The Ward

Being in a psychiatric ward is very frightening for so many reasons, not knowing what to expect, was it violent, medications given, and the unknown. There were about 16 patients on my ward, and maybe the same on Elgar, each with their own problems. Some were quiet, some behaved very oddly, some were loud and scary and a few seemed quite normal. The first few days were very confusing as I tried to fit in, and much of it was a blur. At 8 pm a nurse would bring a medicine trolley into the lounge and we were all called up and given our medication, the same for the morning. The first night he came around, I walked up and he told me I needed nothing, as I wasn’t scared of anything, so I skulked off, thinking nothing of the odd remark.

Author Darren Smith

The usual routine was a wake-up call from a nurse in the morning, then breakfast was on the ground floor in a canteen. Every Monday morning, an occupational therapist would visit each of us and give us a timetable of activities for the week. Which was held in a day Centre next door. I had no interest in any activities, for one I was not well enough, did not feel sociable, and did not enjoy any of the activities that were offered to me. There were plenty of activities on offer such as creative poetry, woodworking, and painting, but I decided I was going to skip them all and stay in the ward’s smoking room. Lunch was in the canteen and then dinner and then meds, followed by lights out at 10 pm. There was a small kitchen where one could make hot drinks and water bottles dotted around, but the consensus was that we didn’t trust if there was anything in it to keep us quiet, so they never used it. Within a couple of days, they prescribed me an ancient vile antipsychotic called Largactil, and its effects on me were profound. It took me to a horrible place where I felt suicidal, petrified constantly, confused, I was very depressed; I ached all over; I lost my appetite; I became more delusional and heard voices and was very psychotic. If I wasn’t unwell before, I was after Largactil. I went inwards and my reality, personality, and world shrank into a small void inside of me. On weekends, we could visit family but had to be back by Sunday night, I would spend these at my nan’s house, as it was much larger and had much more room.

Sonia visited me in the first few weeks and we sat outside in the beautiful hospital garden. The garden was spotless and very peaceful, with well-kept beds and benches for people to sit. As we sat there, I looked up at the red sunset and remember prophesying and Sonia saying that this is what I was like, to someone that was sitting with us. I also remember struggling to decide over a cigarette in the lobby. Nothing made sense. I had probably been in for maybe a week when one patient called Lawrence approached me in the smoking-room and offered to play a game with me. Lawrence was a man in his 60s, smartly dressed, yet disheveled. He told me he had taught philosophy at Cambridge and showed me his tie. The room got crowded, as other patients became intrigued that something was happening. He told me that there had been a car boot sale in the car park that day and he had bought some things and that he would like me to choose two. He produced two ruby wedding anniversary champagne flutes gilded with red glass around the stems. If I chose these, I would enjoy 40 years of happy marriage with Sonia. He put them down and picked up the next item, an old rotary telephone. If I picked this, I would always be able to contact my friends. The next item was a small lacy pink cushion with pretty lace bows tied around the top. If I chose this, I would hold the key to Sonia’s sexual pleasure. Last, he pulled out an old-looking scroll tied up with a ribbon. If I chose this, I would unlock the secrets of the universe and knowledge. To this day, I have no idea why I chose the way I did, maybe it was the heavy medication and the fact I was so psychotic but I made my choice, the telephone and the scroll. So maybe I should not be too surprised that a few days later word got to me that Sonia had left me. I look back now and wonder who would go to all the effort to invent a test for me, and why. The mind boggles. For a long time, I mourned for Sonia and I put her on a pedestal that was elevated to a ridiculous height. However, she was an 18-year-old girl with her entire life ahead of her and her drugged-up fiancé was being held in a psychiatric ward, so I cannot blame her for leaving me. Although for many years I was very bitter, I have now accepted she had no choice and I wish her all the best.

Lunch was in the canteen and then dinner and then meds, followed by lights out at 10 pm. There was a small kitchen where one could make hot drinks and water bottles dotted around, but the consensus was that we didn’t trust if there was anything in it to keep us quiet, so they never used it.

Into the darkness: journey into schizophrenia

Clive and Wendy visited me one evening, and we sat outside. He told me I would be ok. I just needed some pills. At the time, I thought he meant Pilsner Beer and asked him to sneak some in and hide them in the Garden for me, he laughed and said ok. Alex and Paul also visited me once; I was sitting outside on a bench with Lawrence and they came and joined us. Afterwards, Lawrence told me that one of them was an angel, and one a demon, I never asked which was which. My medication Largactil had one side effect that meant if I stood in sun light it burnt my skin, and 1994 was a very blistering hot summer. I do not remember being told it was a side effect, in my mind, I was being punished and was under the belief I was not allowed outside, so I did everything possible to not go out. The smoking-room was tiny, with grubby walls, eight seats, a single window, a small filthy brown extraction fan, a small mirror, a table with a radio, a picture of a daffodil on the wall, and a shelf of old books and a couple puzzles… It was a home for five months whilst everyone was in the day centre. In the evenings, other patients would come in a chat and drink tea together. I got along with Lawrence and we would chat about whatever it was we were psychotic about that day and believe it, even sharing delusions. One evening I entered the doctors’ ward round room and looked at the medical books on the shelf. I picked one up trying to find out why I was ill and looked up lead poisoning to see if my plumbing days, could have made me ill. As I was reading through, one of the consultant doctors came in. He was an older black man with dreadlocked hair. He told me he hoped I would enjoy my new position, and that if I ever needed drugs, that there were lots on the ward and to just ask. I took him to mean that I felt I was a doctor, as it is common for mentally ill patients to believe they hold secret jobs. As for telling me about drugs on the ward. I think they should sack him for negligence towards a patient, and I am so cross about this, even now. In my first couple of weeks, my behavior was very odd, I kept a used condom and believed it carried the sperm of the Messiah. One day, a CPN cleared up my belongings and threw them out and I was furious at him, poor man.

During my time in the hospital, my mum or Jennine took it in turns to visit me, every night, bar weekends, for five months. Without my mum or sister, I would have had nothing or anyone. None of my former friends visited, they vilified me. Thrown away like cheap garbage to be forgotten about. Every night they came, they would bring me a packet of Benson and Hedges Red King-size, as I had no money at all. I will never forget how hard it must have been to visit and not recognize the person I had become. And it must have been exhausting after a long day at work. She has told me that frequently when she visited me, I would not talk to her and ignored her. She said I would chat to Lawrence in an unfamiliar language that sounded like gibberish to her. She asked me what language we were speaking, and I remembered saying to her that we spoke in tongues. I asked her many years later if it seemed we were holding a conversation, and not just spurting out rubbish, and she said that yes, we were. There were lots of lovely characters I met during my time, like Kim, a girl struggling with anorexia. A very underweight girl, maybe my age, always friendly and smiling, clutching her mug of soup and struggling to swallow it. Towards the end of my stay when I got better, I got on well with her and I wish I had stayed in contact. Another girl who was in for self-harm, who was also an alcoholic, was very bubbly and broke out one night and took me with her. I can’t remember how, but she disabled two locks, and we snuck out for a couple of hours. She had hidden a bottle of vodka up a tree and retrieved it, and we went for a walk around the grounds whilst she got drunk.

My medication Largactil had one side effect that meant if I stood in sun light it burnt my skin, and 1994 was a very blistering hot summer. I do not remember being told it was a side effect, in my mind, I was being punished and was under the belief I was not allowed outside, so I did everything possible to not go out.

The World Cup was on during my stay and a lot of us would sit around the TV if our teams were playing. The funny thing was that we all thought we could control the match by moving certain parts of our body. So, if Beckham got the ball, I would twitch my foot to make sure he scored. I imagine the staff laughed at us all sitting there twitching in front of the football matches, thinking we had special powers. After a few months, Lawrence, Kim, and I were given private rooms, which was nice. But it was still very lonely, and staff would wander by every so often and lift the outside shutter on the door window to check on us, so no privacy. I remember lying in bed one night very lonely and needing a hug and reaching out to Kim next door with my arm, and I may be wrong, but I remember getting up and walking out of my room. Only to be ushered back into mine, I only ever wanted a hug. Every patient on the ward had a delegated nurse who looked after you and monitored you. Mine was a very attractive girl my age, Emma, who did not speak to me once in five months. I never saw that girl smile, not even once. Why she was a nurse is beyond me, she had the compassion of a wet fish. One day, my mum visited and told me to have a bath, as I was very neglectful of my hygiene. I asked for my razor, which the nurses kept so we could not harm ourselves. I went into the bathroom and lay in the hot bath. A CPN called Chris sat outside the door. I shaved, and during every stroke of my razor, she would say, ‘Ow.’ I have no idea how, but I felt I was being gaslighted; she wasn’t very pleasant. At some point during the five months, I became very suicidal. I walked to the top flight of the stairs and wanted to hurl myself down, but it petrified me that the demons were waiting for me on the other side and felt trapped and terrified. So, I starved myself. I did not eat for two weeks, my family brought me up a delicious McDonald’s, but I just wanted it all to end. None of them realized, either way, I was not drinking except for twice a day when I took my meds and was given the tiny container of water to wash them down with. After two weeks, a lovely lady who was in for depression and grief, who had lost her son, pulled me to one side. She told me he had fallen into the River Thames and drowned, and she did not want me to die either. It was a very heartfelt plea, and I found myself torn, but she was so genuine that I listened to her and took her advice, and began eating again.

Every Friday was a ward round. A ward round is where a large panel of about 10 professionals sit around in a large semicircle facing the patient and ask a myriad of questions about your mental health. There were doctors, psychologists, psychiatric nurses, occupational therapists. Every week, I sat in that chair like a rabbit caught in the headlights whilst they interrogated me. Did I hear voices, did I believe I was Jesus, etc., etc. At the time I believed I was being interrogated, and I was damned if I was going to break. I had no cause to believe they meant me well; they were never kind or caring or showed any compassion. It was a very frightening situation for anyone, let alone someone who is psychotic and petrified of everything.

For the first time in a very long time, I felt like a human being, not a tortured soul.

After five months, the head CPN, a lovely man named Brian, came to me and told me he wanted to try me on a different medication called Di pixel. He told me it was an intramuscular injection and was administered every two weeks. Within two days, the darkness lessened, and I talked more. For the first time in a very long time, I felt like a human being, not a tortured soul. I have to ask myself though, why it took five months of being on an awful antipsychotic medication that was not working. I would assume that after trying a med for a couple of months, if there was no improvement, you try something else. I don’t believe this was an oversight; I think it was disgraceful neglect by the doctors. I could have been well within half time had they done their job. Even to this day, I feel like I was a guinea pig in some kind of shitty experiment. I think the one thing I found the hardest during my stay was nobody on the ward cared. No one came up to me and sat next to me and tried to talk to me. I think all I wanted was a hug. I had hope though, and that kept me going, and that was that one day I would fall in love again and be hugged.

Excerpt from book, Into the Darkness: A Journey Into Schizophrenia, by Darren Smith


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