Hannah, March 22, 2018

Picture of blogger: Hannah

‘You’re being admitted to a mental health unit’ were words I struggled to comprehend. How can I be so high functioning in the legal profession and simultaneously require admission? One minute I was at work and the next minute I found myself at the local Accident and Emergency. I felt vulnerable as the ambulance took me to the unit, and then terrified as I stepped inside the unit and the doors locked behind me. The fear of the unknown consumed me. I felt like the tiniest fish in the biggest ocean.

Everyone hears stories about psychiatric hospitals and I fell for them too. I imagined padded cells, straightjackets and a prison-like culture. I was mistaken – it couldn’t have been further from the truth. There were staff on hand to help and guide you, activities to keep you busy during the day and opportunities for relaxation. Having regular visits from friends and family meant the world to me; I realised how much they cared.

Often it felt like Big Brother; being constantly checked on every five minutes but I realise that was for my own safety and theirs, as well as the other patients on the ward. Don’t get me wrong, most patients were very very ill and required intensive treatment and management. Yet we all shared an understanding that we have an illness, and that was comforting. Being able to talk freely and openly, about something you had bottled up for so long, gave me hope for the first time in what felt like forever.

It was on the ward that I was diagnosed with Bipolar Affective Disorder - something that I hadn’t even heard of before my admission. It is characterized by dramatic highs and plummeting lows; moods more extreme than the average human being experiences. Unfortunately, mine came alongside psychosis; hallucinations, sparking dialogue with people that weren’t there and paranoia. My paranoia was at an all-time high, not least because of the cameras and mirrors in the ward. Then my delusions soon took over.

Saying that, I have fond memories from my time on the ward. From going to the gym and doing arts and crafts to occupational therapy but perhaps more significantly, the opportunity to talk to people who understood. I think the most therapeutic thing for me was talking to the other patients. We’d spend hours talking and essentially, we were in a bubble, sheltered from the worries of the outside world; a safety net, to give us the time and space to become well again. Mental illness is not fixable by simply sticking a plaster over the issue; it takes time to delve into the symptoms and have the opportunity to talk.

Following admission, I returned to work, gradually, and now work four days a week. I play hockey, football, guitar and piano and am studying for my law exams. Recovery really is possible.

By talking, we have the chance to obliterate the stigma that surrounds mental health. Next time you see a family member or friend who may be struggling, simply ask them ‘How are you?’. Taking the time to ask could potentially save a life. Together, we can campaign for a world that treats mental illness in the same light as physical illness. Together, we can end the stigma around mental health.

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