Amy spent four months on a mental health ward in 2016. Here she blogs about her experience and how she is now helping to make improvements for other service users.
Amy is 32. She lives in Carmarthen in Wales and has a degree in social care.
There is a history of mental health problems in my family – my Mum has suffered with depression and my Grandad was the same.
I was weeks away from finishing my nursing degree a few years back when I fell and broke my hip. One hip replacement later and a heap of other complications led to a 10 month stay in a trauma orthopaedic ward.
I had always been the sort of person who had lived life 100 miles an hour. I had studied for two degrees. I lived and worked in Greece. I’d work 12 hours a day, doing two jobs. Now, suddenly, I had to stay in bed.
"That’s when my mental health problems started. For the first time, I didn’t just have to slow down, I had to stop. I had time to think; it was as if I opened a Pandora’s Box right there in my hospital bed."
I started having flashbacks. Vivid flashbacks of something that happened to me that no child should go through. I’d like to point out that this was through no fault of my Mum.
It left me feeling very numb. Looking back, I suppose I always kept myself so busy to block it out.
I was so relieved to leave hospital but just one month later, I was back in. This time, it was on the Psychiatric ward. I was absolutely petrified. I had been there before as a visitor – to see my Mum and my Grandad. But this time, I was the patient. I’d been having dark thoughts.
Two weeks later, I was discharged. I felt so traumatised by the whole experience, I went home and attempted to take my own life.
I was sent back to hospital – somewhere that felt friendlier and more laid back.
I ended up spending four months there. To vent my emotions, I wrote songs, poems and drew pictures.
Though I still have flashbacks and while I still struggle, I now proactively seek out help and support.
"The Mind Infoline has been brilliant. I have used it quite a bit in the last six months. I’d definitely recommend it if you are struggling. It’s really useful if you need to ask about different medications, where to get help, and information about your diagnosis."
Don’t be embarrassed. It’s worth saying at the beginning of the call if you’re feeling nervous. They’ll spend time reassuring you and make sure you write down everything you want to ask as it is so easy to forget. They can also offer wellbeing and lifestyle advice which can make such a difference to how you’re feeling.
And my care team have been absolutely wonderful. Thanks to my Community Psychiatric Nurse and the various therapists, I’ve been able to learn how to cope with my past experiences and the flashbacks. It’s down to them that I have been able to throw myself into volunteering for Hywel Dda Health Board and now I am a service user panel member. I regularly meet up with the Service Manager to discuss ideas and improvements and I’ve even been on job interview panels. It feels good to be making a difference.
From my hospital bed, I wrote a poem about my experience called ‘You Put On That Uniform’ which offers a patient insight. It has been put to music, is available on Youtube and discussions have taken place as to whether it could be introduced as part of the staff training at the health board. It’s even being sent to GP surgeries and the Royal College of Nursing.
"I am also a Time to Change Wales champion and offer training to groups around Wales. It’s designed to reduce the stigma of mental health."
I also spend time supporting West Wales Action for Mental Health (WWAMH) and the local hospice which has been really rewarding.
I guess my main advice to anyone would be - just because you have had a tough childhood, or just because you have suffered, or are still suffering, it does not mean that you cannot go on and achieve. The help and support is there – take it. You can get through it.
Amy’s poem is available on Youtube.
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