Sectioned: Once, Twice, Three times a ‘mental’ lady.

by Lauren Heaver

OK, so I have, on more than one occasion, been sectioned. I have been a mind-traveller. I got that lucky backstage pass to the netherworld society considers, as the ‘psych ward.’

My experience of being sectioned goes a bit like this. You enter by pressing a button and speaking to ‘normal’ staff. You leave, by pressing the round green button. It feels like a game show. Like you are the lucky contestant who gets to press the button on the lottery ball spinner.

They are strange places. Mainly a labyrinth of corridors. A sort of sanitised zoo, except due to patient confidentiality, without the labels explaining the cause for why this or the next person has been captured. Interned. Held. Cared for, I suppose.

Once, twice, three times a (mental) lady, as my own adapted version of that wonderful song is, have I been ‘inside’.

The first time was ground-breaking. An assortment of people welcomed me. By which I mean, a confusing homogeneous mass of humans who were all suffering acutely. Then to word. Photograph and copy out this evening.

It was like arriving in some sort of X-rated theme park for humans confused and in a state of uncomfortable flux. For the first two days of my internment, I had already got into trouble for asking staff for matches (simply to light a cigarette – my fail-safe buddy in such an alien environment) as they were more concerned that I would try and burn down the unit.

I took the pictures upholstered onto the walls down, as they seemed in such juxtaposition to their surrounding habitat. Having worked in galleries, and knowing art, I was mortally offended that cheap prints from the likes of IKEA, or possibly, even worse- Argos, of calming landscapes and beach scenes were hung cheaply upon the standardised ‘hospital beige’ painted walls of an acute mental facility. It jarred with me. Regressing to the formula of three hospital meals a day, interspersing this regime with being given meds that I did not know anything about, in a sweet little white paper cup. PILLS. COLOURFUL ONES. Whilst I waited to seek my fate, which inevitably came to nothing. Just a ‘blip’.

It was only later that I received my diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder. I remember a common theme throughout hospitals was the plethora of game boards on offer. In fact, the common areas, often mimicked a charity shop with all the old books, shoddy old entertainment options for the delectation of the patient. As if playing a board game with visiting family or friends, is the only connection you can make whilst you feel so detached and far away, on another planet. In another solar system. Or, more accurately, the vacuum of a black hole.

Then, a little while later, around 6 months I guess, came the second admission. This time, I had had enough of a bad experience in the UK and decided a French hospital would be better. OR rather, I did not book a trip abroad through Thompson’s for a package deal to garner a look-see and review on tripadvisor, what the experience of this would be. More that I left the country as I felt unwell, rocked up at my dads, and soon the inevitability of my illness came to the fore despite my utmost attempts to conceal it.

So, French hospital was much the same as English hospital yet, this time not only was there the barrier of rational thought, but the quite physical sense of being an interloper – the dislocation due to language discrepancies. This time, I had my own en-suite and the room was nice. But the same regimen of dreary meals, of the sense of being in some sort of purgatory, drugged yet again on some sort of cocktail that would have a bad name. Assessed again. The only respite coming from a visit from a boyfriend. We were allowed to skulk around the hospitals grounds. Not manicured. By no means the tourist destination of Versailles. But, sitting on a bench or exploring the local acre or two of run-down, nigh Chenobyl-esque gardens of a rural mental health facility, WAS like some sort of Orwellian holiday. The key to Alice’s Gardens perhaps. Down the rabbit hole.

Later-

It was going well. I STILL had to seek assurance I was getting better, regularly, from health professionals. As I guess these experiences, and what I had been exposed to (like mental health radiation- although mental illness is, I firmly state – NOT contagious!), had had a profound effect upon my ’emotional eyesight’, but that forward momentum – getting a job, moving back to London, catching up on the movie of life I had missed out on due to my mental health ‘Ad-Breaks’ if you will, and then I stooped into a low that led to my last, most recent, stay in a unit.

It had been a long time. Of course, time becomes an irrelevant thing – a mere abstract concept in these sorts of places. You meet people sectioned for months, or it could be days. Depending. I was reminded of the spaceship is Red Dwarf. There are the essentials. But the absolute hilarity of looking through a glass box to talk to staff member in the office. A thin pane of glass separating the sane and insane appealed to me metaphorically. It was like WE were the ones watching THEM and THEY were the ones in the fish tank.

I would luckily have friends visit everyday. The same boyfriend, amazingly still around, would come take me out – he was allowed to. I was not sectioned so could leave when I wanted to during the day sometimes. As long as I took supervised meds, and was still eating. I was allowed home for a weekend. Trust me- there are few things more surreal than returning to your clean and lovely flat, watching a shitty film on Netflix, when you are trying to work out what is normal still. When you are aware you will have to separate the umbilical cord with the boyfriend and go back to a single mattress in a room with nothing, having to hand your laptop cords into the office just in case you are to tempted to…you know what.

It felt very much like being in a cartoon. The characters I came across could not have had their dialogue scripted at all. Some incredibly lively minds. A man who talked fluently in rhyme, a woman who was so articulate in politics that if it had not been for her solid belief that she was dying from kidney failure, she would have been a convincing candidate as an MP. Then there were the acutely sad people. I vividly remember on my first day, the first initiation if you will- saying hi to a girl younger than me, trying to conduct a feasible conversation whilst politely averting my voyeuristic gaze from the angry red line stinging across her throat. She had tried to hang herself recently.

And yet, still this bubbling need to live, meant we were all surviving. Like on some weird mental Noah’s ark saved from an apocalyptic storm. I remember in a series of vignettes, images such as the scratch marks on the wall by my single mattress with my light knitted blanket as the only comfort to wrap around myself, listening to and trying NOT to simultaneously, the wails of my neighbouring ‘cellmate’.

All things said, the term, ‘Hospitality industry’ never had quite the same ring to it since I myself, dropped in three literally, for brief, yet life-changing stays.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with their Mental Health, you can find valuable information and help here. In the case of emergency, please dial 999 or contact the Samaritans on 116 123 immediately.

 

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