By Nina Martynchyk
“Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today.”
– Thich Nhat Han
When I think back to my time in hospital, the only thing I really remember are the relationships that I had with the staff that looked after me. There was a period of time when the staff were the only people I could rely on.
A couple of weeks after being admitted to the Royal Free for Anorexia, my placement with my old foster carer broke down. My mum had died two years before, my attempt to start a relationship with my dad broke down catastrophically and with the exception of my brother, I had no family to visit and support me until my current foster mum came along six weeks later.
Sue Gerhardt is spot on when she said “The qualities of good parenting (and of close relationships in general) are essentially regulatory qualities: the capacity to listen, to notice, to shape behaviour and to be able to restore good feelings through some kind of physical, emotional or mental contact, through a touch, a smile, a way of putting feelings and thoughts into words.” Despite being bruised by the collapse of many of my past relationships, the support, time and care the staff gave me meant I could feel that they genuinely wanted to help me which in turn eased the loneliness I was feeling. Even though they carried out my medical observations and blood tests, they also went the extra mile which showed me that I wasn’t as worthless as I thought I was and that I deserved care and attention.
When I had nobody to wash my clothes for me, I recall the lead nurse sitting on my bed and offering to take it home for me. I remember the health care worker that shared my 16-year old hormone fuelled obsession with One Direction listening to my favourite songs with me. I was also obsessed with magazines which resulted in many afternoons of conversations about the current state of celebrity affairs.
I remember having to create an impromptu art portfolio to hand into my college which would determine if I would get onto the art course there or not. One of the nurses spent her afternoons teaching me drawing techniques and admittedly doing quite a bit of the drawing for me. I was accepted!
When I was about to start sixth form, one of my nurses came in on her day off to take me to my open day. It was a great day- we had lunch at Nando’s, went to visit the college and then met up with my foster mum who took us out for a snack. Having two meals out of my unit was a very big achievement for me. That day, not only did I tackle my Anorexia but I also realised that I really did mean something to those looking after me. When the staff would do nice things with me, such as help me with art or go with me to buy One Direction posters, I would also feel like I wasn’t only a patient but a ‘real’ person with real interests too.
The professionals who worked with me also helped me build my relationship with my foster mum. By the time she came along, I had very little trust in people. I needed constant reassurance from the staff that she was as nice as she seemed, she wasn’t lying to me about taking me home with her and that she really meant the lovely things which she was saying. The hospital also made sure that my chosen health care assistant was there with me at my first meeting with her. Starting any relationship with anybody isn’t very easy, let alone when you are in crisis in hospital and have been through four previous failed placements, bereavement and trauma. Without the amazing help from the staff, setting up a relationship with her would have been much more complicated than it already was. Now we get on really well, I still live with her and we have spent my previous four birthdays together. Not only did the staff help me within the hospital setting, but they also helped me on the journey of creating a life out in the ‘real’ world.
Thich Nhat Han says “Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today.” For the majority of my stay in hospital, hope was very hard to find within myself. I am so grateful to the staff for giving me with hope when I needed it the most and eventually helping me find it within myself despite the fact that I thought it was permanently lost. The professionals who worked with me helped me see that I was worth more than what my anorexia, depression and my anxiety made me feel.
I have now recovered from an eating disorder that once nearly took my life.
This blog relates to the Caring Relationships theme – click here to take a look
Here are a few extracts…
The Caring Relationships theme focuses on ward staff members’ relationship with young inpatients. It touches on how staff are compassionate experts who build-up, empower and support young people’s relationships with everyone involved in their lives, including families, carers, friends, schools and even pets.
Young people love it when caring adults commit (with flexibility of course) to their request for individual quality time. The ‘therapeutic alliance’ is the ability to form and nurture therapeutic relationships in which staff create a ‘bond’ with young people and their family, so they can work together to reach shared decisions. In this sense, it’s primarily about supporting healthy attachment, so young people and those involved in their recovery can have trust, and are able to be honest about their needs. The healthiest relationships are those which are honest, flexible, committed, warm and safe. What matters most is that these purposeful conversations and interactions take priority, are young person-focused and caring. Every action communicates something of importance.
All of us are open to powerful emotions that we can’t always ignore or switch off. Instead of shaming ourselves when these emotions are triggered, we need to step back, work out what we’re thinking or feeling, and identify the underlying source of what we’re experiencing. You can teach a young person that their feelings are not enemies or threats to their existence; that each one of them deserves kind and uncensored attention, exploration and integration. Sometimes powerful energies just need to rage in them for a while. Sometimes the tender tears and emotions need to flow or stream out of them in order to accommodate more hope and love.
Applauding the ‘small’ achievements is one of the simplest, but most effective ways to boost young people’s happiness. Positive feedback is the most powerful tool you have to improve a young person’s behaviour and self-esteem. Warm and sensitive validation of their thoughts and emotions helps them work out what triggers their feelings and can neutralise difficult parts of their experience.
About the author
Hi, I’m Nina. I’m 20 years old and will soon be starting university to study Psychology. I’m passionate about spreading awareness of mental health and the foster care system. My interest in inpatient mental health care stems from the period of hospitalisation I experienced for Anorexia Nervosa, half of which was spent as a detained patient. I now live with my foster mum and foster brother. My biological brother spends a lot of time round at ours’ as well. I am now in recovery from Anxiety and Depression and have recovered from my eating disorder.