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CHANGES

Author: James Gerard
Year: Future

At the tender age of 23-years old, I was incarcerated in Woodilee Lunatic and Pauper Asylum (Opened 1875, Closed 2001).

It was a terrifying experience.

I was in a bad way and needed help. Unfortunately, so did the world of psychiatry.

It all happened so quickly and I wasn’t really sure what was going on. The unit was situated in the outskirts of Glasgow miles away from my family home.

Following a rushed medical and a brief question and answer session, they told me to strip and handed me a pair of pyjamas. I glanced through a small window on the door and was horrified to see a gathering of inmates waiting eagerly to greet me.

Most had horrific physical scars and wasted no time telling me this is how I would end up.

The ground floor building had iron-barred windows and an outside door that was always locked.

There was a row of around twenty-five beds facing another twenty-five; privacy was non-existent. The smell was nauseating and the toilets were repulsive.

Initially, I was scared, humiliated and angry; I couldn’t understand why I was being punished for being ill?

Just seven days earlier it was all so different. There was I, your archetypal yuppie; a sharp, confident, 23-year-old with lots of friends, a good job, girlfriend, not bad looks and a strong physique.

This was the last place I needed to be to sort myself out.

My whole being went into survival mode. I had to learn the ways of the unit and do my ‘time’ the best I could.

A typical day would start at 8am. Some would rise before this, rummaging through bins for old cigarette butts to calm their rattling nerves.

Once you had made your bed, you were frog-marched into the bathroom for a shave, shower or bath. At all times you were under the watchful eyes of the guards.

Mostly these were big strong men who took no nonsense.

Following this, you were led to the canteen where you dined with the female inmates.

After breakfast you were given the drug Largactil. It had different effects on each inmate. Some would turn into zombies. Some would hide and sleep under beds. And some of the more experienced inmates would ask for the tablet form and simply spit it out in the toilet.

Next, the whole ward had to be cleaned from top to bottom.

You were under strict orders not to lie or sit on your bed during the day; if you had too much rest you would keep the night shift staff up.

So, from eight in the morning to eight at night, the only thing to do was pace up and down the ward, or look out of the windows.

As you can imagine, the days were long and boring.

At the same time, you had to keep your wits about you.

Fights and theft were common. The staff would deal with this by jumping on inmates, injecting them with a sedative, or locking them up in a specially secured padded cell.

When 8pm came, I would pull my curtains closed and enjoy a little bit of privacy. My shoulders would dip and I would drop my guard and relax a little.

Looking back, I think my naivety was a good thing; I wasn’t aware just how dangerous the other inmates were, or why they had been incarcerated.

After about ten weeks, they sent me home shattered and broken with no grounds for appeal.

This was when I was at my lowest. Most of my days were spent sleeping on my dad’s sofa wishing I was dead.

The memories of the psychiatric unit were still really clear in my head and haunted me day and night.

It was more than a year before my mood began to lift. I had no job, no girlfriend, with the label of someone who was partial to a wee bit of mental illness.

I had no idea of who I was, where I was going, why I had suffered a breakdown, or how to make things better.

Having been ill for so long, I was desperate to get away.

I moved to Southport and trained as a care assistant.

On my return, it became clear that I needed help to manage my condition. I set up a charity called Time Out and hoped it would take off.

It was a great success and even won a few awards. Speaking to people who had ‘been there’ was such a relief.

I learned about money, benefits, budgeting, and paying all my bills via direct debit. We brought in speakers and completed worldwide research.

In time, I learned how to take responsibility for my condition, identify triggers, identify stressors, and other self-management techniques.

The true power of the group was the group.

My subsequent degree in journalism was partly inspired by my time on that barbaric ward and is now a powerful tool that helps me communicate effectively.

I still have my highs and lows like everyone else. However, these days I try to have a good balance in everything I do, including a healthy food regime.

I now have a community psychiatric nurse who I trust, an occupational therapist and a top psychiatrist whose wisdom and grace far outweigh her years.

Psychiatrists, nurses, patients, charities, and even governments all over the world are now coming together to promote recovery.

It’s a slow process and there is still a lot of work to be done.

On my journey, I have learned that petty bickering and hate achieves nothing, and that education, empathy, forgiveness and compassion achieve results. Fear and confusion has kept me back for a long time. Today, that fear has gone and I am coming to realise I do have a future.

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