Act for Mental Health: Hannah's story
This week the Independent Review into the Mental Health Act published their interim report and highlighted how the Act needs to become much more person centred. In this special blog, Hannah discusses her time in hospital and how it helped her start to think about her own recovery.
In 2003 I left my job at the Royal School of Needlework as an embroiderer and went to King's College London to train as a nurse. I qualified three years later and got a job in the HIV department at Chelsea and Westminster hospital – a job that I was very excited to be starting. A year later, at the age of 27, I had a serious mental breakdown and was sectioned under the Mental Health Act – ironically with my nursing uniform still in my bag. Sadly, I have not worked as a nurse since. My decline was fast and I became stuck in the a revolving doors of acute mental health units for the next 5 years.
During that time, due to the risk of me self-harming, much was removed from me; my liberty, my embroidery, even hot water which meant I couldn't even have a decent cup of tea ( teabags don't infuse in lukewarm water). Though my self-harm admittedly was extremely serious, hot water wasn't a risk, this was highlighted by the fact my friend and I smuggled a kettle into her room and had it for 6 weeks until we were discovered.
"From my experience the risk adverse nature of acute mental health units sadly mean that many good things are taken away from you whether they are a risk to you or not."
Some of the staff and people in my life struggled to understand and see past my destructive behaviour and understand that behind it was, how I now see it now, a deep emotional, social and spiritual pain. Pain that I didn't understand and I was struggling to express in words. I felt confused and hugely ashamed that I was often preoccupied with ending my life.
Because I was so unwell I was not allowed to practice as a nurse and in 2009, just three years after qualifying, my registration with the Nursing Midwifery Council lapsed. I felt I had lost purpose in life and my connection to the nursing community with it. I dreaded people asking what I did for a living. I had no answer. Instead I avoided people and became more and more socially isolated - I was convinced I would never have an intimate relationship or family life because who would want to be with someone who was or had been mentally ill?
By 2011 I wanted to try and get my life back on track and I was asked by the Royal School of Needlework to help with the making of the Duchess of Cambridge's wedding dress. I was so unwell I only managed to do 8 days on it, but it was the first thing in years that I felt I could be proud of. A couple of weeks after the wedding I was again in hospital sectioned under the Mental Health Act. I told a nurse I had worked on the dress, no more than 5 minutes later she went to a senior nurse on the ward and said that she thought I was deluded.
"At that moment I felt that my identity as Hannah had been completely lost - I was no longer seen as a nurse, I was no longer an embroiderer, I was a person with Personality Disorder that was all I was, a disorder."
But this is not the end of my story. In 2012 I was to be sent to a rare therapeutic community hospital which took positive risks with me and saved my life. I was to receive 3 and half years of intense psychodynamic psychotherapy, which was the hardest thing I have ever had to do - to face head on my emotional pain that I had tried to avoid for so many years.
But it was also the best thing I have ever done. I am now someone who still has mental health difficulties but I am managing them effectively. I have not self-harmed in any way for over 4 years. I am more secure in who I am and make a determined effort to not only have compassion for others but also compassion for myself, to accept that I am a human with weaknesses but also strengths.
My story is one of honesty to the struggles of mental illness and to show there is hope for people living with mental illness, for their carers and for health care professionals that look after them. Remember to always try to hold on to the positives – even when the situation can look so hopeless and so very dark. Help is just around the corner we just need to talk and have compassion for each other.