An in-patient who absconded from his ward describes the positives and negatives of life during the spring lockdown.

Life before lockdown on the rehabilitation unit was actually quite good. I was visiting and staying with my family on weekends and was attending college once week to study GCSE maths. I was engaging with activities on the unit such as a Halal cookery group where my friend and I would cook chicken or lamb curries once a week and I would join the weekly walking trips too.

"After experiencing the aggressive voices my distraction techniques stopped working and the threats felt real to me."

Also we would visit a local car-boot sale and a few of us would visit the cinema once a month. We watched Avengers 4 when it first came out as well as other movies.

We also had a badminton group which was good exercise and enjoyable too. I had weekly meetings with the ward psychologist who taught me mindfulness techniques and educated me about hearing voices. I learned how common mental health problems are and practiced distraction techniques.

My voices were quite benign at the time and would usually make comments about things that were going on around me. In the past they have been very aggressive and threatening, and usually ended with me relapsing.

My distraction techniques include listening to music or watching movies and sometimes having a short sleep also helps. I was coping well and had a decent standard of life. Then the Covid-19 pandemic started.

The first thing that stopped was the GCSE maths, I recall our teacher telling us that classes would be discontinued if a lockdown was instated. Two weeks later it was. I worked so hard for the maths course and was very disappointed that the class was stopped.

Following this, our leave to go home was cancelled. This was a blow for me as I looked forward every week to visiting and staying at my parent’s house.

I have a great and very close-knit family. I have five brothers and three sisters and have many nieces and nephews. My family have stood by me through difficult times, when I was detained in hospital for long periods of time they would visit me and support me emotionally and financially. They have always stood by me.

A positive start

When the lockdown started initially, I was very positive and enthusiastic and was encouraged to write an article by the ward psychologist. So I started writing again, my first article was published on the CEO’s blog and a lot of people benefitted from my positive outlook.

It was at this point I began to fulfil my dream of writing a book. My story is about a young orphan who is bullied relentlessly and exhibits magical power, he gradually becomes a powerful magician. I spent five or six hours daily writing my book. In the space of three weeks I completed the first draft. I am still working on my second draft now.

I also started writing articles for different magazines and newspapers and was published. It is quite satisfying to write articles which are then published. We had no leave at all for more than two months. The staff made life bearable by arranging activities for us and doing our essential shopping.

Threatening voices

The staff started a tuck shop and would take us out for a walk once a day. After some time passed like this my voices became threatening. They began to threaten my family and warned me that something bad would happen to them.

After experiencing the aggressive voices my distraction techniques stopped working and the threats felt real to me. I eventually ended up absconding from the unit. I walked a few miles and ended up getting a taxi to Oldham where my family live. I walked around Oldham for hours and hours and eventually ended up at my family home.

I maintained social distancing and didn’t go into my parent’s house. At the time it was the middle of the night. Eventually the police arrived and politely requested that I return to the rehab unit. I complied without a fuss but was very frustrated that I had to come back to the unit.

On returning,  I was placed in isolation for three days until the Covid-19 test results came through. Isolation is hard, being stuck in your bedroom with nothing but your laptop for company.

A week later I attempted to abscond again because of the same reasons so all my leave was stopped. For more than two months my leave has been restricted and I was only allowed escorted leave to the local shop.

It was in this period that I became involved with the ward’s weekly newsletter and began to write articles for it. My voices were erratic, sometimes benign sometimes loud and threatening. I also started my blog about mental health issues in the BAME community. The blog is relatively new and is growing slowly. I am very passionate about it and work hard to write two posts a week. There is so much work and effort behind writing a blog, including writing, designing and editing.

I have finally been granted leave to go to the shop on my own which it is quite uplifting and positive for me.  Today, after nearly three months I went to the nearby shop myself.  Oldham has had to go back into semi-Lockdown after the infection rate increased there so I worry about my family and friends.

I finally got my GCSE results and was happy to find out that I passed. I feel I would have done better if I had actually finished the course and sat the exams. But I am still happy with gaining a qualification.

I have learned patience and self control over the past few months. I have also grown to value the little things like being able to see family freely and to go out and enjoy yourself by playing a sport or visiting the cinema.

I appreciate having shelter and three meals a day and not living in a warzone and living in relative safety.  I appreciate having the freedom even to go to the local shop freely. I pray that the pandemic ends soon and we return to normality.