Daily Archives: August 7, 2016

7 Things I learned at the psych ward


Does the title of this blog scare you?  Does it make you laugh?  Does it make you cry?  Make you shudder?  It might do one or all of those things.  Most people NEVER want to admit they have been to a psychiatric hospital.  I can’t say I would have ever dreamed I would be talking about this out loud.  But the path between me and a psych ward is pretty long ago and I feel like there is something to be learned from every experience.  And as a mental health advocate I do not believe we should never be ashamed from getting the help we need.  In this spirit I share…

Here are seven things I learned at the psych ward:

#1)  It is NO fun to be LOCKED up

My first trip for inpatient care was 17 years ago and I was terrified when the door locked behind me.  I understand the door is locked for patients and public safety, but it does not discount my feelings of fear.  It reminded me of all the bad things I had ever heard about mental institutions.  Yes, even though I might not have been in my best frame of mind I still had thoughts and feelings.  There are places that do not lock the door, but those are few and far between.  No sugar coating.  Being locked away was a degrading feeling.

#2)  Most people there are “normal”

What is normal anyway?  Well, that’s your average everyday person who has goals, dreams and a life outside of the hospital door.  People from all walks of life visit the psych ward every single day.  They are just normal people – husbands, wives, daughters, sons – they just happen to be struggling with an illness.

#3)  The staff is a reflection of society (stigma exists)

There are good people, bad people and somewhere in between who work in the psych ward.  I have been treated extremely well by many people, but I have also been discounted, discouraged and disenchanted.  Some staff are very knowledgeable and willing to teach about a specific illness and others can’t wait until their shift ends.  Just a reflection of society.

#4)  You don’t recover in the hospital

Think about being hospitalized for any physical illness.  A person who has had open heart surgery is not going to get well over night in the hospital.  We are a quick fix culture, especially when it comes to mental illness.  But it takes time and effort to fully recover.

#5)  Some people are more sick than others

Mental illness is on a continuum.  Every disease has common signs and symptoms but will manifest differently in each person.  Some people will never get well and probably need to be in a hospital for continuous care.  But most people can get better.

#6)  Some places are better than others

I have been in a hospital that had a swimming pool and basketball court, but that’s the exception.  I have also been to a place that did not have enough chairs for everyone to sit. The most important thing is that a person gets the right kind of care that they need and clearly some places do provide it and others do not.

#7)  They don’t want to keep you there

Contrary to popular belief psych wards do not want to keep people there.  One of the biggest issues we have in America is the poor mental health treatment that is available.  It is often poor because people who need treatment can’t get treatment and if people get treatment they don’t keep people long enough – the average inpatient stay in the United States is 7.2 days.  For some illnesses that is not long enough.

A Crowd-Hater at a Conference

“I’m gonna kick butt at this writers’ conference!”

I was a wee bit manicky.

“I am a writer and I know it! I’ve had articles published in lots of magazines! I have two blogs and I write in them every week! I can do this!”

It was a conference for humor writers.

“I know I can do this! I’ve written funny things about ratatouille (http://wp.me/p4e9wS-2z) and possums (http://wp.me/p4e9wS-46) and being burgled by Frenchmen (http://wp.me/p4e9wS-1B).”

So, comes the conference…at a time when I’m not the least bit manicky.

Forget what I said about having developed a few social skills (http://wp.me/p4e9Hv-2M). I was there alone, and confronted with a large group, not small groups or individuals.

And I had paid a lot of money to attend.

Yellow ladybird is marginalizedIt was noisy. It was people-y. It had multiple panels scheduled all day. Every day lunch was an Event with big round tables. Every dinner was an Event with big round tables and important speakers. Everyone there blogged daily or had three blogs, an agent, and/or a book contract.

What to do?

Give myself permission to do what I could do. And skip the other stuff. Ignore the money. Build in breaks. Find quiet spaces. Admit when I’m exhausted and go home. (I lived in the area. If I had stayed in the hotel, that would have been “take naps” and the quiet spaces would have been easier to find. If I had better social skills, I might have made a friend and asked to borrow her hotel room.)

This is how I got through it all. Or most of it, anyway.

Do what I could. I combed the program book for Sessions I Must Attend, Sessions I Would Like to Attend, and Sessions I Can Skip. Then I looked for sessions that were offered more than once and decided which offering fit my schedule better. I tried to avoid more than two back-to-back sessions.

Ignore the money. Yeah, I paid quite a chunk of change for this. But it would have been ridiculous for me to calculate how much money each session was worth and try to make back my investment. I had to tell myself that I spent a lump sum and that whatever I got from the conference was worth it.

Build in breaks. The conference had what they called breaks – 15 minutes between sessions when everyone rushed the snack tables, compared schedules, and chattered up a storm. My idea of a break was to sit in the lobby in a comfy chair, stare at the program book so no one interrupted me, and carry snacks with me (boxes of raisins are good).

Find quiet spaces. When I needed something quieter than a hotel or conference center lobby, I searched for unused classrooms. In a hotel, the bar is usually pretty empty during a conference and is a good place to sit and relax with a nice glass of iced tea and maybe even complementary peanuts. Sometimes I was lucky enough to find that if I went to the room I wanted for the next session, it would be empty or contain only a few people. When all else fails, there are always the restroom stalls. (Unless there’s a line.)

Leave when exhausted. On the last full day of the conference I found myself slumped in a chair in the lobby, totally wrung out. There were events scheduled that evening that sounded fun and that I had signed up for while manicky (see above). But I just couldn’t. The events were mostly entertainment rather than educational anyway, and I was not in a headspace where I could absorb entertainment. The fact that there was a flu going around made my disappearance more understandable (even though I wasn’t physically sick).

So did I learn anything at the conference? Did I make new friends? Did I come back revitalized?

Sort of. I learned that the one-on-one “speed dating” with experts was perhaps the most valuable thing I did. I learned that showing up early for a session allowed me the opportunity to meet one of my idols (the speaker) and spend a little time with her and a small group before the session started. I learned that if I sat near the door it was easier to slip out when panic struck.

I even learned a thing or two about writing – how to write a better query letter, how to improve my blogs, when to consider self-publishing, and so forth. I learned that, despite my manicky expectations, I was no better or worse than the other attendees. We all had skills and valuable experiences and we all had things to learn.

Did I make a lot of new writing friends? No. At least not then. The conference had a Facebook page for attendees and I got involved afterward, online, where I am more comfortable than in crowds. I recognized names I had seen on nametags and had conversations with them. I posted some material from my blogs and read what others posted. I commented and read comments. I “followed” some of the instructors. I read books that attendees had recommended.

To tell the truth, I think I got more from the conference after it was over than when it was going on.

Am I glad I went? Yes. The experience was good for me in more ways than one. Paying attention to my own limits and not trying to live up to artificial expectations made for a good – and survivable – learning experience.

Filed under: Mental Health Tagged: anxiety, being overwhelmed, bipolar disorder, blogging, creativity, my experiences, social skills, writing

On the House

Pub sign, Durham

Pub sign, Durham

Part 1 of some Sunday fiction for you, from my alternative version of Doncaster

“You’re a right arrogant cuss, Gary Sanders, coming in ‘ere, throwing your money about like there’s no tomorrow,” the landlord said. “Which there may not be, unless you get out – now. ”

Up til then, it was a quiet Sunday evening at “The Bird & Baby” pub. It was April, and the students which usually filled the tap room were in their rooms at nearby Doncaster University, studying for their exams. Quiz night wasn’t due to start for another hour or so: neither the kitchen staff, scouts’, nor porters’ team had turned up yet.

The only other punters in that night were a large bloke in his late 50s who was propping up the bar, and nursing a pint of Guinness; and a middle-aged man with grey hair, who was sharing a small table with a black-and-white cat.

The Bird’s landlord looked at Gary, then looked at the glass pint glass he was drying. Then he spat in it, and set it on the age-darkened, oak bar.

“What’ll you have?” the landlord asked Gary. “It’s on the house.”

“I’ll report you to health and safety,” Gary replied. “And it’s Bertram-Saunders.”

“Bertram-Saunders, my Aunt Nelly,” the landlord said. “Your Dad’s Georgie Sanders – Bert were his dad’s middle name. So don’t you come in ‘ere, throwing your fancy fake hyphens about. Anyway, your dad’s banned from Baby. I thought you knew that.”

Gary flinched as the cat appeared from seemingly nowhere, and jumped up on the bar, landing on the beer towel. The cat blinked briefly at the man at the bar, then turned to the landlord, and asked, “What’s the roast today?”

Smug, or happy? You decide.

Smug, or happy? You decide.

“Beef. Sorry, Jake, you just missed it. I can make up a couple of cold sarnies for you and the inspector, if you like. One wholemeal with English mustard, one beef, no bread?”

The cat nodded, then started coughing. Three two pound coins appeared on the bar.

“I’ll add it to Thwaite’s bill,” the landlord winked at the cat, as though sharing a private joke. Or not so private, as the man at the bar smiled.

“Thanks,” said the cat, who swallowed the coins, then jumped off the bar, and padded over to his companion.

The landlord turned away from the bar, and shouted, “Val! Can you make up some roast beef sandwiches for Thwaite and Jake, love?”

He turned back to Gary Sanders, who was looking pale under his tan. “Did you say ‘inspector’?”

The man who was standing next to Gary smiled again, and the landlord replied, “That’s right. Chief Inspector Thwaite, and his Sergeant, Jake. They come in here most Sundays: well, Thwaite does. Jake, not so much.”

Gary swallowed, then said, “I’m not my dad. Just because he’s barred, doesn’t mean I am.”

Not just barred, it's York bar(red)

Not just barred, it’s York bar(red)

Then he flushed, as the landlord made another deposit of spittle in the pint pot. “Anyway, what gives you the right to ban my father from your crappy old pub?”

“This,” said the landlord, pointing to the sign above the bar, which said that Harold Langdon was licensed to sell beers, wine, and spirits under the 2003 Licensing Act. “Because it’s my crappy pub. Now bugger off, unless you still want that free pint of Smiths.”

Harry the landlord grinned, showing good dental work, which glinted at the fact that the Bird & Baby was doing good trade, despite the lack of patronage from the Sanders’ family.

“I’ll bring my dad round,” Gary threatened.

“Barred,” said the bloke standing next to him at the bar. He was a big, grey-haired bloke, and was nursing a pint. He had been following the conversation between Gary and the landlord with quiet interest.

“I’ll get Ken Sykes round,” said Gary.

“Sykesy was nobbut a bully when he was in short trousers,” Harry replied, “and Tim here,” Harry indicated the big bloke, “gave him a right kickin’.”

“We were both four at the time,” Tim reminded Harry.

“Sykesy cried, didn’t he?” Harry said. “Cried like a little baby.”

“He was four years’ old,” Tim repeated.

“Well, he’s a big bloke now,” said Gary. “Bigger and younger than you,” he added, looking at Tim.

“And?” said Tim, who was six foot two, and weighed just over 17 stone.

“Bigger’n you, Granddad,” said Gary, who was 28, while Tim and Harry were both 63.

Two seconds later, Gary’s face was up close and personal with the bar, and both his arms were being held against his back by Tim, who leaned against him.

“Listen to me, lad,” Tim said, as he breathed beer-breath into Gary’s left ear. “Are you listening?”

Gary whimpered.

“Ken Sykes was a bully, he’s nowt but a bully now, and he’ll like as not die a bully. He’s also a bully who I can whip, because what he has on me in weight, I’ve got more than him in brain cells.”

“Smartest lad in our class, Tim were,” Harry said.

“So how come you’re a bouncer, if you’re so smart?” Gary tried to sneer, but it’s difficult to be sarcastic when your face is pressed against a bar.

“Beer ‘n food on the house, plus my mind’s free to write poetry, and watch ‘Jeremy Kyle’ every morning, before pub opens. Lot of poetic inspiration to be had from our Jeremy, plus I can sort my socks whilst I watch.”

Poetry in Sheffield: "What if" by Andrew Motion

Poetry in Sheffield: “What if” by Andrew Motion

“Poetry? Really?” Gary tried to say, but gurgled instead, due to the pressure on his throat.

Tim rearranged Gary slightly, so that the younger man could breath, and speak, with a bit more ease.

“Yes, really,” said Tim, who had excellent hearing, as well as a flair for rhyme and metre, and a taste for Guinness, and Sunday dinners. “And you know who was in our class at school, besides Harry, and Ken, and me? Your Dad, that’s who.”

Once again placing his mouth against Gary’s ear, Tim said, “Georgie Sanders came into this world with nowt. He may have a stack of legal and illegal businesses now, but he’ll leave this world with nowt, save a shroud, some spit in his eye, and maybe a bullet or two in his back.”

Like a bored cat playing with a mouse, Tim stepped back from Gary, then shoved the younger man back, hard, against the bar.

Plays with mouses: August 2016

Plays with Mousies: August 2016

“You’re in the hands of a poet, all right,” said Harry admiringly, as he polished some more beer glasses. “Many the times I’ve seen Tim apply the complete works of Shakespeare to a particularly obnoxious drunk’s backside.”

“That’s only if they’re a bit obnoxious,” said Tim. “If they’re really nasty, I like to take Boswell’s “Life of Johnson” to their johnson.”

Gary muttered something, then said, “I didn’t ask for him to be my dad.”

“No, you didn’t, lad. But you’re coming up to 30 now – plenty of time to make a break, and strike out on your own.”

Tim released his prey, leaving the younger man gasping.

“Bet your dad wasn’t a right prick,” Gary choked out, as he coughed, then rubbed his neck.

“No, he were a nice bloke, my dad. And a drunk. Harry’s dad, he had to bar my dad from the Baby.”

“Kept throwing up in gents,” said Harry. “Mum got tired of having to mop up every time Tim’s dad went for a piss.”

“Anyway,” Tim continued, “you didn’t just spring out of your dad’s head, like Athena. What about your mum? She was in our class, too. Sweetest tempered lass I’ve ever met, besides my missus.”

“Mum doesn’t care about me,” said Gary. “All she really cares about is my brother Michael, and her stupid cat.”

Gary glanced quickly toward the table where Inspector Thwaite and Sergeant Jake Cat had finished their sandwiches, and were enjoying a quiet drink. Jake didn’t turn around, though his tail fluffed out til it resembled that of a black-and-white fox.

Cat with Carpe

Cat with Carpe

Part 2 will be published on this blog next Sunday, 13th August. If you enjoyed this story, please buy an e-book of “Koi Carpe Diem: Five Tales of Paws, Claws, and Mystery”, featuring Inspector Thwaite and Sgt. Jake, or contact me for a signed paperback, featuring artwork by Tom Brown.

Tagged: alternative Doncaster, cat, Doncaster, family, fiction, Koi Carpe Diem, poetry, pubs, Shakespeare, short stories, Tom Brown, Yorkshireman in Ohio


I have had no less than 10 people tell me they are bipolar in the last 2 years!!obviously people do not understand what it really is. It’s not a feeling it’s a way of life. I get tired of the stereotype. I get tired that people would somehow diminish my condition by believing it’s just a mood swing or a bad mood. If you are bipolar and not medicated then go to the doctor and get yourself the help you need. 
I know there is no way that I could possibly explain the sometimes debilitating anxiety or the fact some days it’s all you can do to finish the day while you watch your family suffer because of you. I know that it’s not really that way. That they help me and love me because of me. Because of my caring heart and concern for people in general. I probably tell my husband some of the thoughts in my head about once week, just to see if it sounds normal or not. I like the fact that I can talk to him and that he will be honest with me but not be mean about it. I cherish him for this!!

A friend of mine and I were talking about being self aware and aware of your surroundings. She said, “well they say ignorance is bliss”. I have never really stopped to ponder that before but it is so true. If you have no personal experience and knowledge with our military you don’t worry about what it is doing and how our troops are treated. If you have no personal direct contact with someone who is truly bipolar or mentally ill you can’t possibly know what it is like. Both to be the sick person and to live and love the sick person. There are a lot of things I don’t have personal knowledge of and many of them I pray I never have to find out. 

On a personal note. My oldest son is now a Senior in high school. I have already decided I will probably be crying on the night of his first football game. I thought I might try to talk myself out of it but then I thought you know what it’s ok for me to shed a few tears for my baby. He is one of the most amazing people I know. He is kind, loving, hard working, and sincere and he is so funny when he wants to be. We work at the same place but at different times. Almost every person has told me that he’s a good worker and seems like a good kid. I did that. We did that. I will always be proud of how we have raised our kids and how amazing each of them is. I was unmedicated for 15 years of my oldests life. I may have have failed at a lot of things but I didn’t fail at this. I am excited to see what the future holds and all the great things that’s will happen. 

30 Days of Sandy Sue Altered: 13


Mazel Tov

Embrace Imperfection

Dance the Dark Away

Progress in the Works

There are days the alarm sounds and I rise. There are other days when my alarm sounds and my heart starts racing. And still there are other days when my alarm sounds and I cannot move. It’s not the weight of the blankets. It’s the weight of my existence. The buzzing continues and in my mind I beg it to stop. Rolling over hurts. On these days it could go a number of ways.
The delusion that my office couldn’t possibly go a day without me. The projects I’m working on are going to fall apart somehow lifts me out of bed. I text my boss letting her know I’m late. Tears in the shower. Tears as I stare in the mirror blowing my hair dry. I can’t figure out what to make for breakfast or lunch, so just plan to go without. On the drive, I promise myself I’m going to keep it together. Fighting back more tears I will them not to fall. I walk into my office as if all is well and turn on my computer. The flood of emails brings on such overwhelm I find myself running to the restroom. Anxiety now fills my body. I shouldn’t be here. There is no graceful exit at this point.
Another way is to notify my boss I will be out sick for the day and roll over one last time. Sleep well past noon, at least hope to. When I wake again I am full of guilt. I should be at work. I should be a functioning member of society. The tears fall staining my pajamas. Why can’t I keep it together? I was okay yesterday. Just yesterday I completed reports, answered emails, went for a hike, made dinner. I can’t do this any more. Enter suicidal ideation. I think about all the medication bottles. I think about the bridge only 25 minutes away. The voices begin to shout..you don’t belong here. They are better off without you. There is no more sleeping. Escaping the chaos in my mind.
When my feet hit the floor I feel weak, flush, scared, uncertain. I stumble around my house for a while not knowing what to do. Eventually I’m a crying mess somewhere on the floor.
The last option is to acknowledge its going to be a rough day. I can feel it in my bones once that alarm sounds. I make no rash decisions on whether to go into the office or not. I lay still a few minutes longer and breathe. I need coffee. I do not beat myself up for having bipolar disorder and the subsequent mood fluctuations. I sip my cup of coffee and consider how the day can play out. I try to stay ahead of the emotional game. I take it one minute at a time.
That third plan is the ideal. It’s a work in progress, or rather what I’m striving for. Mostly it’s a mix of option 1&2. I usually get myself to work and I usually have to go home early. I struggle with just allowing myself to be…good day or bad day. But, I’m working on it.