I haven’t written much about mental illness in this blog, despite promising to from the outset. This is an attempt to remedy that. I have a mental illness. It has gone by many names and descriptions over the years but at the moment, my official ‘label’ is atypical psychosis and Autism with a differential diagnosis of schizophrenia (a differential diagnosis means a doctor other than mine has given me that label and my current doctor respects their opinion). Whatever it’s called, it can be really challenging and general irritating.
Over the years I have been admitted to hospital for this illness on more occasions than I can count. Hospital is where they send people that are at risk of damaging themselves, others or (in my case) their reputation. Most people there are incredibly sad and vulnerable. I should point out that I have that hyper empathy thing that a lot of people on the Autism spectrum seem to have. It means that if I am in th company of a person – or ward full of people – who are very sad, I acquire the sadness, almost as if by osmosis. I am also very vulnerable and helpless when I am unwell. I am easy prey for bullies and sexual predators – of which there tend to be a good number of in the psych ward at any given time. I also have communication issues so can’t usually tell if someone wants to hurt me until it is too late.
Naturally all of these considerations means hospital is a pretty traumatic place for anyone and especially so for me. These things are not the worst part of hospital though. The worst part is a structural issue which results in people losing their personal power and independence. This is how it works. Say I am unwell with psychosis. I have been struggling to stay at work. I am confused. I think I’m dead and in purgatory and that I have angered God. I have felt for months that I am alone and nobody can help me. The television has started to talk to me and there is a ghost in my flat which watches me while I undress and is going to kill me. Then some nice police officers take me to hospital. Somebody cares about me and wants to help. I get to share a room with another lady and she keeps the ghosts away. As I recover I realise that I have to conform to the rules and structure of the hospital. The more I do this, the more the nurses and doctors tell me I’m getting better. I have to let go some of my control and independence but this is good. I’m becoming a healthy person. Eventually I go home. The hospital gives me their number in case I need to call them again.
When I get home, I have to retrieve my independence from wherever I put it while I was being compliant in hospital. It is hard. I go back to work and nobody praises me for how improved my mental state is. Instead my colleagues are polite – it’s work. I don’t talk to them about personal stuff – you don’t do that at work. When I go home at night, my house is empty and scary and I’ve let go of my control and independence. I am sure that I am unable to look after my self. As soon as symptoms of my illness return I feel that – even though I hate the place – the only option is to go to hospital. Of course this just compounds the issue. And some of the staff don’t seem to be all that helpful. Here are some of the ‘helpful’ things that I have been advised when in hospital:
- “You should go on the pension. Your job’s too stressful” – from at least six professionals over different admissions
- “You must have brought drugs back from your leave. I’m searching your room” – nurse
- “Your mum is your primary invalidator. That’s why you have borderline personality disorder’ – nurse. And WTF??
“That lady assaulted you because you’re annoying. Stop being annoying and she’ll leave you alone” – nurse
- “You don’t have Asperger’s. You’re too cool to have that” – nurse
- “No, you were great. I learned that patients have rights when I met you” – allied health worker with over 20 years’ experience in mental health.
I should note that there is value in psychiatric hospital for some people. It can be a good place for someone having a first episode of illness to get assistance and possibly a diagnosis. It can be of assistance to people who really are unable to manage or take care of themselves due to their illness. For me, I am better off with my live in psychiatrist of the black cat variety. Since I’ve had him I have not been admitted to hospital. He is a strong protective factor.