April 15, 2015

I was distressed, confused: often tearful.Sheila's blog I remember that bit. Looking back over a decade later, I'm pretty sure I was annoying, too.

Barbara – not her real name – paid attention, unlike some of her colleagues. I can't remember if this particular conversation happened before, or after, she took time out to plait my hair. To encourage me to eat.

When she said that she and her colleagues had had a chat about me, and knew what I needed , I begged her to tell me.

Eventually, she did: “You're a misery, and you need to snap out of it.”

It was my first stay in psychiatric hospital. I'd been in around a month, after trying to take my own life. Voluntary at first, I was eventually sectioned, and given a diagnosis of severe depression with psychotic symptoms.

A month or two after our conversation, my section was lifted, and I returned home. Two years later, I was back in hospital. The diagnosis this time was bipolar.

And Barbara? She was a psychiatric nurse.

As awful as some of Barbara's comments were, she really did care

That second stay was comparatively brief. The third, only a few months later, was my longest to date. This time, Nurse Barbara suggested ECT.

Whilst ECT suits some people, it only appeals to me when I'm unwell. My friends and family were horrified by the idea. So I'm pleased that my husband mentioned Barbara's suggestion to the psychiatrist, who hadn't included it in my care plan.

I don't remember whether it was the first admission, or the second one, when Barbara said that what I needed was “a couple of kiddies”.

I was middle aged, married 20 years, and childless.

Once again, I was poorly enough to think this, too, was a great idea. Thank goodness again for my partner, who noted that I needed kids “like I needed a hole in my head”.

As awful as some of Barbara's comments and suggestions were, she was not only working in a caring industry: she really did care.

"But what is their character? They're up, then they're down..."

Then there was support worker “Zac”. When I commented that a mutual acquaintance with bipolar had done something they realised was out of character, Zac said: “But was is their character? They're up, then they're down...”

For every Barbara, whose heart if not head is in the right place, and Zac, whose attitude toward people with bipolar frankly makes me want to scream, there are some fantastic people out there.

Stigma or compassion - you never know where you're going to encounter them

Such as the social worker who knew within five seconds of my answering the door whether their visit would consist of a few minutes of formal conversation, followed by 45 or so of pleasant chat about things which interested us both. Or my favourite psychiatrist, who always listened to what I or my carer had to say, and sometimes even changed his mind, based on those conversations.

Likewise, my current Community Psychiatric Nurse (CPN) had the brilliant idea that I write my internal conversations down. Such a contrast to a previous worker, who had about as much imagination – and flexibility - as one of her flow charts.

Stigma, and compassion: you never know where, or when, you're going to encounter them. Or, what a difference intelligent, compassionate care can make to your life.

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