By Stewart Bint
In many ways, being sectioned was a bittersweet experience.
On the one hand frightening and overwhelming, but on the other, warm and comforting – forming protection against the outside world.
My counsellor had originally admitted me as a voluntary patient to a private psychiatric clinic – the Woodbourne Priory in Birmingham – for stress and depression brought on by the deaths of two people who were extremely close to me, and an intolerable workload as I climbed the corporate ladder.
One of those people was my mother-in-law, who suffered a lingering, painful death from cancer. Almost immediately, my father-in-law was also diagnosed with terminal cancer. I was constantly hoping – and telling people of my wishes – that he could die swiftly and painlessly to avoid the horrific ending his wife had suffered.
Completely unexpectedly, he did, about three weeks into my time in the Priory. Instantly the voices in my head told me I was to blame for his death.
The voices were explicit as to how I must “atone for my sin.” I had to slash my right cheek from the side of my eye to my chin, and then slash both my wrists. But I also had to take someone with me, and I must start selecting a fellow patient.
My last memory for about a fortnight, was running from the Priory and finding a hairdressing salon on the road into Birmingham, where I demanded a pair of scissors to fulfil what the voices were instructing me.
Apparently – although I have no recollection of this; it’s all what I was told afterwards – the police had already been alerted to the fact that I’d been seen running down the drive, and when the hairdresser called them they were on the scene in minutes, taking me back to the clinic.
I was duly sectioned for 28 days. But because of the severity of my condition and my increasingly bizarre behaviour I was also “specialed,” meaning that a nurse was assigned to never be more than a few feet from me, round the clock.
It was two weeks before the fog started to lift. To this day I have no memory of those first 14 days or so. I demanded to be taken home immediately, and the doctors had to explain again about me being sectioned and what it meant, as I could not remember having been told.
The fact that I was a prisoner sank in quickly. Actually, worse than a prisoner. Prisoners have rights. My rights had apparently been stripped from me. I was detained against my will, and forcibly drugged with lithium – so powerful that blood tests were taken every couple of days to ensure it wasn’t harming me physically. Going to the toilet and taking a bath had to be done in full view of my “special” nurse, sometimes male, sometimes female.
The voices were still there, but the lithium was dulling them. However, I was constantly asking the nurse to get me a pair of scissors, explaining that the only way I could be redeemed was to obey them.
I attempted to escape several times, the most successful being when I persuaded a hapless bank nurse to accompany into the grounds. Even though I was in my pyjamas and barefoot, I was able to outrun her. But it wasn’t long before the police returned me to the Priory, this time in handcuffs, as if I were a criminal.
Daily sessions were held with a senior psychiatrist, and gradually the voices were held in check. I will always remember another patient saying I was returning to the real world. During this second half of my enforced incarceration I began to accept what was happening to me, and indeed, to welcome it.
No longer was I rebelling against my jailors (and, make no mistake, that is how I had viewed them), instead, I metaphorically embraced them with open arms. Locked away inside the Priory I was warm, snug and safe from the outside world. They were giving me weapons to fight the voices, the armoury to overthrow the waves of bad, negative thoughts that had been invading my mind for so long.
No longer did I wake up every morning and immediately curl up in a ball, cursing the fact that I was alive. I woke up looking forward to what the day would bring and taking another small, tottering step towards getting my life back.
And all this was due to the fact that I had been sectioned. The section ended after 28 days, but I remained specialed for a further fortnight.
In total, I was in the clinic for around ten weeks. Apart from one minor relapse, the coping strategies I learned during that time have been successful, and I am grateful to have been able to rebuild my life with new, stronger, firmer foundations.
I can still hear the gentle, soothing music played during the relaxation sessions, still hear the clink of the croquet balls as we played on the front lawn, still relish the comradery of my fellow patients as we struggled together against the same foe.
It was a time of my life I will actually cherish forever, as it marked the beginning of the spiritual, caring person I am today.
Being ‘sectioned‘ in England and Wales, is the term that is often used when someone is detained under the Mental Health Act. The Mental Health Act is the law which can allow someone to be admitted, detained (or kept) and treated in hospital against their wishes. (Rethink Mental Illness).