Living with mental illness: Being admitted to a psych unit

Fiona Kennedy talks about the times she was an inpatient in the psychiatric unit at Galway University Hospital

Living with mental illness: Being admitted to a psych unit

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I’ve been an inpatient in the psychiatric unit in Galway University Hospital twice.

The first time was a flying visit, by my own choice but against the better judgement of my psychiatrist who of course, turned out to be right. I had been waiting for an appointment due to severe and worsening depression, but things had reached a head and my GP sent me through A&E for an emergency assessment.

My daughter, who was just one and a half at the time, had come down with chicken pox and my husband had to stay with her. We had no family close by and at the time no one was aware of the difficulties I was having, so I ended up driving in by myself which was just surreal.

I remember thinking that if I was capable of driving there was really no point in my going to hospital, surely that was evidence things weren’t as bad as we thought.

(My husband later admitted he was tracking me on Google Latitude because he didn’t believe that I would actually go and was scared of what I might do.)

I was seen very quickly in A&E, and brought over to the psychiatric unit to meet a doctor, escorted by a nurse and a security guard. I remember having the most ridiculous thoughts – should I be trying to make conversation with them? Was I being incredibly rude?

I had to wait in the unit for a while before there was a doctor available. I had calmed down to some extent at this stage and was already deciding this was a bad plan.

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I don’t remember a whole lot about meeting the doctor, other than a lot of crying on my part, accompanied at the same time by a sense that I was completely over exaggerating and really shouldn’t have been wasting his time.

However, he arranged for admission and I was brought down to the ward. I was shown to a bed and then I was more or less left alone.

I had no idea what to do, where to put myself, how to be. Was I supposed to get into bed? Sit down? Lie down? I recall spending an inordinate amount of time wondering whether I should take my shoes off to put my feet on the bed.

Mostly I just cried. I felt like such a failure.

A while later a nurse came back to check through my stuff, take note of my belongings, and remove anything I could hurt myself with – medication, shoe laces, even my belt was taken. This really shocked me.

I was given medication – something to calm me down – and I slept.

The next morning, I woke up feeling great! I couldn’t see the sense in my being there at all, it seemed such a huge fuss over nothing. I was given more medication, slept again, and woke feeling even better. It didn’t occur to me that this may have been due to the relief of finally having admitted to how bad things were, or possibly because of the calming effects of the medication.

I saw the consultant that morning, and went to great lengths to persuade her of how well I was, that I didn’t need to be there, that everything was fine. She eventually agreed that I could go home, on condition that I come back for a follow up appointment the next week. And that was that.

I packed my bags, called my husband to tell him it was all a mistake, and headed home. I think it took me about half an hour, tops, to realise that leaving was, in fact, the mistake.

Eight months later I was admitted again. This time was very, very different. Before I was an emotional wreck, whereas this time I was an emotionless zombie. I remember precious little about the days preceding admission, but one thing stands out very clearly – as I got into bed the night before, I remember thinking "F*ck it. I don’t care anymore. I cannot do this anymore".

Quite simply, I gave up.

The following morning, I couldn’t get up. I just kept my eyes closed, pulled the covers over my head and stayed there.

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Eventually my husband dragged me out of bed at about 11. He’d spoken to my GP and they had decided that it was time for A&E again as things had gone too far. I’m very lucky in that I have a wonderful GP who takes his time and knows me well. He told me that the last time I’d seen him, a few days previously, I had scared him because I said I didn’t care anymore.

He’s not scared by people who talk about suicide, but he is scared when patients say they don’t care. So, he gave me a referral letter and off we went.

This time, my husband was able to come with me, and I’m so grateful he was there. I was actually incapable of expressing myself properly at this stage and he had to do the talking for me.

Again, we got through A&E very quickly, and there was a psychiatrist available immediately as my GP had rung ahead to let them know we were on the way. Back down to the ward we went, this time with the realisation that I had to stay.

In a strange way, it was a relief. There could be no denying how bad things were any more. I wasn’t making it all up, this was real and I desperately needed help. We desperately needed help.

My husband was at the end of his rope trying to figure out what to do, and I was gone far beyond knowing.

This was the only option left open to us, we had tried everything else. So I stayed.


Fiona Kennedy writes regularly about mental health issues on her blog

If you are affected by any of the issues raised in this article you can contact Samaritans free any time from any phone on 116 123 or visit www.samaritans.ieto find details of your nearest branch. You can also find online information