May 30, 2013

Warning, some readers may find this post triggering.

The hospital is hot like always but I don't remove my coat.

I'm ushered in through the door and sit alone.

People stare at me but I shy from their gaze. I hear the usual medical jargon and exasperation at the lack of beds.

I walk into another room and wonder why the nurse hides the code from me. Usually I would be trying to see the code so I can get back in.

I'm no longer the doctor. I'm the patient.

Then I remember. I'm no longer the doctor. I'm the patient. I'm here for my own safety.

Earlier that day, I left my house without thinking. No socks, no oyster card, no money, no keys. I found myself gazing longingly at the train tracks.

The tears come thick and fast. I must look "crazy", perhaps I am? Sometime after I find myself walking towards my GP. She sends me to hospital.

The realisation that I am no longer strong enough to look after myself hits me when I am finally seen by a doctor at 1am. I'm no longer "normal."

I find it strange that I am allowed my shoelaces but not my phone cable. (The idiosyncrasies of the NHS never fail to amuse me).

I spend my first night under watch. The light glows red above me, for I am not allowed to sleep without being watched. For a moment I giggle to myself as the light conveys the slight tinge of district of ill repute. I catch myself, does my giggle betray my mental state. Is anyone really watching? Am I really all alone.

I wake up. I find myself in a long stay unit as there are no beds on the assessment ward.

I'm not like the other patients. I'm not broken.

I want to stay away from the other patients. I don't want to be infected. I feel so dirty. I don't want to be here. I'm not like the other patients. I'm not broken.

I avoid their looks and their attempts to converse. Their stilted language just enforces the fact that they are institutionalised. I hide in my room.

(Not that I am seen by anyone other than the nurses, the doctors are too busy they say, too busy to see a new patient, that is a failure on their part)

I have time to think.

I finally relent and join in on the ward. I begin to enjoy the routine. I realise the other patients aren't my enemy. They aren't infected. They make me see that I can perhaps get better. I will be forever grateful for the few conversations I experienced.

I realise that, despite my senior colleagues making me feel that I should be ashamed or that doctors do not experience mental illness, there is no shame greater than the shame I foist upon myself.

Mental ill health is talked about in whispers

Mental illness affects so many of us and yet we are led to believe that only a few really experience it or that perhaps no-one experiences it at all. Mental ill health is talked about in whispers or floridly by celebrities. You are either well or not.

The fact so little is known about mental health only amplifies my shame. I can't be right, I must be wrong. The point at which my opinion of myself is at its lowest is compounded by the fact people also think you are useless (or at the very least you think they do).

I did leave hospital but I am still not well. Recovering from mental illness is a long path, far longer than I ever could have imagined. Perhaps I will never be "well" but I will be well enough to be me again.

When you are in its grip, shame is omnipresent. Yet shame is not you. If I could ask you to remember one thing, it would be that. The shame you feel from mental illness is not real. It is a product of the environment in which we live and I for one will gladly cast it aside, or at the very least stomp on it a little.

One day at a time. It feels so very much but it's the best that I can do, and all we can do is try.

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thank you for sharing your experiences

internal shame

I too am a medical professional who found my self suddenly a "service user' ( I find that term alone confusing!). I completely agree that the internal shame which is magnified by the cultural idea within the professions that it is a sign of weakness and therefore you should not be practicing some how you are "in the wrong profession" that is driving the already present internal shame and sense of failure. Over time (quite alot of time!) I have come to recognise that this is some kind of institutional very negative defense mechanism of the professions themselves. It does not reflect individual beliefs of individual professionals but is so ingrained that enmass it causes serious obstacles to recovery and increasing self stigma, yet because individually people do not share the belief they are unaware of the stigma and unwittingly potentiate the problem as no one wants to be seen as weak. The experience is then invalidated and seen as all in your head as they are trying to help . It is extremely complex and difficult to tackle and is essentially inadvertently educated into you as you train and then if you faulre the self stigma runs riot. I have come to believe that the fear of others that there by the grace of god go they feeds the negative reactions as unfortunately mental health struggles in others serve to highlight our own vulnerabilities and many peoples defenses against this result in stigma towards what we fear. thank you for you post it was very refreshing.

Anna, thank you for sharing your experience

The attitudes and treatment of people who experience Mental Health difficulties, including healthcare professionals, still STINKS! After all these years they have had to LEARN! Not unlike our journeys of Recovery which takes deep courage, a long long time and constant unrelenting effort; It's not us that aren't pulling our weight.

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