The CLI Presentation – Words for Now :-)


Tracey Holley's New Home 🙂

There’s no doubt about it: anyone finding themselves a patient on a psychiatric ward is in a vulnerable, distressed state. Whether or not hospitalisation has been necessary – or even helpful – is, in this sense, less important than recognising the vulnerability and distress of the person in question.

Whether desperately unhappy; enraged; disturbed or confused, patients are characteristically in a state of overwhelm on arrival; the more so where they have been forced into the context.

Thus the first duty of caring professionals = nursing; medical and other practitioners, is to acknowledge and respond sensitively to the emotive state of the patient at this point.

Sadly this has not been my experience most of the time: indeed, on the contrary, the insensitive, inobservant, arrogant and cavalier conduct of staff in the early years of my experience of mental health services created within me the mission I have had ever since to address it’s traumatising, wounding impacts – impacts that for many, are more violent and repressive than the contexts from which they were taken.

However, outstandingly compassionate and sensitive behaviours by four members of staff stand out from this mellais of disgrace.
The first came within a year of my request for an alternative psychiatrist from the one I had been ‘given’ in 1997 and whose arrogant, insensitive attitude and behaviour had driven me to 2 suicide attempts (none prior to meeting her, none even as a thought, before it).

The replacement psychiatrist was far from perfect (are any of us?) but what he did have going for him, certainly in relation to me, was a transparent humanity and quirkiness that warmed my heart and assisted me to feel as protective and concerned for his own wellbeing as he clearly felt for mine.

His name was John King. He recognised my intellectual restlessness and stretching inquisitiveness, he noticed my creative impulses and achievements; he marked my impassioned love for my children; he found it difficult to get his head around the abuse I had endured from various quarters leading up to and continuing in relation to my personal breakdowns and difficulties in recovering from these.

The second came from a nursing assistant who, by the time of this particular incident, I had met several times during ‘incarcerations’ at Hill Crest Hospital in Reddditch. I am racking my mind to remember her name, I feel dreadful that it isn’t at the tip of my tongue. I ran into her at a seminar only a year or so ago : she is attractive, 40-ish, with dark, curly long hair; vivacious and warm: the very epitome of the kind of nurse that anyone could wish for on a ward.

In 2003 she noticed the painfully distressed state I was in and within a few days she asked me if I would like help to have a bath. Her manner was non-patronising, tender and empathic. She had surmised that I was in serious need of nurture – she couldn’t have been more right. ‘Normally’ I am frighteningly shy and inhibited about my body, having suffered body dysmorphia and eating disorders from my early teens that had affected my growth so that in some respects I appeared barely adult: this was only too evident to me and I tended all my life to hide away from inspection, or indeed, even from being physically noticed.

With her maternal warmth and gentleness I allowed her to run a bath for me and to re-enter the room after I had undressed and got into the bath. She gently washed my back – a form of physical contact that I had not felt able to accept for so long I had no memory of it. Indeed, when I reflected upon it, I had not received such gentle contact from humanity since I was a tiny pre-school child, by one of my grandparents. It was a healing, nurturing contact that catalysed my recovery.

The third person to stand out from the crowd was another nursing assistant who was small, bubbly and loved by absolutely every patient. She worked with the hospital team to advocate for my needs to have contact with my children and she succeeded. She took me away from the hospital for coffee hours where we simply sat and chattered like girls with no reference to ‘heavy issues’: again, my recovery was catalysed.

Finally, I received memorable respect and kindness during my most extraordinary imprisonment last year. It was extraordinary because my distress had been caused directly and almost exclusively by malicious efforts by my ex-husband and his wife to malign me in order for my ex-husband to continue to conceal the truth about himself; plus, by the mental health service who once more, and this time indefensibly, leapt to his aid by ‘rounding me up’ after hot pursuit and declaring me insane for writing a blog and for being ‘over familiar’ with a nurse who I had known (to be ‘over familiar’ himself at Hill Crest where I had first met him) by trying to engage him in music session whilst he was (ininvitedly) in my home…..

…one of the nursing assistants (support workers, as they are now called) took to coming into see me in my room when the ward was quiet, simply to have a chat, to show me her publications, her poetry and to contextualise me in relation to the triggers for her work. This was respect, courtesy, warmth, acceptance, treating me in a manner I could recognise as fitting in relation to my identity..

I hope that this indicates to you the kinds of positive risks these intelligent and responsible and compassionate individuals took and the gains their risks achieved in the journey of one mental health patient. So very risky none of it was – but they took the ‘risk’ of ‘coming out from behind’ real or supposed masks of ‘expertise’ and ‘clinical’ (=cold and heartless and judgemental) reserves of ‘professional identity’ and related to me as fellow human beings disposed to assist me at a point of pain and difficulty in my life.

I hope that you, too, find the courage to work in the interests of ‘shared humanness’ regardless of those pressures you may find to be remote, ‘professionally detached’ and covertly judgemental. Active listening is probably the most important skill any mental health, or any other health, professional can acquire and use.

2 Comments »

  1. 1
    Laura May Says:

    I really enjoyed reading this – thanks for sharing your story, and it is great to hear there are people out there with some compassion left. As a mental health patient myself, I know how vital empathy can be in recovery.

  2. 2
    gracelol Says:

    Thank you so much for your comment Laura :-). I could wish that other visitors took so much trouble to offer feedback to us on the work we are doing in working on this site to promote dialogue in the interests of positive mental health for all.


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