Being sectioned can be a frightening, traumatic experience.
Fortunately for me, when I was hospitalised, I went voluntarily. For others, the choice is taken away.
Here to talk about his experience of being sectioned is Graham Morgan.
“When I think back to when I was last in hospital, I am tempted to think what happened was barbaric. I hate so much the memory of the lights on twenty-four hours a day for seven weeks and not even being able to put my head under the blankets to hide from them. The nurses on the door reading the magazines. I remember that wish to just close the door on the world and sit in the dark, looking out on the lights of the city below; the ships out at a sea. I craved that and it really did feel like torture to me. And yet with the lights on the nurses were able to remove those sharp things I had managed to pick up, despite their constant presence at my side.
I hated the nurse who stared directly me with hands on her hips as I went to the toilet and yet she was newly qualified, nervous, determined not to see me harm myself on her shift and to be frank most of the nurses tended to just keep the toilet door ajar, tried, to some extent, to give me privacy.
I yearned so much for the grass, the fresh air; to walk somewhere with a breeze, with no hospital smell. I wanted to smell the sea, to see crows jinking in the air.
I found it so acutely embarrassing when I was frog marched back to the ward; having escaped. Rushing outside; pursued by running staff, hearing the blaring alarms. Dodging cars where off duty nurses slewed to a halt to catch me and yet my every thought in that escape, was that now, finally, I could die.
My memories of the hospital are harsh and bleak but they need to be set in context. I had left my wife a year before after a number of years of the most awful arguments and conduct. My son had said he never wanted to see me again. I had stopped my medication as I decided it was poisonous. I realized that I had been right all along: that I was possessed by an evil devil; that I was part of the ending of the world and that wherever I went, I was exuding evil fumes that were destroying the people I loved.
I had decided that if I could become a spirit in the air above the seaside town I now lived in that I could breathe love to all the people who lived there. I had decided that my blood was impossibly toxic; that it needed drained from me and put in a secure, storage place where it was safe from even nuclear attack.
And so, I was sectioned, and once I was sectioned my only thought was how to harm myself and how to escape and how to die. And of course, if people were preventing me from doing that, then my memories in some ways will be bad. If I am restricted and made to take medication I don’t want; if I hate the ward rounds and am frightened of the patient who has decided I have killed her baby. If I am worried by the huge man whose shirt rides up over his massive belly and whose trousers dip down from his stomach, who keeps on putting his hand on my knee to stop it jiggering up and down, this is not surprising. I don’t have fond memories of the nurse who kept on commenting on my ripped clothes or that one who looked so fed up when specialling me. I didn’t enjoy the boredom or the cold lino of the ward or the fact that I had no access to any money at all for the first couple of months.
Of course, I hated it as I have hated it each time this has happened: but I am alive! I am now sitting on my bed, listening to music while my mum does her e-mails downstairs. I have just spoken to my girlfriend on her way to drop off Dash the dog and go line-dancing with her mum; I have laughed and we have shared kisses down the phone. I am looking forward to when I am next with her in our house with the lovely wild twins. I am looking forward to writing the next draft of my next book; to sitting by the Clyde and listening to the oyster-catchers and curlews, seeing the sparkle of the sun on the sea. I am looking forward to when I next see my sister and her family near Dunoon, to learning how her midwifery is going, how her new house is, how the children are finding Scotland.
Could I have been treated better? Of course I could. Were there some nurses and psychiatrists I disliked, of course. But I am alive and celebrating my life. And, amongst the bad treatment was the wonderful treatment that means I have fewer scars littering my body than I might have had. I remember the great nurses too; the nurses who sat on my bed and reached out to me when I did not think I could speak. The nurses who came into my room and played relaxation music and helped me calm down when, yet again, I was not asleep at four in the morning. The OT’s who encouraged me to make stained glass presents for my friends at Christmas. That wonderful nursing assistant who somehow made me feel safe and held when my tears were hiccupping out of me at the missing of my son in the dark sorrow of the night. The patients who made me welcome in the small lounge where we ate crisps and drank fizzy juice and watched movies once I had come off my hunger strike. The speech and language therapist who helped me set up a writing group and came to our ward especially, when at first I wasn’t allowed off it, even with an escort.
I hear we are meant to be all about stopping sectioning; about seeking out our will and preference in these situations. Even now, when I am not even in a desperate state, I do not have the faintest idea of how someone could seek a single idea of a clear will and preference in my life. At that time, I was disgusted by myself, my beliefs, the world; all I wanted to do was to die. I needed to be protected, looked after and kept safe from myself. Love and compassion are vital but when every single mooring chord to reality is broken, sometimes you need someone to step in, to take over for hopefully as short a time as possible but until that time when you can at least vaguely see the possibility of the wonderful life you might one day have.”
A huge thank you to Graham Morgan for sharing his story.
Graham Morgan has an MBE for services to mental health and is the Author of START: A memoir of compulsory treatment, love and the natural world. (Available from Amazon* and Waterstones online.) He can be found on Twitter, Facebook, or at the Scottish Booktrust Live Literature database.
Do you have any experience of being sectioned? Maybe you know someone who has? What do you think about Graham’s perspective? Let me know in the comments.
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