Hospital memories part 7 – Moving on
When I was approaching the end of my hospital stay I was given some advice by a nurse.
A wise nurse who I respect very much.
She told me that I should carefully consider my expectations of what life is going to be like.
She said emotional recovery doesn’t start until I try to build a new life away from hospital.
That I may find adapting to ‘normality’ more difficult than I would expect, maybe even depressing.
I see the wisdom in that now but I didn’t pay much attention at the time.
I was convinced that going home would make life normal again. Get away from hospital and all will be well.
My discharge had been in planning for the last 4 months. I had regular meetings to organise a care package that covered my health needs, to develop contingency plans for emergencies, to ensure my housing was suitable and to decide how all of my care would be paid for. The latter seemingly the most important to those in charge.
I had been in hospital for 16 months and my day of release was within touching distance. The 16th of September 2008, I remember it well.
As the day approached I was high, nothing could bring me down. I bought presents for all the nurses and care assistants who had been looking after me, I spent time saying goodbye to the other patients and I organised some well overdue parties. I remember hatching grand plans, life was going to be great again. Free from the shackles of hospital I was going to enjoy every day.
I wish I had listened to that nurse but instead I believed I knew better. I thought getting out of hospital would be the end of my problems. It didn’t take long to realise I was wrong.
I had forgotten what it was like to live outside of hospital. Over the 16 months I had lost touch with reality and convinced myself that everything would be fine, back to normal. That seems ridiculous now. Of course my life would be completely different but after 16 months I wasn’t thinking straight. Spending so long living in hospital is like a drug addiction that has severe withdrawal symptoms when taken away.
I was not ready for the depression that ‘freedom’ would bring, the depression I was warned about. The hospital was a cocoon of safety. I was surrounded by expert medical help. I felt ‘normal’ socialising amongst others in wheelchairs. I didn’t feel judged by my appearance.
When that safety net was removed I realised how much my life had changed. I was back amongst the same old people in the same old places but everything was different. I began to feel alienated from society. Everyone was looking at me, or so I thought. The places I used to enjoy spending time felt wrong, I wanted normal again. The way it used it to be.
If I heeded the advice given to me my expectations would have been different, more realistic. Convincing myself that leaving hospital equalled going back to my old life brought about a massive fall from grace.
Antidepressants didn’t work. I protected myself by building emotional barriers, I wasn’t going to let anyone in. I found some comfort in eating, constantly. My diet was so bad that I piled on weight but I didn’t care. My confidence was so low that for the first time in my life, personal appearance was irrelevant. I rarely shaved, washed my hair or brushed my teeth. I’m not embarrassed by that, it is now part of who I am.
This lasted for a couple of years by which time I was unrecognisable, both physically and emotionally.
If only I wasn’t so stubborn. If only I had listened to that experienced nurse and accepted she knew better than me but no, I was always right. I was in control and someone like me would never end up depressed. What a pigheaded fool I was.
I want others to avoid going down the same path as I did. If I can share what happened to me, pay it forward, then maybe I will help someone to prepare themselves for life outside of hospital. To be ready for the challenges and cushion the blows.
It is a tough battle that many face. A battle they will lose if they tackle it with the same dismissive ignorance that I did.
I have moved on now but it’s been some journey. From the protective bubble of hospital to the depths of depression and back to enjoying life again. The shackles are finally gone.
The rest of my Hospital Memories can be found here.