To The Nurses On The Psych Ward
To Simon and Dorothy,
You were not the only nurses operating in Bristol’s Riverside Adolescent Psychiatric Ward when I was there in 2013, because that would have been, quite frankly, madness. And very illegal.
You were, however, the best nurses there and that’s saying quite something, because there were a legion of amazing nurses and HCA’s working on the unit at that time. I feel quite blessed to have been in the care of such a lovely team, and to not have experienced some of the horror stories other people have.
I was lucky.
But it was the two of you who really pushed my recovery at that point forwards to where I could come home and attend college. We’ll ignore the subsequent relapses. They weren’t your fault. The NHS has failed countless people, and I was just one of the many, many stories.
That’s a story for another day. Today’s story is about 2013, the summer, and the five weeks I spent in your care.
I still can't believe it was only five weeks. It felt like an entire lifetime. Five weeks is a long time to have your freedom taken away from you, and to be in a completely alien environment that is a hospital but at the same time isn't a hospital.
It's hard to explain. Especially if you have no experience of it yourself. I've said it before (I think), that the worst night of my life so far was the first night in the unit.
I was precisely 91 miles away from home, I had one bag of my own clothes with me, and an old Nokia brick with my SIM card in it. What I didn't realise at the time was what I also had was a nurse assigned to me on a 1-1 (I hadn't really much being paying attention to what people had said to me during the day, still in shock that this was happening).
That nurse was Dorothy. She might be the best woman I have ever met besides my own mother. She was a night nurse, assigned to keep us inpatients safe during the long dark nights (and entertain us during the endless evenings, but I'm not so sure that was actually in her job description.
She was just a really good person.
On that first night, when the whole world felt like it was falling in around me and I thought I would never be able to stop crying again (I might have a flair for the dramatic, but that's just the musical theatre gal in me) Dorothy was sat outside the door.
It didn't take long for her to appear in my room, hot chocolate and tissues in hand. It was exactly the kind of thing mum would have done for me, and in that moment it was precisely the tonic I needed. I don't remember what she said to me. I don't remember if she said much at all. I just remember the hot chocolate, her comforting presence, and her staying there until I finally drifted off to sleep.
That small gesture stuck with me for the rest of my stay in the unit, but Dorothy wasn't great just for hot chocolates.
There weren't many of us inpatients at the time I was there. It was over the summer, and I think I was one of four girls (and there were possibly two boys there too, but my memory is shot to pieces). Dorothy was there with us most nights, and she truly made the evenings bearable. She'd bring in ingredients to make face masks, let us have girly evenings in with gossip and movies, and regale us with tales about her life.
I have genuinely never met anyone who could shop a sale like Dorothy. I don't know how she did it. She'd occasionally come in with a new purchase from Zara, and tell us how much she'd paid for it, what else she'd seen, and when she was going to go back to get the thing she'd seen because it would be cheaper.
Incredible. Absolutely incredible.
Dorothy made the unit seem less like a hospital and more like a constant sleepover, but with rules and things that couldn't be broken. We'd knit with her, she'd let us use the nail varnish box, just the little things. I am so thankful that she was there. She was the perfect person to work with vulnerable teens, and I am ever grateful to her.
Simon was the other incredible nurse (and again, pretty much everyone who worked there was an angel so that is truly saying something).
He had a jolly presence, and it felt like nothing you could say to Simon would ever phase him - useful, for a group of teens who had experienced/seen/felt things that no teen really should. He knew what to say, he knew how to bend the rules ever so slightly, he knew when to just sit and be quiet. Honestly. I have never come across anyone who knew the power of silence quite like Simon did.
He was working on the afternoon that I was admitted, and was the one who was with me when I had to wave goodbye to my parents. He sat with me in my room until I was ready to mingle with the general population, gently pushed me to stop crying, but never made me feel like I was a failure in any way.
He was kind and gentle, but knew when we needed a little push and to hear some hard truths.
Simon was the best person to sit with and chat to when we had free time. And christ was there a lot of free time. I spoke to him a lot about travelling (he'd started travelling the Trans-Siberian railway when I knew him, and had plans to go back and finish it), and history. Two of my favourite things.
The best advice Simon ever gave me was to get out and go travelling - which I did. Two years after I left the unit I travelled around Europe for a month which was one of the hardest things I have ever done, but one of the absolute best. It was a reset. It showed me there really was more out there than I knew.
Simon also accompanied us on field trips outside the unit a lot. He was hilarious and knowledgable and kept us all in line and safe without once making it feel like he was some kind of prison guard. He was one of the most incredible men I have ever met, and again I will be ever grateful to him for what he did.
Even though really, he didn't do much.
Dorothy and Simon (and the other members of staff) were what made my stay in the psych ward bearable. I am so lucky that I was blessed with amazing people who were there to help and make a difference, not just do a job and go home.
And if that was all they were there to do, they never made us feel like it.
The people around you and the people supporting you make all the difference when it comes to mental health recovery. When you're in such a vulnerable place, what people do and say can make or break you. If I had been treated at someone who had put themselves in that place, or was a burden, or not worthy of treatment, I would not have been able to leave the unit when I did.
But because I was treated with kindness, respect, and empathy, I was able to leave after five weeks. And for that, I have Dorothy and Simon to thank.