Anorexia And The Fear Of Being A Healthy Weight

When people hear that I have anorexia and am scared of gaining weight or scared to maintain a healthy weight, they always assume that this is because I am scared of getting (or eventually being), “fat”. In actual fact, this is not because I fear getting or being thought of as fat or large at all, and funnily enough being fat is probably one of the things I worry about the least when it comes to anorexia. 

The majority of my friends are a healthy weight, (by which I mean a healthy BMI which is of course not a foolproof way to measure anyone’s health due to all the many variables at play, but for now it is the best we have). Some of them have always been a healthy weight and have never had an eating disorder, but there are others I have met in treatment during times in which they were very underweight, that have since regained to a healthy place in their quest for recovery. Sometimes I was in hospital with them for the entire weight restoration process, but never at any point did I ever look at them gaining back the weight they never should have lost and think that they are “fat” once their BMI has returned to a healthy range. On the contrary, without exception, I always think people look more beautiful and fabulous than ever before when they have gained the weight. It is like seeing a shrivelled up flower come back to life again and bloom brightly coloured petals all over the place, and in seeing this surely I shouldn’t fear being a healthy weight myself? After all, who would want to look like a shrivelled up flower when you could look like a fresh one at the peak of its colour? I know I certainly don’t, so why do I fear being a healthy weight? 

When it comes down to it, it is all to do with the way I feel on the inside and the way in which people perceive me. Inside, I feel broken, scared, weak, sad and very much shrivelled in every sense of the word. When I am underweight people treat me as if they know all of these things. They don’t ask me what I am doing with my life or how I am because they know I am too unwell to be doing anything in life, which saves me having to tell them these things and acknowledge the catastrophe that is my current situation myself. When I am healthy however, they assume that my mind is naturally in the same corresponding state, and when that isn’t the case, it can be incredibly frustrating, confusing and dysphoric. 

To explain it in another way, I would like you to imagine that I am a penguin (and if you know me well enough that will not be too much of a stretch. Literally all you need to do is add a beak and the ability to eat raw fish, I mastered waddling before I could talk.) 

Inside I know I am a penguin, and I feel like a penguin. I know that I like sliding across sheets of ice on my tummy, I know that I can swim faster than an olympic athlete, I know I can catch fish with ease, I have fully accepted the fact that no matter how hard I flap I will never be able to fly and I know that in terms of career, my goals are to waddle around various agencies to pursue my dream of becoming an extra in the children television show “Pingu” or to model on the front of the wrapper of a chocolate biscuit that is named after me. When I am underweight, everyone else around me can see that I am a penguin. Fellow penguins nod to me in the street to acknowledge our solidarity in species, when I go to a pub the bar keeper knows I will want ice in my drink without me having to ask and friends compliment me on the elegance of my waddle and ask how I achieve such shine on my beak. If they hear about an audition for an actor to play Pingu’s second cousin twice removed, they call me right away and offer to give me a lift, but when I am a healthy weight, they see that audition sheet and don’t even think of me. 

When I am a healthy weight, nobody can see that I am a penguin, instead, they see a meerkat and treat me accordingly. When I nod at my fellow penguins knowing that I am one of them they look at each other aghast as to what this fluffy stranger is trying to say. People keep putting me in sand pits so that I will feel more at home, they buy me air conditioning systems to install in my desert home because they know how hot it is in my country of origin, I am offered jackal repellent to help me avoid predators and passers by ask me for help comparing different offers they have received on their car insurance. Nobody is unpleasant or horrible, but still I hate it and want to scream at them because inside I know that I am a penguin. Jackals don’t hunt me in the arctic! I hate sand because it gets stuck in my flippers, I am cold enough as it is without air conditioning units in my igloo and I know nothing about car insurance! When I am a healthy weight there is such a disconnect between the meerkat people see and talk to on the outside and the broken, cold little penguin on the inside that it almost feels like being two different people or that people can’t really see me at all. I feel I have to try and act like a meerkat to live up to their expectations yet I don’t know how. When I am underweight, people see the penguin I know and feel that I am, I don’t have to pretend, I am instantly understood and treated as the waddling little creature I am. 

That is why I fear being a healthy weight, and from what I gather from friends with eating disorders that is also why they fear it too. It is nothing about fearing being fat or looking unattractive, it is fearing being seen and treated as something or someone that is totally different to the person you know you are in your heart, it is fearing being put in a sand pit that burns your flippers rather than being taken ice skating for a pleasant afternoon of sliding on your tummy. 

I realise this whole thing is a really difficult thing to understand (and as you can probably tell, a difficult thing to explain what with all this talk about penguins and meerkats), but I hope I have helped it make some sense. I have anorexia, but I am not scared of being fat, I am scared of people thinking that I am “ok” when inside I feel anything but. 

Take care everyone x 

Meerkat

50 Ways To Celebrate Christmas When You Are In A Psychiatric Unit

Christmas is like Global warming. Whether you believe in it or not, it exists as a concept/event that people talk about. Maybe you have already written your letter to Santa (or to use the Global warming analogy, separated out your recycling for the week), or maybe you hate Christmas trees and are a real life embodiment of Scrooge (I guess in the global warming analogy, equivalent to this would be burying hundreds of plastic carrier bags in the back garden under a fire of perfectly recyclable paper, that you then dance around whilst spraying aerosol cans and cackling manically), either way, no matter what you do, whether you celebrate it or live by it or not, it is a thing and it is not going away.

Christmas is also something that is happening in the very near future, and is a festive period that a portion of the world’s population will be celebrating/experiencing in psychiatric hospitals. Maybe the idea of missing out on properly taking part in the holiday season doesn’t bother you because you are our embodiment of Scrooge (in which case hello, here is a friendly reminder that December does not last forever…also I have a sweetie for you…it is a humbug), but what if you are our Santa Claus worshipping/Christmas loving wannabe elf? What do you do then? How can you get through the Christmas period and celebrate what you consider to be the most wonderful time of the year when all the mince pies and fairy lights are in the outside world, whilst you are stuck on a corridor of mental health nurses, health care assistants and locked doors at every turn? Well my friends, if that is you then what you do is come to this blog (as you have done already, so thanks for that…I would give you a sweetie but I don’t think I have any that you will like…I do have some tinsel though…go wild!), because today I am here to solve that problem and provide you with 50 ways to celebrate this festive season if you are, like I am, spending all or part of it stuck in hospital…

  1. Get a reed diffuser with a Christmas scent like “Winter Spice” or “Gingerbread” to give your room a more Christmassy ambience/make it smell less like industrial strength cleaner, and the pile of tear soaked tissues in the corner.
  2. Buy a pair of antlers and put them on the pet therapy dog.
  3. Impersonate crackers by wandering the corridors shouting “BANG” at random intervals, then proceeding to tell a joke and throw a paper hat and tiny pack of cards at anyone nearby (real crackers are unfortunately NOT allowed in most units because apparently they count as “explosives”…)
  4. Have a Christmas movie night with the other patients (if choosing a film is difficult maybe write down a list of suggestions and pull one from a hat…a Santa hat…obviously.)
  5. Spray fake snow on the windows which are likely to be misted over so that people can’t see in anyway and therefore will not interfere with the ability to see daylight/the clouds if you live in the UK.
  6. Do Christmas shopping online or send everyone a message saying that you can’t buy them a present this year because you are in hospital where shopping opportunities are severely limited.
  7. If allowed foliage, get a Christmas tree for the ward or at least a plastic one.
  8. Again, if allowed, decorate your room excessively to the point that Doctors and nurses comment on it in your notes.
  9. March the corridors with a CD player booming out all of the Christmas songs that the people around you will surely not be sick of hearing quite yet.
  10. Tie string around one of the staff members and then shout “On Donner on Blitzen! Now Prancer and Vixen!”
  11. Run around/walk glacially if on an Eating Disorder ward, asking “Has he been yet?” with frantic excitement.
  12. Set up a fancy dress competition and judge the therapeutic abilities of every staff member by how much effort they put in.
  13. Jingle bells outside everyone’s room each morning to add a festive wake up call to their morning routine.
  14. If you are allowed to cook or have a supported cooking group with an Occupational Therapist, bake mince pies and gingerbread men.
  15. Gather cotton wool balls for blood tests from the clinic and make your very own Santa beard.
  16. Knock on the staff room door and when they open it start carol singing.
  17. Insist that all wheelchairs be referred to as “sleighs”
  18. Insist your bedroom be referred to as “The Grotto”
  19. When visitors message you and ask if you need them to bring anything in for you, phone them back and sing out “BRING US SOME FIGGY PUDDING OH BRING US SOME FIGGY PUDDING”. Put a bit of gusto into it.
  20. Leave mistletoe above all of the doors that only staff are allowed to use in order to create awkward situations between the pharmacist and ward manager.
  21. Write a letter to Santa asking for leave over Christmas or maybe a discharge date if you have been VERY well behaved this year.
  22. Whenever a decision is made or treatment option that you do not agree with is suggested shout “Humbug”.
  23. Play Charades (a really good Christmas game for the days you are too depressed to talk but are physically capable of using mime to portray the literary classic “Little Women”.)
  24. Put glitter on your therapy homework
  25. Make a “gingerbread house” out of care plans.
  26. When you feel a panic attack coming on, get that CD player out and start playing “The Carol Of the Bells” aka the most intense and dramatically stressful song of all time (they use it in Home Alone when things are getting really dangerous and the burglars are on the way).
  27. Yell at the night staff for staying awake through the night and making noise, because at Christmas it is supposed to be that “not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse” let alone a mental health nurse doing checks.
  28. Write to the catering department and request sprouts.
  29. Create a tombola to raise money for the ward and leave posters around so that visitors can enter.
  30. Name one member of staff “Rudolph” and then do not let that member of staff play any of your reindeer games.
  31. Gather the patients together and perform your very own nativity
  32. If the ward is full (and let’s face it, with the shortage of inpatient beds across the country it is going to be), make a sign and hang it on the door to let people know there is “no room at the inn”
  33. Make Christmas cards for everyone on the ward.
  34. When you see the cleaner, steal their broom (sounds weird but apparently in Norway it is traditional to hide the brooms to keep all the bad spirits out at Christmas time…seriously google it…and steal those brooms!)
  35. Make your own Christmas drink stall with decorated mugs so that patients don’t miss out on the vital Christmas activity of taking a photo of their gingerbread latte in a Christmas cup to post on Facebook and Instagram.
  36. If a nurse asks to do a heart tracing/ECG refuse because last Christmas you gave someone your heart and “the very next day they gave it away” meaning that this year to save you from tears you have given it “to someone special”.
  37. Set up a secret Santa situation so that everyone gets a little present in December.
  38. Bring three wise men to your ward round. Or some shepherds (sheep optional).
  39. If you need the toilet in the night, pull the emergency alarm and ask staff to escort you through the dark to the bathroom with their star (aka the torch they keep shining through your window).
  40. Tie carrots to every door handle incase one of Santa’s reindeer comes past and gets peckish. EVERY door. Reindeers are unpredictable in terms of location especially at this time of year.
  41. Tamper with the emergency response alarms so that every time staff pull them they play Good King Wenceslas instead of that infuriating beeping noise
  42. Make balls of coal out of papermache and give them to all the staff who have been annoying you recently. Also tell them that they are on the naughty list.
  43. Flood the wet room, freeze it and go ice skating.
  44. If you are on 1:1, take a little drum to the toilet with you and bang it furiously in impersonation of “the little drummer boy” so that staff cannot hear you urinating.
  45. Wrap all objects available in wrapping paper and put bows on everything. It will be incredibly inconvenient and will likely destroy the rainforest but damn will things look lovely.
  46. When you knock on the clinic door for medication every morning have the staff announce the date as they open the door prior to the giving of the meds in order to be a real life mental health version of an advent calendar.
  47. Knock a hole in the wall, wear orange, sit in the hole and flail around a bit next to a sign inviting passers by to roast chestnuts over the “open fire”. Technically you should get planning permission for this one but my advice is to not bother because it will probably be denied and you do not want this opportunity for festive activity ruined…
  48. Ask to be treated for “Low Elf Esteem”
  49. In art therapy make some puppets and re-enact The Muppet’s Christmas Carol.
  50. Rewrite the lyrics to the 12 days of Christmas (Examples of ideas include “four HCAs three bank staff two stress balls and Lorazepam in a pear treeeeeeeeee”.)

So there you have it! 50 ways to celebrate Christmas when you are stuck in a psychiatric unit and are feeling all too far away from the fairy lights, Christmas markets and winter wonderland set ups across the country. As I said last year, when it comes to Christmas there is nothing I or any of us can do to make sure it is definitely a “Merry” occasion, but I do hope at least, that however you feel about Christmas and wherever you are spending it, you get through the festive season in the best possible way with the best possible and safest outcomes for all. If you have a merry time then that is fabulous, but remember, if you are struggling with it, that is ok too. Christmas is a hard time for a lot of us but I will be thinking of you all.

Take care everyone x

HospitalChristmas

The Problem With Before And After Photos In Eating Disorder Recovery

A few months ago, towards the end of February, it was Eating Disorders awareness week, so naturally I did as I always do on this occasion and buried my head in the sand for the duration of the week (I also allowed children to use the remaining sand to build sand castles atop my hiding place because I am such a lovely person). This may sound like odd behaviour for someone who is constantly talking about mental health problems like eating disorders in order to raise awareness and for someone who has a strong disliking of sand, but then again odd behaviour is what I am known for. Literally.

The reason that I avoided the internet during that week, and indeed avoid it every year, is that it is a week in which social media is filled with “before and after” pictures, aka photos of someone taken during the depths of their illness, compared to a later photo taken post/during recovery. Don’t get me wrong, these photos certainly have their place and I would be lying if I were to say that I have never been inspired by any of them. Often these pictures will come with an empowering and motivating story of someone’s journey in recovery and triumph over anorexia, and that is brilliant. That is something that should be celebrated, and those stories  are shared throughout the Eating Disorder community to encourage others to fight their illnesses and to give hope to those who doubt recovery is truly possible. I love these stories but it is not the stories of recovery that I have a problem with, rather I have a problem with the “before and after” photos that are often involved in telling the triumphant tale.

Firstly, these images will usually show the person in the depths of their illness as an incredibly underweight individual, with ribs popping out so far all over the place that you could easily use them as a xylophone. Regardless of the inspirational intention with which they were posted, there is always the risk of these pictures going on to be triggers for other sufferers or, dare I say it, “thinspiration” for all those misguided souls who think that anorexia is something to aspire to. They can also make sufferers who are perhaps not as underweight (or who are unable to see themselves as that underweight) consequently see these images and feel that they cannot seek help because they aren’t “thin enough” or “bad enough”, when encouraging people to seek treatment is supposed to be the whole point of a week dedicated to educating and raising awareness of eating disorders. Similarly, in their representation of someone with an eating disorder and someone without, they encourage the myth that eating disorders are about being thin and that eating disorders can be seen, (a myth I have tried to tackle here: Why it is physically impossible to “look anorexic”.)
For people who do not know much about eating disorders and who do not have the time or interest in reading full accounts of recovery journeys, these snapshots may be the only experience they get of someone with an eating disorder, so the risk is that the stigma and lesson of “ill is underweight”, “well is a healthy weight” will be perpetuated without taking into account the far more complex and important internal and mental struggle that is having an eating disorder.

Similarly, as an image to summarise recovery, I feel it is problematic in that the main difference that is visible between the two pictures is weight, which implies that the main difference one goes through is the difference of the number on the scales. It suggests that in recovery, the biggest thing you “gain” is weight, when really weight is probably the smallest of all the things I have seen people gain in recovery. I may not be able to speak as a recovered person myself, but of all the friends I have watched beat their eating disorders into a soggy pulp on the ground that is no longer able to control their lives, the change in their weight has been the least significant change of all. Okay there is a change in weight and perhaps clothes size, but when I see my recovered friends, I do not see the change in their BMI, what strikes me most is the change in their lifestyle and their overall presentation as a person. To me they have not gained weight as much as they have gained themselves. When you are in the depths of your eating disorder, as much as you fool yourself, you cannot maintain a normal life. Your ability to have a job, have normal relationships with people, be happy or even function are seriously compromised, and these things are all aspects of life that can be improved on with recovery. I have seen friends go on to study medicine at university, have romantic relationships, give birth to children, climb mountains (I am talking proper big mountains like Kilimanjaro), and travel the world. They have regained their ability to properly smile, to laugh without having to fake it, and to me seeing all those photos of them skydiving in Australia or getting married and having babies have been far more significant and noticeable changes than what size jeans they wear. It is these aspects of recovery that are the really important reasons that people need to fight and it is these changes in lifestyle that are the really inspiring stories. Yes weight gain is a part of the journey, but what is more important is the places that weight can take you, for example to medical school or up a flipping huge mountain.

On a similar note, my other issue is that I feel before and after photos simplify the process of recovery. In one picture you probably have someone who is underweight and either looking miserable or faking a smile out of dead eyes, and in the other you have someone who has gained weight and perhaps, is beaming at you with genuine joy. This then makes recovery very straight forward, “Being underweight make you unhappy and thus gaining weight will make you happy”. It automatically assumes that the happiness comes as the weight increases, without highlighting the far more complicated journey in getting that weight to be there.

It is hard to explain exactly what I mean, but it is like looking at a picture of someone standing in a field looking miserable, and then another photo of them smiling in the same field but with the addition of an ice cream. At face value then, you can look at these pictures and think “well a person was sad because they didn’t have an ice cream but then they got an ice cream and they were happy” , simple. What the picture will not tell you however, is how that ice cream got there. Little would you know that the person had not simply walked up to the nearest ice cream van, asked for a 99p Mr Whippy and walked away smiling, just as the person in recovery had not simply gained some weight, and in turn, a smile (side note did you know that they don’t even do 99p Mr Whippys anymore? They are now at least £1.50! How do those ice cream men still have the nerve to play jolly tunes as they patrol the streets for customers now that they are basically performing daylight robbery rather than offering a merry treat. You can play Greensleeves all you want but that doesn’t change the fact you are making me re-mortgage the house to buy myself an ice cream. SHAME ON YOU ICE CREAM MEN. SHAME ON YOU.)

Anyway, what the picture doesn’t show is that to acquire their ice cream they were forced to go on a perilous test of their endurance, that pushed them to the limits of mental and physical strength. To get that ice cream in the picture, that person had in fact had to walk across continents and cross oceans to America, the largest producer of almonds in 2014 I will have you know, and then had to hand pick hundreds of almonds ready to blend into a creamy milk worthy of a tasty frozen dessert (this person was lactose intolerant so almond milk was the milk required for the job.)
Then, exhausted from months of trekking, nut picking and milk making, that person had to swim across even more oceans into the freezing cold pole of the Arctic where they stirred their almond milk with a wooden spoon atop a large glacier that acted as a natural freezer for their ice cream churning process. Even when the ice cream was made it didn’t get any easier as they had to then wrestle with a penguin who had cheekily tried to steal the ice cream (I don’t blame him to be honest. I would steal ice cream if all I had ever eaten was raw fish), and then they had to get the ice cream all the way back to that field in their country of origin, back through the hot climate of almond fields in America, without the creation melting. Clearly that is a far more character building excursion to get to that point of “person with ice cream in a field” than the picture initially suggests, and I didn’t even tell you the 5 month side trip it took to make the cone in which the ice cream was to rest (it would take too long to tell you fully but as a brief summary it involved a very angry rhino and a lot of waffles).
The person worked hard to get to the point where they were standing in that field with that ice cream, and all that hard work is eradicated, as it is in recovery journeys, when all you see is a simple before and after shot.

Obviously I am not saying we should stop people from sharing their recovery stories and indeed, if you have recovered from an eating disorder, then I am OVERWHELMINGLY proud and impressed by your determination and strength. If you were here with me now rather than wherever you are reading this, I would give you so many rounds of applause that my hands would fall off and I would be left clapping stumpy wrists to show appreciation of your achievement. What I am saying is that maybe, more often we should be celebrating and telling these stories without the underweight photos that go with them. A story is still a great story without pictures. Hell, look at Harry Potter, that story changed and continues to change generations of people, it has grown theme parks and movie franchises, careers and other astonishing things, all from a pile of words cobbled together with no images at all (For the purpose of this post can we please just pretend that the illustrated versions that are currently in production don’t exist.) Still, even when pictures are added to the Harry Potter books, it will still be the words that are doing all the talking.

So that is why I have a problem with before and after photos when it comes to eating disorder recovery, not because I don’t like inspirational stories or don’t want people to celebrate their achievements, but because those pictures don’t really do anything but diminish and reduce the value and greatness of what has been achieved. As a snapshot ok, a picture may say a thousand words, but a recovery journey is made up of millions of them.

Take care everyone x

BeforeAndAfter

My New Diagnosis

For well over a decade, and since my very first therapy session many moons ago, (aka JUST after the dinosaurs died out and at the time when there were Tyrannosaurus Rex bones still lying about EVERYWHERE after that rather inconvenient meteor), therapists and psychologists across the country have always said that there is “something” wrong with me. Obviously they have always known about my OCD, Eating Disorder and Depression, yet still many have insisted that there is “something else” lurking within me and playing general havoc with my brain.

I have always found this “something wrong” that nobody can put their finger on, (or any body part for that matter), to be rather confusing.
When I was 15 the it was banded about that this “thing” might be bipolar disorder, but after trial and error with a few medications, that suggestion was tidied away as well as all the others and I have tried my best to forget about it. I was doing pretty well with this forgetting thing in my opinion (I had placed the “there is something wrong with you that we do not understand” memory alongside Pythagorus’ theorem in the box of “things I no longer need to know after the age of 16”), but then my forgetting box was rudely ripped open again very recently.
If you have been following this blog for a while you may remember that I had an assessment with a new OCD service in October of last year, a three hour interrogation examining all of my mental health problems and experiences of the world throughout my life. I mentioned nothing of any extra “bonus” diagnosis that nobody was sure of, so for this reason I was surprised when the psychologist I was speaking to randomly asked if I had any other diagnoses, as yet again I was showing signs of this “something else”, that something possibly being a “personality disorder”. I didn’t mention this when I had the assessment all those months ago because I imagined it would go away like all those other conversations of mysterious mental health problems in the past.
When I was told that the OCD service may not be able to facilitate my care if I had a personality disorder and I may need to see another service first however, I was unable to forget it again and became increasingly frustrated. Here I was potentially having issues with receiving treatment because of a mysterious something that I wasn’t even diagnosed with, and it was at that point that I knew I needed answers.

Like I said in my “why I like being diagnosed with mental health problems” blog post a few weeks ago, I like having the labels and diagnoses of my conditions in black and white because it helps me to deal with them and means I know what enemy I should be fighting. If you want a full understanding of why I like being diagnosed with (NOT HAVING) mental health problems, then I fully recommend checking that post out before this one (Why I Like Being Diagnosed With Mental Health Problems – it really is a great read. Trust me it involves a picture of a monkey banging a gong and singing Bohemian Rhapsody), but as a brief summary for all those with an aversion to classic song performing primates, my argument was that I like being diagnosed with mental health problems because it is only when you name a problem and pin it down that you can figure out how to overcome it. It is useless for a person working in a garage to simply say “there is something wrong with your car” because then they can’t fix it. They need to specifically identify the issue that there is a gaping hole in the front tyre, as only when they know that, do they know where they start tinkering and what equipment they will need.

Consequently, after my OCD assessment, I went to each of the three therapists I see in turn and asked them to tell me if there was something wrong and if so, what the hell it was. I can’t remember who first brought it up, but rather quickly a condition (we will call it Penguin condition for the time being), was suggested as the answer to all the questions I have had over the years. From that suggestion I had many appointments discussing the condition and as instructed, I researched it, learnt about it, and I watched a DVD given to me by a therapist, of various people being interviewed about their experience of Penguin condition.

Of course I didn’t relate to every single person on the DVD nor did I agree with some of the explanations of Penguin condition online, but on the whole, when learning about it, something clicked. As I heard people talking about what it was like I was astonished to hear them basically describing things I do/have experienced in life, and although scared and not eager to add a new diagnosis to my list, I was at least a little relieved. Finally I wasn’t just “weird”, I had Penguin condition and maybe if I started dealing with it, things would improve across the board. Perhaps the underlying issue of Penguin condition was the reason for the OCD and eating disorder, perhaps none of the treatment has cured me yet because we were actually treating the wrong parts first, like trying to eat the chunks of brownie at the bottom of a sundae glass before you have tackled the ice cream piled on top of it (ALWAYS SAVE THE BROWNIE BITS FOR LAST. ALWAYS. THAT IS THE RULE. ICE CREAM FIRST, BROWNIES LATER).

For this reason I became eager for the diagnosis to be put in place so that I could finally know where I stood. As well as answering my need for answers I also wanted it made official so that future therapists or medical professionals would know the full story if ever reading my notes, without me having to always add into new introductions the explanatory “I know you have read my notes but just so you know Penguin disorder is also on there but it is not written down”. I wanted it in black and white to be neat, to be clear, and partly because when things are in black and white, they look a little more like a penguin without the beak.

Then, a few weeks ago, I had a session with my psychiatrist and it was decided that we would make it official and the diagnosis would go on my records. At first I was relieved, but then he started to warn me about the consequences of it being made official. Suddenly I wanted to forget all about it and fall back into blissful ignorance again.
Apparently this condition is one with a lot of stigma to it, stigma that can lead to some therapists refusing to see you if you have the diagnosis. This wasn’t really a problem for me. If a therapist isn’t going to see me because I have a certain mental health problem then clearly they aren’t a good therapist or a person that I want to associate with anyway, but the constant reinforcement of judgement that could potentially befall me freaked me out a bit. I am not ashamed of having mental health problems, I talk about them openly on the internet for this reason and to hopefully help others be less ashamed about their disorders, yet with Penguin condition I really was rather scared and embarressed. My psychiatrist said he could treat me for the condition and just not put it on my notes if I would prefer, yet as easy as that would be, I still felt uncomfortable. Yes I wouldn’t have the “shame” of being diagnosed with a condition that faces a lot of stigma, but on some level I would also be admitting that there was shame in the condition and that I should keep it on the down low which is not how I feel about any other mental health problem I have. I am a firm believer that if you have a problem, keeping it on the down low is only going to make it worse and will not raise any of the positive awareness that could potentially be spread with honesty. Nevertheless I am a little afraid, and so for now it is on my notes as “under revision” incase I change my mind by the next appointment and want it removed (apparently without the under revision bit this is something that once on your records, will not come off no matter how much scrubbing or Cilit Bang you apply. Bang and the dirt is gone? Yeah, but the disorder will still be there!).

I have a few days until my next appointment now, and by that next session I have to decide whether or not I want to specify that mysterious something wrong or just sweep it under the carpet again. As well as debating whether to let it on my medical notes I have been debating whether or not to bring it up or “come out” with it in my blog. Again, my initial reaction was no. Even my mum agreed that it might not be the best idea. If you google the condition or do any surface level research on it, people with this disorder are painted as crazed monsters who are unbearable to be around. Reading the articles even I admit that I started to think that I would never want anything to do with someone suffering from the condition, and that was when I made my decision to get over my fear, come clean and talk about it on my blog like I talk about everything else, regardless of whether anyone else is interested. If everyone thinks people with Penguin condition are dangerously insane, then I want to talk about it and I want to raise awareness of the fact that that is not the case and what the people with it are really like. As you can see I am still scared of saying it on here (hence the code name Penguin condition), as I do fear the judgement, but they say feel the fear and do it anyway, so here it goes.

My most recent mental heath update then? After all that waffle what has happened? Well dear friend, I have been diagnosed with Borderline Personality disorder. I am still exactly the same blogger you have been following for however long you have been, with exactly the same issues. It’s just that one of the hidden ones now has a name (sort of like when some women on TV seem to name one of their boobs…it is something that has always been there only now it can be addressed formally in a letter or serious conversation). As you can see this post is long enough as it is so I won’t go into what that means and what myths need debunking here, but for now I feel like telling you is a big enough step. (That said I know many people do not know what this disorder is or have many misconceptions so, before I can provide an explanation of my personal experience I have linked a PDF below from the charity “Mind” which I feel is the best and least stigmatised description around, so if you want to learn more, dear god please go there rather than to a general google search).
Maybe I will delete this post before I upload it but I hope I don’t, and if you are reading it then I guess I have been brave. Nobody should be ashamed of their mental health problems, and I for one am going to live by that, even if doing so is something that scares me right now.

Take care everyone x

diagnosispicture

 

http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/borderline-personality-disorder-bpd/#.WLRDi7GcbVo

Unveiling The Secrets Of Life As A Mental Health Nurse

As you are probably all aware, this blog is a blog about mental health.
If you weren’t aware and thought this was actually a blog offering gardening tips, then I am sorry to disappoint you, but I really have no advice to offer in that department so you may want to look elsewhere for tips. All I know is that you should water your plants…but not too much…and plants need sunlight…but then some like to be in cool dark cupboards…yeah like I said I really am not qualified or experienced as a gardener…ANYWAY, browsing the titles of my current collection of posts I have noticed that most of them are aimed at people with mental health problems, but what about a post centred around the people who spend their lives trying to treat those without marbles? How do they feel about working with the mentally ill? What do they like about the job and which parts make them wish they had steered clear of the anxious and the depressed inhabitants of this godforsaken planet, to pursue a career in fish mongering instead? What makes them dream of swapping therapy for cod and medication side effects for a nice piece of haddock? What advice do they have for people thinking about becoming a mental health professional and how does one go about following that dream? If the mentally ill are plants, who are the gardeners providing enough warmth for seed germination and growth? (Please note I just used the word germination…that is a gardening term…maybe I am more qualified in that department than I realised). Well, if you have wanted to know the answers to any of these questions and even if you haven’t, I am here today to give them to you anyway in a hard hitting interview with a real, qualified mental health nurse working on the ward in which I currently reside. Prepare yourself for the secrets of the mental health professionals, the story behind the shift work and a very confused nurse wondering what on earth I am talking about…

LIGHTS GO UP.

[The nurse and I are seated in blue chairs in a place known as “the quiet room”. The conversation begins whilst the sound of the cleaner mopping slops rhythmically in the background]

Me: Hello Nurse Gertrude Potatobucket, thank you so much for joining me today for this interview.

Gertrude Potatobucket: What interview? Who is Gertrude Potatobucket?

Me: This interview. I want to know about the life of a mental health nurse for an article on my blog. Also you are Gertrude Potatobucket for the duration of this interaction because I am hiding your real name in the interest of confidentiality, so you can be brutally honest as nobody will know your true identity.

GP: I will agree to the interview but can’t I pick another name? Why does it have to be Gertrude Potatobucket? That sounds ridiculous.

Me: I will have you know it is not at all ridiculous but is an underused name that deserves more recognition, so no, you cannot pick an alternative. Anyway, I’m supposed to be the one asking questions here so please just accept your new identity and lets get to the good stuff.

GP: Katie I really think…

Me: [In a loud and interrupting manner] QUESTION ONE. WHAT DOES BEING A MENTAL HEALTH NURSE ENTAIL?

GP: [Sighs…there is a long pause during which the sound of mopping appears to increase in volume until Nurse Potatobucket realises that she is going to take part in an interview whether she likes it or not and gets on with answering the question at hand]. The role of a mental health nurse is different depending on what kind of service you are working for but in terms of my responsibilities on this Eating Disorder Unit, I am in charge of co-ordinating health care assistants on shift, running support groups, working with patients in 1:1 sessions, supporting them at meal times and I am in charge of handing out any medication prescribed by Doctors or psychiatrists.

Me: What a busy bee you are! I can almost hear you buzzing, your face is practically aglow with black and yellow stripes. So tell me Gertrude, how did you earn such responsibility? How does one go about becoming a mental health nurse? What training is required?

GP: To be a mental health nurse you need to have at least 5 GCSE’s including maths, English and Science and then go to university for three years to study mental health nursing. You don’t have to go to university to work in mental health though. If someone wanted to be a Health Care Assistant they would need to have something called a care certificate, but it is possible to get a job as an HCA without any official training. If someone has experience in mental health and does a good interview for a job, they may be offered a position and then have the opportunity to do the care certificate whilst working.

Me: Well to qualify alone sounds like a lot of fun but how about the job itself? What would you say is the best thing about being a mental health nurse?

GP: Supporting people and helping them to make positive changes in their lives.

Me: How nice. I don’t want to paint a misleadingly fluffy picture about the job though so tell me, what is the worst thing about being a mental health nurse?

GP: You see some really sad and upsetting stuff. Also shift work can be difficult as you never have a fixed schedule or routine and can be working at day or night depending on your rota. That said I know that “Bertha Potatonose” likes shift work as it enables her to be flexible when looking after her children, so it is different for everyone. Oh God I have just used her real name, can you cut that bit out?

Me: No need, I will simply hide her identity by replacing her real name with Bertha Potatonose.

GP: What is it with you using the word potato in fake surnames?…

Me: [Even louder and more interrupting than the first time the interviewee started to question the interviewer] QUESTION FIVE: HOW DOES BEING A MENTAL HEALTH NURSE AFFECT YOUR DAILY LIFE AND WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO SOMEONE WHO WANTED TO BE A MENTAL HEALTH NURSE?

GP: [Sighs. Despair at the situation is visible. The cleaner is still mopping in background]. First off I would advise someone to get some life experience or experience as an HCA. Secondly I would say that in terms of daily life you really need to learn to leave work at work and look out for your own wellbeing at home. You can’t look after someone else unless you have first looked after yourself.

Me: Does this mean there any people then that you would advise to avoid looking into being a mental health nurse? Are there any people you feel would be particularly unsuited to the role?

GP: No. It can be a difficult job but anyone can be a mental health nurse. Different people bring different life experiences, skills and character to the job and I think that is important. Mental illnesses don’t all fit into a neat box and neither do the people who are able to be great Mental Health Nurses.

Me: Inspiring. Truly inspiring.
Now Ms Potatobucket, I know that the people at home often worry when speaking to a mental health professional in candid honesty about their condition that they will be thought of as “crazy” or “weird”. Answer me honestly, do mental health nurses ever judge patients regarding what they say in a session?

GP: No, there is never any judgement. All I feel towards people talking about their difficulties is empathy and I want to show compassion towards the difficult time they are having in life.

Me: Well that is a relief. I am sure we will all rest easier in our beds tonight knowing that we can spill our inner most thoughts without fear of being thought to be “weird”. In addition to worries like that, a lot of people in treatment out there may also be struggling at the moment and feeling like things will never get better. Do you think recovery from a mental illness is ever really possible?

GP: Definitely. All mental health nurses hold the hope and belief that the people they are treating can get to a better place. I think everyone is capable of building the strength and determination not to let their mental health problem rule them forever, and in learning skills they can gain confidence they may not have had initially in fighting their issues.

Me: Fascinating stuff Gertrude. Truly fascinating. Now finally. The question everyone at home has been waiting for and the most important piece of information in all of this. Tell me, has being a mental health nurse in any way altered the opinion you hold with regard to penguins?

GP: What does that have to do with working in mental health?

Me: [Incandescent with rage at being asked a third question during the interview] MS POTATOBUCKET

GP: Oh for goodness sake ok, yes, being a mental health nurse has given me a new found appreciation for penguins.

Me: Aha! Just as I expected! Gosh! Looking at my watch it appears we are all out of time! Thank you so much for answering these questions Nurse Potatobucket. Your honesty and words will touch millions. On behalf of all my readers please know that we are eternally grateful.

GP: Can I go now?

Me: Absolutely

[Interview ends. The sound of mopping in the background has stopped. Upon leaving the room the cleaner is nowhere to be found and only a mop lies in the corridor. The cleaner has not been seen since…]

FADE TO BLACK

Well there you have it! The hard nitty gritty truth about what it is like to work as a Mental Health nurse, how to become one, and how such a career can affect one’s opinion on monochrome birds who refuse to comply with society’s expectations and use their wings to fly. I really hope that this helped people out there either if they are thinking about becoming a Mental Health Professional or those in treatment worrying about what carers in an inpatient setting may be thinking. It appears there is no judgement when it comes to working with the marble-less hoards and no matter how it feels at the time, it seems there is always hope and the potential to recover.
Now if you don’t mind me I am going to abandon my job as journalist for the day and turn to a little detective work. I really am getting worried about the case of the mysteriously disappearing cleaner that took place during this interview…any witness statements would be appreciated in the comments.

I will speak to you all next Monday, take care x

 

Gertrude Edited

Delayed Maturity In People With Mental Health Problems

In a few weeks time, my parents are flying to Malaysia for a fortnight’s holiday whilst I stay in my slightly less exotic summer holiday home of the English psychiatric unit (note I say only say slightly less exotic. Malaysia may have rainforests and tropical climates but I will have you know we have pineapple juice in the fridge here as a breakfast beverage option). The prospect of two weeks without my Mum and Dad here is terrifying. As a 24 year old I feel I should be past such anxiety when separated from my parents, but I can’t help it. In terms of maturity, I am ridiculously behind other people my age, in terms of development into an adult (whatever the hell that is).
Rationally, I suppose most people would miss their parents whilst they go galavanting off around the world and I know nobody feels prepared for becoming an adult. A lot of my friends for example are a rather taken aback with things like moving out or paying electricity bills, and like me often very much feel like retreating into a blanket fort to watch a Disney film. That said, because of all this mental health nonsense, I feel I am so extremely behind that it is as if I am in a giant swimming pool with all the other people my age, and that I am the only one who still has arm bands on. Heck I am not even in the pool with them, I am sitting in a paddling pool on the outside, splashing about and wondering how on earth these people are performing the front crawl with such ease.

This feeling of being behind my peers in terms of growing up used to worry me a lot, but “delayed mental ageing” or “stunted development” is very common in people with mental health problems. I have no idea why exactly this is, but if I were to guess I would say it was because when you are riddled with an illness of the mind, you kind of step out of the world and get lost/trapped inside of your head. Your neuroses and anxieties become your universe, they consume your entire being in terms of thoughts and behaviour, and it is very easy to forget that there is any other planet out there at all.
With things like OCD, your world is your rituals, every action requiring such concentration and focus that you have no senses spare to be receptive to anything else. When you are depressed you are too busy trying to motivate yourself to keep breathing to have time for real life stuff, and then there are eating disorders where your entire universe is food. No wonder then that people often describe people with severe mental health problems as “totally out of it”. Sometimes, they really are holidaying on the outward planet of insanity with whatever anxieties that involves, and in being this way they miss a lot of what is really happening in the real world, not because they are self obsessed, but because they are not there.

This wouldn’t be as big an issue as it is, and it wouldn’t potentially “stunt” or delay development and maturity at all if the world would just stop spinning whilst us marble-less creatures were otherwise engaged. If the world waited, people could just get better and pick up their lives and development from where they left off before the insanity creatures whisked them away, but that is the problem. The world doesn’t stop turning (sometimes Earth can be so inconsiderate). Even if you are living on a different planet, time in the real world still passes, so when you try to recover and return to normality it can be quite a shock to the system.
This shock is a really difficult thing to explain to people who haven’t experienced it, so in classic Born without Marbles style I am going to try to make some sense of it via some kind of analogy. The analogy? That coming back into the real world after being trapped in a mental illness is sort of like the feeling you get when you watch a TV program for several months, miss a few years, then try to pick it up again only to be baffled and confused as to what on earth is going on.

In this analogy, sane people have been watching a daily television show, lets call it “The Life and Times of Percy The Penguin”, a soap opera style show about a community of penguins living in the Arctic (think Coronation Street with more waddling). The sane people have never missed an episode, so they have seen the story grow over the years, and learnt things about the world that have changed and enhanced their lives. Each episode actually helps people develop in life.
Now, the person with mental health problems starts off watching this program too, but then, just in the middle of an episode in which Percy is getting married to his childhood sweetheart Patricia, the mental illness kicks in and whisks them to a world where there are no televisions. Whilst they have the illness they are trapped in this other world, anxious, alone, repeating rituals, hearing voices and experiencing a whole other load of things that most people never do. Despite their absence however, in the real world, the television show continues on without them.
Say they are then stuck in this mental world for a decade but then finally break free, back to reality. One may assume that they can join back in watching the program, understanding life in exactly the same way as everyone else, fitting in just like before, but unfortunately that is not the case.
They turn on the TV and are immediately confused by the image that confronts them on the screen. Where the hell is Patricia they wonder? Why does Percy have a wooden flipper? Who is this Polly he is married too? Why are Percy and Polly crouching in a bunker looking terrified and why have all the other penguins in the village been replaced by seals? It makes no sense.
To everyone else the answers are obvious. By staying in the real world they never missed an episode and have grown up over the years alongside the program, their understanding and knowledge continuing to grow as the program progressed. They are all well aware of the fact that in “The Life and Times of Percy the Penguin”, Patricia actually turned out to be an evil seal in disguise who ripped Percy’s fin off in the middle of their wedding, resulting in the rather splinter ridden replacement. They all saw every other penguin in the village reveal themselves to be evil seals working for Patricia, with the only real penguin other than Percy in the area being a hidden gem named Polly, who Percy then fell in love with, married, and is now hiding in an ice cave with planning how on earth the pair will overcome the wrath of Patricia the dictator and her fin flapping minions. The mentally ill person can try and catch up, scrabble around for any video tapes or use Google to find out all the things they have missed, but it isn’t the same. The lessons learnt over the missed years and development in everyone that the program inspired, happened in a time that cannot be retrieved, leaving the mentally ill person understandably behind and immature in comparison.

That is how I feel right now, and considering I first got ill when I was 11, I feel that mentally I am still that age, not even a teenager, yet in recovery everyone is trying to force me into this world of the 24 year old. It is terrifying. “Getting better” from any mental illness is quite a challenge as it is, but getting better AND trying to cram 13 years worth of growing up into a couple of months is a bit much to ask. I am just not ready to be 24 yet, I haven’t had all the years leading up to it to prepare myself and I haven’t learnt the lessons you are supposed to learn alongside friends who are going through the same thing, friends who are now rather far ahead of me.
Whilst all the other people at school were leaving the beanie babies behind, hitting puberty, getting hormones and falling into relationships, I was too busy calculating the calories in an apple to join in with all the developing. When they were learning to drive, I was off counting the number of times I had washed my hands, and when they began to move out of their family homes I didn’t notice because I was too upset or anxious to come out from under a blanket.

I feel silly and embarrassed by these things, but at the same time I want to talk about them openly so that more people can understand and fewer people have to feel ashamed. It is easy to judge someone for living in their parents’ house past the age most people have moved out, but I think it is important for people to be aware of the fact that this whole stunted development thing is a real issue and yet another complex reason to add to the list of what makes recovery from any form of insanity such a scary, and difficult process. Maybe one day if I “get better”, spend long enough in the real world, then I won’t feel so alienated and distant from friends my age living adult lives. Maybe one day I will understand the friends I have who are considering getting a mortgage (what the hell is that?), whilst I consider which starter Pokemon to pick (Squirtle every time), and maybe one day I will have the answers as to how to sort your life out when your mental age feels so disconnected and underdeveloped compared to everyone else. I certainly hope so, and as soon as I find those answers, I will be sure to let any of you others out there who are struggling with this issue know exactly what they are. Until then, I guess I will just have to keep my arm bands on as it were. Force myself out of the paddling pool, keep jumping in the deep end where the other 24 year olds are, splash around a bit and hope to God there are some good life guards or at least a rubber ring floating around.

Stunted

Demystifying The Mental Health Act…With Penguins

If there is ever a widely reported act of violence on the news orchestrated by a single individual, the majority of the time it will be equally widely reported that said person was mentally ill and most likely “detained under the Mental Health Act”. Understandably then, when people hear of people being detained under the Mental Health Act, they associate the Act with danger. To be fair I can understand why people may jump to this conclusion.
If every time I heard about some violent crime I simultaneously heard that the perpetrator was addicted to coco pops, I may naturally make a connection between violent knife attacks in the street and coco pops. When the coco pops are simply mentioned as a “thing” and there is no explanation to tell me that coco pops are actually little puffs of cocoa sugar covered wheat based cereal with the key ability to turn the milk chocolatey, how am I to know any different?
Therefore, seeing as I am currently “detained” and have recently been given a load of forms explaining the official legal terms of it all, I thought I would do a post to clear up any confusion and to give a purely factual explanation of what the Mental Health Act is, what it does and what it means.
I don’t however want this to turn into some boring school lesson, so to liven it up I am going to provide my explanation via little examples involving “Patricia the penguin”. You know what they say: “When life gives you lemons you make lemonade”, so when life sections you under the Mental Health Act, you use the lump of paperwork dumped on you to make a post explaining what it means, with pictures of penguins to help clear up confusion and reduce mental health stigma. I think that’s the saying anyway…so here goes…

What is the Mental Health Act?: It is a law that enables professionals to admit and detain patients for a compulsory admission to hospital. It doesn’t have to have involved any incidents of violence, much like the consumption of coco pops does not have to be involved with criminal activity. Alas, unlike coco pops, the Mental Health Act does not turn the milk chocolatey, for there is rarely any milk involved.

How does one come to be sectioned under the Mental Health Act?: This is a question that will vary between the sections of the Act and individual circumstances, but as a basic principle a Mental Health Act Assessment will be called by professional people (I am not sure what they are professionally qualified in exactly, but they are usually people holding clipboards, stroking their chins, squinting/looking thoughtful), and they will interview you and ask questions in order to assess your health.

Are there different sections of the Mental Health Act?: What a marvellous question dear reader and one I can respond to with the knowledge that indeed there are several, the differences between which I will explain below with the help of Patricia…

Section Two: Recently, Patricia the penguin has been acting unsafely (skating on thin ice as it were), and is suspected to have a mental illness without the capacity to see that she is putting herself in danger. She is not however diagnosed with one, nor has she been in hospital before, so a group of professional penguin Doctors with specific training may place her under a section two, aka a legal detention to hospital for an assessment of her mental health, in order to establish whether or not she needs treatment. It can last up to 28 days and in that time they aim to discover if she has a mental disorder. Under this law she can be treated against her will if it is deemed in her best interests, and discharge or transfer to another section can happen during, or at the end of the 28 days.

Section Three: A section three is a detention in hospital for treatment, so if Patricia were to be put under this section it would mean that she were well known to hospital services, would have a diagnosis and not require assessment. In the section two admission, the focus would have been more about finding out why Patricia was found skating on thin ice in the middle of nowhere and deciding whether or not her reasons were rational, but for the section three they already know why she was skating in such a reckless way, for she has a diagnosis of “Skating on thin ice syndrome”, a common mental health problem in penguins that requires treatment when severe. On this section Patricia can be held for up to 6 months, but may be discharged sooner, or later if the section is renewed for further treatment. Again under this section it is possible for Patricia to be treated against her will (e.g. in her case, forced to skate on thicker blocks of ice even if she doesn’t want to).

Section Four: Section four is pretty much like a section two in that again it is a detention for a short period of time (72 hours) for an assessment of one’s mental health. This is more commonly used in emergency situations as you only need one special doctor to enact it, unlike a section two which requires two. For example, if Patricia is skating on thin ice at 5am in the middle of the arctic and two doctors with the ability to enact the Mental Health Act have been sent for, but one got lost by turning left at the second igloo (use your imagination kids), the doctor with superior navigation skills could potentially hold Patricia under a section four for 72 hours until the other Doctor hurries up to give his second opinion, which then may result in her being placed on a section two.

Section Five: In this circumstance Patricia has realised she may have skating on thin ice syndrome and has voluntarily admitted herself to hospital. However, twenty minutes into her admission she is overwhelmed with the desire to skate on thin ice and asks to discharge herself. The Doctor does not think this would be a good idea in terms of Patricia’s safety though, so he can put her on a Section 5(2), aka use his “Doctor’s holding power” for up to 72 hours. If there are no doctors available at the time Patricia is asking to leave however, a nurse can enact a section 5(4) which lasts for 6 hours or until a doctor arrives. This section will be used if there aren’t specially qualified doctor/doctors around to enact a section two/four available and can take place in general as well as mental hospitals.

CTO: This isn’t technically another section it is tied up in it all, as a CTO is a community treatment order that it’s possible for someone who has been detained under a section 3 to be discharged on to. Basically, it’s a legally binding order of conditions someone has to meet in order to be allowed to remain in the community (e.g. Patricia must attend weekly appointments/hand in her ice skates, cancel her membership to the local ice rink and take her antifreeze medication.)

And there we have it! Now of course this is a very brief explanation as to what the Mental Health Act is and there are far more details and legal jargon/complexities that go into each section, but hopefully I have demystified The Mental Health Act somewhat, albeit with a very basic, penguin centred outline. Hopefully if you are reading this you will never have to have anything to do with the Mental Health Act personally, but at least you will know what it actually is that is being referred to when an article brings it up in relation to something unpleasant that doesn’t put any effort into explaining the Act itself.

Finally, I just want to let everyone know that if anyone is concerned, I can confirm that Patricia the penguin is merely a fictional character created for the purpose of educating and reducing stigma, so please do not go away and worry about how she is doing after having been through all these sections. As a product of my imagination, I can assure you that Patricia is just fine, and I hope you all are too. Cheerio.

Patricia
(I hope the above picture serves as enough evidence that Patricia is safe and sound/not in any danger. As you can see she is merely enjoying a bowl of coco pops in her safe ice igloo and has not been ice skating, nor will she be doing so in the near future.)

Why We Need To Rename The “Loony bin”

In terms of mental health, there are many slang terms used to refer to a psychiatric hospital, (“nuthouse/funny farm etc), but while these terms are still offensive, there is a particular slang term that I think is particularly dangerous. I understand that slang is useful in society and I am not demanding the removal of all slang from now on, but issues can arise with slang when the term becomes more notorious than the correct phrase and actually alters the perception people have of whatever is being referred to. That is the unfortunately the case with the term “loony bin”.
I realise calling a psychiatric unit a “nut house” isn’t accurate either, for example I have never encountered a “nut” when in hospital (other than the odd almond or macadamia in my fruit and fibre…I once heard someone claim they found a pecan in their bowl but I think that was just a myth so don’t take my word on it), but the “loony bin” slang term is particularly damaging as it conjures up ideas of a place into which the rubbish is tipped, a place that people don’t come back from and if anything is utter trash, it is that image.

I myself have had several admissions to various different “loony bins” and I can state with the utmost conviction that none of them bore any similarities to a bin, neither appearance wise or in terms of function. Firstly, on the whole they were all very clean (one had the bathrooms cleaned after practically every use so sometimes I was unable to shower BECAUSE they were being made extra clean), but more importantly none of the patients were anything like waste needing to be dumped.

The problem with the phrase isn’t even just damaging to the self worth of current or ex-patients. Potential inpatients may be scared of, and thus refuse admissions for treatment that they desperately need, because this whole “loony bin” perception has made people fear they will go in and never come out, that they are a lost cause who needs to be locked away from society for good. Admissions to a psychiatric hospital however, are not final destination. Instead they are more of a holiday. Ok, I will admit they are not exactly like a holiday, I know I would prefer a beach in the Caribbean over a stark white bathroom with a staff member watching me pee, but what I mean by this comparison is that they are a place that people come back from (albeit without the much revered tan or photo album). Going into hospital doesn’t have to be a terrifying endgame, define people or morph them into the branded mental patient to be impersonated at Halloween parties.

There is of course also the issue of this “bin” (a name of a place usually reserved for objects not people), being used as a place for “loons”. “Loons” sound like magical creatures, inhuman half breeds who are fundamentally different to “normal people”. The whole idea just emphasises the false distinction between “mental people” and “sane” ones when really they are both exactly the same. People in mental hospitals are not a different species, they are human just like you (unless dear reader, you are in fact a penguin in which case may I congratulate you on finding my blog without opposable thumbs).
I think it is comforting to label people with mental health problems as loons to be kept in a separate lidded inhuman/object bin world of restraints and locked doors, because by separating the sane and the insane, making a “them” and “us” situation, it perpetuates the idea that those crazy people are different and therefore you are not at risk of being contaminated. To think that a person screaming and being held down to be injected with anti anxiety medication is just like you is frightening and prompts all kinds of questions like “what if that happens to me”? It is nicer to think of all of that stuff as things that happen to “other” people, that the person cradling a wooden spoon and singing nursery rhymes is different, no possible image of you in the future. It is nice to put the lid on the idea and leave it outside the house for the rubbish collectors to remove so you don’t have to deal with it in your home.

The derogatory slang of “loony bin” and resulting “loon/human”, “them/us” dumping ground view of psychiatric units really is a use of language that has the ability make patients feel hopeless and forgotten, doomed waste discarded for good, and it creates judgement in people without mental health issues that just continue the stigma and fear that surrounds it all. I urge people to know that none of this is true.

For patients who have been admitted I want to say that life is not over, and being in hospital doesn’t mean that you are rubbish or damaged beyond repair and the landfill is not your future and final destination.
If anything I would say the slang for a psychiatric hospital should be “the temporarily out of order and in need of repair tray”, just like “normal” hospitals that treat only physical illnesses. It is not a place to be thrown in when you don’t have a place in the real world anymore, it is just a place in which you remain as human and as worthy of life as anyone else on the planet, you just have a few cracks in your porcelain skin that needs a little glue to help them stick back together.
We need to stop seeing psychiatric hospitals as bins or end games for the weird wastes of failed humanity, but as places for ordinary people who are just struggling in life and need a little support to get back into full working order, simply time and space to patch things up and get them well enough to leave that repair tray so they can go back home.

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