Mental health care; Sara Green was not a ‘one off’

I’m watching Panorama, I’m broken inside: Sara’s story. I feel really saddened that none of what I’m hearing is a shock to me; because I have either seen things like this or experienced things like this. Luckily for me, I never managed to succeed in my suicide attempts. Sadly, 17 year old Sara Green, in this episode, died in a psychiatric unit for children & young people. She made a wire ligature and sadly couldn’t be saved. 

I have no idea where to start to be honest.  First the fact that she was moved into inpatient care miles away from her family. So far, they lived on tuna sandwiches for a week so they had enough money to travel to see her. And they could only financially manage to visit her twice a month. That was a close call for me on one occasion when there were no beds locally and I might have gone to yorkshire. Lucky for me, a bed in a neighbouring borough became available. 

The staff at The Priory, where Sara was being cared for, cut off her hair using ligature cutters, whilst she was being restrained. Why? Because she had threatened to ligature using her hair. Now, where do you draw the line? How is this not assault? I fully agree it’s important to keep vulnerable and unwell people as safe as possible by first, removing or reducing any risks. If she had blades they’d have been removed. But they would take her sight so she couldn’t seek out more blades. They wouldn’t chop off her legs if she threatened to abscond. But it’s fine for them to hack her hair off? Personally, I think that’s a disgrace, but that’s just my opinion.

Having been in hospital many times before, I fully understand that certain behaviours can be learned through seeing other patient’s do things. To be honest, before I first went into hospital, I’d never considered ligaturing as a way of self harming or attempting suicide. But on each stay in hospital, I’d usually clock up a few ligature attempts in my notes. The first time somebody else on the ward ligatured, unfortunately for me, it was a serious one. I heard all the commotion, the alarms, staff shouting to each other down the corridors, their bunches of keys clashing as they ran to their patient and colleagues. I remember lying on the bed, heart pounding, felt terrified. And whenever I felt the need to self-harm or attempt to end my life after this, I would usually find or make a ligature. Usually when I did this, it was a suicide attempt. Whether or not I actually wanted to die, I don’t know. At that moment in time, I felt like, and thought that I did. But looking back, I realise that deep down, I usually wanted to be found, stopped and supported. I was always found (thankfully), and stopped. Hardly ever supported though. Usually, I’d have my room stripped. On one occasion, my room was stripped of everything. I was lay on the bed in a state after I’d just had a ligature cut from my neck by staff. The ligature was removed and all staff in the room left. I lay crying alone, feeling so desperate. A couple of minutes later, 2 staff members came into my room, armed with bags. They literally took all my belongings from my room, stuffed everything into bags like they were cleaning up rubbish. What happened next is something I still feel humiliated about. They stood over me asking me to take off my clothes and wear the hospital nighty they had brought for me. First, I was shocked. I refused to even move. They tried to persuade me, and when I didn’t budge, they told me that if I didn’t strip off myself, they would have to do it for me. So reluctantly, I took off my top. I took off my bottoms. Still wasn’t enough. I cried my eyes out as they sat on the bed with me and watched me take off my underwear, socks included. I put on the nighty, still sobbing, I watched them bag the clothes I’d taken off and proceed out of the room with everything I’d brought in. I sobbed for ages. I begged for my things back. But nobody saw that distress, they explained it was for my own good… That if I didn’t have anything, I couldn’t try anything. Trust me; if you were to lock me in a room with nothing, I would still find a way to hurt myself if I am in that frame of mind. There were times where I actually bit myself because I felt so desperate to hurt myself. When they found out I was doing that, I was no longer allowed to stay in my room apart from at night time to sleep. I’d be forced to sit in ‘social areas’ where they could ‘keep an eye on me’. Well I’ll tell you now, when you’re dosed up on drugs that zonk you, you really just want to sleep it off in a quiet private place. Not in the lounge where other unwell patients would come in & out, some noisy some not so!

I had one admission where they stripped my room, and I had to ask staff to unlock the cupboard whenever I wanted something. Then they would sigh and moan every time I’d ask for something, because they were so busy. Every morning I’d need my toothbrush, toothpaste, clothes, hair brush, deodorant etc. Every evening the same. For the whole of my time there (approx 6 weeks). I felt degraded, ashamed (other patients would watch as I’d follow a member of staff to the cupboard to get what I needed) & felt like I had no privacy. Picking out underwear in front of others every day isn’t a great feeling. 

Having just finished watching Sara’s story, I realise I am one of the lucky ones. The bad experiences I had were nothing compared to hers and other people’s stories. I’ve seen and heard so much, and things are continuing to spiral as the Government cut funding. Services are failing; letting both their staff & patients down so much. Wards are understaffed, staff are stressed & when incidents occur, they struggle to keep everything contained and keep everyone safe. 

It worries me, it angers me, it saddens me and it frightens me. How much longer can services go on like this?

Choices. Just; choices!

I came across this meme on Facebook earlier and thought it was very apt. At the time, I had just been having a conversation about my recent changes in attitude. The fact that I’m striving to improve myself, be healthier, look after myself more. And that all this work I’m doing is “for” me; nobody else is asking these things of me; they are things that I am hoping will improve my overall health and general wellbeing. And I have realised, nobody can do it “with” or “for” me. People can encourage me, support me and give me feedback but ultimately it is only me who can do it. Because I am the one who is making these choices, with choices being the operative word.

Everything we do, we choose to do. We “choose” to eat to survive or to enjoy the taste etc. We choose to go out, stay in, drink alcohol, smoke; basically everything. I know some people may argue this, some people have said they don’t “choose” to work and they “have” to work to earn money to survive. That’s a fair point, however you’re still choosing from those 2 potentials; do you choose to work to survive, or do you choose not to work and risk the consequences of that whatever they may be. You choose the lesser of the evils, but that doesn’t mean the lesser evil will be a great alternative.

In moments of desperation, when my world had crashed down around me and almost buried me alive, I ‘chose’ to hurt myself. The only options or choices I could see at that very moment were: I hurt myself right now to relieve the feelings or I kill myself to permanently stop the feelings. I could never see other options in those situations, where I can now (for example, an alternative option could have been I could have tried to tolerate those feelings a little longer, reminding myself that they were thoughts and feelings and they could not hurt me). So I’ve realised (just now by writing this very random post), that problem solving is quite important, in order to try to see the other choices you have. Opening up your mind, slowing down your thoughts, reassuring yourself. Maybe then try to take a step back from it for a few seconds and consider your options. That 10 or 20 seconds when you take a step back and assess the situation properly, could potentially distract you enough to really reduce your urges or feelings. That is not easy, but try just by reminding yourself every day to use that 10 or more second step back from things so you can gather yourself.

Well now you have a choice to make. Try the above or don’t try the above. Further choices along the way, if you do try, do you give up after 1 failed attempt or do you keep practising until it gets easier? If you ignore the above, is there anything else you can try that might help? Or would you choose not to end the cycle at all?

All choices that come with their own consequences; positive & negative. Which is the lesser alternative? Is that a lesser alternative for the short-term? Or is it the lesser alternative for the long-term? Sometimes we have to choose harder options in order to improve things for the long-term. That means pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones, making choices we might not usually make and trying things that might fear us to death.

Choices choices choices 🙂

The power of music in mental health!

Music has always been a big part of my life. I have always loved having music on in the background and find it easier to concentrate more when I’m listening to music, strangely. I realised how powerful music is in mental health when I was in the deepest depths of depression. More specifically, it was when I was practising mindfulness. I used to work with an online counsellor, who once tried to ‘ground’ me (bring my level of emotions down to a manageable level) by using music. She asked me to try sitting or lying in a comfortable place, with my favourite music on. I then had to try and focus on one instrument only throughout one of the tracks. I tried and tried and tried; it was bloody impossible at first to get through a whole song just focusing on one thing and drowning all the others out. I presumed I’d be drawn to piano sounds as I love listening to it. But oddly, the more I did it, I started to notice the voice was the most captivating to me. Once I’d got the hang of it I would do it every day with different songs to ‘train’ my brain and get used to being mindful; which is basically, focusing on something in the here and now, forgetting about past or future thoughts/feelings etc. Eventually the practise paid off and I’m pro at it now, with the singer’s voice being the one thing I focus on.

I then started to focus on what the words were in each song; questioning what each artist was trying to say, and noticing the feelings each song evoked in me. Sometimes, once I’d really understood the song through the lyrics, I really felt like somebody else out there knew how I felt. Other times they helped me to pass through emotive times without self-harming. Artists I really related to most included: Birdy, Ed Sheeran, Jessie J, Ellie Goulding, The Script and Professor Green. It still makes me laugh to myself that all those artists sing similar styles, then there’s Professor Green who raps!

Anyhow, what I learned is that I leaned towards songs that matched the feelings I had at that time. Sometimes the songs kept me feeling depressed, but I wouldn’t change that if I could do it again. They may have kept me there a little longer, but I didn’t feel alone because somebody else out there completely understood. I would allow myself, through the music, to sit and ‘be’. I could tolerate certain emotions based on what music I had on. One example of what might have ‘kept’ me feeling gloomy would be Birdy and her music. It’s a lot about having been hurt, which most songs are I guess, but her lyrics really represented my feelings.

A verse from Birdy’s song “Wings” really touched me and I’d spend ages listening to this song over and over again. That verse said:

Under a trillion stars
We danced on top of cars
Took pictures of the stage
So far from where we are
They made me think of you

The song, how I’d interpreted it, was about loss and missing somebody. Wishing so hard you could have them back and the pain you feel when you know you’ll never see them again. But there was one Birdy song that just blew me away. At the time I found this song, I was working on my inner-child. A lot of my problems stemmed (in my opinion) from the hate I had towards the “little Kerri”. And when I became unwell, I would feel like the little me was trapped inside my body, fighting to get out, but I wouldn’t let her. So internally I had this battle going on. And i don’t know if it was the intensity of the emotions or if it was something else, but I physically felt that battle inside. I was in pain physically, I could feel movement inside me and I was genuinely convinced she was running round inside my body. Looking back, I realise I did actually experience those physical sensations, but I interpreted them differently because of how intense they were. Like, my stomach would churn, but it would churn so much it felt like something was actually in there. My chest would pound so much, it felt like something was trying to punch its way out. My body would tremble so much all over that it felt like there was something in my veins, getting around to every single inch of my body. To try to explain the ferocity of it, the physical feelings were such that I actually felt like I ‘needed’ to stab myself in the stomach to get this ‘thing’ out of me. Safe to say, I was admitted to hospital on this occasion, and it’s great to say I didn’t harm myself too seriously. Well, I was on about songs. The following lyrics helped me to connect with my inner-child. The song was like a conversation between me and her; two separate people as I saw them then. The first paragraph of the lyrics are me talking to ‘little Kerri’. Her response is the last paragraph.

Remember once the things you told me
And how the tears ran from my eyes
They didn’t fall because it hurt me
I just hate to see you cry
Sometimes I wish we could be strangers
So I didn’t have to know your pain
But if I kept myself from danger
This emptiness would feel the same

I want to tell you that I’m sorry
But that’s not for me to say
You can have my heart, my soul, my body
If you can promise not to go away
I ain’t no angel
I never was
But I never hurt you
It’s not my fault
You see those egg shells, they’re broken up
A million pieces, strung out across the ground

So, the power of this song helped me have that conversation internally. I realised that the little me had done nothing wrong. She was bad, evil or spiteful like I’d always thought of her. She wasn’t a monster. She was a young child trying to survive. And all she needed now was for me to look after her. After listening to this song a million times, I wrote to my inner-child and expressed how I felt. I then wrote as my inner-child to myself, and let her express her feelings. They then began to understand one another, and realise that they were safe with each other. And slowly, little Kerri became part of me. “She” is no longer a person in herself; she is a part of who I am. And I have accepted her thanks to this song.

There’s a lot more I could give you on this, so let me know if you wanna read more about this stuff. I have loads of examples of how music has made a difference for me like above. Music is something a lot of us take for granted, but if you use it wisely, it can become really helpful in your own life!