*All names have been changed where needed*

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Ever heard that saying…

“What doesn’t kill you, can only make you stronger.”

Sometimes I think the people who say this are the ones who have never had anything in their lives that has set out to potentially kill them.

Those words, are they supposed to be comforting? Are they intended to give us hope?  Hope that maybe the bad days are behind us and now we can look forward to a peaceful and tranquil life?  Or are they words we use when there’s nothing else to say and we just want to make someone feel better?   

I bet you think I’m talking about Covid, but in the words of Alanis Morrisette that would be…

Alanis Morissette updates Ironic for 2015 as she admits song's lack of  ironies | Daily Mail Online

Today I’m writing about something I don’t usually get the chance to talk about, even in 99% of my presentations I don’t get the chance to go into any detail about it so maybe it’s time.

What am I on about? 

Well, when you don’t look after your mental illness, when you haven’t learned that making small adjustments to your everyday living can lessen the chances of a fully-fledged Bipolar episode; then the result – for me – is a strongly advised stay in a psychiatric ward…six times over.

When I do my presentations I have a limited time to tell my story. There are certain things people want me to address so I pick out the bits that are relevant for that group.  I always touch on my hospital admissions but I never really get the chance to go in to any detail about them, my audience knows I’ve been in hospital and they know how many times but they don’t know anything else about it.

In 2019 I got the chance to go up to Dundee and speak to a group of students studying Psychology and training to be psychiatric nurses at Abertay University.  It was my dream gig!  It was one of the top five on my “speaking bucket list”.  This was my chance to tell them the truth and hope that part of my story would promote change in the field they were going into.  I wanted them to right the wrongs that had been done to so many people I know and change the system because they were in the perfect position to do this.  So when I was asked to speak for an hour to an hour and half and told to include absolutely everything…

  • Childhood
  • Adulthood
  • Bernard the Bipolar brain
  • Treatment
  • Hospital
  • Discrimination
  • The present
  • The future

I went full pelt into it and sugar coated nothing!  I talked for 1 hour and 17 minutes and the video of that presentation is used as part of the course material in the psychology lectures.  The section about hospital is used a separate part of the course material and students are told beforehand that what they are about to watch is raw and can be upsetting.

I never, in a million years, ever thought my story would have a disclaimer; now all seriousness aside for a minute, it is kind of cool; I felt like one of those warning alerts that flashes across the screen a documentary starts…

Caters News on Twitter: "*Warning: Distressing Content* - Horrific footage  from inside a #Cambodian #slaughterhouse shows dogs being crammed into  cages before they are #killed for meat. 😢… https://t.co/JZcDjPQNVo"

But I guess this is part of my point.  I don’t get the chance to talk about it so people end up thinking that my mental illness isn’t really that bad and because I am who I am and I’m “high functioning”, then I’m probably only a little bit Bipolar as opposed to being a lot bipolar. Or…

“Like Stacey on Eastenders but not as bad.”

I love that line because whoever says is has never seen me in a fully fledged Bipolar episode. It just makes the feel better to think this way.

When I tell people that I’ve been on a psychiatric ward they assume one of two things… it’s like Jack Nicholson in One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest”

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest | George Eastman Museum

or Sandra Bullock in 28 Days. 

28 Days | Netflix

Well, it’s neither.  What I had wasn’t the worst, but it was far from the best.

This morning I was hoovering when I came up with the idea of writing this piece and I briefly wondered, is this what people want to read?  Should I even be writing this now that I work in a psychiatric rehab unit twenty seconds walk away from the place where I was a patient?  Should I post this on the internet for all to see?  What if someone I work with reads it? 

My answer to those questions? What I’m about to write is the truth.  It happened and there’s no changing that.  I created this blog as a space for people to read the bits I don’t get a chance to talk about in my presentations.  I wanted to show others that I have worked damn hard to become who I am, I wanted people realise that appearances can be deceptive and just because a person is high functioning, it doesn’t mean they’ve always been that way.

The dark parts of my story are not to everyone’s taste and if you’d rather not read about them that’s absolutely fine, I am not offended.  If you don’t want to know what goes on behind the locked door of an acute psychiatric ward, then you’d better close your browser now because just like the blog I did about poo, this is not for the faint hearted.  This is the truth; so fasten your seatbelts because I’m about to rip the plaster right off that wound!

I’m not going to write about the lead up to any of my admissions, in fact I’m not even going to write about them chronologically because it doesn’t matter what order they occurred; after that first admission, they all look exactly the same.

*Disclaimer – I am only referring to the hospital where I was an inpatient and therefore I cannot speak for any other or service*

When you walk through the door of a psychiatric ward it is like walking into a prison, the only difference is; you’ve done nothing wrong. 

Why is it like a prison?  Because the door is locked.  You can’t get in without being buzzed in and you most certainly can’t get out. 

When the door locks behind you everything you once knew about yourself disappears.  You are no longer a mother, brother, sister or friend.  Whatever job you did on the outside world is irrelevant because regardless of you being a teacher or a lawyer or a shop assistant, it doesn’t matter, between the walls of that ward you are no longer a person, you are one thing and one thing only…an inpatient. 

Contrary to popular belief hospital is not a holiday camp.  It’s not fun and it’s not relaxing.  When I was admitted because my Bipolar high was out of control I would ask the nursing staff what was I supposed to do now?  They said…


But how do you rest when you don’t feel like you need to? 

On the acute ward I was on I was stripped of everything that was a comfort to me.  I had no mobile phone so any contact with my friends and family was done in the allotted visiting times of 1-2pm, 4-5pm and 6-7:30pm when my mum came to see and brought my phone. 

I was a pro at clock watching, I would sit and watch that seconds hand go round and round until it hit the number I needed because visiting hours were like drugs! It was a hit that numbed the pain of seclusion just for a few minutes.

Everything I knew about home was gone.  In the morning I had to let my hair dry naturally because I wasn’t allowed my hairdryer.  I would ask the staff to borrow the ward hairdryer but it depended on whether they liked me enough to loan it to me.  I am not joking, there were countless times when I would ask to use I and they would say “its broken” but twenty minutes later I would hear someone else two rooms away drying their hair with the alleged “broken” dryer. 

I had no need for my keys anymore because the ward was my home. Even something as simple as a duvet is one of the most painful things to be without.  When its December and you’re sleeping under a window with a crack in it and one of the nurses thinks the five blankets you’re trying to hide under is one blanket too many, it hurts like hell to have someone take two of them away. 

If you like a hot beverage like tea or coffee and you’re used to getting up to make one whenever you feel the need then trust me, the reality of not having a kettle at your beck and call is torture because you have to wait for the drinks trolly to come out at the allotted times and if you miss it?  Well you’ll just have to wait until the next one and that could be two hours away.

When I was admitted nothing was ever explained.  Imagine when you go on holiday and you check in to your hotel and they give you a map and they say…

Checking in at a Hotel | Engoo

“This is the dining room, breakfast is at this time, the 24 hour bar is here.  You’re full board so lunch is served by the pool at this time and the restaurant is open at this time for your evening meal.  We also have room service available.  Enjoy your stay.”

No-one ever told me what time breakfast was, sometimes they’d ring a bell to wake you up, or an angry support worker would bang on every door or sometimes a patient who never slept would charge up and down the corridors shouting…


God I hated her!  Her middle name should have been Foghorn!

I was never told why the door was locked.  I thought because I was a voluntary patient I would be able to come and go as I pleased but I couldn’t and I’d ask the staff why they were treating me like prisoner.  I hadn’t been sectioned so why were they treating me like I was.  You know what?  I never got an answer, because I was viewed the same as everyone else, it didn’t matter that I hadn’t been sectioned, the door was locked to stop the mentally ill from leaving and I was mentally ill.

Technically the responsibility to explain how the ward works is down to the staff, as you’d expect.  But in reality it’s the patients who tell the new patients about the do’s and don’ts of psychiatric ward life.

Believe it or not every single person on the ward is different.  We might all have been pigeonholed as the same but in all six admissions I met an array of characters.  It’s incredible how you become a tight knit group, there is no difference between you and you make the strongest of bonds with people who you would probably never meet on the outside world.

I met so many amazing people but there are a select few who so many year later I still remember.  I remember them because despite their illnesses and their life choices, they reminded me that people are still people.

I made friends with Nancy* who was a heroin addicted prostitute, she’d been raped and all four of her children had been taken away.  On the outside world it would be so easy to say that someone like Nancy didn’t deserve to have children and that a prostitute can’t be raped because selling themselves is their occupation.  On the inside of a psychiatric ward you come to realise that not everything is as clear cut as we think it is. 

We would watch Coronation Street together, we’d drink tea and we swapped life stories.  I remember she once said…

“When we get out of here we should go for a night out.”

I remember thinking there was no way that would ever happen because her idea of a night out and my idea of a night out were probably very different. 

At the time Coronation Street had an impending rape storyline and as it played out on the screen I looked at Nancy and I asked her if she was okay?  She covered her face and cried.  The staff knew what she’d been through and they knew what we were watching but no one took the initiative to turn it off when they had for other patients.  I remember putting my palm out for her and she held on to it until scene had finished.

Woman Hand Or Palm Showing Up Something Stock Photo - Image of mature,  gesture: 113303200

Nancy was an inpatient for two weeks, she never showered, she never combed her hair and she had hardly any teeth, the teeth she had left were black and rotted but every single morning when I walked into the lounge she would stand and she would hug me and ask me if I’d slept.

Justin* was on a methadone programme trying to get a grip on his Schizophrenia.  The voices in his head were always worse in the morning and as soon as he woke up he would walk up and down the corridor banging his head with his hand trying to get them to stop.

He was six years older than me and he would ask me what it was like to have a job because he’d only ever been on benefits and when his voices calmed down he showed me how to roll a cigarette because I’d never smoked one.

One morning I woke with crippling anxiety.  I was completely detached from reality, I hadn’t slept in days or eaten a meal and I was confused about where I was.  I managed to get dressed and I went into the lounge. I sat at one of the tables in the adjoined kitchen and cried looking out at the people in the room.  I recognised them but I couldn’t work out why or who they were.  All I could feel was my racing heart, the bile in my mouth and my shaking hands.

Justin walked past the table and said…

“Morning Kat.”

And when I didn’t reply he did a double take.  He knew something was wrong and without any hesitation he gave me a hug.  All I could do was cry and I kept saying…

“I don’t know where I am.  I don’t know where I am…”

He waved at one of the other patients and they shot off to get a nurse, even though I’d already been ignored by countless other members of staff just minutes before.  It should have been their job to help but instead a nurse stood over me like the grim reaper and just said…

“What’s wrong with you?”

“I can’t do anything if you don’t tell me what you’re crying about.”

Anyone who has anxiety of any kind will tell you when you’re in that moment and everything around you is so overpowering, the last thing you can do is tell someone how you’re feeling and why you’re feeling it.

He stood over me for less than thirty seconds before he said…

“Go to your room and stop crying in the kitchen.”

When he walked away it was Justin who sat with me.  He rolled his entire days’ worth of cigarettes and told me about his girlfriend.  He told me one day, when he was off the drugs they were going to buy a house because one day he would have a job, just like me.

He spent the rest of the day checking on me.  He was no professional, he had no qualifications and he had more than enough of his own stuff to be getting on with, but he still knew how to communicate with another human being who needed support.

There are patients who help others and there are patients who wreak havoc when they don’t their own way.

Irma Batters Florida, Could Retain Hurricane Strength Through Monday | Live  Science

Jane* was one of those.  On the surface you could tell she’d lived a tortured life both of her own making and no fault of her own.  It was 2011 and she had a Walkman.  She was allowed one hours leave from the ward a day and one day it was raining so she saved 20 minutes of it for later in the day when it was less wet.  She decided she wanted to take this 20 minutes when visiting hours were finished and for whatever reason the nursing staff saw necessary, she was denied exit from the ward.

Jane was livid and I can understand why, because when you have nothing and the one thing you do have is taken away the only thing you can do is respond like a hurricane so everyone knows just how ticked off you really are.

I kid you not, Jane put her headphones over her ears and switched on that Walkman and for six whole hours she walked up and down the ward shouting, screaming, dancing and making herself known.  Was it funny? No, it was flippin awful!  Did she make a point? Absolutely.  Did it do her any good?  Not at all.

The history of the Walkman: 35 years of iconic music players - The Verge

I remember Doreen was in her 70s, consumed by depression.  She didn’t wash, change her clothes or go to the toilet so she constantly soiled herself.  She was given adult nappies but her illness prevented her from understanding how to wear them.

One Saturday afternoon and there was a group of us watching American Idol in the lounge with a care worker who picked the comfiest armchair and a foot stool with the best view of the TV while the rest us sat around the sides.

Enter Doreen, fully clothed including the coat she hadn’t taken off in four days.  She was covered in poo, it was in her nails, on her hands, up her sleeves and on her trousers.  All she wanted was to ask the care worker how to put the nappy on.

“Please can you show me…”

Well this went down like a lead balloon.  The care worker looked at Doreen holding a nappy in her poo covered hands and yelled…


The care worker dragged her away and 20 seconds later she sat back in her armchair watching American Idol.

It was myself and another patient who tried to help Doreen figure out how to put the nappy on.  We tried to make a complaint but you learn very quickly when you’re an inpatient on an acute psychiatric ward that your word counts for nothing.

In hospital there are those who probably don’t need to be there and those who have been in so many times they might as well stay there.  There are people who are the crutch for others and then are the people who just slip through the net.

Article 38 of Hong Kong's National Security Law: Yes, they want to get you  | The China Collection

So many people on the ward self-harmed.  I saw people do it.  I saw a man slice his wrists in a corridor and then stagger through it dazed and bleeding because he didn’t know what to do.  He was told he was silly. When I self-harmed I was told I was intelligent enough to know better, but mental illness doesn’t choose people according to their intelligence.  Trapped in a moment of internal devastation, mental illness doesn’t tell you the consequences of your actions, it simply tells you what it needs you to do. 

Wayne* came on the ward a week before I was about to be discharged.  He was the same age as me and even though we’d both lead completely different lives he had one of the kindest hearts I’d ever encountered in any of my six admissions.  His depression was debilitating and always caused him to spiral into destruction, but one thing about Wayne was when he was admitted into hospital he knew it was the last chance saloon and all his focus went into getting better.

He had a girlfriend and she was the only thing he ever talked about.  The thought of her kept him going and gave him a sense of purpose, a reason to get better.  He was hopelessly in love her and all he wanted to do was see her.  The only problem was, she didn’t want to see him. 

I had 24 hours leave coming up and that morning the two of us drank tea together and he said…

“Kat, she’s coming.  My girlfriend, she’s coming to see me today.”

He was so happy and when I left for my leave with my overnight bag, he smiled and he waved and I said…

“You can tell me all about it tomorrow.”

The following day I went back to the ward and I couldn’t find him.  When I asked the other patients who were now my friends, where he was someone said.

“His girlfriend came to see him and she dumped him.”

Wayne was devastated.  The staff knew what had happened.  They were aware of the situation, they’d seen him sob when she left and yet when he wanted to go to the shop they never asked him what he was going to buy.  No one asked him if he wanted to have a chat first, so Wayne bought a bottle of anti-freeze, he drank the bottle and ended up in intensive care.  By the time I got back to the ward, he was dead.

I like to think he became an angel and found a lady angel who would love him just as much as he loved her.

What I remember most about the patients in hospital are their acts of human kindness.  Their tender hugs even though they hadn’t washed, their toothless smiles and their innocence in a world that is far from forgiving.   

Now don’t get me wrong, as an inpatient I myself am no angel.  I can be difficult, head strong and non-compliant. I hold my hand over my heart and I can honestly say that I have been that person the staff roll their eyes at.  I have been problematic, stroppy and rude. 

At the time I thought it was justified.  I believed it was the right way to behave because there was something I wanted and I needed to have it and whatever I was, it was the most important thing in the world and the staff should get it for me right there and right then…even if the thing I wanted was just a calendar so I could see what day of the week it is.

Hospital has an effect on you.  It is traumatic and it’s isolating because when you go back to your normal life how do you explain to people where you’ve been when they’re too afraid to ask because you should just forget about it and move on.

Sumo Wrestler Cartoon Japan Japanese Wrestling Postcard | Zazzle.com in  2021 | Cartoons japan, Japanese cartoon characters, Japanese wrestling
SUMO – Shut Up & Move On

How do you tell people you can’t look at the lights in their houses because they look like UFO’s and when you were in hospital you thought there were cameras hidden in the bulbs and the aliens were watching you.

How do you tell people you can’t eat food like corned beef hash because it smells like the food in hospital and it brings back the same nauseating feeling you had when you thought you were being poisoned by the staff but you had to force feed yourself because otherwise you’ll be sectioned for being non-compliant.

How do you stand in front of a crowd of people and tell your story and still think to yourself…

“…you have no idea how bad this actually was…”

…because you still don’t have enough time to tell them everything that really happened.

Abertay University, 23rd October 2019

The reality of it all is, there aren’t enough minutes to tell the whole truth of six psychiatric admissions and what I’ve written is still only a snippet. There will never be a presentation long enough with an audience willing enough to listen because the truth is never ending.  Not only that, but despite being the root cause of every single admission, Bernard will never allow me to spill the tea on all everything I went through, why?  Because some of it is just too painful and sometimes the painful bits need to be taken away so that you can move on.

After all….

What doesn’t kill you, can only make you stronger…

Dedicated to the inpatients who kept my head above the water when I was drowning…2003-2011