My first week working at an adult psychiatric unit has come to an end. After five intensive days including training surrounding accessing medical records, performing CPR, carrying out observations and so forth, the most important lesson I have learned this week is this:
My life is much less centred around my mental illness than I have previously led myself to believe.
The striking realisation I made after just my first day of direct patient contact was that at 5 o’clock, I was allowed to leave the ward. I know, this doesn’t seem entirely striking at first glance given that I was handed a contract a few weeks prior with my start and finish times, but I had never truly considered what life would be like as an individual working on a psychiatric ward rather than residing on one. Whilst an inpatient myself, I never had much insight into my healthcare assistants or support workers or nurses having a life beyond the ward. My experience as a patient gave me this underlying experience of a ward being a 24 hour service (which of course, in many ways, it is); the important fact I should’ve noted a very long time ago was that it will only ever be a constant for the patients, and this is why leaving the ward after my first shift was a confusing, yet euphoric sensation.
For the first time, I finally discovered how far I have come in terms of my own recovery. Three/four years ago, I entered the ward not knowing when I would next be leaving. Today, I enter the psychiatric unit knowing I have the power to leave at any given moment, able to return to my own home at 5pm and sleep in my own bed. Most importantly, today when I leave the ward behind, the mental illness is no longer my shadow. I leave the ward with a new found desire for social interaction. Before I have even left the hospital grounds, I am half way through planning my evening full of laughter, creativity, wine and love.
Not that long ago, my mental illness was the Sun of the solar system that existed inside my mind, with each orbiting planet another aspect of my life that relied directly upon the sensitive, ever changing nature of my illnesses. The illnesses were my light, my food and my warmth; I had no sense of identity without them. As they intensified, they would scold my relationships, my memory, my creativity, just as the Sun inflicts it’s own heat when it is at it’s strongest. Now, the Sun is no longer my diagnoses. My own passion and zest for life is the gravitational centre of my internal solar system; it is the element that the entirety of me is fed upon and revolves around. My mental illness still exists but no longer has the same hold on me. My conditions are simply the stars dotted across space; they can still be seen on the darkest of nights but are merely specks of dust against the parts of me that play the largest role on my new life.
My poor mental health will always be my old paint under the new and I would be so boring without it, but it is equally as important to appreciate and embrace the ‘me’ without mental illness as it is, the ‘me’ with it.
I am the creator of my own imagination. I have a natural flair for finding inspiration in my environment and adding my own touch. I take a photograph on a page and expand the page with the thoughts and images that photograph elicits in my own mind. I take a quote or an image and I make it into something even more beautiful. I do this and allow myself to feel pride because I know that I have created something unique that can never be reproduced exactly.
Music takes me to my happy place and my taste in music is more varied than most. Up until my mid teens, I could not sleep without listening to Lionel Richie’s album, Back To Front. I find his voice calming and to this day he remains my guilty pleasure.
Desserts are my absolute favourite thing. Sometimes I eat out with friends purely to take advantage of the fact that I can order dessert afterwards. Most of the time, I’m honest with my friends and openly admit that I don’t even want to go to Pizza Hut for the pizza – I will turn up, order my cookie dough, endulge in it and leave. I spend hours planning what toppings I will choose for my waffles before even leaving the house for a dessert parlour. Thinking of cheesecakes, bread and butter pudding, profiteroles and chocolate gateau sends my tastebuds into overdrive.
Growing up, I dreamed (for a while) of becoming a figure skater. I adored watching the way they gracefully swooped across the ice in their glittered attire. To this very day, ice skating is my favourite thing about winter and for a little while, as I glide in my ice skates, I am momentarily that twelve year old again who dreamed of competing.
It goes without saying, but I am a major Frozen fan. I would choose Disney on Ice over an upcoming, music gig any day. I’m convinced that I am the basis of Elsa’s character (not quite).
I have a weird phobia of crisps. Some kind of intense fear has manifested in my brain that one day, a sharp edge of a crisp will lodge in my throat, tearing it apart and I will never be able to swallow again. It’s completely bizarre and illogical, but it still prevents me from eating them.
It’s easy to make me laugh and when I do, it’s full, belly laughing so intense that my cheeks ache and my stomach cramps. Cringeworthy jokes humour me most. Throw me a pack of Penguin bars and the jokes will amuse me for hours.
Over the course of twenty years, I have dreamed of becoming a train driver. A figure skater. A surgeon. A paediatrician. A funeral director. A forensic photographer. A nurse. My occupational ambition now lies in the education of Geography as personal experience has taught me that a teacher’s influence is vital in a student’s education and can be the key ingredient in the recipe to unearthing a passion within an individual. There is nothing that motivates me more than to make a positive change in the world.
My biggest inspiration is Neil Hilborn. I can repeatedly listen to, or read, his poetry without it ever losing meaning.
I get lost in the pages of a book and my genre of choice is crime novels. In particular, Tess Gerritsen is my favourite author and I own most of her collection. For me, reading is engrossing myself in polar worlds where I become emotionally invested in each and every character.
My mental illnesses may always be a part of me but the skill I am beginning to master is in no longer allowing it to take control, because as much as mental health campaigners teach you that your illnesses are nothing of which to be ashamed or that scars are your external battle wounds or that your cracks are where the light shines through, we easily lose sight of the most important yet simplest of lessons.
We forget to teach each other that we were already beautiful before.
X x x