As the title suggests, I will be talking about triggers in this post. So here's the warning to leave this blog post now if you don't feel strong enough.
When I got out of hospital in 2011 after the 17-month stay, it took me a fair while to get used to living in the 'real world' again. I had spent all but about a month on section 3s so I was used to being restricted by them and having to be at a certain place at a certain time everyday. However, once I got used to living in the real world, my thoughts changed to, "I can't ever go back to a psych ward."
Whilst it was great living 'normally' again, I couldn't stop thinking about that long hospital stay and the events that had happened. I was constantly afraid that I was going to be taken back into hospital, so much so that I kept a shard of glass hidden in a secret part of my bag for a few months. My thoughts were that if I was ever taken into hospital again, I would use the shard to kill myself with so that I didn't have to go through another lengthy admission. I think it was about four months before I binned the glass and focussed more on recovery than my hospital fears.
The hospital fears were still present though and I found myself getting easily triggered. The worst trigger for me was syringes. If there was ever a health story on the news that showed someone getting an injection, my heart would start racing. My heart would pound a bit if I saw someone in a nurse uniform in public, and even driving near the hospital where I'd been a patient would make me feel extremely uncomfortable. Even though I was trying to stay focussed on recovery, my hospital fears were still quite powerful in the back of my mind.
I didn't tell anyone about these fears, not my family, not my CPN, nobody, because I was determined to fight the fears alone. I'm a real perfectionist and when I get an idea in my head, I have to do it or else I can't settle. I got it into my head that I could desensitise myself to hospital et al by riding my scooter near the hospital where I'd been a patient. (When I say scooter, I mean an automatic motorbike, not the thing you use your feet to propel yourself with!)
At first, I just rode near the hospital but turned off before going down the road the hospital was on. After that, I started riding past the hospital itself. It was quite nerve-wracking at first, but as I needed to concentrate on my riding, I was able to distract myself from my fears. In the middle of August, a few months after I started the desensitising process, I was finally able to ride down the road the hospital was on without fear. When I got home from that ride, I started thinking about going into the actual hospital and just sitting in the cafe for a bit. It turned out that I was about to get a lot further than just the cafe.
Literally the day after that ride, I began experiencing the abdominal pain I've written about. The next day, a doctor came out to see me and told me to go to hospital as he suspected appendicitis. When he said this, tears came to my eyes and once the doctor had left, I burst into tears. Once the ambulance arrived, I was a bit calmer but still quite emotional. However, when I did arrive at the hospital, my heart wasn't racing like it had done a few months previously when I was riding my scooter down that road. I think my desensitising process had really helped me. I dread to think what I would have been like if I hadn't desensitised myself!
The problems only started when I had to have a blood test. Seeing the needle made me start crying again and when they put a drip into my hand, my heart was pounding. I hadn't had a blood test for well over a year at that point, despite my GP suggesting I should have a blood test at my annual medication review a few months previously. The fears started easing though, and when I had another blood test the following day or the day after (I can't remember which day it was), I managed to keep myself calm and not cry.
On the third day after some tests, I was told I needed to have an injection. I tried to stay calm but whenever they did the actual injection, I burst into tears. The nurse who gave me the injection was amazing though. Despite the fact that the ward was exceedingly busy, she sat with me for half an hour to make sure I was OK and talked through my fears with me. I told her of my diagnosis, and she told me that I was the sanest schizophrenic she had ever met. I'm taking that as a compliment!
Anyway, after being discharged from that hospital stay, I no longer had such strong fears about hospital. So when a loved one had to go into hospital just after I was discharged, I found that I wasn't that stressed by nurse uniforms or syringes anymore. I would have gone to visit more had it not been for my abdominal pain but the times I did go to visit, I found that I was generally OK.
Then I had the second trip to hospital with suspected appendicitis. When the time came for blood tests, I was fine. I was equally fine with the drip in my hand and being in hospital again. It was only when I was sectioned again that the fears of hospital started coming back.
However, I've surprised myself at how well I've managed with all the triggers. Admittedly, the first couple of times I heard the emergency alarm, I crawled underneath the desk, hugged my knees and stayed put until I was coaxed out. But on the whole, I've managed with the triggers quite well. Seeing people with self-harm or suicide attempt injuries hasn't triggered me to self-harm; I have had thoughts of self-harm but they've not been because of triggers, the thoughts have come from me.
By the way, I'm not writing this to make myself sound good in a sort of "Look at me, how well I'm doing, everyone should be like me," blah blah, I'm writing this to show that it is possible to overcome triggers. I only overcame mine because I had to go into hospital but the desensitising process I started on my scooter, driving past the hospital, was self-initiated. Triggers can be overcome. It may require a lot of mental strength to do so but triggers are like fears. If you stand up to them and face them, they can be beaten.
I feel almost lucky that I had no real choice but to face up to my triggers. I'm glad that I'm not triggered by needles or nurse uniforms anymore. It's good to be able to walk down the road that leads to the hospital and not be triggered by the sight of the building. There are a few positive grains amongst the load of negatives, and I'm trying to stay feeling positive about things and not let things drag me down.
They say that every cloud has a silver lining. I think I've just proved them right!
Oh and just to say, the abdominal pain I was experiencing was put down as pain without medical cause and most of the pain has gone now.