Thursday, 26 April 2018

befriending, mentoring, peer support [episode 1]

Hartwoodhill Hospital
It was 40 years ago when I was first a mental patient in Hartwoodhill, Lanarkshire, voluntarily going in with "puerperal psychosis".  The psychiatrists said it was due to "hormone imbalance" however it was more about painful, induced childbirth, insufficient pain relief, and the fact that we were living with inlaws on their farm, in a room, with our two sons.  My Mother-in-law was next door, had taken to her bed with depression after mania, wasn't eating or drinking.  This had happened before (in 1972 that I knew of) and I think the root cause was bereavement at losing babies for she spoke of this to me when unwell.

I was fortunate to have a good Mother who had survived psychosis/psychiatry on many occasions and in 1970 aged 17 had visited her in the locked Kinnoull ward at Murray Royal Hospital Perth, in the summer holidays, seeing what it was like for mentally distressed women, one of whom had killed their child.  This caused my Mother more distress and I would come away from visiting also crying.  My Granny had died in the July and my Aunt had called in the Social Work for help, arranging for my younger sisters to be fostered, without consulting me.  My Aunt told the story of her Mother, my Granny, saying that she'd never get the Social Work involved in our family, using the phrase "over my dead body" and so it was.

from Myra
I couldn't see the benefits of psychiatric treatment and became personally aware of this for myself in September 1978.  Forcibly injected with Chlorpromazine because I resisted it, had insight, didn't want to be drugged, escaping ECT by running out of the ward in pyjamas (clothes were locked away), supported by my husband.  Had to go back in, again voluntarily, due to muscle spasms from suddenly coming off the high dose of antipsychotic.  Very risky business on neurotoxins.  I learnt from this experience.  They bound my breasts to stop the milk, my second son about 3mths old, I very much resented this but said nothing to the Nurses.

I also learnt not to say very much to the psychiatrist and it was a matter of trying to be patient regarding discharge, not to show restlessness even though antipsychotics cause agitation.  It was a cruel regime and patients stuck together, against the system.  We'd call it mental health peer support today, I suppose, although back then it was more about survival.  It was in my mind to get off the drugs within the year, just Chlorpromazine and a side effects pill, which was reduced by psychiatrist from 4x100mgs to 4x25mgs after about 6mths maybe.  So it was easy for me to come off the antipsychotic when I felt more in control and there was light at the
end of the tunnel.  For many months it felt like everything was grey, I was clinically depressed on the meds, low motivation, had to watch out for sunburn.  Then I went through the same thing again, one week after the birth of my third son in November 1984, forcibly internally examined then injected until compliant.  Supported by fellow patient Myra in the ward, we were friends after discharge, for years.

I had been married aged 19 on 4 July 1972 in Lesmahagow, Lanarkshire, and helped out on my inlaws farm, in holidays from Aberdeen University, milking the cows, mucking out the byre, driving the tractor, lambing sheep, shearing wool, singling turnips, eventually selling hogs with lambs at foot, Lanark Market, by the late 1970's.  Was a Mother at 24 with my first son in 1976, 26 with my second in July 1978.  Then in 1980 I got on to the Krypton Factor, Granada TV, Manchester, as a "Shepherdess", from around 10,000 applications, 500 interviews (mine was at STV Cowcaddens, Glasgow), then 32 of us in 8 x 4 heats, including my cousin Hazel who lived in Chester.  

My sister-in-law Vanessa had put my name down, sent off for the application form, encouraged me to go in for it.  She helped me train for the assault course and took this photo wearing the Krypton Factor Tshirt (it was too small, wasn't keen on wearing it!).  Vanessa had supported me after Hartwoodhill discharge in 1978, we were friends, it was mutual, and I did the same for her over the years we lived on the farm and at Rigside, Lanark, involved together in community work with children and through the church, running playschemes and taking part in Gala Days.  

my boys 1987 taken in Perth
These years on the farm and in the ex-mining community of Rigside (and Douglas Water) together with surviving psychosis and psychiatry twice were a great grounding in grassroots collective action, solidarity and the fellowship of Mothers, sisters and women of substance.  I had become a Christian in 1981 at my birthday in September and joined the local Church of Scotland which had a new evangelical Minister, many of us got busy in various missionary activities, and for a while it seemed that we were on the crest of a wave.  However soon there were difficulties and scandal, resulting in the Minister leaving after just 3 years, for another charge in Tongue.  I believe he should have taken a sabbatical, to reflect, consider his behaviour.  The damage done to the church and the community because of what he did.  It was a betrayal of trust.

After my husband was made redundant from the Milk Marketing Board we moved to the Cupar area in 1990 to be near my middle sister who was expecting her first baby.


[to be continued ...] 


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