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I Met the Love of My Life in the Psychiatric Ward

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Editor's Note

If you struggle with self-harm or experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, visit this resource.

When I first stepped foot on the adolescent psychiatric ward I was being admitted to at age 16 in November of 2014, I was really anxious. My palms were sweaty and my breathing was shallow. I had been admitted to an inpatient psychiatric ward twice before but this was a unit I hadn’t been in before, which was daunting. I was being admitted following a rapid decline in my mental health, and due to concerns of my safety following a suicide attempt and an increase in self-harm. I was at rock bottom — I had never felt lower. I was hopeless. I saw no future for myself and before admission, I didn’t expect to live to see Christmas, and to be honest, I didn’t want to. Once I was told I was being admitted, I expected to be in hospital for a little while until I felt safer and I had had some therapeutic input so I would feel like I was ready and safe to go home. That was the only thing I thought I would gain when I was admitted. I didn’t realize just how much I would gain from being admitted to the psychiatric ward.

In most inpatient hospitals (particularly under 18 units), there is a rule that patients are not allowed to be in relationships or have any physical contact (often including hugs etc.), and I understand why that rule is put into place, because couples may make each other worse or depend on each other too much. There is also the issue with age in adolescent wards (ages 12-18), or there may be inappropriate contact.

However, I did in fact meet my soul mate in an adolescent psychiatric ward. As my parents drove me through the pouring rain on a cold, dark November evening to the ward, I was expecting long days with nothing to do, therapy, education, groups, activities, medication, panic alarms, room searches, one to one support and locked doors — but I was never expecting to meet the love of my life.

Ten days after I was admitted, there was a new admission on the ward — his name was Joel. I remember him getting there at about 3 a.m. and that morning when I walked past his room, the door was open so I sneaked a peek in. About two hours later he came to join me and the other patients in the dining room doing a craft activity. This sounds so cliché, but the first time we locked eyes it was like my whole body turned to jelly and I went all shy and stupid. We started talking, and he told me about the struggles he had been through. He was in a really bad place. He was very depressed, actively suicidal, self-harming regularly and running away a lot. He didn’t care about himself at all, which was so sad to see. I always wished he could see himself through my eyes, because then he would be able to see what a beautiful, amazing, kind, caring, sweet and funny person he was.

From a few days after I met Joel, I knew I wanted him to be in my life. Although I was in the hospital to get better myself, I also really wanted to help him. He didn’t have many people back where he lived, and he had been in foster care prior to his admission so his family situation wasn’t great, and it broke my heart to think that such an incredible person didn’t have many people in his life.

From the beginning, he always knew how to make me smile and cheer me up on my bad days. It was a strange way to start a relationship, because immediately we were pretty much living together (except when we were asleep), and if we had met outside hospital like most couples, we would have seen each other a lot less. We spent pretty much every waking moment together on the ward, going to groups and education, listening to music, talking about life, spending time with the other patients, playing cards, watching TV. We got to know each other really well and often had deep conversations about life, and the world outside the building we were locked inside.

The more we talked and hung out, the more I thought he had a great personality. He liked joking around and playing pranks on people, he enjoyed socializing but found it difficult with anxiety. He had a natural flare for athletics and was amazing at pretty much every sport he tried. He wrote eloquently and was gifted at writing poems. He was serious and mature when he needed to be, he always wanted to help other people before himself, his eyes sparkled when he talked about something he was passionate about. He was incredibly selfless, he was strong and resilient, he was intelligent and loved learning new things. He was just such a genuine person with so much value and talent.

I hated how after knowing Joel for even just a few days, I could see all of these amazing things about him, but he just couldn’t see them at all. He had no sense of self-worth — he believed he had no value in life or society. In the state he was in, and because he was so unwell, all that occupied his mind was mental illness, he believed it was all that defined him. However, that never stopped him trying to help me. If I needed someone to talk to, a shoulder to cry on or a hand to hold, he was always there for me, without fail. No matter how bad his day was, he always took time to tell me I was beautiful and that I was a good person. If I was struggling, he was always there suggesting things that could help and helping me get through it one hour at a time.

After a while, I realized I was falling for him. I kicked myself. The exact words from my diary that day were:

Argh why do I make everything so difficult by having feelings for people I would never have a chance with, and even if I did it wouldn’t work. I wish I had met Joel somewhere else and that we lived closer together. It was never going to be perfect I guess, but what annoys me is that he is perfect, it’s just the situation / circumstances that are not.

Joel lived 150 miles away from me, and I really wanted it to work but I knew it would be hard. I felt like he was too good for me and that the distance would just make everything too hard considering our mental health issues, but I wanted to make it work.

In January 2015, a month after we first met, Joel asked me to be his girlfriend. I was beaming from ear to ear for the whole night after I said yes. I could picture a future with him. I could see myself actually being alive if I was by his side. Pretty soon the hospital caught on and separated us by putting us on one on one care (where a patient has to have a staff member with them 24/7, usually due to risk of self-harm or suicide) to ensure there was nothing going on. A lot of the staff advised us that the reason they were doing this was to protect us, because they had seen the impact on patients who get into relationships in hospital and nine times out of 10 they end up breaking up and it puts an even bigger strain on their mental health. I had seen this myself in previous admissions with other patients, so I knew why they were doing what they were doing and although it was annoying, it made sense. We were told by various staff members and other people all of the following comments, a lot:

“Your relationship will never last.”

“You are only together because you both have attachment and interpersonal issues.”

“You don’t actually love each other, you just think you do.”

“It’s just your illness that makes you think you want to be with him.”

“You will never have a healthy relationship.”

“You’re only together because you’re both in hospital, as soon as you’re discharged, you won’t feel the same about each other.”

Joel was discharged in February, just over a month after we started going out, and he worked really hard in the community to attend his sessions and take his medication. He also stopped self-harming two months after he was discharged and was completely discharged from mental health services six months after his discharge from inpatient.

I was transferred to another hospital to continue my inpatient treatment in March 2015 until August 2015 when I was discharged after a total of nine months as an inpatient. While I was still in hospital, I was unable to see Joel for a period of four months. Every day from the last time I saw Joel when he was discharged in February to when I saw him next in June, I wrote him a letter, sometimes pages and pages of writing, because I felt like I was missing a limb without him by my side, and I gave them to him when I next saw him.

Now, in January 2018, Joel has not self-harmed in two years and nine months, he hasn’t made an attempt on his life in two years and eleven months, he has been off his medication for almost three years, and I am with a specific mental health service in the community for treatment for emotionally unstable personality disorder, and although I am up and down, I have come a long way since that admission three years ago.

Joel and I are still together, three years after we started going out in January 2015, and our relationship is stronger than ever. We have now lived in our own apartment for over two years, we are engaged, we have a cat, Joel has learnt to drive and we have a car. Although I am still on my road to recovery, Joel is the most perfect life partner, best friend, soul mate and fiancé I could have ever wished to have by my side through it all. It feels good to say that with him, I feel like I should be alive to see the rest of my life. With him, I know how much I would miss out on if I gave up, and he helps me see that I should be alive, despite the days when I wish for nothing more than to not exist anymore.

Image via contributor

Originally published: March 7, 2018
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