidal that there seemed no way to avoid doing something rash.

Luckily, my sister is amazing and came to visit at that time and realised as well as I did that I could not be left alone. Consequently, she took me back to her house and helped me to bake blondies (like brownies but made with white chocolate and peanut butter as opposed to your regular cocoa) because apparently in my eyes when you are feeling that suicidal, it is imperative that you bake something. That was several days ago and since then I have not been alone for more than about an hour at a time because I have the most amazing friend who has agreed to come and stay with me. Like I said, it isn’t the same because right now the person I really need is my mum, but as an alternative carer my best friend is familiar and insanely amazing and doesn’t send me into panic mode like the trained mental health professional did. I hate to say that my friend has had to take some time off work to look after me because I hate to be a burden, but there has been no way around it and I can honestly say that I wouldn’t still be alive were it not for the support I am currently receiving from new alternative carers, my sister and my best friend.

A lesson I have also learnt during the past few days, aside from the fact that I do not need simply carers but people who are familiar to me looking after me, is the importance of staying busy when your mental health carers are away. Usually I manage to do the same daily routine every day with my mum and that works just fine but with my parents away that usual routine is too placid and is not distracting enough from the onslaught of suicidal thoughts I have been pelted with ever since my parents left through the front door (and if you are wondering why those thoughts suddenly intensified the second I was left to my own devices then welcome to the club because I have no idea either.)
Still like I said, the way me and my friend and sister have been managing is to keep me busy at all times so that I have less time to think. For example one day we went to the local aquarium, on another we baked loaves of bread and on one particular day when I was feeling especially self destructive and in need of doing something rash, my amazing Auntie took me to a tattoo parlour to get my eyebrow pierced…apparently when it comes to me the way I manage in times of mental health crisis it is to look at fish, bring out my inner baker or have metal bars shoved through parts of my face (I would however ask any dear readers out there to keep that last bit on the down low though as I have not yet alerted my parents of the fact that I now have a silver bar going through my eyebrow…hopefully they are too busy on their holiday to be reading this because otherwise this is awkward…yeah…surprise mum and dad if you are reading! I have used your time away to have needles shoved through parts of my glorious visage…BUT SO FAR I HAVEN’T KILLED MYSELF SO REMAIN CALM IT IS ALL GOOD…just focus on the coping mechanisms of witnessing sea life and making yeast filled products instead…I love you…*runs away*)

Like I said it has been seven days of my parents being away with several days still to go and what I have learnt over this period of time is that surviving without your regular mental health carers around is a lot harder than I ever anticipated. Often it is not simply a case of being mentally ill and needing a general carer, but of needing a specific carer, in my case my mum, or at least someone familiar like my sister, friend or Auntie. To be honest, the thought of getting through another few days without my parents turns my stomach and I genuinely don’t know how I am going to manage it but at least I have the best people around me to support me in this situation and for that I feel incredibly lucky and eternally grateful.
How the next few days will pan out I do not know (although I do feel another piercing coming on…), but for now, that is what I have to say for the week and the latest lesson I have learned in this mad old life I am living with mental health problems. So yeah…If anyone else out there is struggling or is parted from their regular carer at the moment may I suggest a trip to look at marine life, a spot of baking or perhaps pay someone to shove a needle in your face (I AM SERIOUSLY JOKING THERE DON’T DO THAT KIDS PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD IT WAS JUST A JOKE).
On a more serious note however, if there are any other people out there without their regular carers at the moment then please know that I feel for you, that I understand and that as hard as it is to accept, if I am honest with myself maybe it is time to admit that it isn’t pathetic to still need your mum or other familiar family member or carer around even when you are technically an adult, and it is actually just part of this whole mental illness thing to feel this way. I feel like a burden on my parents more than ever now but I am trying to assure myself that it is not my fault, I am just ill and am going to have to do the best I can for now, as we all do in these situations. In the mean time I hope you are all well, if you are struggling I hope you are lucky enough to have amazing people around you as I am.

Take care everyone x

Loaf and fish

5 Ways To Deal With Weight Gain When You Are In Recovery From An Eating Disorder

If I had a penguin for every time I have heard someone say or have said myself “I want to recover from anorexia but I don’t want to gain weight”, I would have more penguins than exist on this planet and would therefore have to get the existing penguins to rapidly reproduce in order to make up numbers (which is why all the penguins of the world are probably grateful to hear that I don’t have to have a penguin for every time I have heard that sentence or else they would have a lot of egg hatching to do).
Admittedly, there are many sides to the Rubix cube confusing madness that is recovery from anorexia, both mental and physical, and there are a lot of fears revolving around all of them, but I think when it comes to recovery, probably one of the top three things most people worry about is the weight gain side of it all. Personally at least, I know that the fear of weight gain is certainly a big thing for me and is particularly relevant right now as in my current admission to hospital it is the forced and rapid weight gain that has ended up distressing me most of all to the point that I haven’t even been able to focus on any of the more long term mental health sides of the illness as I am too focused on the scales.
I know that to other people, my weight does not define me as a person and that the number that flashes up when I step on a little machine should not dictate the way I live my life but when you have an eating disorder, those thoughts are often automatic and knowing they are irrational doesn’t take them away.

Unfortunately, despite the fact that the weight gain side is incredibly hard, if you really want to recover from your eating disorder, the fear of weight gain is an unavoidable thing that will need to be tackled and that, if neglected, will never truly allow you to get back to a healthy mind and body again.
So how do you manage it? If you want to recover from your eating disorder (or even if you don’t and are in forced treatment at the moment…ahem), how are you supposed to deal with one of the most frightening challenges to face someone struggling with anorexia: weight gain. Well, if that question has been on your mind at all then welcome to a blog post containing some possible answers, because today I am here (wearing a bow tie no less because I am fancy and have dressed smartly for you on this occasion), with 5 thoughts to help you deal with weight gain when you are in recovery from anorexia. So without further ado, lets get into it *straightens bow tie and gets down to serious business*…

1. Weight redistributes – When you start the re-feeding process after depriving yourself of adequate nutrition for a long period of time, your body will have no idea what the hell is going on or what the hell to do (something I explain a little more in this post here: Five Things You Need To know About Re-feeding During Eating Disorder Recovery). Because of this confusion and deprivation, when your body first starts gaining weight, it will want to prioritise on life saving things first (handy that) and for this reason a lot of people find that weight gain in the early days primarily goes to the tummy area so that the body can focus on repairing things like a dodgy liver or an out of whack kidney. This has happened to me multiple times (including right now) and understandably it can be quite distressing as your body can start feeling out of proportion, but what I want to emphasise with this point is that even though weight may initially go to life saving organ places, it WILL redistribute and spread out eventually as long as you hang in there and give it time. Restricting your intake to lose the weight again will only make this process more dramatic, so the key is to stick with it and always remember that redistribution will happen!

2. You are gaining weight you shouldn’t have lost in the first place – Whenever you see or hear an advert for a weight loss diet club, the people will emphasise how good it is to have lost the weight they did with whatever weird low carb eat upside down with a pineapple up your nose (difficult task, would not recommend) diet they have been following and therefore the idea of gaining any weight back is automatically “bad”. Culturally this has then created this false idea that the act of gaining weight is a bad thing in itself however this is not always the case, especially when it comes to recovery. Thing is, when you are regaining weight you have lost through an eating disorder, you are actually not gaining weight but are regaining parts of your body that you should not have lost in the first place, so whenever you see that number go up on the scale remember, it is not weight gain in the negative way that the diet clubs claim it to be, it is just re-finding a little puzzle piece of the wonderful you that may have been lost to this terrible illness.

3. The alternative is worse – I will hold my hands up and admit it: weight gain is scary. Then again, if you think about it, isn’t the alternative, aka death (for anorexia is the mental illness with the highest mortality rate of all), even scarier? “I am not that bad” I hear you cry, “I am not going to die of anorexia”, but hey, that’s what they all say and in a lot of cases, it turns out not to be true. Anyway, even if you are one of the fortunate souls whose body somehow manages to survive the abusive nature of an eating disorder and live, what kind of a “life” is it to spend your days tortured and tormented by a beast in your head? Weighing things up then (no pun intended…actually screw it…with me the pun is ALWAYS intended), although weight gain is scary, when you are going through the process it is important to think of the alternative, and remember that that alternative is a hell of a lot worse.

4. Weight gain is not as visible as you think – If you are like me, when you stand on the scales and see that the number has gone up, you can immediately see where that extra weight has gone to. This however, in the nicest possible way, is utter nonsense because in actual fact changes in body weight are no where near as visible as we might think. I remember one week when I gained one pound and instantly I saw my physical appearance change into something unrecognisable to the person I had been before that pound. Know what everyone else saw? Nothing. I would be lying to say that no weight gain is ever visible (as someone who has just spent 5 months in hospital I can guarantee I do look very different now), but my point here is that weight that you gain every week at weigh ins is not as visible as you might think and if you think you can see that pound or two of extra weight then it is simply proof that your eating disorder is distorting your vision. Don’t listen to its lies I say!

5. Getting bigger doesn’t mean you are big – If I ran a banana farm and after the harvest found that I had 1000 bananas, that would be a lot of bananas (and I would clearly be one hell of a good banana farmer). In that circumstance then, 1000 banana would be the definition of a lot of bananas. If the next year I then had 100 bananas would I think that I had hardly any bananas (trust me I do have a point here and am not just trying to send subliminal messages to you all about my secret dream to become a banana farmer). If however I had 0 bananas one year and then the next had 100, 100 bananas would be my definition of “loads of bananas” and that is what it is like with weight: aka all relative. Just because you are gaining weight and getting “bigger” it does not mean that you are big. You might think “I am huge” because the number on the scales has gone up but what I am saying is that just because the number has got higher it doesn’t mean that number is big. 100 bananas only looks like a lot of bananas if you previously had no bananas, just as a certain number of kilos only seems “huge” because it is bigger than the nothing you had previously and every “high” number you fear only seems high because you are looking at a lower one first. Getting bigger does not mean getting big therefore and if it was the other way round (aka the 1000 banana situation first) then your “high” number would be someone else’s low in a different situation. Whenever you see you have gained weight and feel like your weight is high, remember the bananas and the fact that a high number only seems big because it is bigger than the previous number and it is not that the number is big in itself.

SO there you have it! 5 thoughts to help you manage the fear and stress that is the weight gain side to recovery from an eating disorder! As always I am not saying that this blog post is going to solve the problem, nor will it probably make gaining weight any easier, but these thoughts are at least important and sometimes helpful/comforting things to bear in mind when the voices are getting a bit too loud for comfort and you have no arguments to fight against them. These thoughts are therefore your arguments against all of those bad thoughts, your weapons for the recovery battle, so take them brave soldier and use them wisely to outwit that cunning eating disorder who is trying to fool you into making weight gain seem like a bad thing.
In the meantime, if you are someone struggling with the anxiety ridden process that is gaining weight, please know that I really do feel for you as someone who has gone through the process multiple times myself (and is still going through it today), and I hope that this blog post has perhaps helped a little bit. Remember, recovery and weight gain is hard but losing your life to a cruel demon in your mind is far worse.

Take care everyone x

WeightGainFear

The Difficulties Of Communal Life In An Inpatient Setting

If you put one fish in a fish bowl, that fish will probably be very happy, especially if you give that fish one of those little plastic castles that sit at the bottom of fish tanks in cartoons. Fish love castles. Nothing makes them feel more content than a nice turret.

If you then add another fish to this bowl, there is a chance that both fish will be happy and will be able to enjoy their plastic castle together, ruling over their water sphere of a home like aquamarine royalty. Add another fish to the bowl however, and the chance of problems will naturally arise as while all fish love castles, every individual fin flapper has their own specific tastes and preferences. Some fish may like a drawbridge on their castle, some may enjoy a moat, maybe there are even a rare few who, dare I say, like their castles without those lofty turrets.
The more fish you add into the fishbowl then, aka the more individuals you have trapped in a confined space, the harder it will be for those individuals to breathe/swim about without accidentally smacking a passer by with a wayward fin and in this sense, psychiatric units are very much like fish bowls (except with really mentally ill fish and no castles…God I wish I had a turret…some fish don’t realise how good they have it).
Like fish bowls, psychiatric units are small confined spaces where you can often find yourself trapped living amongst a group of people you have never met before and it is unlikely that you will get along with all of them, not because any of them are bad people, but because all people, like fish, are different. I think it is easy to think of going into hospital as a very private, individual experience between the patient and their inner struggles and in essence I suppose it is, but that doesn’t take away the community side to inpatient treatment and how difficult it can be living in close proximity to people who are, like you, working through their own personal hell.

No matter how much you go into hospital focusing on yourself, I think a lot of people forget or don’t know about the community side that is bound to be a part of any inpatient admission. Every inpatient setting and inpatient group will have a certain feel, an ambiance if you will that creates some kind of atmosphere, be that positive or negative, on the ward. Sometimes that atmosphere can be constructive and helpful in advancing recovery but as with the fish in the bowl, eventually there are going to be disagreements about whether you install a drawbridge or start knocking down all the turrets, and that can be really difficult and affect your personal treatment more than you would like to admit.

It is a side of treatment that is really difficult to manage and not often discussed, but over the years I think I have realised that there is only one way to manage the difficulties of life in a fish bowl with your fellow mental mackerel, that way being:

  1. Be friends with everyone
  2. Ignore everyone

On the surface, trying to do both of those things are the same time sounds like kind of conflicting advice to give, but then again a lot of great things in life involve components which at first appear to be conflicting.
Just think of the person who invented sweet and sour sauce or the hero that discovered salted caramel. People said they were crazy, that their ideas involved too much conflict between opposing opposites, and where are those legends now? Living the high life in their very own castles (with turrets). And as for the naysayers? Why, they are all cowering shamefully in their hollow lives devoid of delightfully sticky sauce accompaniments with their egg fried rice and of sweet milk chocolate coated toffees set off by the salty tang of the sea.

Personally, I really struggle with the communal living side to hospital admissions and every time I go into an inpatient unit I privately vow to speak to no-one, close my eyes and hope that because I can’t see anyone else, they can’t see me either…But like I said, this is unrealistic and at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how social or unsocial you intend to be, you do have to live with these people and if you want to survive a shared space of communal compromise, you are going to have to get along to some degree.

I guess it is very much like any communal office or work place where a group of people are forced to spend long periods of time together, regardless of whether or not you have anything in common. Though I have never worked in an office like you see in the movies with all the rows of desks and dividers, I highly doubt that people who do work in those kinds of places would be willing to give all of their colleagues their last Rolo, but you couldn’t get through the day if you held grudges and took things too personally, and I am pretty sure people would be fired if they weren’t at least civil to each other and forced themselves to be a little extra on the polite side.

Maybe you have an office neighbour called Janet who keeps stealing your stapler, puts empty cartons of milk back in the fridge after making a cup of tea and is well known for dropping those little white paper circles that fall out of hole punches all over your paperwork (if this is you then damn it Janet, pull yourself together and keep your little white paper circles to yourself for the love of God.)
If we all had a Janet and behaved as we wanted to (aka smacked her over the head with that stapler she clearly loves so much and changed all the passwords to “Empty milk cartons go in the bin Janet”), it is unlikely we would keep our jobs for very long and nobody would get anything done in life. To keep the country moving and employment rates up then, people tend to bite their tongue at work around their own personal Janets, to keep the peace. That is sort of what it is like in an inpatient setting. You will be in a close proximity to a variety of people for large portions of the day and basically if you want to survive, you have to treat others with all the kindness and respect that you can muster and get on, as good a group of friends as you can.

Sometimes it isn’t even hard to be friends with everyone in an inpatient setting and it is a thing that comes naturally with no extra effort required. After all you are all stuck in a very similar situation going through similar experiences that not everyone in the outside world can relate to. Whilst in hospital it is easy to feel disconnected and isolated from any friends or family members who come into visits talking about holidays abroad and new umbrella decorated cocktails they have tried, whilst the only trips you have been on have been to a walled garden and the only cocktails a brand new combination of anti-psychotics (little umbrella not included).
Fellow patients will be able to relate to that kind of thing and can certainly make you feel less alone. They can also be a great support system who you share a lot in common with and often the most helpful things you can find in treatment are people you can relate to, who maybe give tips as to what has helped them in the past. I have even had admissions where the whole group of patients have got on so well that it has actually been like one giant sleepover in a boarding school with friends and you build such strong relationships that you won’t know how you would have survived the inpatient experience without them. Dare I say it, on special occasions when the brain devils are not out to play, you may even have a few laughs and leave inpatient with a fondly remembered evening of choreographing dance routines to “Spice up your life” by the Spice girls, after a rebellious water fight to cool off in the summer in the wet room (not that I have any experiences of such things personally you understand).

That said, when inpatient it is also important to stick to the second “way” of surviving the experience, aka part two “Ignore everyone”. This is not to say that when a fellow patient greets you with “good morning”, you keep your eyes on the floor and pretend that they don’t exist (a nice smile and “morning” is a far nicer option for both parties involved), but you do need to keep yourself to yourself to a certain degree. As helpful as it is having people you can relate to, it can also be triggering in ways detrimental to your mental health and wellbeing.
When you are in the fish bowl, everything is intensified and feels more dramatic than it might do in the outside world. In the outside world for example, like in the workplace, there is one Janet out of a global population of several million billion thousand other humans (that is a rough estimate…I lost count). Thus your Janet/difficult person in life makes up a tiny 0.000004% of the population or something and so it is easy in a way to avoid that person, avoid conflict and take yourself out of a situation. Say however that when inpatient there is one person you don’t get on with and it is a 10 bed ward, that is ten percent of the population, so the actions of that person can feel a lot more dramatic.
It is therefore important not to get too caught up in other people’s business and let them affect you , rather it is safe to keep yourself to yourself with your blinkers on and focus on your recovery and goals for admission.
I know I really struggle with getting caught up in the inpatient bubble, very distracted and involved in the lives and worries of people in the other bedrooms along the corridor and it is only when you start to get things like leave that you realise there was a whole other world still outside of those walls and half of the things that were incredibly dramatic whilst on the ward are totally irrelevant back home. When you are in hospital, those people you see everyday are constantly on your mind because they are constantly in view, but when you are home with family and friends living your life and benefitting from all the hard work you did on the unit, you are unlikely to think of them at all (unless you keep photos of them on your bedside or something…don’t do that…that would be weird.)

As much as an inpatient stay is an individual experience then, there is a lesser discussed fish bowl style communal element and that is going to be difficult. There are however ways to deal with it, and for me, this blog post is how I get through and is the advice I would give to anyone else who is currently stuck in a mental hospital fish bowl or anyone looking to an admission in the near future. Never forget that any unit is really just a small glass orb on a coffee table and there is a flipping massive ocean to swim in when you get back out.

Now if you don’t mind, I am off to the nurses’ office to demand we get an immediate emergency supply of turrets on this ward. Fish get whole castles and damn it. I WANT A TURRET.

Take care everyone x

Fishbowl