This post is about recovery and healing. I decided that some sunshine was necessary after the serious posts of last week and before I start telling about life in the mental hospital.
For a few months following hospitalisation, I struggled to get out of bed and leave the house. It took a lot of effort working with my mental health nurse from Cameo and my psychiatrist to let go of the fear of people spying on me. I continued to see conspiracy connections and secret messages whenever I interacted with other people, so often I would simply stay at home, sleeping, crying or hiding in bed. I found cognitive behavior therapy, medication and the support of my close family and friends to be helpful during this initial period following my breakdown.
After a few months, I was recovered enough to start a phased return to work organised by the occupational health services at the university. I still struggled with the fear of my colleagues and hidden cameras in the lab, but at least I was getting out of bed and leaving the house. By that time, the end of my contract and my work-sponsored visa was imminent and I still was in no state to apply for new positions. That was the point when my husband proposed that we get married. Everything that had happened, instead of breaking us, had made our relationship stronger. Though, at times, I still worried whether he was a spy, I never doubted his love and devotion. It was the natural decision to affirm our life together by marrying. My best friend in the UK organised all the details for the small ceremony and reception in Cambridge and my mother flew over to join us. The event marks a ray of sunshine in a dreary, sleep-filled, fear-filled time.
My research contract came to an end, marking the end of my academic career, but I was able to stay with my husband and continue building our life together. Several months of unemployment followed the end of my research contract. I continued to struggle with excessive tiredness (I now realise this was a side affect of the medication.) and the lack of motivation to get out of bed and the fear of interacting with people if I left the house. I continued to work with my mental health nurse and gradually my fears receded and I started venturing out to buy groceries and visit the library. After a few months, my nurse and husband encouraged me to try volunteer work. So I started volunteering at a local charity bookstore on Saturday afternoons (I was still not waking up before noon.). Sometimes I worried about the people (spies?) who came into the shop or the homeless people I passed on the street, but these thoughts became less and less as the months passed.
After a few months of volunteering on Saturdays, I went to a local job agency that my husband had used when he initially started working. They had a temporary job available for marking science examinations. My husband and nurse encouraged me to try the job, telling me that it was only for a month and that I could leave the job if I felt unwell. I was worried about whether I would be able to wake up in time for the 8:30 start as I had not woken up before 9 in the past six months. It turned out to be a very good way to reenter the world of work, doing simple repetitive tasks with strict hours.
When this job ended, a friend encouraged me to take another temporary position in the same company doing administration tasks. She also encouraged me to apply for a specialist role that had come up in the company. She believed in me and it was only due to her insistence that I applied. I was not confident that I was well enough to take on a more substantial role, but her belief in me enabled me to give it a try. It was one of the best decisions of my life.
My colleagues and line manager in the new role were brilliant, fun, supportive, full of humour and life. Most especially, they cared about each other. Being in academia, I had grown reluctant to ask questions of my colleagues in case they judged me for not knowing something. In this new role, I was encouraged to ask frequent questions and to take on responsibilities and projects with the full support of the team. I spent several happy months working with them. They nurtured my professional growth and personal healing. I became more confident that I could do a good job and that I could work with colleagues without worrying about whether they were spying on me or hating me.
Unfortunately, due to a restructure in the company, the team was disbanded and my colleagues and I had to move on to new roles. I will always be grateful for the role they played, by simply being good people, in my recovery.
Recently, my husband and I joined a gym. A side effect of the medication: sleeping long hours, not having energy or motivation to exercise and eating more regular meals, was that I have gained about 10kg since the hospitalisation. I still fall within a healthy weight range, but not fitting any of my trousers or dresses is not particularly helpful. I still need to gather the courage to give my old clothes to charity and buy ones that fit.
At the gym, I have started doing a yoga/tai chi class once a week and going with my husband to enjoy the jacuzzi and sauna for relaxation. I also joined a lunch club at the start of the year and learned how to crochet and knit. I find that the simple repetitive motions are quite good as a relaxing activity and it is rewarding to be able to produce a lovely scarf or blanket. I have started volunteering for a science outreach group again and have continued volunteering on Saturdays at the bookstore. I try not to overcommit and to give myself plenty of unscheduled time where I can just read a book, write in my journal or take a walk to see all the new spring blossoms.
I can honestly say that I have never been happier and healthier in my life. I hope that if you are struggling with your mental health, that you are able to find people to support and guide you in your healing. The process may seem slow and uncertain, but there is hope and recovery from mental illness is possible.