Day Hospital (or ‘is a cauliflower a vegetable?’)

downloadA Day Hospital is where you go when you’re struggling in the community but not quite unwell enough to be in Hospital. You go during the day and are encouraged to partake in groups which in my case ranged from patronising to mildly interesting. The idea is to keep you occupied and safe during the day time when you might otherwise be alone. Hospitals in every setting have the potential to cause more harm than good and like MRSA in a General Hospital I found depression was easily spread.

As I lived miles away from the Hospital I had to be collected every morning by a paramedic or volunteer driver to take a 40 minute journey through picturesque countryside which I didn’t appreciate. The ambulances were largely used to take the elderly and cancer patients to the General Hospital which always made me feel that little bit worse about myself- here were people who didn’t have a choice to live and there was me attempting to opt out of my own accord. Most days I had the same two drivers who I absolutely loved, one was a guy about my own age and the other was a man in his fifties who had decided to skip conventional life and travel the world. He would tell me colourful stories of his adventures as we careered down windy roads with patients in the back looking like they were about to hurl. It was great to be able to get up and get out the house, mornings were the worst waking up and realising I was still ill and losing hope for yet another day.

By the time I arrived at hospital I was a little manic; I really enjoyed the school like environment and relished the opportunity to be a little swot. At that stage I was rarely attending University and was struggling to complete my final year assessments, Day Hospital was an opportunity to be an A* student again, granted I was studying the basics of how to function in the real world but darn it I was going to smash it. It was in a group session on my first day that I was diagnosed with Bipolar, my Psychiatrist came into the group, saw me frantically scribbling notes and chatting away and promptly diagnosed me on the spot; he had expected a clinically depressed suicidal patient and what he got was a non-stop talking, overly excitable manic student.

I found the groups utterly ridiculous and patronising and staff seemed to assume there was a direct link between my wellness and my intelligence. Now I can see that they were trying to cater for the majority who needed a softly softly approach but I found the difference between writing a 10,000 word dissertation at home and identifying a vegetable at Hospital slightly jarring. Groups included Meditation (not too bad), Art Club (ok – there is a certain lack of quality which can only be achieved by using poster paint) and Health Class. Health Class summed up Day Hospital for me when we were asked whether a cauliflower was a fruit or a vegetable.

I don’t know if it’s the same for all of these places but there was a really depressing air to the place, like everyone’s misery had stuck itself onto the walls. Similar to those self-help groups delivered in dingy, freezing Church halls you paid 20p for a cup of tea in a polystyrene cup and let your mood adjust to its new setting like an indoor pathetic fallacy. The walls were a dingy off white and covered in scuff marks and handprints from chairs being thrown and agitation being smeared. Posters of Ruby Wax and Stephen Fry littered the walls and were largely torn in protest, we didn’t need optimistic sound bites we needed fixing. If you didn’t know better you would think it was some kind of community day centre but then you would notice the telly is strapped down to the wall, the drawers and cupboards in the kitchen are locked and there are no scissors.

Everyone patronised me and talked about me and to me like I was stupid. My Care Worker looked about 12 but was actually 22, fresh out of training and seemed to be reading from some invisible text book every time he spoke- I chose to ignore pretty much everything he said. A typical interaction would consist of him requesting I stop self-harming, me refusing, him giving me a leaflet on alternatives to self-harm, me accepting said leaflet, me leaving to get tea. There was a mutual understanding that he had no idea what to do with me but at the very least he needed to cover his own ass and if this meant giving me a leaflet that would later be discovered in the kitchen bin covered in tea bags then so be it.

When you are in a setting where your daily activities are not only dictated by someone else but involve poster paint and vegetables there can only be one outcome – a staged sit in over your right to watch Jeremey Kyle. Jeremy Kyle had been banned from the communal TV room due to the concern it could trigger upsetting memories for patients, this did not sit well with us. We were mentally unwell and some of us believed we were the embodiment of the devil but God damnit we had the right to watch a TV programme based purely on the ridiculing of the working class.  A sit in was organised in protest (headed by myself of course) and it had the desired outcome, we sat and watched Jeremy Kyle in the mornings with cups of tea and coffee and wondered whether our lives were more of less depressing than the contestants.

All of this aside the Day Hospital achieved its basic principle, it kept me safe. It restricted the amount of crying that could be achieved before 9am by getting me up and out the house nice and early and kept me distracted by providing wonderful NHS funded chauffeurs for the journey. It gave me something to do during the day when I was frustrated at my inability to write a 1000 word essay and it provided me with a routine and structure that had previously been non-existent. At this point I had gained 2 stone, hacked off my hair and developed large ringworm over my face and body and when you look that way there’s something reassuring about being around people who haven’t washed and smell like alcohol. I should also note that it gave my family a well-deserved break and peace of mind that they wouldn’t return to find me dead or cowering under a table from the lamp that was controlling me. In the end I would give it an 8/10 for distraction and a 2/10 for education.

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