Saturday, 27 September 2014

Mad Muthas

One of the best things about being mad in a psychiatric ward is that you are not alone. One of the better things about being mad in a mother and baby unit is that, funnily enough, there are mothers and babies there.

All of us had different illnesses and all of us were at different stages of recovery, but what we all shared was that they had all struck post-natally and so, luckily for us, we could have our babies with us.

It only struck me a few weeks after I had arrived that the pain for some women was that the baby they had with them was not their only child like mine was. I shared many painful moments with other women who cried over the separation from their other children. Families sometimes miles from the unit. They were there because there was a bed, not because it was convenient.

The ladies I spent two months with were my joy and my frustration. The way we loved and supported each other was staggering, but regardless of my love for them they were also a perpetual reminder that I was there. Trapped. Unwell.

During the group therapy sessions we would talk, share, draw, occasionally be tossed around on a blue sheet (the drama student in me was loving it!) and I was honoured to be a part of the healing process of others. The emotion was so raw, the memories so distressing, the future so often overwhelming. We became each others' "can-do sisters" and reminded each other when we were at our lowest ebbs that we could do it, we were doing it, and we would get home. 

It was always a sensitive navigation with the other women. When I was first admitted I was oblivious to the needs of others, but slowly, as I began to function as part of the group, I gradually became self-aware again. Wow. Self-aware. That meant that I had a self to be aware of again. This was a monumental step for me. 

Tuesdays were always an interesting dance of joy, disappointment and caution. After ward round everyone would be checking in with each other to see what had been said, what had happened to medication levels, what had been said about your progress and the most important question of all, how much leave did you get? In hospital terms "leave" was the litmus test, the progress report made physical. 

I learnt very quickly in the unit who to share my joys and successes with and who to play it down to, who to laugh with and who to lend a shoulder to. We all needed such different things at each stage of our time in there. One lady called Lucky got increasing amounts of leave until I hardly saw her and I always thought she had exactly the right name.

No matter what we were going through we ate together. I never could have predicted, just months before, that I would be here, in a psychiatric hospital, sitting around the table with my new family.

Love and dramatic blue sheets,
Mutha Courage X

Sunday, 21 September 2014

It's all Kosher

Despite the care I was receiving from all the staff around me, I couldn't escape the feeling that I was being imprisoned. In many ways, the more I recovered the more frustrated I became. I had a limited sentence, but my release date was unknown. It could be weeks, it could be months.

I was getting better, and yet I was sick of having to ask for my phone charger, my razor, having to go to the hatch for medicine, visit the medical room for observations, label all my food, drink, plates, and mugs. 

However, I am nothing if not adaptable, and I knew that if I had to live in this hospital I would have to do it with as much enthusiasm as I could generate. So I started to work the system. I begun to learn how to make the most of my stay.

I used to ask staff that I had good rapport with for towels so that I could get sometimes 5 or 6 stockpiled in my bottom drawer, thus reducing the number of times I needed to ask. Believe me, this was a vital step for maintaining high self esteem. Asking too regularly for essential items made me feel subservient and small, which in turn makes you start to question your capability in other areas of your life. It's these tiny choices that I made on a daily basis that added to my strength; that showed me I still had fight and enough cheekiness to know I was getting better.

One of my happiest discoveries was sent from God. No, I wasn't hearing voices. I discovered the Kosher menu. Oh my goodness. Who knew that by choosing the Kosher meals you could have steamed salmon, beautiful new potatoes and fresh vegetables, albeit still microwaved in a plastic bag. It was mana from Heaven. It was less stodgy, more tasty and far healthier than all the other hospital food. It didn't take long for other mothers to catch on too, and before long more staff were eating from the Kosher list as well. We were all at it, we had converted for lunchtime.

There was so much Jewish food being ordered on the mother and baby unit that a Rabbi was seen walking around, as he was under the understandable impression that his fellow believers were in the ward. I think I potentially cost the NHS thousands of pounds over my two month stay because I heard that the reason the Kosher menu wasn't promoted was because the meals cost a lot more. Whoops. 

As I continued to recover, more and more of my personality started to come back. My contributions to ward round became increasingly cheeky and I began to question what I was being told again, rather than being utterly confused or aggressive. Like Chekov's Three Sisters, I was desperately looking forward to leave; to getting away from the tedium and routine to somewhere exciting. To Westfield! Then in ward rounds it was suggested in no uncertain terms that I shouldn't go anywhere too stimulating on my leave, and particularly not Westfield, as I was still getting better and still had a way to go. I remember leaving the meeting absolutely livid but still determined to get there. Unfortunately my still not-quite-quiet mind wasn't quite clever enough when I tried to slip in through the back door. Turning to my husband and mother-in-law, I said "Well, after that we all need some breakfast, and I think we can all agree that the best place to get that, is Westfield!" They didn't take me.

Luckily we didn't go. Even though I was annoyed and reactionary about being told what was best for me, they were absolutely right. The week after, I explained that I had been relieved I hadn't gone to Westfield, to which everyone agreed that it was a sign of my increasing sanity that an outing to that shopping centre seemed mad.

This place was starting to look friendlier. I was starting to connect to the world again. I could see the kindness on the faces that surrounded me. I still loved and hated my situation in equal measure, but there were signs beginning to appear and they said one word. Home.

Love and menorahs,
Mutha Courage x

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Leave me alone

This week has been manic. I mean that in a metaphorical sense, not in a relapse kind of way. One of the ideas that psychosis gave me was stand-up comedy with my baby on board. This week that idea, borne from madness, was delivered.  Bring A Bottle, my comedy show for "people who happen to be parents", was born. It wasn't long before the local news and TV were interested, so Albert and I went from interview to interview, whilst trying to rehearse and fine tune the performance.

I watch the appearances. I see myself laughing and chatting with my little son attached to me by a sling carrier. I recognise that me. I am confident and self-possessed. It is very difficult to see myself like this and not remember a time, just a few months ago where I couldn't manage an hour from the safety of the ward. I had been given leave, but didn't know if I could.

Albert is attached to me by a carrier sling. The air hits my face, followed by the noise of all the traffic, followed by the movement of all the people walking by. I am scared by the faces I see coming towards me and that pass me. I am desperately trying to process everything. It feels like there is too much space around me. I have longed for this freedom and now I feel intoxicated by its size. I feel small, tiny. I don't feel brave enough to exist in this huge world. I want home and I don't even know what home is. I don't want to be on the ward, but the streets are too busy and I am intimidated by their pace. 

We find a cafe. It is friendly and small. It is a den. I can rest here for a while from the mayhem outside. I don't really remember how to do this. What are the rules? How do we order? How do I choose? I don't want to interact, but I know I need to. They all know. They all know I'm from the ward. They know.

We take more of a walk when we've had our drinks. There's a small market selling local foods and products. The panic is rising in me. The people, the smells, the sounds, the chatter, the ground, the sky, everything is closing around me and I feel a powerful sense of danger that isn't really there. I need to get away. Get out. Get in. I don't know, just get away. How will I ever be normal again?

This isn't me. I can't stay like this. I can't be like this. Who am I now? What has this illness left me with?

I pull my son closer to my chest. He is sleeping soundly. Knowing that he is safe, and protected. I long to feel that. I hold my husband's hand so tight. I need him to lead me back to the ward. I need to be surrounded by familiarity. I need the doors locked. 

I realise how agonisingly slow this recovery will be for me. I know I will have to work hard every time I go on leave, so that I can rebuild the broken city of myself. 

But that evening, I just want everyone to leave me alone.