*** TRIGGER WARNING *** This post discusses my experience in a psychiatric hospital, which was not at all pleasant (to put it mildly). If you are at risk of being triggered or upset by this topic, emotive descriptions of my feelings during my stay, and topics such as suicide attempts and self-harm, then please do not read any further.
In September 2017, I was hospitalised following a massive intentional overdose of prescription pills. I don’t really remember the first few days after it, as I was in and out of consciousness and everything felt like I was underwater. I remember being treated roughly by one particular nurse will I was in Resus. She had removed my bra and was telling me to put it back on. When I couldn’t do it myself, she tried to do it for me, roughly pulling me about then eventually giving up, loudly telling me it was six inches too small for me and wouldn’t close (which it wasn’t, because I used to have to wear it on the tightest clasps). This was all very embarrassing but again, I felt like I was underwater, or like I wasn’t really there, so I just sort of lay there, helpless.
After a couple of days, I was moved to the Acute ward. I was seen by the crisis team, who were their usual dismissive selves, and I was still totally out of it, so I just told them that my plan as soon as I got home was to attempt again. They said they would try to find me a bed in a psychiatric hospital. At the time I was scared but also glad, because I knew that I needed help.
It took them another few days to find me a bed, so I stayed in the hospital. I was visited by another set of crisis team workers, who were slightly more friendly, and even took me outside so I could have a cigarette.
When they found me a bed, I was transported by ambulance 30 minutes away to the psychiatric hospital.
The two paramedics handed me over to the nurses, and I felt all eyes on me as the other patients watched me arrive.
Two nurses took me down to what would be my room. They searched my bag and confiscated a number of items, including my phone charger and my belt. They left me with some information sheets to read. They then left me in my room.
I cried. A lot. I was terrified. I texted my parents, asking them to get me out. After a few minutes, they replied saying they had spoken to the staff at the hospital who said I was on a 72-hour hold so I couldn’t leave. I cried some more. I started frantically looking around the room for something sharp with which to self-harm. There was nothing. I got into bed and slept.
I awoke several times in the night to find a staff member shining a torch in my face. Checks.
My first proper day there, I got up feeling exhausted. I hadn’t eaten the previous day, and I was too scared to go into the dining room, so I didn’t eat that day until the evening. During the day, I sat outside and smoked, pretty much constantly. I was approached by an older male patient who tried to steal my lighter. I got it back, but he stared at me with such hatred and then started talking to himself about how he had murdered his dad. I was petrified. I went back inside and shut myself away in my room. More crying.
I decided to have a shower, so I got undressed. Luckily we had showers in our rooms so it wasn’t communal. I had my shower, then went back into my room to get dressed. Someone knocked on the door. I shouted for them not to come in because I wasn’t dressed. The key went into the lock, and a male HCA walked in. I was completely naked. I tried to cover myself with the ridiculously small hand towel they give you, thinking he would apologise and leave, but he didn’t. He stood there, staring at me up and down. I froze. He said something to me. I can’t remember what he said. After a few more agonising seconds of staring, he finally left. I can’t remember what happened after that, I totally dissociated. I felt violated.
I had a meeting with the psychiatrist, and he said I couldn’t leave yet. They wanted to monitor me. He put me back on some meds (I’d been off them for a week following the overdose). He put me back on Venlafaxine (though he only gave me 75mg, when I had been on 225mg) and said I could have access to Lorazepam whenever I felt like I needed it. He also said I could have a sleeping pill at night. All watched closely, of course.
That evening I managed to have something to eat, even though it made me feel sick with anxiety. Straight after dinner, I locked myself away in my room again and slept. More checks ensued; another broken night of sleep.
I was awoken in the morning to take my meds. I spent most of the day smoking. There’s not a lot else to do. They had a gym, but it was always locked and no one used it. I wouldn’t have used it even if it was open. They had someone come in to do “activities”, such as singing along to Adele songs… not exactly the sort of music you need when you’re already feeling depressed as fuck.
A young woman with schizophrenia came to talk to me. Her speech was extremely jumbled and I struggled to understand her, but I knew she wanted me to play pool with her. I caved in and said okay. The cues were broken and the table had various rips and scuff marks. We started playing, and on her second turn, she potted the black ball. She looked at me aghast, as if she was going to cry, so I said it didn’t matter and we could keep playing. We played the rest of the game and she seemed to calm down. It was hard to listen to her talking because her story was so upsetting. She’d been stuck in the hospital for three months on a section, with no sign of being let go because her family were refusing to take her back. My heart broke for her.
I can’t remember much of the order of things from here. Time feels different in a psychiatric hospital. It’s like you’re in a little bubble and nothing quite makes sense. Everything is scary and I felt like I couldn’t trust anyone – patients or staff. I read crappy magazines and cried a lot.
I’m going to cut to the end of the story now.
A meeting was called with the psychiatrist and a bunch of other staff members that I didn’t know. They said I was allowed to go home as long as I went to stay with my parents, and had an appointment with someone from the crisis team the next day, and I had to agree to go into the Intensive Life Skills programme (similar to DBT). So they gave me my stuff back and I was let go.
It would take a while for it to fully hit me how traumatic my experience in hospital had been. I spent a lot of time dissociated, and things came back to me in flashes. Even now, over a year later, I still struggle with some of the memories and flashbacks. I’m starting EMDR in February so hopefully, I’ll be able to work through some of this then.
I’m sorry if this was very disjointed and rambly, and I’m sorry I skipped some of the middle part. It was a very difficult post to write and it’s already way longer than most of my stuff normally is.
Please note that I don’t wish to dissuade anyone from going into a psychiatric hospital with this story – if you need help to keep yourself alive, then go. Please go. They did keep me alive. However, I think it’s important that people know the reality of what happens there, even if you’re not sectioned.
If you’ve been affected by anything in this post, please go to my Resources page for a list of organisations who offer support.
Thank you for reading my story.