I was really struggling to find a way to describe the experience of my first day at the priory retrospectively. I found it not only hard to remember the facts, but also remembering how I felt at the time was incredibly difficult. I couldn’t convey the experience truly through my normal style, so I decided to write it as if it was an ongoing inner monologue from 2013. You can read this article here. The process of writing it and the feedback I have received made it a therapeutic and cleansing experience, enhancing my connection to and understanding of my younger self.
I stayed at the Priory Hospital for 2 weeks. During this time I explored some of the therapy groups, beginning to recognise the same people day after day. There were many staff members that I encountered daily, the majority were not in my favour. I have to emphasise that I hated the staff and the therapists because of where I was standing mentally and emotionally. I later discovered that they are all caring, kind and supportive people who are brilliant in their fields of work. One staff-patient confrontation sticks in my mind. Months before, my family members had booked a trip to the theatre. For some reason, I believed that I would be and should be allowed to go even if it was only two days after my admission. Numerous emotionally heated conversations culminated in a one-to-one meeting with the ward manager. He told me I would not be allowed to leave the ward, and I replied with nothing less than raw, unfiltered anger and disgust. It was so bad that I wasn’t able to properly look at him for the rest of this or any of my other visits.
I remember having an influx of visitors, almost every day. They bought chocolate and clothes and anything else they imagined would make my experience better. I feel like both parties in these meetings were ignoring and denying the blatant fact of where I was and why. Jokes were made (mostly by me), I would dismiss the importance of everything that was happening there. Although I was grateful for the company and the distraction, this probably wasn’t the best line of attack for two weeks in a psychiatric hospital, and maybe contributed to my lack of immersion in the therapy offered. During my second admission a while later, I put some boundaries on who could visit and how often.
I met my doctor after my first weekend; Dr Woolley. I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of him, a middle aged man with facial expressions and a demeanour like an awkward teen boy, but with marks of his age on his skin. He had a way of talking and looking at me like he was observing a dangerous animal, but with fascination rather than fear. At the time it is likely I was misinterpreting interest and concern. We talked with, and without my mother. I sat up straight with my hands neatly folded in my lap, nodded and smiled where appropriate and answered all questions with a considered and clean cut response. During my time in therapy I frequently confused observations about my detached demeanour and apparent logic based ideology as complements. I distinctly remember a point in one of our early meetings when Dr Woolley said something along the lines of ‘you appear rigidly rational’, my instinctive response was to politely say ‘thank you’ and smile, returning my gaze to my hands. This moment stuck with me because I found his response intriguing; he was quiet, looking invasively at me, amusement visible on his face. He asked why I assumed it was a compliment, I don’t remember my response.
I spent a lot of time watching Breaking Bad and reading the books family members had brought from my bedside, but at least 2 times a day I was expected to attend group therapy. Group therapy at The Priory involved sitting in a cold and slightly damp room, with paint or wallpaper peeling from the wall. Chairs were placed in a circle around the edge of the room, just the normal plastic chairs usually found at schools. Most of the rooms had a flip-chart whiteboard in one of the corners, rarely used, with the same old scribbles never wiped or cleaned away. There were rules for the groups, such as no leaving once the session had started, no talking over people and no hot drinks. Mostly the same people would talk each session, possibly the most confident or veteran patients in the hospital. It sometimes felt like you had to search really hard for something to share on topic, just in case they picked on you and thought you weren’t cooperating, when actually you couldn’t think of an example to share. During this first admission I found group therapy boring and pointless, and usually too early in the morning to fit in with my sleep schedule.
As I was admitted the Friday after boxing day, I spent New Years as an inpatient. New years eve was a strange event to experience in hospital. I did not want to leave my room and ‘celebrate’ with the other patients in the common room, despite the repeated invitations and coaxing from staff members. Not because I thought myself better than they were, I wanted to be on my own, I suppose to allow myself to forget where I was, but also out of some misguided protest. Speaking to friends on New Years, happy and drunk from the parties I should have been at, was the only memorable experience from that night. The few friends who knew the truth about where I was showed a great deal of love and patience by speaking to me that night. I was bored, angry and frustrated, and coming to terms with the fact that I would simply have to drop out of university. I stayed up late into the early hours of the morning, reading books, magazines and listening to music. I didn’t want to sleep, in hindsight the symbol of waking up in a psychiatric hospital on New Years Day was probably too much to handle.
Two weeks after my arrival at the Priory, my doctor and I had agreed about my withdrawal from university and my discharge from the hospital. The plan was to continue as a day patient, I was to be under the hospital care during week days in order to undergo therapy. I left that day still detached and in denial, remaining a day patient for 5 weeks before my second admission.
Thank you for reading,
Borderline Bella xxx