Care & Treatments

27 April, 2020

Embarking on the journey of mental health recovery: a service user’s experience

Entering a mental health service for the first time can be difficult, but the right support and treatment can make a huge difference in our lives. Here, a former service user tells us of their journey from beginning inpatient care and learning about their mental health to discovering new interests, routines and supports which keep them well at home.

My name is Michael and I was an inpatient at St Patrick’s Mental Health Services (SPMHS) from January to March 2019. My diagnosis was clinical persistent depressive disorder.

Understanding my symptoms

Understanding my symptoms

On entering SPMHS, I was in a dark place, having made an attempt on my own life. Without knowing it, I had all the signs of depression. I never knew that over-sleeping was one sign, or that under-eating was another.

I was not working and had too much time on my hands. I had lost all interest in activities that used to give me great pleasure. My garden had become a chore, whereas before I would be out gardening until late every evening in summer. Close relationships had become distant. Going on a night out held no appeal for me. I was stuck in a rut and could see no way out for me. I had lost all of the rhythm of life, fun, pleasure, and happiness.

When I entered hospital, I absolutely did not want to be there. I was angry and wanted to be out as soon as possible, in the shortest period of time. For the first week I self-isolated in my room, not wanting to engage with anyone or any programme in the hospital. I was invited to join an art therapy session in the ward and swiftly declined, thinking this art stuff is not for me.

Then, one day, one of the young nurses came to my room for a chat and we had a talk about routine; the routine of the hospital, the routine of life. I don’t know if the nurse intended it, but it stuck with me and got me thinking. This is what had disappeared from my life: routine.

Discovering a new routine

Discovering a new routine

I came to realise that routine was something that I needed back in my life and I started to get into the routine of the hospital. Up early, shower, breakfast, walk in the gardens, and contact with my fellow cohort of service users with mental health issues - just normal, everyday people like me.

As the weeks passed, I would add something small to the routine, whether attending a lecture in the morning or spending an hour or so in the computer room in the afternoon to complete assignments for college work. Eventually, I got to try my hand at pottery (not a success!), and then I decided to try my hand at art therapy. To my amazement, I discovered that I am quite handy at it. This came as a surprise as, in art class in school, I couldn’t draw a straight line, and only now discovered this talent at the age of 57!!

Slowly, the routine of the hospital was beginning to be of benefit to me. I began to mellow. It was not so much of a rush for me to get out of the hospital and home. In the end, it didn’t matter to me whether I had to stay or go home. I came to enjoy the routine: lectures which educated me about my condition of depression and seasonal affected disorder (SAD), therapy that chilled me out, friendships that have lasted and are still going strong, peer supports to encourage each other through bad days.

Staying well at home

Upon returning home, I knew that I had to provide myself with a routine if I was to keep myself well, but where would I start? I knew it would not be easy.

My routine now goes like this:

  • Start early

    Whether I need to or not, I am up at 7.30am, seven days a week. “Why?”, you might ask. Well, the answer is simple. If I do not follow this step, I will lie on which, in time, will see these lie-ons last longer and longer, leading back to where I started from. Over-sleeping is one of the symptoms of my condition, so getting out of bed early does away with that.

  • Exercise

    Up until the lockdown of the COVID-19 coronavirus, I would walk the local beach and coastline where I live with my two small dogs, Elmo and Leelo. This keeps me grounded and in touch with nature, the environment, and our planet.

  • Talk

    If I am feeling down, or even if I am not, I will talk to someone, anyone. As a species, we are sociable by nature and naturally want to converse with each other. Talking keeps me from internalising my problems, which I was a dab hand at back in the dark days.

  • Concentrate on my studies

    I am in my third year of an honours degree in applied social studies. This educates me in relation to psychological issues that I experience and, when qualified, will give me the opportunity to help others.

  • Sleep

    I have gotten into a regular sleep pattern. This gives me all the energy I need to get on with each day. It’s extremely important.

  • Enjoy life

    We are here for a short time, not a long time, so why should we all not enjoy it?

  • Don't take myself too seriously

    I laugh every day, at myself and others. As they say, laughter is great medicine.

  • Communicate with family every day

    This keeps me in touch and stops me from isolating myself.

  • Work

    Work pays the bills, but also gives me purpose.

  • Practice art

    I now take art classes every week: they are an excellent way to chill out and relax.

Finding your rhythm

Finding your rhythm

I won’t say that getting the routine that keeps me good was easy, anything but. I know that this routine is personal to me and it took me a while to tweak it, but I would highly recommend that you find your own rhythm and a routine that works for you, particularly when you are completing or leaving a mental health service or support. It makes life a whole lot easier, entertaining, and fun.

I’m Michael and I’m proud and glad to say that I’ve been a service user at SPMHS.