It has been two years since I was admitted onto Heathfield House, a mental health rehabilitation unit in Stockport, Manchester. What is life like on the unit? How have I progressed in my time here?
Heathfield House is a two storey mansion with twenty bedrooms. There are a number of toilets, showers and bathrooms on each floor. There is a lounge for patients, an office and large gardens at the front and back of the building. It houses sixteen patients at the moment but has capacity for twenty residents.
I came here after spending five months on an acute mental health ward in Tameside. I was reluctant at first and didn’t want to come to the unit. But I was persuaded by a very nice nurse at the acute ward who encouraged me by telling me what a good place it is and how other patients have praised the unit. I have been hospitalised numerous times over the years due to which, doctors decided I needed to be on a rehabilitation unit.
There are clients who have been here for many years and others who have been here for just a few months. The age of residents range from their late twenties to late fifties. Due to being on the unit together, patients bond with each other. I grew close to one particular resident as we shared a passion for cooking Bangladeshi food. He has moved on recently.
The first thing that struck me about Heathfield House is how relaxed the environment is. Compared to acute mental health wards Heathfield House is quiet and subdued. In my two years here the alarm has gone off only a handful of times, a testimony to how peaceful it is. There are the odd quarrels between patients, but nothing too serious, just minor clashes of personalities.
Initially, after arriving here there is no pressure to take part in any of the ward activities but we are gradually encouraged to join in. Activities included trips out on walking groups and visiting car boot sales. We have visited Blackpool and Liverpool and there was a residential trip to Scarborough.
Staff support service users by going on appointments with them, to the GP or the dentist, until the client is confident enough to go alone. We are free to go out but we have to be signed out by a nurse before leaving, which is the only constraint.
We are encouraged to do different activities such as visiting the mosque or the local community centre which has activities for people who have mental health problems. There also used to be a badminton group and trips to the local gym. A few of us would also go to the cinema once a month. Every week we have a community meeting where we are free to raise any concerns or complaints.
My friend and I started a weekly Halaal group cook. We would travel half an hour by bus to a Halaal shop and come back with our shopping and prepare lamb or chicken curries with boiled rice or chapattis. Prior to coming here I never attempted to cook, but while on the unit I have been encouraged to learn. Initially I learned to make basic curries from my mum but I gradually became proficient at cooking a number of different dishes, from Bangladeshi omelettes to pasta and sardines.
I have been attending psychology sessions for more than a year and can honestly say I have learned so much. I particularly benefitted from mindfulness techniques which help me to focus my thoughts and ground myself. I have learned to have compassion for myself and my voices. The ward psychologist has motivated me to write.
We have a great Occupational Therapist who involves the clients in what interests them most, whether it is cooking or gardening or in my case, mathematics. She taught maths to me and a fellow client for a couple of months before we were both admitted into college. Unfortunately due to the Coronavirus, GCSE exams were cancelled. I am disappointed as I worked very hard and know I could have done very well in the exams.
The OT has helped me a lot, not just with maths and different activities but with my passion for writing too. I wrote the first draft of my book over the Lockdown period and have started on the second draft. She is helping me to edit my novel. I have been encouraged to pursue my dream of publishing a book and have received positive feedback about my story. It is the tale of a bullied boy who grows up to become a great magician.
Before Lockdown, I used to regularly go to my parents house for a few nights a week, I am very close to my family and it was great for me to meet them regularly.
Staff are still having to wear Personal Protective Equipment to protect themselves and to protect us too. They are very strict about hand washing and keeping clean as they don’t want to bring the virus onto the unit. We are hoping to get through the pandemic without anyone on the unit falling ill.
I am getting closer to being transferred to supported accommodation in Oldham which I am very happy about as I will be closer to my family. I am slightly apprehensive too about what the new place will be like. I have grown accustomed to life at Heathfield House and am sure I will miss staff and patients alike after I move on. I hope to be taken off my section and never be hospitalised again.
Over the past two years I have learnt many skills such as cooking and budgeting, I have written my first book and some articles about issues that are important to me. I have also gained much from psychology sessions including insight into hearing voices and how to manage them. I have befriended clients who have gone through similar experiences as me.
Heathfield House is a safe place where no one will judge you regardless of your past, the nursing team are compassionate and empathise with clients; they are kind and caring and make you feel at home from day one. They do expect clients to respect the rules but other than that, they treat us with respect and dignity.
Due to the Lockdown service users became more creative. A fellow patient has written poetry about the NHS which thousands of people have read on social media. Some articles I have written have been published. During these troubling times I have witnessed the resilience of the human spirit.
I dedicate this article to Jeff who was a member of staff at Heathfield house who sadly passed away a few months ago.
Written by Muhammed Khan
Published on July 17, 2020 at 11:19 am