July 16, 2012

Cassandra, a Time to Change bloggerIn December last year I was walking home from another busy 12 hour shift, where I worked in a nursing home. It was a cold frosty night and I was exhausted from working three long days on no sleep. I remember walking home wishing and praying for sleep that coming night in order to get me through another 12 hour shift the next day. I could not let my fellow colleagues and more importantly the residents down by leaving them short staffed.

However that night something happened that changed my life in an instant. I was found collapsed on the cold street completely paralysed. Terrified. No idea what was wrong with me and anything could happen if you’re lying in the street on a dark night.

I remember this strong feeling of heaviness, I could not move or even talk. But I could hear everything that was going on around me. I found it incredibly frustrating (but somewhat amusing now looking back) listening to the paramedics and police trying to work out who I was and what had happened to me. I was scared and stuck. I could hear them coming to the wrong conclusions unable to say anything or direct them to my ICE (In Case of Emergency) numbers. Once they realised I was a carer (I was still wearing my uniform) and not a drunken 14 year old, they took more notice and more of an interest. By this point I think I was warming up a bit in the back of the ambulance and was able to mumble, by the way they were talking back to me I don’t think it was very coherent.

they were convinced that I had taken an overdose

They then found out that I was under the Mental Health Team and have a history of suicide and self harm. Great! So now they were convinced that I had taken an overdose, repeatedly asking me if and what I had taken. So much so that I was doubting myself and trying to remember if I had taken anything.

I found the switch from how I was perceived and treated through the different stages of discovering who I was, interesting and upsetting. It almost left me wishing that I was in fact a drunken 14 year old rather than someone who struggles with mental illness because the way I was judged was so much nicer than being a 19 year old who has mental health problems. I don’t think it even made any difference that I was working in a caring profession.

they were quick to jump to the conclusion that the reason for me being completely paralysed was psychological

Once at the hospital they were quick to jump to the conclusion that the reason for me being completely paralysed was psychological. After I had convinced them I hadn’t taken anything – with the help from a blood test!

Even though I was completely paralysed they were very quick to write me off as being physically OK even though I hadn’t had any tests or in fact been touched by a doctor. If I hadn’t been under the mental health team and have any history of mental health problems then you can imagine that I would have had a load of tests done. Instead I was written off as a faker and treated appallingly by hospital staff before being carted of back home, still unable to move, the next day. They reluctantly kept me in overnight because there weren’t any local psychiatric beds.

just because you have a mental illness, it does not mean that you can’t also be physically ill

Six months on I have regained the strength in my body after having to learn to walk again and accept that this sudden paralysis was something that is known as conversion disorder. But that is not the point, just because you have a mental illness, it does not mean that you can’t also be physically ill and it is no excuse for the way I was treated by hospital staff.

I was terrified. I had no idea what was happening to me, I had gone straight from helping people with their personal care needs to needing that same help myself. It was a shock and not helped by professionals telling me that there was nothing wrong with me and to stop faking it. If I could have got up and walked, or even sat up myself then I would have. I am an independent person and hate having to rely on others to do everything for me so I’d like to think that this experience has enabled me to have even more empathy for the people that I care for.

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