Most Psychiatric Units are made up of several different layers that vary depending on the size and funding of the unit. A psychiatric hospital will, of course, have more wards and therefore, more beds, than a psychiatric unit in a general hospital. Likewise, dedicated psychiatric hospitals are usually private and will have more resources and higher standards in terms of food and accommodation than a unit in a general hospital. Where I am now is a public unit in a general hospital and it’s made up of two main parts; upstairs, which is a locked ward and where all patients are considered to be very unwell or pose a high risk to themselves or others; the second part, which is downstairs, is an unlocked ward, where the patients are considered to be at a higher level of functioning and no longer pose a threat either to their own safety, or that of others. People will generally be admitted to the locked ward for assessment before being moved to downstairs; at least this is all I have seen evidence of in my experience. I have been in a private hospital before, where patients were mostly admitted onto one of the many lower risk wards and there was only one locked unit for very severe cases. Unfortunately, I had to serve some time there, dining from plastic plates and cups, using plastic cutlery, where there were bank-style alternately opening double doors to pass through before reaching the main body of the hospital. It wasn’t so bad, there was access to a garden and after a few days of good behaviour you got moved from a dorm with multiple beds to a private room. Unfortunately, being upstairs here, we can’t just go to the garden whenever we please. There are daily walks scheduled on the activities timetable, but due to lack of staff or reasons otherwise, these ‘daily’ walks are a rare occurrence. Unfortunately, most of said timetable is, ahem, *bullshit*. I’m here over 3 months now and have not been privy to an art class, a current affairs group, a movie night, or several other groups that are nothing more than ink on an obsolete piece of paper that is more offensive than it is informative. Unfortunately, this is the reality of the standard of care in the public system. If you are lucky, you will make friends. If you are very lucky, you will make very special friends.
The friends you make in hospital, if you do make a true friend, are the sort of people that will stay with you for life. They are people that have been by your side through the darkest of days. They are the people you soldiered with, that you battled in the trenches of life with and fought for survival every day with. They picked you up when you faltered, and you them, you supported one another through the unbearable and came out the other side and you still managed to remind each other what it is to laugh. It is not the doctors and nurses that make us better, rather the comradery of someone who knows what it is to feel what you feel and to experience the acute pain of mental illness as you do and to be by your side throughout. I don’t know many situations that force people to rely on each other the way that we do in here; inmates in prison, soldiers in camp, perhaps. There are certain situations that have to be experienced to be understood and no amount of empathy can bring an outsider there. There are things that can only be shared by someone in the bed next to you or at the table beside you. You don’t need to talk or explain yourself on your black days; they already know everything you could possibly say. They are there with open ears if you want to talk and they are there with open arms if you can’t. You can say the things to them that you’re not supposed to say, that you would never say to any of your loved ones in the outside world. Some things are too dark to be shared with anyone else and, most of the time, cannot be spoken aloud. For someone who has not experienced it, the lure of suicide is a sin; it is a wish of the weak and selfish, it is a terrible thing to be whispered about among the shelves of the supermarket or at the back of the parish church. To someone who has not experienced it, the siren-call of suicide is incomprehensible. For most people, the will to live is an impulse that is so strongly ingrained in them as to override all others. For the soul seeking relief from the horror of this world, the pain, blinding in the darkness, is all-consuming and of unspeakable evil; you know the sin it is to take your own life. You know the devastation it would cause. You know that you would be merely transferring the pain from your shoulders onto those of the ones you love. However, your pain makes you selfish and the knowledge that you won’t be around to experience the fallout is enough to ease your blackened conscience.
To those who have not experienced it, suicidal ideation is baffling. To those in the midst of it, this general lack of understanding only creates a deeper gulf and a further sense of alienation and separation from the rest of society. To find somebody who not only understands and sympathises with your pain but also knows personally how it feels to live in your world is a salve on an open wound. To be understood without judgement when you are at your lowest point, and loved, cared for and embraced with full understanding and total compassion in the face of your shame is a life-saving grace.
Today I am bereft- my best friend has been moved downstairs, to the open ward. I’m left behind. This admission was not our first term of service together; we met several years ago, on this same ward, fighting a different battle, but the same war. I am happy for her and I’m proud; something seems genuinely different in her to previous times. Perhaps this time is a turning point for her; perhaps it will be for me too. Perhaps this time, both of us will walk free.
In the meantime, she can visit me and I her. Hopefully it won’t be too long before I join her downstairs and we can get back to laughing too loudly, too late at night. After that, maybe we can get into some trouble in the outside world. There is more than enough of it to keep us good and busy for a good long time, and, what’s more, I think we’ve earned it.
I’m working towards a life lived without fear, full of belly-laughs and movie nights; coffee dates and impromptu dinner parties; holidays; mini-breaks; long, late nights with my man and morning coffee and cake with my ladies. I’m working towards yoga; yoga every damn day and creating a life worth living. I am working on filling every day with love and joy and making those days outnumber the other kind. I’m working on making every single day count and making the rest of my life the best of my life.
This journey has been such a bumpy ride, and I’m not through yet. I’m lucky enough to still be teaching once a week (hey there, Wednesday Warriors!) and that keeps me going. My amazing family come and see me every week, my Mammy does my washing without a shred of complaint, my Daddy brings his endless wisdom and my brother his capacity for infinite sarcasm in the face of even the most serious situations. The love of my life, my beautiful man continues to stand by me, three months into inpatient treatment, and continues to bring bottomless, selfless love, and laughter. There isn’t a man with strength, compassion and love equal to his in the thirty-two counties.
I am selfishly sad about my friend’s move; although I am happy for her. Things will be different up here now, I will have to learn how to get through each day again, without her. I can do it, of course, I would rather not have to, but we all have to learn to stand on our own two feet. In a world where an inch is a mile, the smallest of steps forward is to be celebrated and my girl made us all really proud today. (Love you!)
Onwards and upwards!
As always, if you want to ask me anything or if there is anything I can help you with, hit the contact tab or leave a comment below. I love hearing from you guys.
Until next time,
Grá (go deo),