Thursday, 31 December 2009

Not A Review Of The Year

I don't want to think about how things have been this year. I have sunk to depths that I have never been to before and I have lived to tell the tale but I still don't feel great. Christmas was survived and New Year beckons, but I am well aware that I may have to face some really difficult things in the 2010.

So, I'm not going to review what has happened to me this year. I just want to say that I am grateful to all the bloggers who have helped me with their kind comments and good wishes. I know that they have helped me a great deal throughout the year, but more particularly so over the last few months. I can never repay their kindness, but I know that they don't want me to. Instead I am just going to say the following to you all

Best wishes for 2010
and may it bring you
all that you desire

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Going Downhill

I don't know what is wrong with me. I got through Christmas and I had hoped that things would start to improve a little, but if anything I am going downhill at a rather alarming rate. Last night I had absolutely no sleep whatsoever and I am not sure that tonight is going to be any better.

Today has seen me just sitting around doing nothing because I had neither the energy nor the inclination. I had hoped to get some studying done today but I can't concentrate on anything for more than about 10 minutes so that was a non-starter. I've also managed to lose one of my knitting needles that I am using to knit the wrist warmers so I am stuck with the knitting on three needles and no needle to transfer onto. Yes, they are knitted on double-pointed needles so I am knitting in the round which means that the stitches are spread around three needles and you use the fourth needle from the set to knit the next set of stitches and then when they are all off that needle, it becomes the spare. But I'm not sure that I could have concentrated on the knitting enough to do some anyway.

And I haven't managed to cook myself anything today either because I just couldn't be bothered, but I have eaten. I have to phone the HTT tomorrow for my weekly report (as a concession to it being the holiday season I can report over the phone and not go in person for them to eyeball me) and I'm not sure how I am going to answer the questions that I will be asked. Do I tell the truth, or do I give non-committal answers?

I also have a half completed post for the Tackling the Mental Health Minefield waiting for me to sit down and finish it. I want to do just that, because I still have quite a few more posts to write for the series and I don't want too much time to pass before writing them so that my recollection doesn't become too hazy. Fortunately, most of the remaining posts will be somewhat shorter than Parts 1-6 were, so perhaps I can work on them at the rate of one a day and then publish them over the next few weeks.

I'm going to take my night-time medication in a minute and then head for my bed. With a bit of luck I might manage to get to sleep before morning arrives.

Monday, 28 December 2009


Well, I have managed to survive Christmas, even if I did spend much of it in bed with a rotten cold. Christmas dinner was bangers and mash (sausages and mashed potato for the non-British readers) with a lovely thick onion gravy. It was washed down with a mixture of Australian sparkling wine with cranberry juice added.

I seem to have spent most of my waking hours watching various films on television although I did manage to do a bit of knitting yesterday and I am hopeful that I will feel energetic enough to do some more this afternoon/evening. I have also managed to record lots of films to watch later so I will have something for when there is nothing worth watching.

I haven't been to the sales; I haven't even left the house for nearly a week. Tomorrow I will need to go out to buy some supplies and get a bit of exercise. I'm feeling low, but not so bad as I did this time last week.

I must also sit myself down with my OU course material and work my way through it so that I can complete the second TMA for my course. It has to be submitted by the middle of January so I had better get a move on. This TMA has only two parts to it; the first part is the most important one and requires me to write a short story or a chapter of a longer piece of writing of 1500 words. It also requires me to include something that relates to one or more of a number of supplied words. These are places or feelings and the one that I have chosen to include is 'abandoned'. I have an idea of what I am going to write, but having an idea is not actually having the words ready to write.

I think some sessions in the library are called for because if I am there I can't be distracted by what's on the television.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Santa Ahead Of Schedule

Santa is making good time on his journey around the world. He has actually arrived in London a little ahead of schedule at 2352. Let's hope that Rudolph and all the other reindeers have not peaked too early and that they are able to complete their journey on time.

Christmas Wishes

As I sit here warmly wrapped up because I have a streaming cold, I have been keeping track of Santa on his trip round the world visiting all the children and leaving their gifts, I would like to wish all my readers what I hope is a happy time.

I intend to get an early night, if I can, and then spend tomorrow watching the box. I have decided to have bangers and mash for my Christmas dinner, washed down with cranberry juice and sparkling wine. I'll probably have a tissue almost permanently held to my nose if today is anything to go by.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Christmas Shopping

I had to go and see the Home Treatment Team this morning. I should have gone last Friday but there was no way that I was going out with snow on the ground and not knowing what the buses were going to be like. I phoned them to let them know that I wouldn't be coming and made arrangements to see them today instead.

I chose to make the appointment for today because I thought that I could kill two birds with one stone and get my Christmas shopping on the way home. It shouldn't be too busy I thought because it's not Christmas Eve until tomorrow. I got off the bus and walked to the supermarket which happens to be the biggest one in the country for that particular chain and went looking for a trolley. I knew that I didn't need a lot of shopping but I wanted to get a couple of bottles of wine and a couple of bottles of soft drink, so rather than trying to carry a basket which would be getting heavier as I went round the shelves it needed to be a trolley.

Shopping trolleys come in various sizes and a small one would have been ideal for what I wanted, but there wasn't one to be seen. In fact, I managed to get the last of the large trolleys. that gave me an indication of how busy it was inside the store. It was a teeming mass of humanity. It seems that everybody had decided to do their food shopping this morning.

I still don't feel much like cooking myself meals at the moment, so I had decided that I would see what ready-meals I could find. I now have a choice of penne pasta with bolognaise sauce, macaroni cheese, or sausage and mash for my Christmas dinner. And a bottle of Australian sparkling wine to wash it down.

As you can see, I really know how to have a good time!

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Lecturing Again

I've had an email this morning asking if I would be willing to give my lecture 'A Patient's Perspective Of Psychotherapy' at one of the London universities again. I replied straight away and now all I have to do is agree a date with 'S'.

It's nearly a year since I gave it the first time and I remember the nerves and anxiety that I suffered beforehand. I know that I will suffer the same feelings again, but the lecture was well received last time, and I have no doubt that it will go down well again.

Over the next few days I must make some time to sit down with the script for the lecture and update it. I still had a few months of psychotherapy after giving the lecture in February, so I can add the feelings that I had when the psychotherapy came to an end, and talk a little about the therapy that I am undergoing at the moment.

The lecture is based on posts that I wrote at the time that I was receiving therapy and the emails about it that I wrote to Mr Smiley. Updating it shouldn't be much of a problem so a few hours should see it done. Having the confidence to do things like giving this lecture and the presentations about patients having online access to their medical records is very much down to Mr Smiley. It was he who constantly reminded me that they were things that were well within my capability and that I had been doing for years.

It is moments like this that make me realise how much I will miss Mr Smiley's gentle encouragement and his faith in my abilities.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

The Most Devastating News

I have just received an email from the wife of my best friend. Mr Smiley and I have known each other for nearly 40 years. We met when I was a very shy and nervous 18-year old. I can even clearly remember his first words to me, "What do you want?" That remark has been a source of amusement to us both in the intervening years as our paths have met and diverged again.

Mr Smiley was in the Army and I was in the RAF in those days and it was because we both worked in a particular field that we met for the first time, and led to us meeting and working together at various periods since then. But since 1997 we worked together almost continuously until I was retired on medical grounds.

When my husband died, Mr Smiley was the person who helped get me through those first agonising months. He was the person that I turned to when I needed to talk and he was the person who made others at work realise how difficult it was for me to continue working in a place where my husband had worked too. By then I had left the RAF and become a civil servant, but Mr Smiley was still in the Army. A few years later he retired from the Army and became a civil servant too and we continued to work, and talk, together daily until I gave up work.

It was Mr Smiley who took the phone call from my Dad the day that Mum died and who took it upon himself to give the news. That is another day that I will never forget. He had given bad news like this before when a serving Army officer, but when we talked about it some time later, he told me that giving me the bad news was probably the most difficult thing that he had ever had to do.

Mr Smiley helped me through that bereavement as he had helped me after my husband died. He did it again when Dad died. It was shortly after this that I moved back to London and was medically retired. Since then we have kept in regular contact through emails, phone calls, and meeting up occasionally for lunch.

Mrs Smiley's email this morning told me that Mr Smiley has terminal cancer, and that he is seriously ill in hospital. I knew that Mr Smiley was not well, and that he would be going for some tests in the new year. But last weekend he was taken into hospital and they operated on Monday, but there was nothing that could be done. The doctors had hoped that he would be well enough to come home by today, but having just spoken to Mrs Smiley on the phone, it seems that he is not recovering from the operation as well as they had hoped, and now she is wondering if he will ever be well enough to come home.

Yesterday was the anniversary of my Dad dying. To have had this news today, coupled with how I am feeling anyway in this run up to Christmas, means that I am sitting here writing this post with tears freely flowing.

When I told Mr Smiley about having started this blog, he became a regular reader and commenter on it. He thought it was one of the best things that I could have done and that it would be a very cathartic exercise. He felt that the things that I wrote about depression and how I coped with it would benefit others, and he had been reading Tackling the Mental Health Minefield when I started writing these posts.

We last spoke on the phone a couple of weeks ago, and his last email was written on Friday 11th December and finished with the words, "I hope you have a relaxing weekend and achieve what you want to achieve, How are you coping with being at home? Talk again on Monday." Of course, we didn't.

I just have to hope that we can write a few more emails to each other, but in the meantime I am going to have to try to pull myself together enough to be able to write a letter to Mr Smiley telling him how much I have valued his friendship and how much he has done for me over the years. It's not going to be easy.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Tackling The Mental Health Minefield Part 6 - Throwing The Christian To the Lions

(This post continues the story from Tackling The Mental Health Minefield Part 5 - Please Sir, Can I Have Some More)

Those familiar with how things are done in mental hospitals will probably be able to guess what this post is about from its title. Blood sports may have been banned, but something pretty akin to them is still practised in mental wards up and down this country. It is the ward round.

Ward rounds are something that may occur in any hospital. If you are a patient in one of our large teaching hospitals you may encounter something akin to those seen in Doctor in the House or Carry on Doctor. But ward round in a mental hospital is more like those olden days when the gentry could visit the local insane asylum and view the wretched inhabitants.

My first ward round was the day after I was admitted to hospital. I was summoned to a room with tables in the centre and sat around them was the consultant, the ward SHO, one of the nurses from the ward and a couple of other people, whose function I can not remember. I was invited to sit down on a chair that was placed some distance from the tables, but the position of which enabled all those present to get a good view of me.

It should be remembered that people in mental hospitals, particularly those recently admitted, are very vulnerable. To encounter this sea of faces is nothing short of terrifying. I was,frankly, terrified. I can remember little of what went on other than being asked a raft of questions many of which I found difficult to answer and when it came time for me to leave the room tears were flowing freely.

As this was the admissions ward, there was a ward round each day, Monday to Friday. the first to be seen were those who had been admitted the day before, then such others on the ward that the consultant wanted to see. I was not due to see the consultant the next day but made a request to see him because I needed some leave to get some clothes. I still had nothing but those that I was wearing when I was admitted.

I went in to see him and made my request. He asked me where I lived and I told him, and then said that I was not planning to try to get home to get additionally clothing but would be going to the shops just a few minutes walk from the hospital. He then said that as I was an informal** patient I could have leave and then asked if two hours would be sufficient time. I replied that I thought that this would be plenty of time and then made a second request. I asked whether it would be possible for me to go unescorted to the garden when I wanted a cigarette. He replied in the affirmative and was immediately overruled by the nurse who was sitting in the ward round.

This shows the sheer stupidity that exists in our mental hospitals. I was allowed to go out of the hospital, on my own, for two hours and wander around the shops, but I was not allowed to stay within the confines of the hospital and go about unescorted.

My next ward round was on the following Monday; this time there were also a couple of medical students sitting in. I was still in a very low state of mind and my time in there was short because I just dissolved into tears almost immediately. I was seen again on Wednesday and the consultant asked that the home treatment team (HTT) be contacted so that they could come to see me. (I will write more about the HTT in a later part of Tackling The Mental Health Minefield.)

I wasn't seen at Thursday ward round and that evening I was transferred to another ward. This occurred without warning; I was just going to make myself a cup of tea when a nurse told me to get my things together because a bed had become available on the ward that I was moving to and they needed my bed on the admissions ward for a new patient. It should be noted here that the literature that I was given when I first arrived at the hospital said that I would only be on the first ward for two or three days, or exceptionally a week if it was thought that I could be discharged from there. I had been on the ward for nine days. So much for believing anything in the literature.

The ward that you were moved to depended on where you lived. This meant that the patients on my new ward all lived in my particular part of London. The ward had two consultants, and which consultant you saw was decided on your initial admission to the hospital, so while I had been allocated to a particular consultant while I was on the admissions ward, this was not the consultant that I saw. The admissions ward had its own consultants who saw all the patients on that ward no matter which part of the area served by the hospital that they came from.

On the new ward, the consultants held their ward rounds on different days, and each saw patients on two days. My consultant's ward rounds were held on Mondays and Thursdays, which meant that because I was moved on the Thursday evening, I would not be seeing a consultant until the following Monday. This time the ward round was actually held outside of the ward proper. This was because there wasn't a suitable room available within the ward. However, just outside the ward there was a Meeting Room and four times a week this was used by the consultants for their ward rounds.

At my first ward round on the new ward I went into the room with trepidation, as before, only to be greeted by a lot of new faces, so introductions were made. As well as my consultant and her SHO (who sat at a laptop recording what went on), there was a psychiatrist from the Assessment and Brief Treatment Team (ABT) at the CMHT, the ward's social worker, someone from the Home Treatment Team (HTT) at the CMHT, an occupational therapist, one of the nurses from the ward (who made notes for use on the ward, but obviously not carefully enough because of the problems that followed), and myself. Fortunately this room was furnished a little more comfortably and nice armchairs were provided instead of the tatty office chairs that were used on the admissions ward.

After all the usual questions from the consultant, she decided that I should be given some home leave to see how I coped. So she said that I was to go home for a few hours during the afternoon of the following day, Tuesday, and if that went well I should spend the night at home on the day after that, Wednesday. This meant that I would be back on the ward for the next ward round and further decisions could be made then. The problem, as those of you who read the posts that I wrote while I was in hospital will know, is that the nurse wrote down that I was to go home for two nights.

Tuesday morning, one of the nurses came to see me in my room and told me that my medication for my two days at home was ready for me and asked what time I would be leaving. No matter how many times I said that was not what my consultant had decided, the attitude was that the nurse who was at the ward round had written the consultant's instructions correctly, and that I, the patient who was obviously so stupid that she hasn't heard things correctly, was wrong. I insisted that they check with the SHO, but they wouldn't do this so I was left getting angrier as each minute passed. Things came to a head just after lunch when I was asked again when I would be going for my two nights home leave. I said that I would be going home for a few hours, but would be back in time for dinner. This again caused the nurses to tell me that I was to go home for two nights. Half an hour later I had an angina attack (more about this and the problems that I encountered in a later post) and all thoughts of me going home for any home leave that day were put on hold.

On Wednesday, I did collect some medication and go home for the night. It was not a success. I did not sleep at all, and by the next morning I was in a terrible state. I went up the road to catch a bus and make my way back to the hospital. That afternoon's ward round was almost more than I could manage. It seemed that the whole world had come to sit in on this one. I did a quick count as I entered the room and there were more than 12 people in there, and that didn't include me. Apart from those who had been present for the previous ward round there were a host of medical and nursing students. It was apart to my consultant that things were not well with me and she asked all those not absolutely necessary for the ward round to leave. This left just five of us in the room and although I felt less overwhelmed I was still very upset. When my consultant asked about the home leave and I explained what had happened with the nurses saying that I was to go home for two nights and me saying that was not what had been agreed between her and me. At this point my consultant went mad. She understood why everything had been so difficult for me and when she reiterated that what she had wanted was for me to try a few hours home leave before having an overnight home leave the following day. At this point the nurse(the same one who had been in the previous ward round) piped up that I should have gone home for two nights because she had written that down. I was surprised that my consultant didn't ask everybody to leave before she decided to tell the nurse that she had better listen better in future because she had never intended me to go home for two nights, and was perfectly certain what she had said and that I had understood it too.

This whole episode delayed my recovery. Instead of being ready for a longer home leave in a few days, possibly over the weekend, I ended up having to stay in hospital for another two weeks before I was ready for more leave.

Every ward round that I attended after that went without too much of a hitch, but my consultant always made sure that there were only people who were absolutely necessary present. No more medical students, nor more nursing students, and no-one who was not involved in my immediate care over the next few days.

I found out afterwards that I could have asked for just myself and the consultant to be present when I was seen, but like so many of these things, you don't find out until it is too late. I really believe that ward rounds where there are so many people present are not good for the patient, especially if they are distressed and have no-one who can be with them such as a partner or other family member. I likened it to a blood sport at the start of this post and it does very much feel that you, the patient, are the fox, and all the other people present are the hunt and the hounds. Definitely not conducive to a speedy recovery.

** Informal is a euphemism for voluntary. Political correctness causes the powers to be to use the terms formal and informal in place of involuntary and voluntary.

To be continued.

The End Of An Era

I listened to the radio this morning. It's something that I always used to do as I got myself ready for work and then on the drive in. But these days I just don't bother. However, today was different. It was Terry Wogan's last morning on the breakfast show and I felt that I couldn't miss it for old time's sake.

It's the second time that I have listened to Terry's last morning on the breakfast show because I can clearly remember listening to his last programme when he stopped being on the radio because he was moving to television for his chat show. In those days I was in the RAF and I had been unfortunate enough to end up on a week's duty over the Christmas period. The duty was such that not only did I have to be away from my family but it was a 24 hour a day duty so I was stuck at the base for Christmas week, patrolling during the day and sleeping at night, but there in case of emergencies.

My husband went to stay with my parents for Christmas, without me this time, but my parents loved him and he always said that they treated him more like a son than his father did (his Mum died when he was 10).

Anyway, my duty finished at 7.30 on the Friday morning and my husband came to pick me up, having driven up from London the previous evening, and then we drove down to London to spend the rest of the holiday period with my parents. And it was on that drive down that we listened to Terry's last show, first time around.

Listening today, I was reminded of that morning. Terry's voice has changed little over the years; you would find it hard to believe that he was 71 if it hadn't been said so much over the last few weeks. His humour hasn't changed much either. And it is obvious that there are going to be a lot of people in this country who are going to miss his cheery banter first thing in the morning.

But for me the biggest difference between those two "final breakfast shows" was that I had to listen to it on my own this morning. Since Terry gave up the breakfast show first time around, first my husband, then my Mum, and finally my Dad, have all died. And this will be another Christmas without my family around me, but for a very different reason.

Thank you Terry. You made the early mornings bright with your chat and even though I haven't listened to you much over the last couple of years, I will miss you very much when I put the radio on while deciding what time to get out of bed.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

How Am I?

I had a comment today about my last post. Bendy Girl was asking how I was now.

That's the nice thing about bloggers; when you're not feeling your best they rally round with lovely comments and send you virtual hugs to help you feel better.

To be honest, I am not feeling brilliant. I'm trying to take one day at a time and not thinking about Christmas if I can help it. When I was at psychotherapy on Tuesday, the first thing that JR, my psychologist, asked me was how I was feeling. So I told him. I said that I could feel myself going downhill as each day passed. We discussed it for about 10 minutes and then got on with the real stuff.

Perhaps, because he knew I was feeling a bit low, he didn't work me as hard this week as he did last. He asked how I had been after last week's session and when I replied "like a limp lettuce," he laughed. Little did he know that I had described how I was feeling in exactly those terms in this blog.

Today I have been delivering the items that I had been commissioned to knit. 'D' was absolutely thrilled with the cardigan that I had made for her new baby. We had a cup of tea and a good chat about how we had been since leaving hospital. She is a different person to the one who arrived on the admissions ward a couple of days after me, and being back at home with her new baby was all that she hoped it would be.

That took care of this morning, and this afternoon I delivered the cardigan that I was asked to knit by the lady who worked at the assisted-living accommodation that I stayed in when I left hospital. She loved it. The colour that I had chosen was perfect, and it attracted lots of admiring comments from those staying in the accommodation at the moment and from the staff who were there. And there is likely to be another commission in the near future.

So, I have managed to get through another day and while I am not exactly full of the party spirit I am doing my best to keep active and not think about things. When I got home and checked my emails I found one from my OU tutor saying that he had marked my TMA and it was ready for me to collect from the eTMA system. I got 63%, which is not the highest mark I have ever received, but considering I had to cram about 6 weeks work into 2 weeks, and that included asking for a week's extension for me to do the TMA, I am more than happy with it. It's just a short course, but it is helping me to get back into the swing of things, and as it is a creative writing course, there is no right or wrong answer, just how good your writing is. He liked my first and second short stories, but he felt that my third one let me down a bit. I knew that it wasn't as good as the first two, but I have to admit that I find writing fiction quite difficult, so to have written two convincing short stories has pleased me no end.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Tis Not The Season To Be Jolly

First I must apologise that the next instalment in Tackling the Mental Health Minefield hasn't been published yet but I'm feeling a bit low and writing the posts can be a bit of a drain on my resources. I promise that it will be out there for you to read tomorrow.

I am at my lowest ebb since I left hospital. It's not a sudden thing; it has been developing over a week or more but it is starting to be difficult for me to stop the sad feelings from overwhelming me. This time I am well aware what is causing me to go downhill and that thing is Christmas.

Every time that I switch on the television there is something about Christmas. If it's not advertising something to eat or drink over the festive season, it's suggestions of what you should buy as a present for your nearest and dearest, or what will be shown on television at Christmas.

This is all fine if you enjoy Christmas, but for those who are alone it can be a horrible time of year. It's just another day for me and one that I would rather sleep through so that I don't have to endure facing on my own again what is a time for family.

Tomorrow I am off to see the psychologist again and I am sure that he will be able to tell that I am feeling down just by looking at me. That means that it will probably form part of tomorrow's session and tomorrow afternoon will see me looking and feeling as though I have been put through a wringer.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Swiftly Moving Fingers

This post does not relate to my fingers moving over the keyboard of the computer although I am a pretty quick typist having learned to touch type when I was at school and having used that skill throughout most of my working life I can still type at something like 60 words a minute. Having learnt in the days of manual typewriters, using keyboards today requires little effort compared to those days and I sometimes wonder why repetitive strain injury is so common these days when we didn't suffer from it when we had to type with a definite thumping action.

No, I am referring to the way that my fingers are working on my knitting. I have finished the back of the cardigan and have now started on the first of the fronts. As this is only half the width of the back, and I now have row counts for the various sections that comprise the back that I can use to indicate how much more I have to do on each section of the fronts, I am predicting that I will get the first front finished this evening and probably get a significant amount of the second front done too.

However, while I am doing this knitting I am also trying to draft in my mind the next part of Tackling The Mental Health Minefield. I have started to type it up and I hope to finish it this evening or tomorrow morning at the latest. Thinking up the secondary titles for each of the posts is one of the things that I have been enjoying as I type them up, but the next post's title has been clear in my mind for a couple of weeks and I even spoke about it to Lily from The Student Doctor Diaries when we were having a chat over a cup of tea the Friday before last. So, soon to be coming to a computer screen near you will be Tackling the Mental Health Minefield Part 6 - Throwing The Christian To The Lions.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Computer Away, Knitting Needles Out

The short stories for my TMA are typed up and the finished document has been sent on its electronic way to my tutor for him to pull to pieces. I think that I have a book in me (they say that we all have one book in us) but I don't think that it is fiction.

I rarely have to struggle to find words when writing posts for this blog, but all that is written is factual and has happened to me or is me commenting on strange or annoying or funny things that I have seen or read. Much of my working life was spent writing reports, and these were often very detailed, technical and based on a great deal of analysis. It seems that while I have a way with words I don't have the sort of imagination that would allow me to create characters and situations needed to become a successful novelist.

I'm taking the weekend off from studying. I'm now only about a week behind everyone else on the course and I hope that I can make that up by a concerted effort next week. While this course is not exactly important to me, after all I am not going to be using the credit from it towards a qualification, it is an excellent way of making sure that I have something to focus on and put my energy into.

This weekend I am going to be knitting. I have been commissioned to knit a jumper for the grandson of one of the ladies who worked at the assisted-living accommodation that I lived in when I came out of hospital. I saw her at the bus stop yesterday when I was waiting to catch my bus home. A huge smile broke out on her face when she saw me and she enveloped me in her arms and commented on how well I looked. As we were chatting she asked about how my knitting was going and I told her that I had finished the little jacket that I had been knitting for 'D's' baby. Then she asked if I could knit something for her grandson, in maroon, and could I get it finished in time for Christmas.

I managed to find a nice pattern this morning and some wool which I think will look lovely when it is knitted up. Fortunately her grandson is only two, so it is still quite a small size that I am going to be knitting and with a bit of luck I should get at least half of it done this weekend. I've cast on the stitches for the back and completed the first row. Once I have finished this post I shall make myself a cup of tea and then settle down with pattern, needles and wool and knit away all evening.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Getting Into The Writing Mood

I didn't get much sleep last night but it wasn't too much of a problem because I had enjoyed some extra hours in bed yesterday morning. I was awake about 6.30am, I jumped out of bed, got myself into action mode and managed to be ready to leave the house at just after 7.30. Then it was a quick walk up the road to the bus stop to catch a bus. By 8.10 I was in McDonald's ordering a bacon roll for my breakfast.

Yes, this was a bit of a cop out; I could have made myself a bacon sandwich at home, but I didn't have any bacon and the bread ran out last night. I sat myself down in a corner to enjoy my bacon roll and to help pass the time I got a book of Suduko puzzles out of my bag and got stuck in to them.

The reason that I was on the go so early this morning was that I needed to get to the library for opening time at 9am so that I could find myself a quiet corner, unpack my laptop, course material, writing paper, pen, pencil and rubber, and then get down to the important task for the day.

I was late starting my present OU course (A174 Start Writing Fiction) because I was in hospital. By the time I was home again and getting into a frame of mind where I could realistically hope to make some sense of the course material and get to grips with what was required for the first TMA it was almost time to submit that TMA. I had sent my tutor an email when I was in hospital (yes, I did occasionally manage to get my fingers on a computer keyboard) informing him that I was a patient in a psychiatric hospital and that I wouldn't be able to start work on the course until I was home again. The first TMA was due in last Friday, but I negotiated an extension from my tutor and I had told him that I thought that I could get through all the necessary course material and do the TMA (that's five weeks studying and a week for TMA preparation) in two and a half weeks and that an extension of one week ought to be enough.

I managed all the reading fairly easily, and I must admit that I cheated a little and didn't do all the writing exercises because I just didn't have the time. I even managed to come up with possible scenarios for two of the short stories that comprised parts 1 and 2 of the TMA. The third part required me to listen to the radio and pick up something that was on air which I could use to write another short story. I put my headphones in my ears, called up BBC Radio 4 on my computer and listened to a short snatch of Woman's Hour. I couldn't believe my luck. As I started to listen there was a brief discussion going on about the difficulty of buying Christmas presents for men.

It didn't take me long to think up a little story about someone going to do the last bit of Christmas shopping and the difficulty that she was having buying presents for two 20-something males. I needed to write 500 words and they flowed from my pen at an impressive speed. As I completed each paragraph, I would take a break and quickly count up the words that I had written. As with all OU courses, the word count is important and tutors will dock you marks if you exceed the word count by more than 10%.

Trying to put together short stories with such a strict word limit can really exercise the mind, but this morning I managed to write three short stories, all of which were slightly over 500 words in length, but none of them anywhere near where I could have marks taken off. I need to finish typing them up now and then I can use the electronic TMA system to send the finished assignment to my tutor. I hope he is kind to me when marking it; I don't think I could cope with a poor result at a time when I am just about managing to keep myself busy so that I don't have time to think about being depressed.

(Just so you know, there are 741 words in this post)

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Tackling The Mental Health Minefield Part 5 - Please Sir, Can I Have Some More?

(This post continues the story from Tackling The Mental Health Minefield Part 4 - Life On The Admissions Ward)

The rest of the posts in this series will give details of a particular aspect of my time in the mental hospital. So the decision has been to decide what would be the first subject to be tackled. In the end it wasn't very difficult to decide; it had to be FOOD. One of the best blogs to have appeared recently has to have been Traction Man's Notes From A Hospital Bed which attracted huge numbers of visitors when he started showing the awful food that he was being served with in his long sojourn in hospital and it was reported on the BBC New website.

Hospital food is nearly always something that one endures while a patient; although you are likely to be given a menu card to choose what you want for your meals, the likelihood of you actually getting what you asked for and it being edible is not high. I should admit at this point that I am a bit of a fussy eater even when I am not in the depths of depression. I do eat a wide range of things, and I am a great fan of food from other parts of the world, but at the same time there are a number of quite ordinary things (cauliflower, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts to name a few) that I really cannot abide and absolutely nothing will persuade me to eat them. I am also allergic to a couple of things (tomatoes and pineapple) which make me really ill if I eat them. Bearing this in mind I was not sure how I was going to fare if I was going to be in hospital for a while. The longest hospital stay that I have had in the past was seven days on two separate occasions (surgery both times) and I managed to lose weight on both occasions.


The first meal of the day was pretty typical of what you might get in any hospital. The day staff came on duty at 8am and one of the oncoming team would go to the kitchen and get the the things ready for us, so that breakfast was usually available by 8.15am. There would be a choice of variety-pack size cereals, usually cornflakes, rice krispies, bran flakes and fruit and fibre. Hot and cold milk would be available to suit the individuals preference. I'm not a great fan of cereals and my choice would always be shredded wheat, but this was not one of the options available so cereal was off the menu for me.

The other item on the menu for breakfast was toast. The staff member who was on breakfast duty would toast a loaf of white bread and a loaf of brown bread. If you like your toast hot then you made sure that you were there ready to snatch some bread off the plate the moment that it came out of the kitchen. Usually there was a choice of butter or low fat spread to put on the toast and if we were really lucky there might be individual portions of jam or even Marmite. I have to admit to having been a Marmite baby so if it was available that would always be my choice of topping.

There was usually enough milk available for you to have a glass of milk with your breakfast (either full-fat or semi-skimmed) but if your preference was for a hot drink, then the vacuum jugs would have been filled with hot water for you to make a nice cup of tea or coffee.

I suppose that I should point out here that we were not allowed anywhere near boiling water, so we had to make our hot drinks from hot water in a couple of vacuum jugs. this was fine as long as you managed to make a drink just after they had been filled, but after that you were left with a lukewarm drink that you would throw away at home but which you drank thirstily on the ward because it could be ages before you could manage to persuade a member of staff to refill them.

The first ward that I was on had only plastic plates, mugs and cutlery; on the second ward the plates and mugs were melamine and there was a selection of both plastic and metal cutlery.

Lunch and Dinner

As is common in hospitals today, the main meals of the day were cook-chill prepared elsewhere and then heated on the wards. This did mean that the food was always hot when it was brought to the dining room. There was always a meat dish and a vegetarian dish, usually a couple of choices of potatoes and at least two other vegetables. Unfortunately gravy was often missing from the food delivered to the ward which meant that because I hate eating vegetables without gravy I often went without. In addition to the choice of hot meals there was also salad (always with tomatoes cut up in it so I could have that as I am allergic to tomatoes) and usually sandwiches (again often with tomato in them). At both lunch and dinner there was a dessert, usually tinned fruit at lunchtime but something more substantial and often hot at dinner such as apple pie or spotted dick, or if it was a cold dessert cheesecake or gateau. Soup was also available at dinner.

Although I am very definitely a meat-eater, I have to admit that I did have the vegetarian option quite often. The vegetarian sausages were really nice and so were quite a few of the other vegetarian dishes. Once everybody had been served, and we were usually all hanging around in the dining room waiting for our meals, there was the opportunity for seconds if there was anything left over.

The only days on which you could predict what would be on the menu were Friday, when there would always be fish and chips for lunch, and Sunday, when there was always a roast for lunch. The menus for the following day were put up on a board in the dining room after dinner so that you knew what was coming the next day. Even though I am a very fussy eater as I have already mentioned there were only three meals during the month that I was in hospital where I didn't like anything on the menu, and as these were all on different days, I didn't go hungry.


The changeover from day staff to night staff took place at 9pm and as with breakfast one of the oncoming staff would go to the kitchen and toast a loaf of white and a loaf of brown bread. There would often be cheese and biscuits and yoghurts too. If you didn't happen to be in the dining room (which doubled up as a day room on both wards and as the television room on the second ward) then the staff would go round the rooms to tell you that supper was ready.


One thing that was imperative was that the patients didn't go hungry. If you didn't fancy a meal there would be an inquisition as to why you weren't eating. the fact that there was always supper to rely on meant that if you had missed out on a meal you wouldn't go to bed hungry. The food was of a very high standard for hospital food too. I don't know if the same food was served in the adjacent hospital but one assumes that they would try to ensure that the food was quite good in a mental hospital because the last thing that they would want would be a schizophrenic going hungry and taking it out on the staff.

As with many depressives, I lose my appetite when I get really depressed, and I hadn't eaten a proper meal for more than a week when I was admitted into hospital. I hadn't stopped eating, I just couldn't be bothered to eat properly and I had been surviving on a couple of cheese rolls each day. I was encouraged to eat from the moment that I arrived in the hospital starting with the cup of tea and toast that Dr Hugh got for me. It didn't take me long to be eating at all four meals during the day and if I was hungry in between meals I could always ask for some crisps or biscuits (I didn't though). Unbelievably, I didn't put on any weight while I was a patient, nor did I lose any weight like I had on my two previous week-long hospital stays.

To be continued.

A Nice Crispy Cos

After yesterday's session with the psychologist I felt like a limp lettuce. I managed to last until 10pm but then I decided that bed was definitely the best place for me. I fell asleep within minutes of my head hitting the pillow and slept through the whole night, not waking until about 7.15am. I got up, did a few bits and pieces, took my medication, switched on the computer to deal with any emails that had come in and wrote an email to Mr Smiley. By then it was about 9.30am and I couldn't keep my eyes open. So I went back to bed and fell asleep immediately not waking again until about 1.30pm.

How do I feel now? Pretty good really. My mind seems to be working reasonably well although I haven't managed to do any work on my TMA. So tomorrow I will get up early and head to library and I will stay there until I have written my three short stories (each 500 words), typed them up and sent the TMA using the OU's eTMA system.

Today I am not a limp lettuce; today I'm like a nice crispy cos.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Limp Lettuce

I'm feeling like a limp lettuce at the moment. I don't actually have a headache but I have a feeling in my head that is quite strange. It's the feeling that I have when I have spent the day crying and I just can't manage any more. All I want to do is curl up in a ball and wrap myself up in the duvet and not do anything or see anyone. This isn't depression creeping over me again; it is actually the after effects of something that should help me.

This feeling isn't new to me because I have experienced it before. Then it used to happen to me on a Friday. Now it is going to happen on a Tuesday. There is a possibility that it will also happen to me on another day of the week and the thought of it happening twice a week is more than I can bear at the moment.

Today I went to see the psychologist at the hospital. I thought it was going to be a second assessment-type session. These can be harrowing and last week it did have quite an effect on me, but nothing in comparison to how I am feeling today. My psychologist decided that he had got enough information from me last week (and I think he has seen the notes from my previous psychotherapy) so that today we would start working towards finding out how I feel about certain things and what that does to me. I don't want to go into too much detail here because I am very raw still from the emotional pummeling that I have been subjected to today, but I was made to feel emotions that I have spent all my life keeping under control.

Psychotherapy is hard.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Computer Problems

As you all know, I am a middle-aged lady who lives on her own. My computers are very important to me because they enable me to keep in touch with friends and family who live far away from me. And if I didn't have ready access to a computer I wouldn't be able to write posts on this blog so frequently. These days most OU courses require you to have access to a computer and to the Internet and as I am a bit of an OU junkie I would be lost without my computers.

I have a desktop PC with a large monitor which I use for mainly for viewing multiple documents at the same time when I am trying to write essays for my TMAs. This makes it so much easier to include references in my work and to type up the bibliography and reference list that the essays require as I actually include them in the essay. I also have my laser printer connected to this computer; it just makes sense to do that.

However, I also like the freedom that having a laptop allows me. I can sit anywhere in the house with my laptop, even in bed if I want to, and I can access the Internet and get my emails at any time of the day or night. This is particularly helpful when I am having one of those nights when I just can't sleep because it enables me to play games like spider solitaire until my eyes get heavy again and I go back to sleep again. Or when I am feeling pretty low I can watch a DVD wherever I want.

I wrote about my new toy just over a week ago. I loved my new laptop which I had bought to cheer me up and as a Christmas present to myself after having spent all that time in hospital. I set it up on the Saturday afternoon. I watched a DVD on it Saturday evening. I used it to look at parts of the material for my OU course on Sunday while other parts I read from hard copy. On Monday evening when I was having problem sleeping I put on a DVD and laid back in bed to watch it. On Tuesday evening when I sat down to check my emails and the blog to see if there were any comments for moderation the laptop wouldn't work.

I checked it and the connection to the mains; everything seemed to be okay. Just to be sure I tried plugging it in to another socket. Still nothing. I thought that the fuse must have blown so I made a mental note to get some fuses when I was shopping the next day. My memory is not always reliable when it comes to remembering things that I have to buy, so it wasn't until Friday that I actually remembered to buy the fuses and then to change the fuse in the plug.

My new computer still didn't work.

This morning I headed off to the store where I bought it. I spoke to the nice technician and explained to him what had happened. When he plugged it in he couldn't get it to work either. So he got out a gadget and tested the power cables and charger, and hey presto, there was the problem. That heavy little black box which converts the current just wasn't working so I wasn't going to get anywhere with it.

Nice technician then checked the store computer, found the details of my purchase, checked that they had another computer in stock and went and fetched it. So I am now able to sit here wrapped up against the cold, ignoring the rain pouring down outside, and write a post for the blog on my new, new laptop.

And the nice thing about the experience was that at no point did the technician even hint that I didn't know what I was talking about and that it was because I was a woman that I couldn't get it to work.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Baby Clothes

I just love knitting baby clothes because they knit up so quickly. Today I have finished the first of the items that I am making for 'D's' new baby. She chose the pattern, the wool and the buttons; I just provided the expertise to make the garment.
The buttons are cute little rocking horses.
Apologies for the glare on the photograph. I would have taken another one, but the battery was completely exhausted by the time that I had taken these. I guess I will have to find the gizmo and charge it up again.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Tackling The Mental Health Minefield Part 4 - Life On The Admissions Ward

(This post continues the story from Tackling The Mental Health Minefield Part 3 - The Lovely Dr Hugh)

Having been so exhausted both physically and mentally from the day I had hoped that I would sleep through the night, but it wasn't to be. At 2am I was wide awake and in desperate need of something to drink. I got out of bed, put my cardigan on over my borrow nightwear and headed out of my room to the dining area in the hope of finding something in the fridge or at least the makings for a cup of tea. No chance; the area containing the sink, fridge and tea and coffee facilities were shut up behind a shutter. Desolate, I headed back to my room.

Just as I made it back in my room, one of the night staff came out of the office to see what I was doing. I explained that I had woken up in desperate need of a drink and had gone looking for something to quench my thirst. I would have loved a cup of tea, but I was offered hot chocolate instead. An hour later I was still wide awake and it was decided that it was too late in the night to give me something to help me to sleep.

I was reading my book at about 5am when I was startled by an alarm sounding. Why had nobody bothered to tell me about the alarms that were activated when there was trouble with a patient and extra staff were required from the other wards? The alarm went on for about 5 minutes before being silenced; all I know was that it was not my ward where the emergency was.

I should, perhaps, at this point describe the ward that I was on when I was admitted. As I have already said entry was through two electronically controlled doors, one at each end of a small corridor. Once inside the ward proper there was a kitchen on the left and a laundry room and a unisex toilet on the right. As you progressed down the corridor there was a television lounge on the right and on the left was a large open area with tables and chairs, a sink, a fridge, a table tennis table and a football game like those that you find in pubs. This area was our dining area as well as being the area where we could prepare tea and coffee. As one progressed down the corridor the Quiet Room was on the left and a Meeting Room on the right; then there was an art room on the left and the clinic room on the right. There was then a bedroom on each side of the ward and the last room on the right was a unisex shower. At the end of the corridor was the glass-fronted ward office and stretching out to the left and right two corridors, one of which was the male corridor and one the female corridor.

My room contained a bed (which was very uncomfortable), a chair, a sink, a bedside table sort of arrangement that was beside the sink and a fixed wardrobe with no doors and just shelves for the storing of clothes and other personal items. The door to the room had a large square of etched glass in it so that the patient could be observed from the corridor.

All of the taps in the rooms, bathrooms and shower were of a push button-type which meant that it was impossible to start the water running for a bath and go back to your room to get your towel and toiletries because the water only flowed for about 20 seconds. This meant that getting sufficient water into the bath so that you could have a half-decent soak would take about an hour and because it took so long to fill the water was guaranteed to be cold by the time that you climbed into the bath. Having a shower wasn't much better because again the water only flowed for about 20-30 seconds and trying to grope around for the push button when you are lathered up and have slippery hands and your eyes closed because you don't want to get soap or shampoo in them meant that it was an experience that you would rather not have to undergo too often.

Being in hospital, whether it be an ordinary one or of the psychiatric variety, means that your life will be organized by certain things at certain times throughout the day. Meal times are pretty much fixed and can be the highlight of the day. But it is medication times that are always the most important as far as the staff are concerned and their lives, if not those of the patients', seem to be controlled by them. Medication times were 9am, 1pm, 6pm and 10pm. This wasn't a problem for me because I have always taken my medication in the morning and the evening, and the times would normally be about 9am and 9 or 10pm. I have several things that are taken in the morning, a couple that are taken at night, and one which requires me to take one tablet in the morning and one at night. I am so familiar with my medication that I can get it all together and sorted out in about 30 seconds. I know that the staff have to make sure that they give each patient the correct medication, in the correct doses, but taking 5 minutes to get my four morning tablets ready for me to take was just a bit on the slow side. On top of this, the staff said that for the first three days of my admission my 'obs' would need to be done too. This meant that it took about 10 minutes to deal with me, and as there were an average of 13 patients on the ward during my time on it, it gives some idea of the length of time that the morning medication took to do. The other medication times were not so busy because most patients only had medication in the morning.

Life on the ward was pretty boring. There wasn't much to do apart from watching television, but I hadn't watched any television for weeks because I just couldn't be bothered and having to sit and watch MTV all day was not my idea of entertainment. So I read my book, and because there was nowhere comfortable to sit and read, I ended up lying on my bed reading. Fortunately it was a very thick book, otherwise I think I would have been crawling up the walls with boredom within 48 hours.

Regular readers will know that I am known to smoke cigarettes from time to time. I seem to be able to stop them fairly easily, but I find that when I get very depressed that I start smoking again. Although mental hospitals were originally exempted from the smoking ban, it now applies to them too. It is a fact that it is more than likely that 60% or more of the patients on a mental ward will be smokers. But on the ward that I was admitted to, one couldn't go for a cigarette when the need arose because we had to be escorted to the garden for a smoke. I had smoked quite a few cigarettes while I was waiting around at the first hospital while the inept nurse tried to get me a bed in the wrong hospital. When I arrived at the unit to which I was admitted my first need was something to eat and, more importantly, to drink. While Dr Hugh was making his notes he asked whether I smoked or not, and when I replied in the affirmative, he actually offered to accompany me down to the garden so that I could have one. Bearing in mind that this was something like 10.30pm and the patients were not allowed to go for a smoke after the night staff came on duty at 9pm because there were not enough staff to allow it, Dr Hugh's kindness and consideration was illustrated again.

I was to remain on this ward for nine days, even though the information sheet said that I would only be there for a couple of days until I was admitted to my permanent ward. When I was moved to the second ward, I was given 10 minutes notice and moved at 8.30 in the evening. I was told that I was being moved then because a bed had become available on the permanent ward, but when I arrived there it was apparent that this was a lie because there were two empty rooms in the female corridor when I arrived there and they had been empty for a couple of days. I believe that I know why I was moved so swiftly, but that is a story for another day.

To be continued.

Knitting Again

Can you believe it? I've actually started knitting again. I have to admit that I did have a few days when I first came out of hospital when I knitted most of the time but that was because I was in the assisted-living accommodation and I didn't really have much else to do. One of the ladies that I was in hospital with had just had a baby and she asked if I would knit something for him. She bought the pattern and wool the next time she went home on leave with her husband and I managed to knit all the pieces of the cardigan in a few days but it is still waiting for the button band and collar to be completed. I think that is going to be tomorrow afternoon's task.

Today, however, I have started knitting another little jacket for her baby as a present from me. It's a little hooded jacket which should be perfect for the winter. I only started it a few hours ago and I have learnt the 12-row pattern already. I'm a third of the way up the back already so if I get knitting again after I have published post I should be able to get past the half-way mark this evening.

Baby clothes are an excellent way for me to get back into the knitting again because they knit up so quickly. I am hoping to get both garments finished by the end of the week so that I can ring 'D' and let her know that I have finished the cardigan and then give her the hooded jacket as a surprise.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

The After Effects

One of Newton's Laws of Motion (I can't remember which) states that for every action there is an equal, and opposite, reaction. I believe that this goes for more things than just motion.

When I went to see my GP on Monday I was feeling pretty good. He has even written in my notes that I was the happiest that he has seen me for a very long time. When asked by him to what I attributed this improvement in my mood I said that I felt that the reason for this improvement in my mood was due to two things; first the increase in medication that had been decided upon while I was in hospital, and secondly the incredible visitor figures that my blog had started to have as a result of my having started to write about what had happened to me after he referred me for admission to hospital.

On Tuesday I went to see the psychologist and wrote a bit about it here. I was still feeling pretty good when I arrived at the hospital and I saw a couple of members of staff from one of the wards that I had been on and they both commented on how good I was looking. The session with the psychologist was difficult; these sorts of things always are. I found myself crying as he was asking me things and one of the things that I hate is being made to cry.

When I eventually got home on Tuesday evening (I'd gone to the library from the hospital so that I could do some work on my course) I was feeling drained. I couldn't face making anything to eat, so I just went to bed with a glass of milk and lay there reading a book. I'm not sure how many pages I turned, but I do know that I didn't take in anything that I was reading. By about 8pm I decided to take my night-time medication and try to get to sleep.

Sleep came pretty quickly, and although I did wake a couple of times during the night, I just turned over, snuggled further under the duvet and went back to sleep. Wednesday morning dawned and that horrible old feeling had returned. I didn't want to get out of bed, and I didn't want to do anything. I did try writing a bit more of Part 4 of Tackling the Mental Health Minefield, but although I knew what I wanted to say, the right words just didn't seem to come to mind. I decided that I should give Wednesday a miss and ended up watching a few videos and catching up with television programmes that I had missed.

It was another early night, again my sleep was interrupted with a couple of wakeful periods but I probably managed about six hours in total, which was pretty good because I had been getting only a couple of hours a night just a few weeks ago. This morning I got up early, got myself dressed and ready to head off to the library again. For some unknown reason the bus that I needed to catch has been a bit thin on the ground this last week or so. They are supposed to run every 10-12 minutes, but this morning I was standing at the bus stop for 40 minutes before one arrived. I eventually arrived at my destination and found myself a nice quiet corner in the library where I could sit down to do some work.

I did managed to finish the first block of material for my course. I had to read several bits more than once to be sure that I had taken on board the information, but I had managed to complete in three days the work that was planned for two weeks in the course calendar. My next decision had to be did I have a look at and start working through the second block, or should I have a look at the first TMA which is due in tomorrow. I do have an extension of a week for submitting it because of my having been in hospital when the course started so I don't have to struggle to throw something together for submission tomorrow.

In the end I decided that I would start looking at the TMA and I have started to draft the first 500-word story that is required for it. There are three parts to this TMA and each of them requires me to write 500-word stories or parts of a story. Five hundred words shouldn't be difficult for me to put together. Many of my posts on this blog are much longer than that, but they are about 'real' things and the course is about writing fiction. I realized that I couldn't think up things because there was so much real stuff going on in my brain. Going to see the psychologist has had a greater effect on me than I had thought possible. Suddenly as I was writing my notes and drafting the start of my first story, there were tears rolling down my cheeks.

I had deliberately chosen to write about a real event, but something that occurred before I was born. That way I knew that the story would not be in any way autobiographical. But just the effort of thinking about being the child who is telling the story of what they had seen in a street in a city started to bring things into my mind that I had wanted to keep well hidden away.

It seems that there are after effects from my appointment with the psychologist that I had neither expected or been ready to have happen.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

In The Psychologist's Chair

Sorry folks, Part 4 of Tackling the Mental Health Minefield is still being drafted so probably won't be available today. Writing these posts can be a bit of an emotional experience so I can't rattle them off as I do with my normal posts on this blog. However, I am posting about my return to the hospital today for appointment with one of the psychologists there.

As long-time readers of this blog will know, I was receiving psychodynamic psychotherapy until the beginning of May this year. This had lasted for a year, but I felt that it had not been brought to a proper termination given that new subject areas were opened up on the last session. It ended up with something along the lines of "well, you've had your year's worth of therapy on the NHS, I know that you never missed a session even though I didn't make quite a few, but anyway, goodbye".

Somewhat unsurprisingly this had quite a detrimental effect on my well-being, and I am not certain that it wasn't the trigger for my downward spiral into depression that eventually landed me in hospital. Anyway, the subject of this psychotherapy came up a couple of times while I was in hospital and my consultant referred me to psychological services situated in the hospital. I was persuaded to take part in one group therapy session while I was on the ward (there was myself, three other patients and one of the nurses from the ward along with the psychologist and his psychologist-in-training) but in the limited time available not much was really achieved in this session other than the psychologist getting to see me. Through a series of unfortunate circumstances beyond anyone's control (an appointment was made for me, but the ward staff forgot to tell the psychologist that I wasn't actually on the ward anymore, and then I didn't get the message about another appointment until after the event) my first appointment with the psychologist didn't actually occur until this morning.

As usual I arrived at the hospital far too early, so I got myself a cup of coffee from the WRVS kiosk and went into the garden to drink it and have a cigarette or two. Eventually I thought it was close enough to the time of my appointment for me to make my way to the psychology department and I soon found myself sitting on a chair in the corridor waiting for the psychologist to collect me.

We chatted inconsequentially as we walked to his office and on arrival he invited me to take a seat. His trainee psychologist was already seated on the sofa so I sat in the chair which was so obviously meant for me. I wasn't really sure what the purpose of this appointment was but it seems that the idea is that I am being assessed again to determine whether therapy is required, and if it is, then whether it will be carried out at the hospital or whether I will be referred back to the parent organization which was where I had therapy before.

After being 'grilled' for an hour and a half I was let free with an appointment for the same time next week and the knowledge that what happened in today's session definitely shows that therapy is indeed required. I left with the usual questionnaire about what my feelings about certain things have been during the last week and the request that I fill it in and bring it back with me the next time we meet. I've filled it in, and although I had thought that I had been quite reasonable this last week, especially having been buoyed up with the way that the posts about my hospitalization had been received, in answering the questions I realized that things probably hadn't been as great as I was telling myself they had been.

I'm supposed to be doing some studying this afternoon, but my mind is in such a turmoil after this morning's appointment that I am not sure that I could achieve anything meaningful. Perhaps I will have a change of plan and settle for a relaxing afternoon and get back to the 'creative writing' tomorrow. (I know that this is creative writing but the course is about writing fiction and this blog is definitely not fiction).

Monday, 30 November 2009

Tackling The Mental Health Minefield Part 3 - The Lovely Dr Hugh

(This post continues the story from Tackling The Mental Health Minefield Part 2 - The Admission Process)

No sooner than I had started to take in my new surroundings than another new person arrived at the door to my room. I dumped my bag with my coat and book on the bed and I accompanied the new person along the corridor. He asked whether I would like something to drink and it was the most beautiful sound that I had heard for hours. "Yes please" I quickly replied and I was offered some toast too. I quickly buttered a couple of slices of toast while my tea was being made and then armed with this sustenance, the new person and I went into another room which contained several rather upright armchairs and a couple of low tables and was somewhat strangely labelled The Quiet Room. I sat down in one of the chairs, my tea and toast were placed within easy reach, and the new person said "Hello, I'm Dr Hugh. I expect that you have probably been through all this several times today, but I need to ask you some questions and find out a little about you, then I will carry out a physical examination so that we can make sure that there is nothing physical making you feel the way you do". For the first time since saying goodbye to my GP I was actually seeing another doctor; it had only taken about 12 hours to get to this point.

While Dr Hugh had been making my tea and I had buttered the toast I told him that this was the first sustenance that I'd had since the cup of tea given to me by the lovely Triage Sister in A&E. So sitting in the 'Quiet Room', Dr Hugh insisted that I ate the toast and and drank my tea during which we just chatted intermittently. Then it was down to business.

There were all the usual questions as a full medical history was taken, the list of medication I was on was quickly dealt with because I had the two tear-off sheets from my latest repeat prescription with everything listed on it. This made making up my chart easy and it was done there and then with Dr Hugh asking what times I usually took each of them so that I could be given them at suitable times to fit in with the ward procedures. For the first time for hours I actually felt that here was someone who really cared about how I was feeling and wanted to make sure that they didn't add to my distress. After answering all the questions about my medical history it was time for the physical examination. We left the Quiet Room and stepped across the corridor to the Clinic. In here Dr Hugh again checked my blood pressure, took my temperature, and took some blood for all the usual tests. He was going to try to take the blood from my right arm but I pointed out to him that I had a really easy vein in my left arm and he would probably find it easier to use that one. On went the tourniquet, the vein immediately showed up and Dr Hugh was able to insert the needle and get his samples within seconds; he remarked how quickly one got out of practice doing things like taking blood when one decided to specialise in psychiatry.

To carry out the actual physical examination we had to return to my room as there was no examination couch on the ward. So after listening to my heart, my breathing, testing my reflexes (which don't actually react), poking and prodding all the other various bits of my body, Dr Hugh decided that there was nothing physically wrong with me. We chatted for a few more minutes and a nurse appeared with what was my normal evening medication. It was now almost 11pm and I was feeling exhausted from the emotional strain, I was sure that I would sleep no matter what thoughts might be rampaging through my brain but Dr Hugh decided that he would write me up for something to help me sleep if the night staff found that I was still awake an hour after going to bed.

There was now only one problem left to be solved. I had nothing with me other than that with which I had left the house so many hours ago; this meant no nightwear and no toiletries. But this posed no problem. the nurse who had brought my medication returned a few minutes later with a blue gown (the sort that is open at the back) and some green pyjama trousers (to take care of the problem of the gown being open at the back), a couple of towels, a toothbrush, a tube of toothpaste, and sachets of shampoo and shower gel. The nurse and Dr Hugh said goodnight to me and I was left to get myself ready for bed. I put my clothes on the chair at the foot of my bed, donned my strange night attire, and climbed into bed. My room was cold, but it took me just a matter of minutes to warm up in the bed and I was asleep a few minutes later.

I was now a patient in a mental hospital.

To be continued.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Lost Weekend

I have almost completed my first weekend at home since I left hospital and it hasn't been too bad although I haven't really achieved much.

Yesterday saw me going to collect my new toy and then trying it out. Today has mostly been spent sleeping. It wasn't intentional, it just happened. I woke early, about 6am, listened to the rain and promptly went back to sleep. I woke for a second time at about 10am, got myself something to eat, took my morning medication, listened to the rain and went back to bed (it was warm and cosy) and promptly went back to sleep again. I woke again in a somewhat confused state to find that it was dark outside and a quick check of my watch showed that it was fast approaching 5pm. Within a few minutes I could hear the rain starting again.

This means that I haven't done anything very productive this weekend, but at least I seem to have managed to be occupied in such a way that I haven't allowed the depression to take a hold on me. That has to be my goal over the next month or so and I am trying to ensure that I have as many things to do as are necessary to stop me having time to just sit and think. Unless I need to, that is. I am trying to catch up with an OU course that started while I was in hospital and that I have only been able to work on during this last week. It's just a short course, so that makes it more difficult to make up the four weeks that I wasn't working on the material.

The course is one of the OU's short creative writing courses, in this case Start Writing Fiction. I'm not sure that I have it in me to write a novel, but I am very interested in Creative Writing (it may even be why I started this blog) having spent so much of my working life employed in writing reports based on research and analysis of data. Fortunately, writing comes fairly easily to me (except when I am really badly depressed) and I have a fair grasp on the English language so finding words to express myself is fairly easy. If I'm analysing things as I write this, it probably also explains why so many of my posts are quite long.

So next week in between visits to my GP (Monday), to a psychologist (Tuesday) and to see the Home Treatment Team (probably Friday, but it's my call), I shall be spending much time in the library working on the course material and preparing my first TMA which is due next Friday, although my tutor has given me a week's extension because of starting the course late. Why the library? Well, if I'm there I find that there are less distractions to stop me getting on with the work than there would be at home. And to ensure that this all happens as it is supposed to I shall make sure that I get an early night tonight, make sure that my alarm is set so that I get up in good time to get myself dressed and ready for my appointment with my GP and that I pack my bag with computer and books so that I can head off to the library straight from the surgery.

I am so determined to try to ensure that I never again get into the state that I was in a few weeks ago, so I am going to make sure that I plan out the week ahead with all the things that I need to do making sure that there is never too much for any one day and that no days are left with nothing to achieve leaving me with too much time to think about my depression. I've done it in the past (I think that was what I was doing when I was working full-time, and studying for a degree at the same time) and I am sure that I can do it again.

And one other thing has been buoying me up over the last few days; the fabulous response that I have had to 'Tackling the Mental Health Minefield' and the huge increase in visitors to this blog. The next instalment is half drafted and will be appearing on a computer near you tomorrow.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Tackling The Mental Health Minefield Part 2 - The Admission Process

(This post continues the story from "Tackling The Mental Health Minefield Part 1 - The A&E Fiasco)

The ward that I was being admitted on to was situated on the first floor of the hospital. The nice man from the ambulance rang the buzzer at the entrance to the ward and because I was expected it took only a moment for a nurse to come and open the door. I said goodbye to the man from the ambulance, the door click closed and I found myself in a short corridor between two electronically-controlled doors being shown into a room on the left.

It was at this point that I entered virgin territory. I've been in A&E departments before, I've ridden in an ambulance before, and I've been admitted to hospital before. In fact, I actually managed all three one day in 2005 when I collapsed at work, an ambulance was called to transport me to hospital, I spent several hours in A&E writhing in agony while they managed to find painkilling medication strong enough to deal with the pain I was in, and then I was admitted for emergency surgery. However, even though I had been in several different hospitals, I had never been admitted to a mental hospital before.

I am an short (5 feet 3 inches on a good day), middle-aged (well 55 is middle-aged if you intend to live to be 110) lady, who is a bit overweight (it's the tablets that have done it, honestly), who doesn't speak any foreign languages (although I can understand what is written or said in quite a number of them), is white, London born and bred, who has travelled the world extensively but has lived her entire life in this country (always south of the Wash), and who was severely depressed, hadn't had anything to eat or drink for hours, who was emotionally drained and really just wanted to curl up in the corner and die. The nurse who was carrying out the initial admission procedure was male, more than 6 feet tall, built like a brick sh*thouse, black, from Africa and with an accent so strong that it was almost impossible for me to understand what he was saying to me.

I was submitted to an interrogation, the technique of which the KGB would have admired. I should remind you that I was being admitted voluntarily, there was never any suggestion that I needed to be 'sectioned' but you would have thought that I had stolen the Crown Jewels and then run amok slaying the Royal Family to judge by the manner of the nurse admitting me.

All the relevant personal information had been faxed through to the ward so there was no need for me to go through all that again (they also had faxed copies of all the stuff that my GP had given me when he referred me to the first hospital). So the admission process started by me being told to empty the contents of all my pockets onto the table in front of me. This didn't amount to much; just a few screwed up tissues and a safety pin (no, I don't know why I had a safety pin in my pocket either). I was then told that I could put the tissues back into my pocket, but the safety pin was confiscated. Then I had to empty out the contents of my handbag and the other bag that I had with me. I started with the other bag (it's a cloth bag that I bought in the Natural History Museum and which I invariably carry with me all the time) which contained a waterproof jacket (it had looked like rain when I had left home that morning) and a book. these were deemed to be 'safe' objects so I was allowed to put them back into the bag and keep them.

I'm afraid that I am a typical woman and my handbag contained lots of stuff. I should explain that I am a firm fan of Kipling bags, I love the fact that they are so hard wearing and that they have lots of compartments in them so that you don't end up having to rake around in the bottom of your bag looking for whatever it is that you want. I am quite methodical about where I put everything in this bag so I can always find what I want in a matter of seconds, but I was required to take everything out of every compartment and place it all on the table. Then I had to hand over the bag so that it could be inspected to make sure that I wasn't trying to hide anything. This was when I completely lost my sense of humour, which wasn't particularly good anyway. Each item was lifted from the table in turn and I had to explain what it was and why I had it in my handbag. The purse and the credit card wallet were fairly easy to explain, but I was only allowed to retain the purse (with the money that was in it). My tiny filofax with its attached pen was considered safe, so that also went back into my handbag. There followed my two Oyster cards (safe), my house keys (safe), my cigarettes (safe), my lighter (confiscated), a USB stick (safe), my digital camera which I always have in my handbag because you never know when a photo opportunity might arise (confiscated), my mobile phone which like most mobile phones also functions as a camera (safe), some of my daily medication (confiscated), two biros (safe), a lip salve (considered safe after some hesitation), my library card (safe), the tear off parts of two prescriptions which show what repeat medication that I am on (safe), a Waterstone's gift card (a birthday present from Mr Smiley) (safe), The remains of the tickets for Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera (safe), a mini A-Z atlas of London (safe), my driving licence (confiscated), my building society account book (confiscated), and a GTN spray which I have been told that I must always have about my person (confiscated). For those not in the know, the GTN spray is for use when someone has an angina attack and as I have an unusual form of unstable angina that can occur at anytime (even when I am lying down or asleep) it is quite important that the spray is readily to hand. This completed the examination of the contents of my handbag; the safe items I was allowed to put back into the bag, the confiscated items were listed on a form which I then had to sign.

Then next form to be filled in was one listing the clothes that I had with me. Bearing in mind that all I had was what I was actually wearing, this was a little academic. But the form was duly filled in and again I had to sign it. This finished the preliminaries, so picking up my handbag and my other bag containing my jacket and a book, I accompanied the nurse from the room and went out into the short corridor and was then taken through the second electronically controlled door and into the ward proper.

At this point the nurse actually introduced himself (I have to be honest and say that I have no recollection of his name and I can't even read it on the discharge papers that I have which give details of my progress through the hospital. Then he pointed out the TV Room and the dining area before taking me to a room labelled 'clinic'. this turned out to be a room with medicine cabinets along one wall and a variety of medical equipment dotted around. My height was measured, my weight recorded, my blood pressure taken, a test for blood sugar done, and then I was handed one of those grey pressed cardboard receptacles that you get given in hospital and asked to provide a sample. As I hadn't had anything to drink for about nine hours this proved to be a bit of a problem, but with use of a running tap I eventually managed it and somewhat belligerently handed it over.

I was then taken down the corridor and shown to a room that was to be my home for the next eight days.

The whole experience was disturbing and somewhat frightening considering the fragile state that I was in. At no point was anything done to put me at my ease, or to explain what was happening. I don't think I could have been treated more unsympathetically if I had stolen the Crown Jewels and murdered the Royal Family and was going through the detention procedure at a police station with a crusty old custody sergeant.

To be continued.

New Toy

I promise that the next instalment of Tackling The Mental Health Minefield will be published later today. My excuse for not having finished writing it is that I decided to buy myself a new laptop yesterday evening, so after having ordered it (and a few other goodies) from that well-known computer store that you find on most retail parks today I have been to collect it this morning.

Having arrived home less than an hour ago I am now trying it out for the first time. I have loaded Firefox which I prefer to use as my browser, found my blog, and I'm writing this quick post on my new toy before getting myself some lunch and then sitting down to complete Part 2. Once that is published I will spend some time getting familiar with my new toy and with Windows 7.

Friday, 27 November 2009

OK, So I Lied

Sorry folks, but the next instalment of Tackling The Mental Health Minefield is taking longer to write than I thought and as I am rather tired and I am about to take my evening medication which means I shall probably be asleep within half an hour I am afraid that you will have to wait until tomorrow for it to appear. If things go according to plan, I may even post the third instalment too.


I'll say it again. WOW!

Yesterday I had 66 visitors to my blog. Now this may not seem a lot compared to some bloggers, but for me it was a huge number. The best that I have ever managed before in a 24-hour period was 47, and I thought that was good. Strangely enough I had had almost half of those visitors before I actually published yesterday's post.

I have four separate ways of determining visitors to this blog and the figures for yesterday ranged between 34 and 66. I am using the figure of 66 visitors because that particular counter does differentiate between visitors who are first-timers and those who have visited the site before. It also looks at IP addresses as a means of identifying visitors so notes when someone visits on more than one occasion during the day and only counts them once.

Anyway, this huge amount of traffic has made me feel quite chuffed, and after the comments that came in yesterday, it seems that the posts about my time tackling the mental health minefield should be helpful/informative/amusing/horrifying for plenty of people out there in the blogosphere.

So I shall now get back to what I should be doing at the moment, which is finishing the draft of the second post in the series, rather than patting myself on the back because I had a good day for visitors. Hopefully I should finish the draft this afternoon and I want to try to get the post published this afternoon.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Tackling The Mental Health Minefield Part 1- The A&E Fiasco

Things had been going downhill for a few weeks; I was feeling lower than I think that I had ever done before, even in the first days after my husband's death. I wasn't sleeping; I wasn't eating; and I rally couldn't see any reason to carry on living. For the first time in many years I was having suicidal thoughts. Fortunately, I had enough of my brain functioning properly to know that I need help, so I made an appointment to see my GP.

His immediate response on seeing the state that I was in was one of shock. He had hoped on my previous visit that I was doing quite well after my miserable month of anniversaries and the cancer scare with the lesion on my nose. This was a Madsadgirl that he had never seen before; a Madsadgirl who looked as though she hadn't slept for a month, who walked with a shuffling gait, who has tremulous hands and who could hardly speak because she couldn't stop crying.

The obvious question followed: what could have happened for me to be in the state that I was in? The answer was simple: nothing! I had descended into the pits of hell with no helping hand, and I couldn't find my way out. Life held no future that I considered worthwhile and the result was that I felt that I just wanted to die. The thing that saved me was that I didn't have the courage to actually carry out the act.

My GP decided that I needed specialist help and a stay in hospital. He wrote the referral letter there and then, printed it off with a selection of other documents that he felt were relevant, and I was soon on my way to hospital. I reported to the A&E reception and sat in the waiting area for a few minutes before hearing my named called out to be seen by the Triage Sister, who was lovely and very sympathetic. She made a quick phone call to the on-duty psychiatric nurse and then took me through to a room specially dedicated to psychiatric emergencies in the 'majors' department of A&E. She asked me if I would like something to drink and fetched me a cup of tea. That was the last sustenance that I was to receive for more than nine hours.

After about half an hour the on-duty psychiatric nurse arrived and proceeded to take a history, which was not altogether necessary as my GP had provided most of the information necessary with the referral letter because he had felt that the fewer questions that I had to answer, the better. It should have been apparent to anyone with a modicum of knowledge to determine that I was seriously unwell and that immediate hospitalization was necessary. But the nurse's suggestion was that I went home and that the Home Treatment Team would be in touch with me in a few days. "You wouldn't like it in hospital" she said. I was somewhat perplexed because whether I would like it or not, hospital was exactly where my GP had determined I should be.

I should explain that our local Mental Health Trust has seven hospitals and which one you are admitted to is determined by where you live and/or your age and the reason that you are being admitted. There is some logic to this approach because it means that all the follow-on support can be arranged easily. The intelligence of the psychiatric nurse must therefore be called into question as she spent the next four hours trying to get me admitted to the wrong hospital!

During this period she left me in the room in the 'majors' department never bothering to see how I was or whether I needed anything. She eventually returned and told me that I could not be admitted to the 'M' hospital as I lived in the wrong part of London, something that was obvious had she bothered to read any of the paperwork that my GP had supplied, and that she should have finished work an hour earlier and that her colleague who had now come on duty was taking over my case. All of this was said in a tone of voice that implied that it was my fault that she had been trying to admit me to the wrong hospital and that I had personally was responsible for her being late in leaving for the day.

The newly arrived psychiatric nurse managed to secure me a bed in the correct hospital within half an hour, came down to see me to let me know and to tell me that he was now trying to arrange for an ambulance to transfer me. Three hours later, the ambulance arrived and I was on my way. Had I taken myself by bus I could have been in the hospital about half an hour after the bed had been secured.

I have to say that the two gentlemen who were manning the patient transport ambulance were very kind, helped me into the vehicle and out again when we arrived at our destination, and chatted to me during the whole journey. After having been left on my own so much of the day not knowing what was happening, it was extremely heartening to have such wonderful care from two people whose only task was to convey me from one hospital to another. On arrival at our destination, one of them accompanied me to the admitting ward and then wished me well as he left me at the ward entrance with the nurse who was to carry out the initial admittance procedure.

It had only taken 10 hours since leaving the GP's surgery to get me to this point.

To be continued...