My admission was precisely that. A public admission that something was horribly wrong. But it took me a long time to get to that stage. I denied it, faked it, hoped that it would just go away on its own. Three medical professionals on five separate occasions recommended hospitalisation. But I shrugged it off, wiped away my tears and convinced them that I was ok. I wasn’t.
They call it a mental illness. But I believe in an inextricable link between the mental and the physical. Just as a physical illness may spawn mental distress, a mental illness can have profoundly physical side effects. In fact, to call it a mental illness surely denies how physical the mental can become. Before my hospitalisation I had shook, vomited, hyperventilated, lost weight and bled. But nothing like what was about to happen.
One day, a few weeks before I was admitted to the mother and baby unit, I was suddenly struck down with the most unbelievable abdominal pain. I managed to stumble into the living room where Hubster sat, and cry out ‘something is not right!’ before collapsing. The pain was intense, comparable only to childbirth. I screamed at the top of my lungs. I lost all feeling in my limbs.
I spent four days in hospital in a narcotic haze. Eventually I underwent an investigative surgery, and the usual post operative pain was a blessed relief after the horror of the previous pain. The surgery showed nothing except some pre-existing endometriosis. Nothing ‘physical’ to explain my phantom pain.
I know now that that hospitalisation was the pivotal point in my journey. It was the moment where my body simply shut down, the mental strain having been too much for too long. It was the moment where I realized something was very wrong. I screamed out of physical pain, but also out of mental torment. What was mental had finally become physical. Becoming physical was the only way I was spurred to seek help.
The problem was that just because I was ready to accept help, didn’t mean I would be offered it. I paid a visit to my GP and psychologist, and they both agreed that I needed urgent assistance. However, despite popular belief, unless you are outwardly behaving in an extreme manner, psychiatric hospitalisation in the public sector is remarkably difficult to achieve. To obtain a referral to the MBU it seemed I had to be first referred to my local mental health service. From there I would be assessed by a community officer, who would determine whether I needed a psychiatric assessment. The psychiatrist, who would be meeting me for the first time, and would only talk to me for an hour, would have complete power over my treatment plan.
I was frustrated by the seemed bureaucracy of it all, but I comforted myself by believing I would be receiving help within days. Instead I was offered an appointment for a weeks time. Now a week may seem like nothing, but by this point I was deep within a mixed state, and I was desperate.
Psychosis had set in and I peered out the windows, sure that the police were after me. I searched Hubster’s desk, his belongings for evidence. Evidence of what? I’m not sure. I paced around the house, unable to keep still, forgetting to eat, forgetting to sleep. Hubster had locked away anything I could use to hurt myself, so I sat on the bathroom floor staring at the toilet cleaner, wondering if it would do the job. I kept crying to Hubster “I can’t do this, I can’t wait a week, I can’t keep going”. Looking back, I don’t know how I did.
But I didn’t have much of a choice. I could present to the emergency department, but I knew I would be hospitalised in a general psychiatric ward without Master D. My best option was to wait it out, to get through the days, and to get a referral to the MBU.
Finally the day of my appointment arrived and I sat down in the psychiatrists office prepared to be as open and honest as I could. Calmly, I told him everything that had been happening, all the symptoms I had. I didn’t mince my words, and I didn’t leave anything out. At the end of it all he looked at me and said “I don’t think you need to be hospitalised, Rachael. I think your problems are to do with sleep deprivation, I can prescribe some pills to help you sleep”
I was stunned. Had he not read the referral from my GP and psychologist, which clearly stated “it is in my opinion that Rachael be hospitalised”. ? Had he not just listened to all the symptoms I had described? I tried to tell him that I didn’t think my problems were to do with sleep, he told me that I was “overriding his professional opinion”. At that moment I realised that if I wanted help for being ‘crazy’, I’d have to stop acting sane. So I let the psychiatrist have it. I raised my voice and argued and cried. Soon enough he was printing out referrals and calling up the hospital. Funny that. Before I left he told me that he thought I would only be in the MBU for a few days, a week tops. Of course ;).
Finally a few torturous days later I walked into the MBU for an assessment, wondering if they were going to turn me away. I can’t remember what I said, or what my doctor said, or how I acted. All I remember is my doctor standing up and saying “You clearly need to be hospitalised Rachael, we have a bed ready for you down the hall”. After the appointment with the psychiatrist I was so doubtful that I would be admitted to the MBU that I hadn’t even packed a bag. So we needed to go home first and collect some things.
Finally I lay down on the hospital bed. It was the end, or was it the beginning? I had done it, I was safe. I was relieved, scared, and everything in between. But most of all I was exhausted. I went to sleep – for the best part of three days I’m told.
And that’s all I can remember – for the first 3 weeks anyway.