I love the way psychiatric units are named after the most inspiring of places. Names such as Springbank, Meadowbrook, Daisyfield or Rosewalk. Such descriptive tags seem to be endowed on the most deadly, dull institutions.
Imagine being a pet owner, if you went away on holiday and left your precious pet in kennels or in a cattery, you might expect the staff to, at least, take it out for a walk or play ball with it once a day.
On the adult wards of a psychiatric hospital, in my locality, however, there was nothing to do. Granted, there was a small library corner in the lounge, but when your head is all messed up, who can read a book? There was also a pool table (a simplified version of snooker), but the most popular room used to be the smokers’ room. Smoking in public buildings is now banned in the UK, but fifteen years ago it was okay to smoke in a designated room.
Looking into that room, it was hard to make out who was in there. The fog was so thick. There was a fellowship amongst the residents. Lending each other cigarettes and offering a light when necessary. I was quite dismayed by all this at the time, but smoking was, at least, something for them to do.
After a couple of weeks in there, we were able to take Bob out, but only to the cafe in the hospital’s shopping area. It was good for him to be in a different environment, and we looked at the clothes and magazine shops and usually bought something to amuse him. Once he asked for a cactus plant. A good choice, as it only needed water every month or so. We still have that plant, probably the only object which has survived the fifteen years which have elapsed since that time.
We spent many hours and not all happy ones, in that place. Most of the residents stayed in their rooms if they could get away with it, smoking by the window. You only had to walk around the building to see the evidence of cigarette ends on the ground outside. There was a small garden outside the building with a seating area, fenced off from the rest of the hospital and the nearby motorway.
I found it quite disgusting that there were barely any activities and absolutely no opportunities for the residents to go out as a group. I suppose it is all dependent on what money is available, and for these clients, there was none.
A good friend of mine from my school days sent me a leaflet on health courses of various kinds, so I chose a course which I thought might help Bob, once he left the psychiatric unit.
It was a day-long course, so I was invited to stay overnight at my friend’s house and return home the next morning. The course was given by a very interesting lecturer, who had written books about dreams and what they might mean. I bought the book, but I just like to dream, not analyse them. Sorry!
Anyway, the main point about his talks was that activity, rather than delving into a person’s past and going over and over his or her difficulties, is the key to regaining both mental and physical health. I must say that I agreed wholeheartedly with this and, why hadn’t I thought of it myself?
The second part of the course, which was aimed at healthcare workers really, was practical. The lecturer asked for a volunteer, and I put up my hand, not knowing what was coming. I was gradually put under a trance whilst being asked questions about myself, which I answered, and then I fell asleep. I woke up, not knowing much of what had happened at all, except that I was very relaxed and quite happy.
We were then shown how to hypnotize someone and had to practice this on a partner. I did the hypnotizing this time, but I was slow at getting my partner out of the trance and she complained that she couldn’t breathe as I was counting slowly down, so I didn’t ever do that again. End of my new career!
When I returned home the following day, I was more determined than ever to involve my son in some activities.