Being Institutionalised After An Inpatient Admission

Humans are very much like lions. They have very fluffy manes and they like to stalk antelopes…no wait…that wasn’t my point…what was my point…ah yes, humans are very much like lions: they are not supposed to live in captivity. When you see a lion in a zoo standing behind the glass peering out, longing for freedom, they do not look happy, they do not look free, they look listless and bored and tend to pace around a lot because that is not an environment they are supposed to be in. Similarly, humans are not supposed to live in psychiatric units, it is not their natural environment, it is not where we evolved to be and being in one is an abnormal and temporary experience. Problem is, when you have been staying in a psychiatric unit for almost half a year, you start to get a little bit institutionalised and consequently over these past two weeks I have been struggling with my new found freedom.

Indeed, going back to the lion thing, I feel very much like a lion who has been living in captivity for a long time and then has suddenly been chucked out into the wild without any of the coping skills or natural instincts necessary to survive. I didn’t like living on one small corridor but at the same time it was a contained space that I knew every part of, it was a place I understood, yet now I find myself in this big wide open space of a world and no idea what to do or where to go. Over the past months I spent so much of my time desperate to get out of hospital that I never really thought about what it would be like when I got there and am now finding myself feeling a bizarre sense of “right….now I am out…what the hell do I do now?”. It is like my sense of direction has gone, my goals and my aims were all so focused on getting out and being free that I forgot about what would actually happen and what I would actually do when that freedom was achieved.

What troubles me is that I am not living in a place where I should feel like this, I am not living in an abnormal environment as I was when I was in the hospital, I am living where I am supposed to be, out in the wild, out in the real world, yet it is suddenly a world in which I do not feel I have a place anymore.

To be fair I am quite a homebody, I don’t go out much and the most adventurous trips I have been on since I have been out have been to places like the local supermarket, but every time I go to these places I find myself wandering around watching all these people casually buying food as part of their day, part of their lives that they are living and I wonder how on earth they do it. How do they live in this big scary world? How do they have jobs and families? How do they know what food to buy in a shop and then how do they go back home and make it into something to nourish themselves before maybe going on an evening out to do something similarly alien to me like socialising? I am not a part of that world. I am part of a world where I am used to waking up and being timed to eat a bowl of cereal under the watchful eye of a nurse or other mental health care professional, before gathering in a group room around a box of tissues to talk about my feelings. For five months the biggest deadlines and expectations I have had on my shoulders have been things like making sure I turn up to emotional regulation group with my notebook on time and making sure I am at the clinic to be weighed at 7:30 on a Monday morning. True I didn’t like it, to be honest I hated it, which is why I spent such a long time fighting professionals and trying to get out. I didn’t belong there anymore than a lion belongs in a perspex box, but it feels like so much time has passed and I have become so institutionalised, this admission more than any other even though this has not been my longest, that I don’t belong out here either. I don’t belong anywhere, I am like a ghost wandering around aimlessly haunting old places that I used to know yet now don’t feel a part of.

I think all of these feelings highlight one of the main problems with putting people into hospital for long periods of time, that being the institutionalisation I have mentioned and the fact that people forget how to survive anywhere else. They forget what it is like to be a person with a life and an identity other than a mental patient required to take their medication and have a stab at some therapeutic writing on a Wednesday morning or creative group in the art room on a Tuesday. It probably sounds ridiculous because I wasn’t even in hospital for that long and I have had many admissions before that I survived, some of which were longer than this, but I can’t help it, I just feel so out of place and so confused as to what to do now, A few weeks ago I talked about how living in a psychiatric unit is very much like living in a fish bowl and now I believe in that analogy more than ever. I am a fish out of water, or I suppose to put it more accurately since this is where I am supposed to be, a fish who has been used to a tiny little bowl with a little castle and a turret and is now presented with this great big ocean with giant sharks and other fish busily swimming past as if they are all going some place important and all know a lot of things that I don’t.
If it wasn’t for this blog I wouldn’t know what I was doing at all and to be honest I am even struggling with this. At least my blog gives me structure, my blog gives me a plan to work to, every week I write it, I draw the picture, upload it on the Monday and then pray that people read it and don’t suddenly hate me, but even writing has got harder since I left hospital because I am at a loss as to what to do with myself and my brain doesn’t feel like it is working properly. There is too much stuff out here in the real world, too many people, too much noise, too much responsibility and I am just an unemployed head case living at home (for now). It isn’t as if I am some boss at this high powered company where I am entrusted with the responsibility of managing loads of people and their lives and actions as well as my own.

I guess it is all about what you are used to and that I will settle into the real world and get used to it again eventually, but still I wanted to write today to highlight how institutionalised you can get even if you only stay in a psychiatric unit for a couple of months and how very disorientating it can be once you leave. Don’t get me wrong, I do not want to go back there by any stretch of the imagination and I am doing everything I can every day to keep myself safe enough to stay out. Like I said, it wasn’t that I belonged there at all, I just want to know where the place I belong is now because at the moment I cannot seem to find it. I am supposedly back where I should be right now, yet I am very lost and frightened and really in need of some kind of map to find my way home. I just wish I knew where home was.

Take care everyone x

Lion