I Survived The Night

This morning marks 8 years since I survived my first night in a psychiatric unit of a hospital. Well, an emergency psychiatric unit to be specific. I say “survived” because not everyone is so lucky. My first night sleeping within the cold foreboding confines of a hospital ward, designed to detain those in heightened mental states, was exactly as you would expect. The first 24 hours from the moment I stepped foot into the hospital until the following afternoon were composed of straight horror film scenarios, except it was real life.

Between the tall male that had just been released from prison who was warning me that where we were was “worse” casually bringing up rape, to the heavy-set woman who tried to choke me out in my sleep, I knew shit was f*cked. Worst of all, no one was taking my personal testimony on something as private as my own thoughts, and there were no psychologists or therapists to speak to at all. Just a shrew of a psychiatrist who diagnosed me within 20 minutes of arrival. I spent most of that 24 hours frantic about my new reality, and for the other portion of time I drew “universes”.

I sat on my hospital bed in a communal room where for the first time in my life I was being observed under harsh circumstances, and all I could think to do was draw.

Since that day I have become stronger, not because I was hospitalized but in spite of it. There is a problem with the way our healing system is set up and it is okay to recognize that. In fact, it is imperative to do so. If we ignore that the mental health system has its failings then we fail any member of the public in crisis.

What I saw in those first 24 hours didn’t tell me everything about the journey that laid ahead, but it did show me that I could get through it. I survived that night and many more…many worse.

Since that day I have had to rebuild myself, my reality and almost every aspect of my life.

To all of the psych ward survivors out there: I see you. Even if you aren’t raising your hand to say that you’re a part of the club…

I see you.

How To Conduct A “Self-Interview” While You Heal

To kick off Mental Health Awareness Month on London Mind Fit, I am going to start with a very important technique that I used during recovery. In fact, it’s something I continue to use and see myself using for a long time. It’s called a “self-interview.”

At a time when the majority of the world is in, or emerging from, some sort of lockdown, collective mental stability is essential right now. Maintaining our critical thinking at this time is more important than anything but making sure not to lose ourselves and what is important to us is another.

No matter where you are on your journey of healing or self-discovery, I find it helps to periodically conduct a “self-interview”. I started this practice when I was in a debilitating depression where my self-expression was practically null. When I began interviewing myself I did it verbally because I wanted to hone my verbal skills back to the level of expression they were at before, or better, and through this practice and other exercises as well, I recovered.

Recovery is a process, one that I continue to be in every single day. This is what I committed to and what is most important, and I have seen the results of putting my mental health first help transform my life for the better. Improvement is what is important here, not achieving some sort of image of perfection.

A self-interview is simple, although for some it may be harder to complete than others. That’s okay though. Some self-interviews are very emotional because we are the ones asking the questions, and when it comes down to it, we want the answers to the big ones. If you’re not sure where to start, perhaps consider setting the lighting to one you are comfortable with and meditating first. Or, if you’re ready, dive right in!

Aim to ask yourself around 5 questions but don’t be disappointed if you start with less or even go over. The idea is to not overdo it but also to get to a good place in your responses, and believe me, the responses can be revealing.

You can conduct a self-interview verbally or in writing, and I would recommend doing the writing by hand and the verbal interview definitely when you are alone. I am a writer. Sometimes I use dialogue to illustrate a point, so writing in someone else’s voice is something that comes naturally to me. But this is something ANYONE can do. You just have to believe that you can.

If you find that it’s just not working but you’re committed to seeing what you find out about yourself and how it helps you with your freedom of expression & communication skills, start with brainstorming labels of identities that you associate with. Then use some of those labels that you identify with to help guide your questions like an interviewer looking at you would.

If you want to hear a little bit more about the self-interview and the origins of this practice in my healing process listen to the episode of The Eric Ibey Podcast where I discuss it.

Healing is a journey we all take, and mental health is something that affects everyone. You have a mind right? It’s in your body, right?  So, therefore by law it must also be subject to at least some of the same principles as the rest of the physical form even if it has its differences. Well, I applied the concept of repetition in exercises like for a physical workout towards my brain at a time when everything looked bleak and got out of it. Now that I’m in this place, I’m going to do everything in my power to stay here and continue to improve. In the process, I am also in a place to share the journey with others.

Balance is essential, but learning who you are in life can help any person, whether these words resonate with you or not. For me, the self-interview helps when I need some unscrambling, venting, clarifying, or healing. For you, perhaps you can find that it is helpful in different ways. But whichever way you look at it, you really don’t have anything to lose in trying it out.

The one fear you have to overcome prior is finding out the truth about yourself. The intention and expectation is that you will answer these questions honestly, otherwise you will get no where. You are supposed to learn what you want to know about YOU, not someone else.

Another great tip is to envision your favourite interviewer asking you the questions. I visualized Barbara Walters and Oprah to start, and now I don’t need to envision anyone else doing the asking.

An example question and answer from a written self-interview I did in 2019 is:

Q. What is it about mental health that makes you so interested in the field?

A. The fact that I had accomplished as much learning about health, had experience in the field, and an attentive eye on the mental health crisis affecting our global community and yet, until my bipolar diagnosis, I didn’t know the full extent of what mental health was. How deep it could go and how complex it can be.

The answer goes on for another long paragraph, but you get the idea. Ask yourself things you would want to know about yourself and go from there. This sample question is from a 6-question long interview that I conducted at a time when I needed to make, what to me was a big decision. I may not have come to the decision through the interview immediately, but it helped me in the process to see things clearer.

Make no apologies for what you do to maintain your mental health and never assume that it does not apply to you to do some work because there was a day when I had no diagnoses or real issues to speak of. Prevention is key to avoiding any type of crisis. Who cares if you look silly to someone else? It’s your mind, and it deserves some attention and challenging exercise sometimes.

If you’re looking for a place to start with your mental health, this is an effective practice to throw into the mix.

And if it doesn’t work for you, cool, but it could work for someone else who needs it.

It worked for me.