Why I love being an inpatient
Posted Monday 25 January 2010
A guest post by Marion Janner, founder of the Star Wards project
Hmm. Perhaps the only uncontroversial words in the heading are those with a character count below 4. That’s 3 of them (I’ve just started ‘tweeting’ on Twitter and am now obsessed with character count as each tweet has to be haiku-like petite, under 140 characters. I usually find it hard to express myself in under 140 minutes).
Anyway, returning to my own character, it’s been totally fucked over in the last seven years by the explosion of borderline personality disorder. BPD is actually as common as schizophrenia but most people have never heard of it. I hadn’t until many months after I became inexplicably hyper-depressed and started, completely bewilderingly, self-harming as a way of managing extreme plunges in mood (I go on and on about this in my website Mentalising). And when my partner of 20 years walked out on me, a month after our civil partnership ceremony and having forgotten to mention her plans to me, the suicidality started.
You might be familiar with OCD-type compulsions – hand-washing, germ-avoidance, safety rituals. My compulsion to kill myself is broadly similar. Although obviously with the opposite intention in terms of life preservation. It’s pretty exhausting (not least for my extensive team of therapists) trying to contain this force and all gets very messy when I decide to take an overdose as a way of flirting with death and simultaneously gaining a sense of being able to control my destiny when I sheepishly land in A&E to get the overdose reversed.
So. The chance of a break from having to internally manage my self-demolition urges is irresistible. Butlins is great, what with all the entertainment, slot machines and good grub, but it’s a lot to ask them to manage my suicidality. Whereas my lovely local, St Ann’s in Tottenham, may not have the slot machines, but they do lock me in and remove all tolerable methods of disposing of myself. Such a relief.
I’m a bit of a regular at St Ann’s, and the familiar staff team greet me with hugs and welcomes, perhaps temporarily forgetting that I’m a nightmare patient for them. For example. I’m 4’9” so not very tall, but while being ‘specialed’ via 1:1 staff with me 24/7, I’ve still managed to unscrew a lightbulb from the ceiling and use it to self-harm. All very David Blaine and presumably infuriating for staff. Yet they manage to respond to my relentless self-destructiveness with patience, understanding, non-judgementalness (?) and to use an old-fashioned term – compassion.
I love it there. I don’t need to worry about work or my weird eating nonsense or looking after my foster sons or (not) answering the phone or writing blogs or going to meetings or acting cheerful. I know from my work running the Star Wards project that St Ann’s is scarcely in the Premier League of hospitals, indeed it’s going to be knocked down and replaced. But it has exactly what I need, and what my friends and family need, to keep me safe and provide a little break from the overwhelming task of keeping it all together. There are very few days when I’d rather be at home than in hospital.
Marion was awarded an OBE for services to mental health care in the New Year Honours list 2010.
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