I remember the sheer joy I felt at seeing an A4 sheet of paper attached to the back of my door with a timetable of activities that were on offer during the week. Yoga, baby massage, cookery, weaving, dance & movement therapy, relaxation and art classes. I seriously thought I'd won the psychosis lottery. Who knew there were this many perks? This wasn't a psychiatric ward, this was a holistic commune! Not only because of all of these brilliant workshops that would give me a reason to get up in the morning, but because I was NOT in Chelmsford. Phew.
To begin with I was utterly bewildered by life in the Mother & Baby unit. I had no idea how things worked and was intensely upset and distressed about the seeming complexity of its daily rhythms. Time there was divided into two main categories: medical and psychiatric, and the more holistic, alternative therapies. For some reason completely unknown to me, I was very suspicious and resistant to the medical treatment, but was much more happy to comply with talking, drawing and movement therapy. Having been a self-help junkie for over a decade I was completely into all of the classes. I can't think of many more things I'd like to do of an afternoon than being held in a giant blue cloth and given permission to be completely in touch with my feelings. For people walking in on a class like that it would probably look like I was in the throws of yet another manic episode, but let's be honest...it's a thin line, people.
It took a while for me to even have the foggiest clue what was going on in my new clinically enhanced home. I had so much to learn. There were so many timings to remember and rules to follow. All of my cups and plates had my name on them. Believe me when I say that giving me a labelling machine when I was psychotic was a brave decision on the part of the nurses. You had to order your food at certain times; eat at certain times and in certain places. Visitors were not allowed in the kitchen, which sucked big style because no-one could ever make me a cup of tea AND I had to wash up! I was told recently that I used to insist visitors brought me tea from Costa when they came, so I didn't have to clean up after anyone, including myself. I wish I could be as demanding in normal life. Babies weren't allowed in the Kitchen or Milk Kitchen either, which made carrying your child in a sling pretty tricky. It becomes a real palaver if you realise you've forgotten to butter your toast or milk your bran flakes, which is easier than you might think when you're on a massive cocktail of anti-psychotics and mood stabilisers. You only hope that you don't come out of the kitchen one day with a baby covered in butter and a sling full of bran flakes.
At one point I had so many alarms on my phone I no longer had a clue what they were reminding me of. Wake up, meds, food, class, visiting times, baby feed, meds, food, medical observation, baby feed, class, meeting with psychiatrist, meds, food, visitor leaving time, meds. This was my new reality, my new life.
Part of this new life was a weekly visit to "Ward Round". This happened every week, in my case, every Tuesday. It was one of strangest, most surreal and intimidating experience I may ever have. During that first ward round I was heavily medicated, still extremely ill, paranoid, emotionally volatile and couldn't retain or process information. I think we can all agree, not the best set-up for a meeting about the intricacies of your own mental health.
In some ways I'd love to be able to tell you what happened in my first ward round. I can't. My mind was not functioning in any linear or rational way. nothing was being processed how I would normally. I was in utter chaos. It wouldn't be until my 6th or 7th ward round that I would begin to understand what had happened to me, was happening to me and what would happen to me. What I do have are several very powerful sense memories, of how I felt and what it was like from where I was standing.
The door shuts behind me. Bang. Silence. Eyes looking at me. Not one pair, not two, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. All these people staring at me. I take a seat. I am at the head of this table. I am off my head at the top of this table. The formality. Why are they speaking to me like this? They introduce themselves and their role. Why? I know who they are...Dr M, Ed the Head, Helen of Troy, Mother Mary...I don't understand the words that are being said. I don't know the names of these drugs. Write them down, write them all down, I must write them or all will be lost. Everything will be lost. You haven't been responding to...change of medication...benefits...help...recovery...unfortunately. It. Means. You. Will. No. Longer. Be. Able. To. Breastfeed your son.
I cry for 11 seconds. Fully. Powerfully. Then turned to my husband and said "Maybe it is. Maybe it isn't"
To give that phrase some context. My husband and I use this mantra in our life whenever anything happens that we could see as "good" or "bad". When something we perceive as "bad" happens we say "maybe it is, maybe it isn't". This allows you to remove the judgement from it. We never know what will come of what we experience. We can't foresee how we will use what happens to us in our lives. It helped me so much to remove resistance and judgement from what was happening to me, not by forcing it out or blocking it, but by allowing it to be what it was. Whenever I resisted my situation I felt deep pain and sadness, whenever I allowed it to be what it was it gave me a sense of calm. We just don't know where life will lead us, but even in my darkest times I remembered "maybe it is, maybe it isn't".
After you have discussed your prognosis, medication, thoughts, feelings and recovery with these professionals, made up of consultant psychiatrists, psychiatric doctors, psychiatric nurses, nursery nurses, psychologists, student nurses and social workers, it was time to return to the ward and resume your day. But not before I had left with the last word. From that very first, massively scary and hugely intimidating ward round, to the penultimate one before I was discharged I would always take in each person around that table, just before I left the room and say with a cheeky smile "See You Next Tuesday"
Love and buttered babies,
Mutha Courage X