Whitchurch Hospital is well known in the area, basically the local mental hospital. I believe it was built in 1908 as the Cardiff City asylum and I must admit my expectation of the ward was that of a long room lined with beds, a couple of nurses and people shuffling around in dressing gowns. Reality was somewhat different. Whilst Whitchurch may once have been like that it was more like a day centre. Tables where meals could be had, sofas arranged around a large well-lit room with a large TV, and patients dressed like normal just passing the time. I remember a pretty young girl took charge of me and explained that there was paperwork and that my room was being prepared, another came and took my blood pressure and other vital signs and helped me with the paperwork. I already knew that green uniform was for the nursing auxiliaries, blue for nurses, normal smart clothes for Doctors so I knew these girls were NAs but they treated me with care and understanding. My possessions were documented and I was given a tour of the ward, where the toilets and showers were, the smoking room and lockers. It was explained that every room had an allocated locker for valuables, the nurses had the combination and if we required anything to just ask. They also informed me they had a locked cupboard for charging phones, I was surprised I would even be able to keep it on me but as long as I took no pictures and didn’t put anything on social media they were happy for us to have them.
Once checked in I went and sat in my room, it was small, bare and obviously designed for unstable people. There were no taps but buttons, the top of the wardrobe sloped up to meet the wall, I imagine to prevent anyone climbing on top and the wardrobe door was missing. Maybe the door was once there or maybe it was removed to prevent people hiding but as I had no possessions it didn’t really matter much. The bed was simple and had a pillow, sheet and blanket, the floor lino and the door had a window in it. The most distinguishing thing was the large red flowers drawn on the walls by a previous tenant, some effort had been made to remove them but in a way I was glad they were there. I don’t know how long I sat there hugging my pillow wondering what the hell I was doing in this place while at the same time telling myself that I was here to be safe.
I remember a nurse came and told me there was a phone call for me, I had after all switched my mobile off. It was my partner, so I stood there in the corridor using a payphone (I cant even remember the last time I used a payphone) and wondering what do I say to the person I love who has just found out that I am now in a psychiatric hospital because I was going to kill myself. But spending 13 years living with me and knowing I was not completely normal had given her a pretty solid understanding of why. I do not remember what was said, I doubt I said much at all, I was all talked out.
Whilst I was in hospital I kept a kind of daily diary and my intention was to use the notes to write about my observations and experiences but I can’t. the notes are my observations of other patients, our interactions and my feelings. This may sound silly but I believe that what happens on the ward should stay there, events and do not take this to mean bad things but events and our routines were ours and I feel bad because sharing them would not just be me sharing my side but theirs as well. Even not mentioning names would not be enough, I hope you understand.
Whilst I was on the ward we had a routine, meals, meds, and sleep. In between these we did what we wished. I learned a lot about myself and my symptoms in hospital, I learned a lot because when you are in a regimented system it is very easy to spot deviations. I knew that my days started bad, I would often be found clutching a pillow, not making eye contact or speaking only as much as required. My partner would visit after lunch each day and this seemed to give me a boost and the days seemed to get brighter, by the evening I would be laughing and joking and almost manic. Midnight was bedtime, well we had to go to our rooms at least and that was my hard time, lying in/on my bed with my mind going around and around, waving to the nurses at the hourly checks. I did sleep but it took time and was never pleasant. It was during these hours when I started to meditate, slowly it calmed my head enough to at least attempt sleep.
On the Wednesday I saw who I assume was the consultant, I went back over my story but I felt he was more interested in the few weeks leading up to this crash not the 30 years that went with it. Anyway he added diazepam to my list and I promised him I would meditate more, he seemed happy and told me we would meet again on Friday when all being well I could go home. My partner came and I gave her the breakdown of what was said and told her they would like her to attend on Friday. I must admit I felt a bit cheated, was that it? was I diagnosed? but i realised that this was probably a “Is he likely to kill himself if we let him go” type meeting. Anyway my days returned to normal and I looked forward to Friday. Thursday my partner came as usual but when the subject of my coming home came up she started crying, she was worried how I would cope coming home and how she would cope with me as she was barely coping herself. I made promises and assured her I was fine, I did not realise that she was nearing breaking point herself. Whilst I will admit I am a selfish person and I do feel bad for not realising how much pain she was in, I also know that right then all I could think about was me. How awful that was to write, I feel so ashamed and in some respects what happened has probably saved our relationship. However right then I thought she was concerned for me (she was as well) and I knew I had to reassure her I would be okay.
Friday came and before the meeting my partner again broke down, I got more of an understanding of how she was struggling to cope emotionally, she was breaking and in truth I do not believe she wanted me to come home. Not because she did not love me but because she hated how life was and knew how bad I was, she was rightly worried I think and while things seem to be working okay it might not have. So we had a meeting with a room full of people and the consensus was that I could leave hospital and continue my recovery at home. Medication was prescribed, arrangements made and bags packed, I was going home.
Now the title of this is Angels of the mad and it does have meaning. Some might already be thinking it refers to the staff who cared and helped me but whilst I have so much respect and admiration for them it does not. The true angels were those that I shared four and a half days with, a lifetime really because I met people from all walks of life, all with a different story. All with similar symptoms but we were all unique, all battling our own darkness. I had the privilege to talk to people about their lives that had led them to ward 5A, some had never suffered before, others had spent a lifetime suffering. I belonged, I was with people who understood what I said, understood why I did what I did. Most importantly they had not read it in a book or heard similar people speak, they had lived it, they knew the darkness first hand. While I can never repay the love and compassion that my partner and family gave me that week and continue to do and I can never forget the safety provided by the staff. It was those amazing individuals who listened, shared and opened my eyes to mental illness that were my angels. I vowed that not only would I pay them back for the gift of insight by getting better, I would also try to do more to help raise awareness of mental illness.