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Punishment for a mental illness?

With that title, you might be thinking "what, why would you be punished!?" Or if you do have a mental illness and have ever been hospitalised for 'treatment' then maybe you can understand where I'm coming from...

*please note this is not my current reality, I'm speaking from experience of many years ago before embarking on my healing journey*

When people go into a mental health hospital maybe for a week, a few weeks, months, maybe even a year or more; people often expect you to come out fully recovered, completely cured. Or at least that used to be the case.

I've had cards which read, 'get well soon' and well, it's really not the same thing as having a broken leg is it?

Whilst the gesture is lovely and their heart is in the right place, it can often leave the sufferer feeling like a fraud when they aren't 'well soon'..

So what does the title of this blog post mean? I don't know where to start to be honest and I can only speak from my own experience here and my experience of being an inpatient in a mental health hospital was with an eating disorder, anorexia specifically.

5 times I've been hospitalised. It's not glamorous, it's definitely not something to boast about either, but I'm here to shed some light on the reality of what it's really like 'living' inside these institutions.

Each admission has been completely different. I can't really say any were better than others, just different.

Let me give you some examples..

In one admission, every Thursday we were given 'chef's challenge' which basically meant it was a 'surprise' breakfast of the chefs choice, which was scary enough seeing as though the 'chefs' were basically that of a greasy spoon. The dietician always had a say in this too, though she was greek and not all that fluent in English, which sometimes made it difficult (she once told me to have chicken nuggets and chips for tea when I told her I was vegetarian)..?

One morning we entered the dining room, feeling fearful as ever and in front of us was a huge buttery, flaky croissant, which you might think "yum!" but when you have an eating disorder it's not quite like that.

The staff that work on the ward, nurses and health care assistants that are there 24/7 for support, always sit with you at the dining table and eat too.

We all sat down at our designated table depending on the level of support needed, completely silent because we were terrified with what we were faced with, not a single member of staff said a word...

Where was the support?

Some of the girls were crying, one walked out of the room, others 'including myself' sat down with terror written across our face. Before we got time to really comprehend this huge croissant, we were also served toast AND our usual bowl of cereal on top of this..?

On an average day to day, who realistically eats that as a standard breakfast before work? Knowing we'd have another 5 meals to go after that (not including pudding)...

Overwhelmed was an understatement. I looked up, across the table to a member of staff sat opposite for some encouragement, even just for some eye contact. Nothing...

Though I was fearful of the challenge ahead of me, I was starting to feel slightly angry at the members of staff present showing no sign of support and instead tucking into their breakfast without a care in the world. Often chatting to each other across the table, talking about what they got up to at the weekend 🥲

Don't get me started on one member of staff eating just a muller light yogurt. Hardly encouraging is it? Eating a diet product in our faces whilst we were sat faced with a banquet..

With sheer determination of my own and feeling quite bitter, I ate my croissant and I was proud, again I looked on for some form of acknowledgement or 'well done', I got nothing..

It was a really difficult breakfast, for everyone that morning (okay maybe not for the staff) but difficult. I remember it vividly because it brought so much anger to me that no one offered anyone support or even just chatted to us for distraction. It was so awkward and hard, the room was silent, we all had our heads down as though we were being punished.

It sometimes felt like you were being watched over and laughed at because you couldn't do such a simple thing such as eat, up against the clock, literally.

"5 minutes left guys, final warning"

No one could leave the dining room until every person had finished, which put an enormous amount of pressure on generally just one person left still eating, often struggling, with no encouragement just people glaring with their arms folded. Imagine trying to eat in those circumstances without an eating disorder?

The environment is not normal at all and actually makes things harder and much more fearful, the dread of each meal wondering what the atmosphere will be like, or which staff will be sitting with you at the table.

Of course they weren't all bad, but very much lacked knowledge in eating disorders generally. A lot of the time it's like we weren't there as conversation was generally aimed towards when their break would be or how long until the end of the shift.

You'd get some good staff of course, the type that would actually listen, the ones that would play games or let you plait their hair.

Back to the chefs challenge breakfast story, I remember sitting in the lounge afterwards (as we do for an hour after meals, supervised, not allowed to get up or move from your chair) the lounge was generally were the health care assistants would sneak their phones out or watch Jeremy Kyle..

I sat and wrote a huge letter to explain how that meal felt, how the whole experience and atmosphere felt, that no one did a thing to support any of us, to offer encouragement or compassion. Like, wasn't that the role of their job?

We'd always describe it as being more like prison, being on a strict schedule, having to do as your told. In one hospital there was 2 showers in the entire hospital of I think 20 beds, so of course they were shared, however you were only allowed to shower from 7-8pm, not really enough time for everyone. We were woken up at 5am to be weighed in nothing but our knickers, whether the nurse on was male or not.

I that particular hospital drinks were only allowed at meal times, which was 3 times a day and only 250ml was provided, if you were thirsty outside of these times it was tough, no water dispenser, the headaches I used to get were unreal.

I bet it's changed since then.

Anyway I'm completely going off tangent here, I could write for hours on this subject, while I'm thankful to them in some respects because I'm still alive today, in other ways it was actually incredibly detrimental, BUT what a learning experience it's all been and from it all, I'm proud of who I am today.

If you need treatment, are waiting for it or are an inpatient right now yourself, then I am sending you all the love and strength in the world. I believe in you and I know you can get through this.

If you can resonate or want to chat some more on this topic then you're welcome to get in touch or leave a comment 😊

All my love,

Laura x

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