I’m 18-years-old, and have suffered from mental health problems for many years. Looking back, I was about 12 when I first started to notice something wasn’t quite right. It wasn’t every day, but I began to have a lack of motivation; a lack of motivation to go to school, to eat, to talk to people, and sometimes to even get out of bed.
Slowly over two years, I went up and down but once I hit 14, things only got worse. I didn’t understand why but just functioning like I used to became impossible. I would go to school and make my way around somehow but once I got home I would struggle to remember a single thing I’d done during the day. I was somehow getting myself through exams. sports matches, and social life without even remembering what I did.
Within a few weeks I was dragged to the GP and referred to CAMHS. I remember sitting in my first appointment in front of a scary lady asking me loads of questions. This is where I first learnt about inpatient hospitals although I think, at that point, I had gone too far past the point of caring to be scared. About a month later I was began the 4-hour drive to an inpatient unit in East Sussex.
On the first day of my admission, I had no idea what to expect. In my head, I had pictured so many things but what I walked into was nothing like I had imagined. When I arrived, I was taken into a little room and my bags were quickly taken from me. After all the questions and paperwork, I was shown my huge bedroom with nothing in it. I was left in this bare room after I was asked to change into a short-sleeved top and to remove my socks and bra. It was a massive shock to be thrown into this environment so far away from the comforts of home. It was like another world, having to ask to change your clothes, brush your teeth, and go to the toilet. The closest thing I had to going outside was putting my hand out of a slightly open window.
The ward was noisy and scary at times; there was always something going on day or night. You were never alone which was sometimes a good thing but mostly it drove me crazy, When I started to deteriorate on the first ward I made a move to the HDU (high dependency unit) in the same hospital.
I would go into my own little world. My world was quite often scary, and I would disconnect from everyone and everything. I often got completely stuck and unable to get myself out of it. This went on for a long time. It was hard to let people in at first but slowly that trust was built, and I achieved things I never imagined I would.
On both wards they used medication. A lot. It was often the first resort. It was given to you whether you wanted it or not. You could take the tablet but if you refused or were too distressed to understand, it was given to you as an injection to help you calm down. This often involved being held down by several nurses. It was quite a shock to see how often it was used on a lot of patients, and I still don’t agree with how quickly they resorted to this. I know it can make a situation more traumatic; I know some of my experiences have been very hard to forget and I still sometimes feel panicked when people grab hold of me. Personally, I think trying to verbally calm someone down is the always the best way. However, I understand that it was sometimes necessary.
I had weekly reviews which decided the levels of restriction you needed. When things weren’t going well you had more restrictions and if things were going well, you had less. So there were months where I had to walk around in very little clothing which could only be certain types, no long sleeves and no stretchy trousers. You were watched changing, showering, taking medication, and going to the toilet. Sometimes you had a member of staff watching you all the time, even when you are asleep. Now looking back, I understand why they had to go to these lengths to keep me and everyone else safe. The desperation to hurt myself and sometimes even end my life led to me doing inventive and slightly crazy things. So they had to take the control and take away any opportunity. I am very, very thankful now.
On Monday 12th October 2015, I walked into Wisteria, a ward that specialises in eating disorders.
My eating had very quickly deteriorated over a few months; it was like an addiction, once I started I couldn’t stop. It numbed my feelings and thoughts in a way no medication could. Watching the numbers on the scales going down felt like the only thing getting me through the weeks. I ended up with not even enough energy to get out of bed. I couldn’t understand why everyone was so worried, and eventually I was fed through a NG (nasal gastric) tube.
It took me months to let myself get back to eating. I started slowly, mostly with soft foods like mash potato or yogurt. It was hard having all the feelings and emotions came back to the surface as I gained the weight and for a while things got so much worse. However, I had no choice but to stick with it and eventually, it really did get better.
The support I got from the staff was incredible. Even in the worst parts they never gave up on me. When I had no hope, they held onto it for me. They carried me through the hardest months of my life. I simply wouldn’t be here without them. The best thing they ever did for me was teach me to motivate myself. Regardless of how much support and care you are given, you won’t move forward until you are willing to try.
Now months on, I understand the importance of looking after and caring for your body. It doesn’t mean I don’t still have struggles, because I do, but I’ve been able to see that I have a life worth living. I won’t be able to live if I’m lying in a hospital bed, unable to even stand up.
It’s the little things in life that I’ve found the most happiness in. Those unexpected moments that make it all worthwhile.
Every new hospital came a new team, new opinions, a new set of staff, and a completely different location. With every transfer I lost more and more hope I would ever find a way to pick myself up from the mess I was in. I gave up on everyone and everything. After three years of being forced to eat, drink, and even take my medication, I’ve done it. I finally enjoy my life, I’m surrounded by my loving friends and family who stuck by me throughout every moment of this journey. Recovery is possible and is completely worth it, I promise.
By Poppy Lee