What It Was Like Being a Patient on a Psychiatric Ward #31Days2021 #Blogtober21

I’m still not too inspired to write. Today’s optional prompt for #31Days2021 is “patient”. Obviously, most people will write about “patient” as in the adjective derived from patience. I won’t. I want instead to share what it was like being a patient in a psych hospital.

As regular readers of this blog will know, I spent 9 1/2 years in a mental hospital between 2007 and 2017. I spent my first sixteen months on the locked ward. This is pretty much as I imagined it before I entered the psych system myself: floridly psychotic patients screaming and exhibiting other erratic behavior, staff running around trying to control it. Like I said yesterday, I witnessed people being secluded and being forcibly medicated several times. I was an informally admitted patient, so I couldn’t be subjected to any form of restraint. This isn’t to say it didn’t happen, as I said.

The staff/patient ratio at my ward was around 1:5 during the day. This means there’s not much time for staff to keep regular tabs on what patients are up to if they aren’t kicking up a fuss. I, in fact, at one point got told I would be put into time-out if I “needed more care than we can provide”.

After those sixteen months, I transferred to an open resocialization unit and later another open ward. The staff/patient ratio there was around 1:10, sometimes even less. As a result, patients had to help one another out sometimes.

On the locked ward, I had treatment plan reviews once every six weeks. This was because the ward was basically a crisis intervention/stabilization unit, where officially you could stay a maximum of six months. I must say there wasn’t much in the way of therapy. Of course, most patients admitted to this unit, suffered with psychotic disorders, for which the main treatment is medication. For me, it was decided I just had to figure out a place to go after pulling myself out of the worst crisis and, for this reason, I had mostly contact with the social worker.

On the resocialization unit, I did get psychotherapy. This was where I was diagnosed with (complex) PTSD and dissociative identity disorder in addition to autism. Thing is, once I moved to the other ward, these diagnoses were all removed. It was decided I was just care seeking and dependent and needed to be kicked out of the hospital.

We did have day activities most days on each psych unit. However, not all patients were able to participate. I, for one, usually was not.

In summary, my entire psychiatric hospital stay was one lengthy journey of changing diagnoses, social workers who tried to find me a place to live but had a very narrow view of what I needed, limited nursing support and hardly any day activities. I did start two of my three current daily psych meds while in the hospital. However, I must say, looking back, I hardly made any progress during those 9 1/2 years.

Time-Out Rooms, Comfort Rooms, Snoezelen® Rooms: Special Care Rooms in Mental Health and Disability Services #31Days2021 #Blogtober21

Today, I’m not feeling too inspired. The optional word prompt for the 31-day writing challenge is “Comfort”. For some reason, probably the fact that I’ve been experiencing a lot of flashbacks to my time in the mental hospital lately, I was immediately reminded of comfort rooms. Then I thought, maybe I could use this post to raise some awareness of the different kinds of special care rooms used in mental health and disability services.

Back in my early days in the mental hospital in 2007, seclusion or isolation was pretty commonly the only intervention used, maybe in combination with forced medication, on disruptive patients. I was initially admitted to the locked ward only because the open ward had no available beds. During my first night in the hospital, I heard a lot of screaming and was later told that the staff “handled it appropriately”. Another patient told me that the screaming patient pretty much lived in the seclusion room. I was pretty scared out of my mind.

Once moved from my parents’ city hospital to my own city’s locked ward, I again experienced seclusion as a witness repeatedly. The ward I stayed on, was the less restrictive locked ward, so it didn’t have isolation rooms. Rather, ours were called time-out rooms, but that didn’t make them any better to be honest.

I experienced one hour forced time-out once, three months into my mental hospital stay. After that though, it was used as a threat repeatedly. This, for clarity’s sake, is illegal: seclusion can only be used to avert danger, not as punishment.

About three years into my mental hospital stay, some wards, particularly locked wards, started deconstructing their seclusion rooms and repurposing them as “comfort rooms”. A comfort room in theory looked nicer, as it had soft toys in it and maybe some special lighting. However, them being repurposed seclusion rooms did mean they still had the vibe of isolation about them. Indeed, the few times I was sent to the locked ward for a time-out once at the open resocialization ward, I spent my time in the “comfort room”. This did not feel comforting at all.

My last psych ward, which I spent four years on between 2013 and 2017, had both a comfort room and a time-out room. This comfort room was indeed actually comforting. There was an essential oil diffuser, a CD player, comfy couch and a few other things. What made it different though was the fact that you couldn’t be locked up into it. If you were to be locked up, it’d have to be in the time-out room.

At the end of my psych hospital stay, I first learned about snoezelen®. This, like I’ve explained before, is a method of helping people with significant intellectual or developmental disabilities by modulating their entire sensory environment. I wanted to experience what a snoezelen® room would be like. My psych hospital had an intellectual disability unit with a room like this, but my psychologist refused to let me visit it, claiming I’m far too capable for this type of activity. I stood my ground and got a place at my first day center with my current agency, which did have a snoezelen® room.

When I was at my first day center with my current care agency, the snoezelen® room was sometimes used as a time-out room for me, in that I was forced to go in there when I was irritable and not allowed to come out. Though the door couldn’t be locked, it did feel intensely triggering to me. It is one reason I still struggle to be in my current day center’s snoezelen® room if no staff is present.

Of course, I must say here that an old-fashioned time-out room has hardly any furniture: just a bed and a stool, both attached to the floor, as well as a toilet made of metal. The seclusion room the screaming patient from my first night in the hospital was locked into, was likely even worse. Comfort and snoezelen® or other sensory rooms are much better. Still, the idea that someone can be put into solitary confinement against their will, is rather disturbing if you ask me.

Ways of Finding Inner Peace #31Days2021 #Blogtober21

Yay, another post today in honor of #31Days2021 and #Blogtober21! The optional day 3 prompt in the 31-day writing challenge is “Peace”. I have been very much on edge over the past couple of days, so I really could be using a sense of inner peace right now. I am not too inspired to write, especially about finding peace. To get some ideas, I reread my list of activities that give me inner peace, which I wrote about three years ago.

The activities could be divided into several categories. Some are spiritual in nature, such as meditation. I wasn’t a Christian at the time, so I’d put prayer and Bible reading in this place now.

Others are physical, such as walking or exercise. I honestly didn’t think of exercise as an activity to give me inner peace right now.

Then there are the sensory activities. I have a lot more of those available to me right now than I had back in 2018. For example, now that I have a music pillow, I can not just listen to soothing music with headphones on or through speakers in my room, but through speakers integrated into my pillow. In addition, I obviously have my essential oil diffuser and my weighted blanket now, as well as still having my sensory cat soft toy and several other stuffed animals. I can almost create a sensory room in my own bedroom.

Writing is an activity that still helps me. So does talking to my staff. When I struggle with worries, writing them out just for myself, will not usually be enough, but sending an E-mail to my staff is.

Lastly, there are of course mental strategies for dealing with distress, such as radical acceptance, opposite-acting or “worry time”. Unfortunately, I haven’t found many cognitive approaches to finding inner peace helpful at all.

What strategies or activities help you find inner peace?

Why I’m Content in My Current Care Facility #31Days2021 #Blogtober21

Last Thursday, like I mentioned before, I had my care plan review here at the long-term care facility. It was my first one, even though I’ve been living here for two years, because last year’s got canceled due to COVID. As we were discussing my progress over the past two years and my wishes for the future, I said that I’m about 95% sure I want to stay here. That’s huge for me, as I’ve been constantly on the lookout for another place to move to particularly over the past year.

This brings me to today’s prompt in the 31-day writing challenge: content. I at first wasn’t sure what to write about on this word. I mean, I wanted to write why I’m content living here, but somehow it felt kind of off. Then I read Lesley’s contribution to the challenge, Contentment Without Complacency, and realized that being content where you are doesn’t mean there’s no ground for improvement. So, with no further ado, I’m going to share why I’m content living in my current care facility.

First of all, I love the way my staff support me. As regular readers of this blog will know, I’ve had quite the journey through the care system. I resided in a mental hospital for 9 1/2 years, where there was constant pressure on meeting goals and getting better. Before that, I lived on my own and, before that, in a training home. As the name suggests, it was heavily focused on independence training.

For those not aware, my current care facility primarily caters to people with an intellectual disability. All other clients in my specific home have severe to profound intellectual disabilities. For this reason, my staff are used to helping them with everyday activities such as mealtimes, personal care, etc.

They are also used to clients needing staff to realize that correcting challenging behavior will not be effective. Whereas in the mental hospital, I used to be often left to my own resources if I’d done something self-destructive, now my staff provide me with affectionate care. This might be seen as reinforcing the behavior, but in my experience, quite the opposite is true.

In addition to liking my staff’s care approach, I like my fellow clients’ lack of social expectations of me. One of my fellow clients will occasionally come to my room asking me to wish him goodnight, but other than that, the clients hardly interact with me. One wish for the future that I voiced at my care plan review, is more interaction with other people, particularly those of higher intellectual level. I do have a couple of friends in other care homes that are part of the complex, whom I talk to when going to the day center or when outside. I however am grateful that I don’t live with these people 24/7.

I also like my room. Some staff call it an apartment, since I have my own bathroom and small kitchenette. I also have my own balcony. I honestly haven’t had a better room in any of my previous places in the healthcare system.

Overall, the reason I’m not 100% sure I want to stay here, doesn’t seem to have to do with my facility itself. It is rather related to my own anxieties and insecurities. Of course, things could always be better, but that doesn’t mean I’m not content exactly where I am right now.

Why Do I Need One-on-One Support? #31Days2021 #Blogtober21

Yay, it’s October and this means it’s time for Blogtober 2021. Last year, the prompts were based on song titles. This year, there are no prompts. However, Kate Motaung of Five Minute Friday also relaunched the 31-day writing challenge after a break last year and there are prompts for this year. The first prompt is “need”. We can do a five-minute freewrite, but I’m no good at sticking to five minutes or at not editing my writing.

Yesterday I had my care plan review. I was really concerned about my need for one-on-one support being reassessed later this year. Not that the care plan review would really matter for this or so I’m told, but now that we were all together (my home and day center staff, the behavior specialist and my mother-in-law), I wanted to raise the issue. It’s the behavior specialist’s job to write the reapplication paperwork and I questioned whether it sufficiently documented my need for one-on-one. To get things clear in my mind, I am going to write out why I need the support I need.

Firstly, I am blind and have a mild mobility impairment due to cerebral palsy. This, combined with my psychiatric illnesses, means I cannot move about outside the care home, or even outside of my room, independently much at all. This means that the staff need to be alerted when I leave my room looking for them, so that they can come out looking for me.

I am autistic. In my case, I get severely overloaded having to function in a group setting, such as at the day center. Even with noise-canceling headphones on, I still get distracted from trying to do things on my phone while there. Besides, if I do have functioning headphones, they will block out so much noise that I’m essentially cut off from my surroundings and can’t be alerted should something happen. This creates intense anxiety.

This anxiety also leads me to be unable to function on my own for long periods of time. I can, if I’m doing well, be left on my own in my room for up to about 30 minutes at a time. It doesn’t help that I know rationally that someone might be in the next room, because emotionally, if they’re out of earshot, they might as well be on the North Pole.

Autism also means I tend to fixate on routines. In my case, I tend to hyperfocus on the times my staff are going to leave me alone and this creates even more anxiety even when they’re still present. For this reason, staff need not stick to rigid rules of what time exactly they’re going to leave me, but rather to the order of activities.

If I’m left alone for prolonged periods of time, I can often feel incredibly unsafe and start to ruminate, which can easily escalate into self-destructive thoughts and actions. I may also run off in a fight-or-flight response.

I have complex PTSD, as well as dissociative symptoms. This means I can experience apparent age regressions. I get triggered very easily. Flashbacks, too, can lead to a fight-or-flight response.

Thankfully, now that I’m on the right medication, I don’t get as many flashbacks as before. However, I still do experience many serious behavioral issues that can be prevented or averted by the fact that I have one-on-one support most of the time.

I’m pretty sure a critical assessor would be countering that my one-on-one would not help me learn to cope with my anxiety. Thankfully, the goal of my long-term care plan is stabilization, not development. In other words, the original assessors for my long-term care funding did not feel I am trainable anymore. Otherwise, I would not have gotten approved for what is essentially lifelong care at all. The only thing is that my one-on-one care exceeds the care normally paid for by my long-term care profile. Oh well, let’s hope the assessor sees my need for it for at least another year.