“How did I get here?”
A new patient asked me that last night when she came arrived at 9:00 PM, definitely hungry, likely exhausted. I remember the second time I arrived here it was around the same time and I’d spent 12 hours in the A&E trying to get here.
What’s it like here? That was what most concerned me before I came in for the first time. My psychiatrist did offer me a tour but I was too scared at the time. I imagined Girl Interrupted, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and the Bell Jar. Or worse – the type of place Zelda Fitzgerald perished in during a fire. It’s none of these things. The rooms are private, the nurses are kind and most of us seem to be here voluntarily.
Like most things in life, The Nightingale is what you make of it. It can simply be a safe place to stabilise or it can be slightly longer term if you really want to work on issues in an inpatient environment (you can also do this as a day patient or in one-to-one therapy). Equally, you can just not participate in treatment and you might not leave any better off but it is all dependant on what you need.
This is my third stay here. My first stay in 2017, I spent almost a month here. I didn’t like the rules and so I broke a lot of them. I had fights with the nurses and slammed my door a lot. I even took up smoking to feel ‘cooler.’ My second stay was a few months later for 4 days; I only had 4 days before my insurance ran out. I tried to make the most of it but it was so short. I felt cheated when I had to leave and so angry (I think there was more door slamming).
Now, it’s 2019 and I have been here for 9 days. I am following all the rules and being kind to the staff. The nurses here are so experienced, some have been here nearly 30 years. They are highly trained and see mental health nursing as a bit of a calling. They are also very smart – they have masters degrees and are fascinating to talk to. Many are from Africa by descent and it would be easy to think they would think their quite privileged residents were a bit ‘soft’ (I include myself in this) but many of them posses wells of empathy that run incredibly deep.
The food is OK but if you don’t like it there’s always Deliveroo. (I can highly recommend the scrambled eggs)
But I’ve not answered the question asked of me by last night’s patient admission. “How did I get here?”.
I’ve struggled with mental health issues for all my life. I received my first diagnosis at 18 and I’ve been on medication since 19. I am now 34, for those of you bad at mental maths (like me) that’s 16-years of trying to figure out what’s ‘wrong with me.’ Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Yes, I had a traumatic childhood and not all of us can just set that aside and move on. I know I cannot. However, it’s not just ‘mommy and daddy’s fault’.
I developed a barometer for injustice sitting in the pew at at church in middle-America. I didn’t understand why gay people were ‘bad.’ I also didn’t understand why girls couldn’t be priests. (Mind you, I didn’t want to be priest. I just thought it was unfair) I’ve carried that attitude through into my adult relationships and my corporate jobs. I currently co-chair the LGBTQ+ network at my corporation. The other thing I developed as a child was an anger reflex when I was told ‘I was wrong’ with no explanation. I didn’t help myself – I did things like preform in the Vagina Monologues on a Catholic University campus (they banned the performance from campus after that year). However, I find ‘i didn’t choose the easy path’ to be reductive; I don’t think I could/can choose the easy path.
Why? I wish I knew.
When I was sexually harassed by a my manager’s manager, I reported it. When the company found mainly in his favour, I fell apart. Then, I picked myself up, with a lot of help from my husband, and channelled my righteous indignation into finding a new job within months. I’ve channelled a lot of this type of feeling into 6 marathons and innumerable other running races. However, I’ve been injured several times this year and have to admit I may never break a 4 hour marathon. This is also frustrating but is easier to take than other people treating me poorly. I expect to fail most things; it’s unsurprising my body cannot cope with repeated 16 week marathon training plans (I’ve run 2 in last 12 months). I expect to fail most things because I’ve let people and situations shattered my self worth, confidence and belief.
I’m here again because of many reasons. Frustration with many of my relationships being unsupportive, anger at being excluded from much of my stepsons’ lives, my job allowing bullying and dis-empowerment. I cannot tell you how disappointed I initially was to be back here. My mom was in-and-out of institutions many times before I was age 5; I didn’t want to be like her. I’ve realised that I’m actually nothing like my mom, which is such a relief.
What do I do now?
For the first time in months, I have a bit of hope. My husband and I are both learning to communicate better and I am making progress on the career front. More importantly, the doctors and nurses here have made me feel valued and heard. I’ve regained some self belief I lost long ago. My husband has also helped with this as have the friends brave enough to join me for an evening of Deliveroo and crime TV in my room.
I’m hoping to go home this week and continue moving forward and I hope upward.
Written by Anne Shreiner