Imagine your life is a board game. Part of how well you do is down to skill, part is down to luck. Through sheer bad luck you land on a square that says: Mental illness – severe enough to need hospitalisation. You must exit the game immediately and sit out for an unknown length of time.
So, as of right now you have to stop work, and no you can’t give your boss any idea when you will be back. You have to move out of home and stop looking after your children, and no you can’t tell them when you will be home again. If you have a partner, any jobs you have been doing to run the household or look after the children will be handed to them. Too bad if they already have a full-time job. Everything in your life stops. For everyone else the game continues.Then on a random day, several weeks or months later, you are notified you can re-enter the game. You attempt to take the position on the board you occupied before you were unceremoniously booted out. The universe running this game shakes with laughter:
‘No, no, no, no, no silly. You don’t have a job anymore. Or your partner has moved on with someone else. Or your family thinks it best for your mother in law/aunty/someone you don’t know to look after your children now. Or you have to find a new place to live. Or – see the exhaustion on your partner’s face? You put that there. Or – your children have jam donuts for breakfast every morning now, and the toilets have not been cleaned in four months. Not how you like to do things? Deal with it.’
Whether they are big and life shattering or small, it’s not uncommon to discharge from hospital to find aspects of your life have been changed in your absence, without you having any say in the matter. Sometimes these changes are reasonable and necessary, and sometimes they aren’t. That’s almost beside the point. The point being that the loss of control over decisions you’d always thought of as yours, is overwhelming.
I remember the first time I became unwell. I was the sickest I’d ever been, in hospital for months. And my psychiatrist told me:
‘The more pressure you put on yourself to get better, the longer it will take.’
Now let me put this statement in context. Up until then I had run my life successfully, doing the exact opposite. The more pressure I put on myself to achieve something, the greater the results. Was it healthy? No. But up until then it had worked.
The idea that in this case I had to relinquish all control over the process was unfathomable. All I wanted was to get the hell out of the hospital, resume my former life, and put this nightmare squarely behind me. That being my first episode of mental illness I was also naïve enough to believe (as most people are in this situation) that it would be my last, and that it could be attributed to going into a 33 hour labour on 2 hours sleep, and changes in pregnancy hormones.
That was nearly twelve years ago. It’s a good thing I didn’t know then, what was ahead. That I would continue to get sick and go into hospital every 2-3 years since then. That it would continue to happen long after I had my last baby.
So, what do I know now that I didn’t know then?
I know my psychiatrist was right when he said: ‘The greater the pressure to get well, the longer it will take.’
I know that you only ever get 60%-70% well in hospital, because it is such a controlled environment. The rest has to be done at home. It’s hard work, and sometimes you bounce back in and out of hospital a few times before the episode resolves.
I know each episode of illness teaches me something. Here’s what I’ve learnt from this one:
I see my psychiatrist every month. I see my psychologist regularly. I take my medication religiously and adjust it according to how I’m feeling. Exercise is almost as nonnegotiable as taking my medication. I have a reasonably good diet. I take probiotics and fish oil. I don’t take recreational drugs. I drink only occasionally and moderately. I manage stress pro-actively. I have slashed the amount of veterinary work I do to fit in with stress management. I have interests outside of work and a very healthy social life. I have no dysfunctional relationships. I have done psychological support therapy courses including Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, and REACH.
I have had no recent major life stresses.
AND I STILL GOT SICK…AGAIN!
So, I have learnt that I can have all the skill in the world, but I don’t control the luck part of this game. That doesn’t mean I stop work on any of the things I can control. It does mean if I unclench my grip on the idea that I should be able to control this better, the path back to myself might be a little less steep.
All going well for the rest of this week, I plan to discharge from hospital at the end of it.
For more entries related to this hospital stay, you may be interested in: