By Yohanna Abdullah
It has been more than three years that I was last hospitalised and my recent retreat in the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) brought back all the happy memories of institutionalisation. Indeed, we enter hospitals as a last resort and to HEAL from our wounds – mostly emotional and spiritual, yes of course physical but it is mostly a retreat and a safe haven.
Yes, we have a place in the sun for those who are hurt or wounded and need shelter. A place for the crazies may seem to be the last place to rest and relax with ear-piercing cries and mumbo and jumbo and impromptu random and made up songs but yes, bewildering as it is, it is just the thing to get back to your centre, to your humanity.
Me? I just wanted to reclaim my sleep. Out there in the community, I had slept a total of 11 hours in seven days. In IMH, I was sleeping like a baby on my soft bed strategically placed in the middle of the ward beneath a fan. Somehow the sleep that eluded me at home found solace in a ward full of 48 patients with their own interesting tales to tell.
Ani was my first bosom friend at my ward. She sang non-stop to certain melodies being totally random in her word association with funny results. Her hair was snow white and she has schizophrenia talking every now and then to her constant phantom companion and exhibted signs of dementia. We had quite a few ECTs (Electro Convulsive Treatments) together. I don’t know about her but ECTs work fine with me except for some memory loss.
Then there was Elsa a helper who felt unceremoniously dumped in IMH by her boss as she was suffering from depression. She lives just a few blocks away from me and we pledged to go for daily walks at our neighbourhood a 7 am whenever possible. She wondered how her bosses felt about her as they did not come to pay her a visit her.
One remarkable woman I encountered in the ward is Salinah who was born with physical impairments which do not stop her from walking on her knees using her one good arm and another deformed arm with an appendage which many have pointed out to her anger, looked like a penis. She is a mother of two and is independent and carries herself with composure and dignity. She needed my help to report some matter to the police and we both want to go eat cockles. These two things I promised to help her with, God willing, I look forward to meet her again in better circumstances.
She is planning to rent in a room in the home of another hospital mate Maria who is looking for a job once she has settled down. She loves sharing and counselling and she wonders if she can be a para-counsellor at Club HEAL as she can help communicate with our Chinese clients.
There were many who could benefit from the free services provided by Club HEAL. The day rehabilitation could help them use their time fruitfully gaining knowledge, having recreation and exercise and companionship. Can those with mental health issues live a fulfilling life even if they get hospitalised many times?
One who has spent most of her teenage and adult years in and out of IMH is Selina who is of mixed parentage – Dutch and Sikh. She is convinced she is not crazy and should not be treated as such being mostly committed to the hospital unfortunately known for the gila. She seems to have schizo-affective disorder to a layman me. But she assures me that she is normal and it has been a terrible mistake and injustice that is the story of her life. Selina is artistically blessed and sings and draws well. She turned 26 and her parents brought a cake to celebrate with her friends in the ward. I don’t know her story really but I feel her pain for spending a good part of her life in a mental health facility. She has so much to give and live for.
Which brings us to Club HEAL’s HOPE EMPOWERMENT ACCEPTANCE and LOVE. All of us deserve these four words. We need them to Heal us from what has befallen us in our journey on Planet Earth. Life can sometimes turn into a nightmare overnight.
Being at Ward 32-B, I was happy and contented with the service and companionship but I had been waiting to try the new Mood Disorders Unit (MDU) at Basement 2. I had been privy to its launch and its sister Early Psychosis Intervention Programme (EPIP) side by side in all its glory and wasn’t disappointed.
There’s a place in the sun where there is room for everyone and there is a nice place, even to bask in the sun in a pretty garden at MDU. There are two silver coloured swings which send me back to my childhood days, swinging in such a swing at my Aunty Hapsah’s garden.
MDU has a feeling all too different from Ward 32-B. The windows are without grilles and are tall and slim thus not compromising safety. As it is in on the ground floor and opens up to the outdoors, there is a great feeling of openness and freedom that is usually wanting in a mental asylum.
There is greater leeway to wear your own clothes or the uniform and as there are no curfew for visitors, visitors and patients lounge around the living area and it is hard to tell them apart when both are in their own clothes.
The common area is also used to play games such as mah-jong, monopoly, scrabble and chess an Uno and Mastermind. The atmosphere is enlivened with student nurses on their internship and the friendly competitive spirit among the patients and students.
The dormitories were simply and beautifully designed with the cubicles named after flowers. The toilets and bathrooms likewise pleasant and clean and spacious.
This contrasts with Ward 32-B’s basic bathrooms where I enjoyed the communal assisted baths as I did not want to queue for my own cubicle.
To be fair, Ward 32-B is also meant to see better days as I had been privileged to give feedback to its makeover much among the lines of MDU last year. The changes will take time but it is all in the offing. IMH is set to provide better quality care for all its clients.
At MDU I made friends with a few who were mentally challenged more than I can imagine. Johnathan has OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and it takes a lot out of him just to eat a meal. Sitting down is something he has to ponder and contemplate and eating is a pain too. Some are more blessed than others, being surrounded always by their loved ones. I made friends with Wati who is from Sarawak married to a French patient. Being a mood disorders ward, quite a few are like me, afflicted with bipolar disorder and one of them Wan who dropped out of a banking and finance degree from Harvard University who came out with an interesting business proposal for us to embark on once we are both out in the real world.
Wan and Anja
Love sometimes bloom in such situations and Wan with a more mature girlfriend and a cute young patient Anja created a love triangle inadvertently. Such is the daily drama unfolding before our very eyes. What you see in the ward is a microcosm of what happens in the outside world.
Back in Club HEAL and doing an exercise on The Perfect Healing Hospital that we can conceive. MDU comes close to it, with all the facilities, including Art Therapy and Occupational Therapy thrown in to engage our senses and emotions and translate them into works of art.
Now that I am in the real world, it felt surreal because for three weeks, home was an institution – one that is safe, structured and routine revolving around medication, meals, showers, chats, games and sleep. I have to keep to the routine in the real world as that helps organise the random and extremist bipolar bear’s day. Mood or no mood I am not planning any more admissions for a long, long time yet to come.
The good outcome is that my case will be managed by the MDU team as an outpatient with changes in my treatment plan to include outpatient ECT and increase in injection of Clopixol and removal of haloperidol replaced by quetiapine. An illness doesn’t stay the same all the time and treatment need to change accordingly. If your health is compromised, there is a need to change the formula for successful treatment. Verily there is a cure for every illness except for death.
Indeed, sometimes Time is the only healer and as much as we feel ill and ill at ease, the day will come when the sun shines bright and embraces us in its healing rays.