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Dublin: 10°C Friday 25 June 2021

Column: My experience in an adult mental health unit

Last year, Ciaran Behan was admitted to a mental health unit. He describes the terror he felt – and what happened over the next two months.

Ciaran Behan

I WAS ADMITTED to hospital in June. I was seen by the psychiatric doctor in the hospital and she carried out her exam on me. She then broke the news to me I was going to be put in to the Adult Mental Health Unit – or in more commonly heard terms, the psych ward or the loony ward. Yes I was going to this place and I was going now.

As we made the walk to the unit, I felt like I was on death row and was about to be put to death. I did not see any light at the end of the tunnel; as far as I thought, I was about to be put to death for having a problem with my head. Now hindsight is a great thing – I now know that I was about to embark on a journey to get my life sorted once and for all.

When we came to the unit we were buzzed in. I was told to take a seat and the doctor would get the duty nurse to come and speak to me. I sat down in this cold and dreary hall; at 8pm in the evening I think. I sat there – it seemed to be hours waiting – and all I did was pick a spot on the wall and stared at it. I was not going to make eye contact with anything or anyone.

People came and tried to speak to me but I was not in the right mind frame to speak to anyone. I kept focusing on my spot on the wall till the nurse came. Deep down inside I was afraid. I wanted to scream “get me out of here”, I wanted to cry and look for a parent to embrace me with a hug and tell me every thing was going to be OK.

‘The fear that was building up became even worse’

The nurse came to speak to me to get my details. This was a 15-minute exchange or so, and then she showed me to my bed in the ward. When I saw that I was going to be in a six-bed ward the fear that was already building up on me became even worse. I said thank you to the nurse and I went into the toilet and let Niagara Falls loose from my eyes and cried till I made myself sick. As all this was going on, I forgot the main thing was I was here to get myself better. The fear was a killer, but I could do nothing bar go to bed and try and go to sleep, and try and sleep off this nightmare.

I came to spend eight weeks in this “unit”; and without sounding like a preacher from an American Baptist church I went on a journey and found out some wonderful things about myself. I say that but also I need you to understand how the unit came into play. It’s a wonderful place to be – you are cut off from the outside world and all the problems that come with being on the outside.

When it was coming to be time to leave, the doctor would first let me leave the unit to go down for a coffee. The first time I did this I went down and turned straight back into the unit. I needed to be back there. I did not want to see anyone. I thought people were looking at me, staring at me and saying ‘Oh look its the guy from the adult mental health unit’.

Over time, I got over this fear and then I had to tackle the fear of going outside the hospital. That was quite a daunting experience because it went from thinking one person was looking at me to thinking everyone walking down the street and driving down the street where looking at me and they all knew my problems.

‘We took everything at a child’s pace’

This was all solved in small steps, and we took everything at a child’s pace. It worked out well and after my eight-week stay I was sent on my way. I was to have access to the day services in my local town on a weekly basis. I had to see my key nurse weekly and my doctor fortnightly which I have done without fail ever since.

For the last nine months I have been on my rocky road to recovery. It has involved lots of swapping and changing between different types and doses of medication- trying to get the best match for me and my body.

Looking back on the whole experience it has been a life-changing one, and probably one that has made me be a better person today because it has given me the strength and understanding to know that the things I did in the past were the result of an illness, unknown to me. Now I know how to deal with this illness. This would not have been possible without the help of my doctor, my key nurse and especially all of the nurses who looked after me for those eight weeks.

So if you are faced with having to go through what I have done, I hope this helps you. Don’t be afraid and don’t be scared, this is a wonderful experience. Quite scary at the start but you will get so much help with all the problems that you may have thought would never be sorted.

As the great Irish man who does comedy, Tommy Tiernan, said: “It’s hard having a head”.

Ciaran Behan writes a blog, Wayfaring Stranger, where this post originally appeared.

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Ciaran Behan

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