Things you Only Know If You’ve Been An In-Patient At The Priory

It’s a bit like staying in a 3-4* hotel, except they make you hand in your razor when you check in


by Clare O'Neill |
Published on

It’s Mental Health Day today, and this week at their party conference, the Liberal Democrats pledged to increase funding around mental health services. Whether anything will come of this, I don’t know, but it’s sorely needed – as it stands private mental healthcare companies are able to deliver a much better service than what’s available on the NHS, which is a travesty.

Did you know that mental health services are the second least funded sector of the NHS, beaten only by dermatology? And whose life has ever been ruined by badly treated eczema? This is a subject that affects us all, and I should know – I’ve visited my fair share of mental health facilities, two of which were NHS and then, in December 2012, I myself was admitted to the Priory – essentially a mental institution for the middle classes.

It all started with that I now know to be the symptoms of depressive illness. I had periods of insomnia, I cried A LOT. Mostly I didn’t know why I was crying, so sometimes I’d make stuff up. I had no self-confidence and most inconveniently of all, I was terrified of going to work. That sounds like a lie, but the fact that I sometimes didn’t want to go to work is a coincidence. I didn’t want to be at home, either. Doing anything, or being anywhere, was shit.

READ MORE: Ask An Adult: When The Post-Holiday Blues A Sign Of Something More Serious

I had grown tired of everything being shit so I got referred to a shrink. The shrink wasn’t like Frasier at all, he didn’t psychoanalyse me, he just told me to tell him everything. I should tell him all of the things, he said, starting from when I was born to what led me to make the appointment with him.

I told him I went to school about half the time. I told him that my mum had mental health problems throughout my life; sometimes requiring lengthy hospital stays. The first time she was so unwell that she required hospitalisation was right after I was born. He, thankfully, didn’t then say, ‘But how do you FEEL?’ so I kept going. I told him that Mum became very unwell again when I was 13, and was admitted to the Priory herself (it wasn’t all bad – it had a tennis court!)

I told him this was the time I started pulling my hair out. I included every traumatic personal event up to the present day. When I’d finished, the shrink explained that the stress of traumatic events coupled with anxiety or just shoddy thinking can blow a fuse in your brain. It was an illness, but I would get better, yadda yadda. I was quite surprised, however, when he said he thought I should be admitted to hospital. People often say that they’re ‘mental’ when what they actually mean is that they’re ‘annoying’. I think it’s fair to say though, that at this point, I had gone head-mental.

But, after three weeks in the Priory here’s what I learnt:

It’s a bit like staying in a 3-4 hotel, except they make you hand in your razor when you check in*

Actually, I guess it’s mostly like boarding school. You join in with the group during the day, and eat meals with everyone in the dining room (the anorexics hate that the most). Alcohol is not allowed, which is just one reason why this was assuredly not going to be a holiday camp. They checked on me at night when I first arrived, which was actually quite reassuring, but that stopped when they realised I was ‘safe’.

I thought I had made friends with one girl who was a smack addict, but she had memory problems, so she would introduce herself to me all over again, every day.

** …and just like at school, there are plenty of cliques**

The addicts and alcoholics are the cool kids, but my place is with the other ‘glums’, as we are affectionately called. I thought I had made friends with one girl who was a smack addict, but she had memory problems for some reason, so she would introduce herself to me all over again, every day. Despite the fact she didn’t ever remember who I was, we were besties.

I did make friends with other glums, but I wasn’t happy about it because, y’know, they were all mental people. Nevertheless, it’s difficult not to like someone who tells you their innermost thoughts at nine am and again at three, and mostly the people I met were genuinely really nice people. I liked them. Even the lady who infuriated everyone by openly contradicting them in group-sessions.

This particular patient would let us pour our hearts out and then point out exactly where she thought we had gone wrong. This was not in the rules, we were not supposed to ‘problem solve’. After a couple of sessions with this lady I realised I knew absolutely nothing about her (except that she was German, which I’m certain was a coincidence). I figured she was being mean on purpose, I think they call it ‘deflecting’. After that, I admired her tenacity but I knew she couldn’t keep it up forever, and that she would be in there for a while.

Sometimes, mental illness runs in the family

If you were thinking that my going to the same psychiatric hospital that my mother did years earlier is fucked up, you’d be right. In my immediate family there are six of us. Three of us have been in rehab. (I like to call it rehab because, let’s face it, rehab is cool because famous people go there. My brother calls it ‘Betty Ford’ which is inaccurate, but puts a fun spin on mental anguish.)

If you are in my family you have a 50% chance of being in a mental health facility (not an ideal term but better than ‘asylum’). Fifty per cent! I’ve checked – that’s the same as the Osbournes. Once I’d got past the fact that I was now sort of setting a passed-down family tradition of being a Priory in-patient, it was fine.

READ MORE: You’re Not Meant To Be Depressed At Uni But It’s A Breeding Ground For Sadness

Even when you’re in The Priory, you don’t necessarily believe that there’s anything wrong with you

My shrink told me that people with depressive illness are usually strong, decent people. Not my words, the words of a senior medical professional. I felt like a fraud. I strongly suspected there was nothing wrong with me and that I was just weak. I was convinced I knew better than the guy with the PhD.

All the therapy clichés are true, but it’s still worth doing it

The therapy could be upsetting, rewarding, boring, embarrassing, frustrating, practical, funny – but it usually works. Sometimes the root of other patients’ problems would seem so obvious to me, I wondered if mine was just as obvious to others. Did I have a neon flashing sign above my head that read ‘MUMMY ISSUES’…? Probably.

I learned that when you scratch away all the bullshit, people generally have two fundamental fears: 1) that they are inherently ‘bad’ people, or 2) that they will die alone. Psychiatry is LOLS! As it happens, the cliché that therapy is just unsatisfied people naval-gazing and blaming their parents for shit is kinda true, but if afterwards it stops them downing gin and sobbing uncontrollably at 3am, or putting their head in the oven, then it’s worth it.

People tend not to ask you about your stay in a mental hospital, but when they do it’s always awkward

They’ll ask, ‘Are you feeling better?’ I’m not sure, really. I have drugs now, which is always good, and I’ve stopped the constant crying, so I can’t complain. The other thing people ask is, ‘What was it like?’ which is a toughy. It’s the best mental hospital I’ve ever seen, and there are people much worse off than me out there who don’t get any help at all. The whole thing seems self-indulgent, but really it’s no more so than seeking treatment for physical illness, it’s just that we still think mental illness is a bit made up, don’t we?

We know that people would genuinely rather discuss their balls or their gynaecology appointment than their mental health. That’s mostly just because of the stigma that people will think you’re mad, or unhinged. Nobody wants to hang out with someone who might unpredictably emote. No thanks, we’re British. People do not have time for your shit.

It’s depressing talking about any illness. No one wants to hear about your chest infection either, FYI. No illness is glam, it’s just another boring health complaint. I’m talking about it now so we can all get back to less depressing topics and get on with our lives, and because getting better is made so much easier if you don’t have to do it in secret.

**Liked this? You might also be interested in: **

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Follow Clare on Twitter @ClareMignon

Picture: Eylul Aslan

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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