I don’t know what happened. One minute, I was outside Lord’s Cricket Ground admiring the view and the next minute, I was being rushed in an ambulance to see my mental health support team. For some reason, I had suddenly broken down. My chest was absolutely aching. My mind was racing. I couldn’t breathe. But it wasn’t this fear that had led me to calling for help. Oh no, it was the lack of fear that had worried me. For the first time in a long time, I didn’t care if I lived or died.
I told that to my mental health support team once I got there and was almost immediately seen by a psychiatrist. We all agreed that in the interest of my safety, I was to stay in a Psychiatric ward for a few days. As Medical Students, we have spoken to many patients about their negative experiences in healthcare. Whilst we can always sympathise, it is hard to gain a full understanding of just how difficult it really is unless you’ve actually experienced it. In this case, I remember there being a lack of beds within any Psychiatric ward in London and so I had to spend the initial night sleeping on a very small sofa, feeling alone and scared. In the end, I had to be transferred all the way to Surrey where there was an available bed. Of course, this was no fault at all of any of the healthcare professionals (who were all amazing) but more due to faults within the system itself.
I arrived at the Psychiatric ward and I was scared. I had no idea what to expect. Well, that’s a bit of a lie. I had a very warped opinion on what to apparently expect because of the negative ways in which mental health seems to be portrayed. I expected it to be a scary place, me not being able to get on with others and all sorts of rubbish like that (clearly I’m not a very good Medical Student!). But no. Everyone there was perfectly normal but, like me, they all had their own mental health issues. To be able to relate with others like this proved to be helpful – for the first time, I felt as though I could speak my mind to everyone else without the fear of being judged. I felt like I wasn’t alone in all of this and that we were all one big team trying to help each other beat our illnesses. Silent fighters, I liked to think ourselves of.
The number of times I was asked – both by staff and patients after seeing my Medical School hoodie – if I was working there or if I was a patient was amazing! I never really minded it but come to think of it, many people did seem surprised that I was in a hospital as a patient. But I wasn’t the only one – there were several other doctors, millionaires, graduates from some of the top Universities in the world who were also there. Just goes to show that mental health can affect absolutely anyone. It is a very greedy illness.
One thing did remain in my mind, however. I was looking around myself and thinking…everyone else here has visitors, some coming all the way from as far as Aberdeen just to urge their friends or loved ones to keep going. I didn’t even have a change of clothes on me, let alone any visitors. Most of my time was spent sitting in the garden, looking into the distance and thinking to myself: “It’s OK, my friends who I’ve told are the closest to me and will be coming too. They’ll be bringing me a spare set of clothes. I know they will be.” Every single day while I was in the Psychiatric ward, I just sat on the very same bench and looked out into the distance for most of the time, repeating that in my head over and over again. And every single day, I’d go back to my room at dark and think to myself: “It’s OK, maybe tomorrow!” And every tomorrow, I’d be disappointed. I guess they didn’t know how to react with me anymore. I was slowly losing myself, I thought.
What about my family? The brutal honesty is that I was too scared to tell them for a long time. I don’t even know why – perhaps it was my fear of worrying them, or fear as to how they’d react. Eventually, on my last night in the ward, I was on the phone to my parents when I just completely broke down and told them everything. My Mum stayed silent while my Dad gently probed me to tell them more. What was going to happen? Were they angry at me? Disappointed? Annoyed?
No. Boy, am I glad I told them. The support I got from my family was absolutely overwhelming (if they happen to ever stumble upon this – I love you all so, so much *blushes*). It was my birthday the next day too and my Mum promised to get me a cake and make me my favourite food for when I’d go home. My Dad offered to drive to come and pick me up and for me to finally have a change of clothes. For the first time in a long time, I felt overjoyed. I felt as thought I had my family behind me too, urging me to go on. So I smiled – and this time, it was a genuine, happy smile.