Tuesday, 26 May 2009

My experience of a Psychiatric Clinic (Part 1)

I don’t really know how I ended up in the clinic – everything was such a muddle and a blur, but I remember that at one doctor’s appointment I was getting hysterical about feeling depressed, for which I was receiving another course of treatment, and admitted my feelings of wanting to self harm and that if I had a box of sleeping pills I would surely take them as an end to the constant buzzing and negativity going around my head. My doctor was away on holiday and I am not sure why I suddenly snapped, maybe something to do with the way my family had been speaking to me, but I was desperate enough to go to the doctor again, without an appointment and demand to see the assistant doctor. I hadn’t been to work for two days as I couldn’t cope any more and went straight to the doctor’s surgery.

She listened and wrote notes while I stumbled through a brief resume of my life story, getting frustrated at going over old ground again and begging for drugs to make it all go away. I was sobbing, I have no idea where it all came from – I didn’t feel like me, like the normal, rational person that I am. I think that was it, I couldn’t feel rational and I was scared of myself. I had come very, very close to harming myself with a sharp hair clip but somewhere deep inside I had clung onto I don’t know what, so I had ended up trying to pull my hair out. The distraction from the mental pain this would bring would be a welcome relief, I convinced myself. But I knew this way of thinking or behaving was unhealthy. I was scared that soon the inner voice would take over and convince me to injure myself or even worse, kill myself.

When the doctor first suggested that I go to a psychiatric clinic I was almost stunned that I had reached that low. Confusion, wanting to rest, sadness were all running through my mind but the more she described it, the more I felt it was a great place to escape. I had “done a runner” four years before to a Catholic retreat in the countryside and had found it beneficial (I’m not at all religious by the way), but here was an opportunity to get away from the pressures of life, of being me and away from work. I knew work wouldn’t be happy about it and I begged the doctor not to put a reason why on the medical certificate – the shame! She gave me a tablet to calm me down. I had finally admitted my thoughts about harming myself which had become more and more frequent. I hadn’t told my boyfriend (much to my regret as it was a huge shock for him) because I didn’t trust anyone except the medical profession after the last time around. I would desperately miss him but I was confident I would be out in a week. The doctor phoned the clinic and they offered a place the next morning, but they only had space in their closed unit at that time. I wasn’t sure what that meant – my doctor apologised – they didn’t have space in the open unit for another 3 weeks. I knew there was no way I could last that long, I was feeling that awful about myself. I didn’t really take in what she was saying but I knew the option was mine. Whilst I didn’t feel capable of making a decision, I knew this was an alternative option – access to medication, treatments and medical staff 24 hours a day, all week. I was desperate for myself and so I agreed. I was to be admitted the next day.

Of course, I had to explain this all to my boyfriend from whom I had hidden myself from so well – I was not looking forwards to doing this at all and wasn’t sure how he would react. I will never forget the look on his face when I told him I am sure (though he claims this is not the case) that the stigma for him having a girlfriend sent to the funny farm was running through his mind. Plus he was having a bad day at work anyway. I couldn’t understand it, I was feeling very low and I thought he understood that I was feeling this. But to be honest I hadn’t told him the half of it, because it’s hard to when you are depressed, so no wonder he was confused. Of course he was shocked and concerned, almost in denial (not surprisingly – I hadn’t told him the half of it so it wasn’t his fault) but he accepted I was going. He arranged to have the next day off work to go with me which I was relieved about. The clinic was 1 ½ hours by train with 2 changes and I wasn’t sure how I would be feeling – I didn’t want to be stranded on my own in a strange town. Poor J, he hates hospitals, especially “shrinks” so this would be twice as hard for him.

Dr R had explained that she would have to speak to the doctor’s in the clinic, write a report and then I could be admitted either the same day or in the morning. I decided to wait until the morning because she had given me some lovely drugs to calm me down and I was sure I would feel better and change my mind. After all, it was M clinic and everyone knows that it is for druggies and mad people. And what if they wanted to do that thing when they electrocute your brain like I had seen on TV? I had some reservations but I was at the stage where I was desperate for anyone to help me and by any method otherwise I was in danger of going on self destruct.

Dr R talked about what to expect if I went into the clinic, that there would be help and support 24 hours a day and seven days a week, whether that was drugs or therapy. When she initially spoke to the clinic, they had told her there was a three week waiting list for a space in an open ward, but there was a space in the closed ward. Dr R explained that this meant I would not have much freedom i.e. I would not be able to come and go as I pleased, but that this was only temporary until a space in the open wards became available. I agreed. At that stage it didn’t make much difference to me, I was starting to feel completely numb and disinterested in the real world. After all, it would only be for a couple of weeks, then my boyfriend and I would go on holiday and then the winter season would start (I live and work in a ski resort). She telephoned me in the afternoon to confirm what time I needed to “check in” on the following morning. I immediately checked the clinic website and found a list of what they suggested I bought with me. This included comfortable clothes for sports activities, current medication and my health insurance details, plus daily spending money. I was particularly interested in the suggestion that I could have “Reittherapie” (horse riding therapy) as I enjoyed horse riding and I pictured myself trotting through the valley on horseback, enjoying the autumn colours and the fresh air, forgetting all my worries. I recalled a book I had once read by Marian Keyes about a girl who is checked into a clinic for drug abuse and imagining she would be among celebrities. If I was among Swiss celebrities in my time there then they could only have been famous for bell ringing or yodelling because I had no idea who any of the patients in the private wing were!

But the realisation hit me when I started to pack that this was serious. I packed a small case with random items and filled my backpack with my iPod and mobile phone charger, a couple of books and enough underwear for a week, my current medication, spare pair of shoes, wash bag (without razor) because I knew I would be bringing it all back the following weekend when I signed myself out. Perhaps it would stretch to two weeks. My boyfriend was wandering around confused saying it wasn’t right, but all I could focus on was that I had to give it a go; after all it wasn’t for long. I felt scared too, very scared. The website indicated it was a Swiss leading hospital and open to international patients so I hoped that their English language skills were good as my German was not of the standard for this type of crisis.

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