When you are sectioned under the law it feels like all of your liberty has been taken away. You’re locked in, your choices are limited, and your health is assessed by the content of what you say. It was especially traumatic because for the first time, possibly in my entire life, I felt liberated from the metaphorical mental prison I had been constructing; only to find myself locked in what felt like a very literal prison.
I arrived at hospital in a state, angry and confused and upset. I was put into my own room, the door was closed and the nursing staff were sat outside. I had no source of music or distraction, just the bathroom to hide in and my notebook to scribble in. Earlier in the day the home care team had forced me to take diazepam despite the fact that I knew I could calm myself down without it. That night, when I knew I could not calm myself down I begged and cried and asked and asked and asked for my prescribed sleeping tablet but the staff would not give me one. I was left to sob in the room that felt so much like a like a jail cell, from the door that seemed to lock itself to the tiny shuttered window.
When I was first sectioned I felt like Joseph K; condemned and no one could tell me why. The day after I was sectioned the staff sat down with me and helped me fill in my appeal paperwork and get a lawyer. Unfortunately I went in on a Saturday, so there were no doctors to see me; the next ward round would be Monday.
Then at 10pm on Sunday they rushed me upstairs to an acute ward. I’d just about got settled, my disparate notes and lots of photographs were blue tacked to the wall in my room; ready for me to add times and dates and provide a little bit of context to what I had written in response to the questions I was asked by the two Doctors who sectioned me, but the “management” had decided to move me and I had no choice but to cooperate.
When I arrived on the acute ward I was welcomed so warmly by the staff and immediately found a kindred spirit in another patient. She was wonderful, bright and intelligent and open about her experiences. We went for a smoke and quoted Othello at each other.
I checked in all of my stuff, a process that took a long while due to the ridiculous amount of stuff I had packed in a terrified rush the night before. I’d packed so much because I didn’t know how long I would be staying and I wanted to give myself as much choice and control as I possibly could.
Afterwards I was taken to my bed space. The chest of drawers only had one drawer at the bottom. It remained that way the whole time I was there. The name on the white board was not my name; and the named nurse was not my named nurse. They took it down after a couple of days but it was never replaced. The bed had only sheets and no blanket and when I asked the staff for a blanket they told me I would have to wait till morning to get one. It came the following night after letting a nurse know; a nurse who probably had more important things to do than chase down a blanket for me.
For the first few days on the acute ward no one could tell me what was going on and it felt like the ward was designed to confuse and confound. The mirrors in our bays were plastic. For good reason too. The issue though; my reflection was distorted like a milder version of a fun house mirror. This was an issue I had to triple check. So open was I to the idea that my mind is an incredibly powerful instrument I wondered if I was just conjuring up a twisted perception of myself. I first asked a member of the support care team and they told me the mirror was “fine.” Next I asked another patient; a published poet who was staying in the same dorm as me. She said they were fucked up. Finally, two medical students, who confirmed once and for all, that it was the mirrors and not my mind twisting my reflection. If you ever find yourself on a mental health ward speak to the medical students. It feels safe talking to them. They have some knowledge and training but they are there to learn not assess.
There was no plan. No roadmap to getting well. I wasn’t able to speak to a solicitor on the phone; the one independent advocate on the ward was unable to make time to speak to me. I didn’t push it; some of the other patients had been there longer and probably needed her more. I saw a junior doctor once. He came at a meal time so I missed out on food and didn’t have any money to send with a support worker to the shop. I missed meal times twice because of appointments with mental health professionals.
Being sectioned feels like having your liberty taken away based on the contents of your speech and how that speech is understood by others. It felt almost like a pilgrimage, where control of my freedom was in the hands of a person I had yet to meet. A person who would ask me a set of questions; the same questions each time to try and determine what kind of mental abnormality I was suffering from.
I have never felt less powerful or in control of my life than those first few days of being sectioned.
There were certain members of staff, on both of the wards that I was on, that taught me how to take that power over myself back, and how to control it. Most of this post seems pretty bleak, so I feel like this has to be said. While highlighting the bad is important, highlighting the good is possibly more so. I am so grateful to so many of the support workers and nurses who taught me that it was always within my power to get myself out of the section.