The Difficulty Of Talking About Anything Other Than Mental Health When You Are An Inpatient In A Psychiatric Ward

I have an amazing family and, since being in hospital, my mum has visited me nearly every day. During visits there are a variety of activities we try to do to distract me from my current situation, sometimes we watch TV programs mum has downloaded to her tablet, we have been known to dabble in a little scrabble and once a week my mum will help me edit these blog posts that you love so much, to let me know if there are any glaring grammatical errors (that’s right. If you ever see a grammatical error on this blog feel free to blame my mother…only kidding…thanks for the help mum). When it comes to conversation however, there is little to no variety in topic and usually, if not every visit, we will end up talking about something mental health related which understandably can get rather tiresome.
It is therefore no wonder that the other afternoon my mum asked if we could possibly “talk about anything else” and lord knows I can see where she is coming from. Anyone would get fed up talking about depressing brain nonsense all the time and I do not blame her at all for asking for a different topic once in a while but at the same time I don’t think people realise how difficult it is to talk about things other than mental health problems when you have mental health problems, even if you are trying really really hard.

I hate admitting that because it makes me sound incredibly boring and self obsessed to say that I am frequently caught up in conversations regarding my head demons but the thing is, when your head demons are in your head 24/7, it is practically impossible to think about the “anything else” that other people wish to be discussing. Which part of your brain is supposed to be free to think about this supposed “anything else”?
When you are lost in your mental health problems, asking such a question is pretty much the same as asking someone who is being repeatedly smacked on the head with a wooden pumpkin to say anything other than “Oww”, “please stop hitting me with that”, “that hurts” or, if the person is a particularly articulate fellow “My frontal lobes are in a state of great pain so please desist with your actions and then tell me where on earth you were able to find a root vegetable carved out of the finest mahogany”.

I think this is especially the case when someone is in hospital because not only are your mental health problems all you can think about but they are all around you and you are in a location in which forgetting them is impossible, like trying to forget the smell of fresh bread in a bakery. I know people are always telling me that I am “more than” my mental illness and that it isn’t my entire identity which should mean I do have other things to talk about, but I think when in hospital you are often treated as an illness rather than an individual, and psychiatric units, though helpful, can make you start to feel like you are not a person at all.

It is like the problem I am currently facing being on 1:1 Observations.
Now, considering I write a blog on the internet all about how I am a flipping lunatic (or “Marbleless Marvel of mysterious Marblelessness when being addressed formally), you could say that I am perhaps not the world’s most private person. I talk about my mental health problems publicly every week and whenever I go into hospital for treatment I no longer ask friends to make up excuses to explain my disappearance in day to day life (my favourite of which was when I was 16 and to cover up my detainment in a psychiatric unit a rumour was spread at school that I was working on voicing a rat in the Disney Pixar sequel to “Ratatouille”, a rumour that was regrettably untrue in that I have never voiced a rat for Disney, nor has a sequel to Ratatouille ever materialised). However, as open and honest as I am, like any regular person, I still do like a reasonable amount of privacy in my life and unfortunately, for the past few months, privacy is something that I have been severely lacking due to the nightmare that is 1:1 and 2:1 observations.

The terms 1:1/2:1 observations in hospital are probably self explanatory and in explaining it I apologise for offending your intelligence, but basically it means that wherever you go, there will be at least one member of staff staring at you (aka 1 or two staff to your 1 patient ratio). It doesn’t matter whether you are going to the toilet, having a shower or having a snooze, the staff member will be with you (possibly within arm’s reach if that is stated in your care plan), and they will be watching every move, almost like a real life version of that song “Every breath you take” by The Police with those creepy lyrics (seriously if you haven’t heard that song look it up. It is weird and is a perfect summary of the 1:1 inpatient experience.) That song and indeed that experience has been my life for the past two months and to be blunt, it is incredibly humiliating. More than humiliating though, it is dehumanising and that is one of the things that takes me back to the question as to how you can talk about anything else other than mental health problems when you are being treated as a new species of disorder that is able to walk and talk. You are not a person, you are a thing that needs to be watched and observed. I am constantly hearing staff in the corridor ask each other “who is watching Katie?” or “who is with Katie for the next hour?” as if I am a ticking time bomb that people are just waiting to go off.

I suppose in fairness everyone loses a certain level of privacy when they are admitted anywhere. Even if you aren’t on 1:1 obs in hospital, you will be on some kind of observations, just as I was initially on 10 minute observations meaning that every ten minutes a staff member would appear at my door to see what I was up to. Therefore staff knew what I was doing all of the time but still in that ten minutes of unobserved time there was an element of privacy that I am sorely missing today, and I think that having just that ten minutes again would make me feel more human and less like a living issue in need of being managed. In those ten minutes I could hum a jolly ditty if I wanted and nobody would know, but now I can’t even convert oxygen to carbon dioxide without a beady eye watching to make sure I do it appropriately.

It is just so humiliating to be watched all of the time, even in the “private moments” that people take for themselves just to respect their own decency. Take urinating for example. Sure I have learnt over time to manage it and can now pee with staff even if I don’t have music playing on my phone (although in the early days such an activity was practically impossible and it is safe to say that I have publicly urinated to every song in the current top 40 charts…have fun getting that image out of your head when you next listen to Ed Sheeran on the radio), but it is still something that I want to do on my own. Worst of all though is showers and I think that is where my main issue lies with this whole 1:1 thing.

Imagine absolutely hating your body, despising every ounce and seeing it as nothing but a source of shame and then having to parade it around naked in front of a different stranger every day whilst you wash yourself. Surely that would be a challenge for even the most body confident person out there but for the person whose body is a constant source of torment and torture? How can anyone feel human or respected then? How can you feel anything other than dehumanised, humiliated and not respected as a proper person with their right to their own privacy whilst they have a good lather? How can you see yourself as, let alone discuss, “anything else” other than mental health problems?

I suppose I know on paper that if I were to print this blog post out and give it to any of the members of staff looking after me right now they would say that they do 1:1 Observations to look after people and keep them safe rather than humiliate but it is a lot harder to believe that when you are the one standing naked in front of a complete stranger whilst you frantically look for a pair of pants (hypothetically of course…this has never actually happened to me… Trust me, when you are on 1:1 you always have your clean pants prepared for after a shower!)

So, when you have mental health problems how easy is it to talk about “anything else”? Well, not very, when you don’t have the brain space or power to think about these “anything else’s”. Sometimes though, the biggest challenge isn’t thinking about anything else, but, when you are on 1:1 observations and have no say in your treatment, it is about trying to see yourself as anything other than a dehumanised circus freak in a constant humiliating parade.
Take care everyone x

TalkAnythingElse

 

Mental Health Letter To Santa

So, as anyone with an advent calendar will be aware (or any kind of calendar to be fair…ooh…a rhyme), it is currently six days until Christmas, meaning that there are six days to submit any Christmas lists you have out there requesting specific presents for December 25th.

Ever one for being prepared, I have had my list written for some time, however unlike the ingratitude of children out there (that is genuinely the collective term for a group of children. Whoever came up with that term clearly wasn’t a big fan of the infant population…), I will not be sending my list to Santa in Lapland. It is 2016 for goodness sake, I am 24 years old and I am certainly not that stupid/deluded.
Of course Santa doesn’t receive these children’s letters! Do people really think that Santa’s magical workshop is in a location known to human beings and delivered to via the imminently striking postal service? Let’s not be silly. Obviously the real grotto is in a magical land unreachable by the Royal mail, and being the age of technology it is clear that Santa is only able to receive Christmas lists via emails/the internet (think it through kids. Bet you feel pretty daft right now. Yeah. You should do).

Annoyingly I cannot seem to find the actual email address for the real Santa this year (he changes it every few months for security purposes), so this week I wondered if any of you readers out there would mind me being a little selfish and posting my letter to Santa here on my blog ready for when he comes to check in as he does every Monday (he is a big fan). I promise it is appropriate for my blog too as it is a mental health related present that I am asking for, so feel free to read it yourselves even if you are not Santa Claus. All that being said, here goes…

Dear Santa/Mr Claus

Hello! It is Katie again (the extremely well behaved one with glasses), and I hope that whenever you are reading this you are having a good day and that all is well with you, the reindeer, the elves and of course Mrs Claus.

I realise it is a bit unconventional for me to be contacting you via blog, but I hope it will be Ok and an acceptable way for me to request the present I would like.
For Christmas this year, if it is not too much trouble, I would like to please have the gift of five minutes without any mental health problems whatsoever.

You may be wondering what exactly I intend to do with this five minutes, yet though I have been thinking about it a lot, I haven’t firmly made a decision as there are so many options to choose from.
One of my first thoughts was to spend the five minutes joining in with a meal with my family, but then I realised that such a thing would be difficult to manage in five minutes and changed it to having a hot chocolate or Christmas drink with my mum in one of those coffee shops with a sparkly festive menu and Christmas cups. I often see mothers and their offspring taking five minutes out of a Christmas shopping trip to refuel with a steaming mug of cream topped cocoa, and I think it looks like fun/is something my mum would appreciate me being able to do. She often looks at the mothers and their children we see in local coffee shops and sighs with a wistful “I wish we could do that” look in her eye, so I would like to give the experience a go for the both of us.
Speaking of beverages I also thought of using the mental illness free time to perhaps try my first cocktail as I feel that is an experience most 24 year olds have had by now (probably several times), and because of my anorexia I have always been too afraid to try one. I don’t know what kind of cocktail I would like to try exactly, but I am thinking one of those ones that comes in a tall glass and is orange with swirly red syrup at the bottom that spirals up through the surface of the drink like a liquid sunrise. With an umbrella (and a glacé cherry if that isn’t asking too much…)

Then again aside from eating disorder related things I also thought about using my potential gift to do some things that I struggle with for OCD reasons. I have always wanted to hold open a door or open a door for someone struggling with too many shopping bags. I really do hate having to be rude and stand back as I watch them stumble under the weight of their 5p carriers because I am too frightened of a door handle. More importantly though, I would really like the opportunity to hug my Mum, Dad or any of my friends and family without having a panic. I know that sometimes I am able to hug certain people in certain situations if I have prepared/have a shower or change of clothes nearby, but I would like to be able to hug my loved ones not when it is deemed as “safe” or “allowed” by my OCD. I want to be able to fling my arms around a friend or family member just because I want them to know that I love them, and for this I feel I would need the requested five minutes of sanity to ensure I could do this without the screaming in my head that I know would occur were I to do this on any other day. Maybe as an extra “stocking filler” you could help me round up all the people I want to hug in one place so that I can use the five minutes effectively and not leave anyone out of my sudden ability to cuddle.

Actually no…wait…I think I have decided what I would like to do with my present should it be possible to be delivered this year (you don’t need to dress it up or anything as I know “time” is notoriously difficult to get wrapping paper around). Okay so were I to be given my five minutes without mental health problems, I would like to spend it doing absolutely nothing. I just want to sit there and know what it is like to experience silence.
I don’t want to have my brain yelling at me about calories, germs or potential suicide plans, I would just like it to shut up for once and allow me the privilege of thinking nothing at all. I know that after the five minutes all the noise would have to return and I would go back to the constant screaming voices in my mind, but still I think it would be nice just to see what life would be like without them. Who knows, maybe not being terrified all the time isn’t all it is cracked up to be and maybe I will be disappointed, but I would still like to experience it just so I could know for myself.

So yeah…that is what I would like for Christmas this year, simply five minutes of life without mental illness. Obviously I understand this is quite a difficult present to construct and not something the elves can whack up in a few hours with a hammer and few bits of plywood, so if it really isn’t possible then I would like to please ask for a penguin instead. I don’t mind which species, just as long as it is a happy penguin who likes spending time with me (and who can waddle. The ability to waddle is imperative).

Anyway I think I have taken up enough of your time making my demands so I will leave you to get on with your December preparations. As always I promise a mince pie, glass of almond milk, carrots for the reindeer and cookies for the elves will be left on my doorstep come December 24th in anticipation of your arrival. Send my love to all the family and have a Merry Christmas.

Yours gratefully,

Katie Simon Phillips (again, the extremely well behaved one with glasses) xxxx
There we go! Christmas present all ready and requested for the year! Now I just have to keep my fingers crossed that my wish will be granted but I suppose that even if it isn’t I will potentially be getting a penguin in six days which is pretty cool too. I really hope that everyone out there is having as good/manageable a festive season as possible and that your heads are kind to you over the next week. Kind heads is the present I would give all of you reading this if I could, as lord knows you all deserve them. I promise I will be thinking of each and every one of you next Sunday. Remember you are never alone and that together we can get through this.

Take care everyone and Merry Christmas x

santaletter