As someone who lives on social media, desperate to stay updated and in-the-loop on all my interests, I always imagined being shut off from the world for several weeks and months would be my worst nightmare. The idea of missing weeks’ worth of sport, falling days behind on all the news headlines, and not being able to refresh Twitter or Facebook every few hours would usually fill me with dread.
So when I was an inpatient for several months in a hospital with no television, no internet access, or my mobile phone, you can see why this was one of my main worries. Yes, I would be living somewhere totally new, full of people I didn't know, but my main concerns at the time were mainly how I’d watch the football.
While perhaps most young people aren’t as obsessional as I was, we’ve all grown up in a world totally connected to one another through the internet and mobile phones. When many mental health hospitals will take that away from you, it can be quite a change. To prepare you for any difficulties you may have staying connected as an inpatient, here are five things I did during my time in hospital.
Where I was staying, all the daily papers would be delivered each morning. My way of finding out what was happening in the world soon went from refreshing my phone, to reading about it all the next day.
Newspapers were a good way of not only passing the time, but also keeping my mind focused in a more relaxed manner. Requesting a newspaper to be delivered each morning might be something you can ask staff, while many patients might be allowed out during the day to go shopping both supervised and unsupervised. There’s no harm in asking, and any up-to-date reading material can quickly become something to look forward to during the week.
Requesting a newspaper to be delivered each morning might be something you can ask staff.
There will of course be some people who are more connected than others, whether that’s staff, visitors or fellow patients. I found asking people for news or updates was a quick way of discovering shared interests among my peers. I wasn’t the only one wondering what the scores were each Saturday, and by asking around I soon found out who the other football fans were around the place.
Discussing what we’d heard, seen, or keeping each other updated was an easy way of building up easy conversation and working towards friendship. Being inquisitive and interested was the way I was able to form relationships among staff and other patients, and when I wasn’t distracted by my phone all the time it forced me out of my comfort zone and the experience was all the better for it.
If family and friends are able to visit, it’s a great opportunity to feel a part of the outside world again. They will no doubt be keen to hear all about your experience in hospital, but this is your chance to make the most of having those you’re most at ease with around you, and ask about anything you might be missing out on.
My parents usually visited once a week, which meant they had a whole week’s worth of stories for me to catch up with, and visits were never awkward. If the visits are regular or planned, you can ask for them to bring you things, either from home or from shops, that might help with any disconnect you’re feeling. My biggest worry was that I’d have nothing to talk about with my family and that they’d feel like their visit was a waste. When I was wanting news, updates, and all the latest gossip, this never really became a problem.
If family and friends are able to visit, it’s a great opportunity to feel a part of the outside world again.
Work back up to screen time
My situation at hospital meant that for my care plan, it was agreed I’d be best without a mobile phone for my stay. It didn’t help my anxiety, there were definitely things on there that would affect my mood, and my key nurse knew it wouldn’t exactly help with my recovery.
Eventually a system was put in place where I could slowly work my way towards being able to use my phone without it having too much of an effect on my mental health. I’d usually get perhaps 15 minutes a day, giving me the chance to catch up on what I thought were the most important things. Being limited meant I wasn’t wasting my time on there, wasn’t scrolling through anything irrelevant or needless. I could contact people important to me, update them on what I was up to, and ease any fear of missing out by scanning through headlines and sports news.
By building my time up slowly, I began to learn what to prioritise, as well as what to avoid, something that even helped me and my mental health once I’d left inpatient services.
Make the most of your time
We’re so used to living busy lives with constant information being thrown at us both in person and online, so this is a rare opportunity to escape it all and focus on yourself for once without any pressure. It is strange at first, being disconnected and feeling like your hospital is in the middle of nowhere, cut off from the rest of humanity, but allowing yourself to disconnect is something I’ve found genuinely does help.
As mentioned above, it did force me to step out of my shell and interact with fellow patients and staff, and that gave me the chance to enjoy activities with them and do things I’d never think of doing at home, as well as develop friendships with people I might not talk to otherwise. You’re there to recover, to take time out, so being able to filter out what is important and what isn’t can only benefit your mental health in both the short and long term.
It’s at least worth a try. You might be surprised at the weight that comes off your shoulders.