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Kallam’s Journey

In our latest blog Kallam, a service user at Cygnet Sherwood Lodge, writes a powerful and moving account of his journey from a suicide attempt as a teenager through to the present day where he is looking forward to discharge and ultimately a career in mental health and psychiatry.

It happened. After numerous incidents I woke up one morning, at my first unit, where I was a voluntary patient at first and I was escorted by the staff to a security van, little did I know that I was headed to a CAMHS PICU. I saw some staff crying and should have felt a sensation of guilt. But I felt nothing. I knew it as my time and it was my fault. I then knew that I was going up in this deadly game of snakes and ladders. Only, this game didn’t end at 100. It went on forever. I could’ve let it, but as you will find out, it didn’t.

I was 14 years old and I struggled with anxiety and depression and I attempted suicide on my school balcony by trying to jump from it. Struggling with my religion, paralysed by social anxiety and loneliness I imploded, mentally. A teacher talked me out of it, and escorted me to the head teacher’s office. An ambulance was called and I was admitted in a hospital for a night, with my mum beside me, praying all the way through that night. I self-harmed back then but only on my forearms. I then had support from psychologists and I was an outpatient in a community CAMHS, which was beside a hospital for children and adolescents. Little did I know that I would be admitted as an inpatient there in years to come.

I went through school as an emotional wreck. I found it difficult to engage in a simple conversation, with difficulties to maintain eye contact, having a monotonous voice, fidgeting (especially when I was anxious) and I was scared to get my point across. But I had amazing friends and teachers who supported me throughout my time in secondary school. I also was lucky to have a school psychologist, who I could talk to for ages with, I did cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) with her and it really did help. Every time I was struggling, I’d go to her and she’d help me, and although I can’t say her name, if she is reading this, she knows who she is. Things were good when I got my GCSE results, I actually did really well and I felt really proud of myself and so were my parents. I was then motivated to study medicine and went to sixth form, only, this sixth form is where I would struggle again, without the support of the people I was familiar with.

Days turned to weeks in sixth form and there was an added pressure of succeeding my UKCAT exams. I had no structure but I had the drive with my education. I did 3 A levels. It was hard to fit in and eventually I went through a downward spiral, as I wouldn’t even get out of my room – that’s how seriously I took them. I became the old me and I started self-harming again. I then started overdosing on my lamotrigine (which was for my epilepsy) and had numerous trips to A&E. It made me zone out for a bit and that was when teachers started noticing, in class, that I was away with the fairies. I told someone about my cuts and I was referred to a specialist self-harm team, and in the end the pastoral manager of the school and the leader of the team decided I should join the hospital which I mentioned earlier, voluntarily. I was becoming unmanageable over there as I had many serious incidents, such as overdosing on a packet of paracetamol tablets and absconding from the unit and sitting on a bridge, until I turned myself in because I was too scared to do it.

So I moved to a CAMHS PICU. Things just got worse. I self-harmed regularly, jumped through medicine hatches to find pills to overdose on, kicked through secure doors, gave other patients things to self-harm with, tied ligatures, swallowed items, broke people out of seclusion and went to seclusion quite often myself. The doctor diagnosed me with an emerging EUPD. But this didn’t help me. Although I met very wonderful staff members who were only trying to help me and stop me from going to adult services, I wouldn’t listen. It was my 18th birthday and they had to move me. I can’t remember what I did, but I ended up in seclusion, and I couldn’t contact my family or friends, which made me feel worse .. But I think this phase in my life had a silver lining, I began to come out of my shell, although I am not condoning what I did. We also had good times in Cygnet Hospital Sheffield, Haven (now called unicorn) Ward. We’d watch movies, go to school, bake cakes, make smoothies, play card games, go to the gym with a personal trainer, play football outside and look after Buzz the rabbit; I won’t forget the patience the staff had for me over there, when I would say I was at my worst.

Again, it happened. I was escorted into a van and they found a place, this time it was in Cygnet Hospital Maidstone, Bearsted Ward. I was quite scared there, because it was an adult ward and this was the first time I went to one. I was the youngest one there, and I would argue the most troublesome. I had many incidents, to the point I had to be on long term segregation, and I was put on a 3:1, this time I was violent, I hurt staff and patients on the odd occasion. I regret that and I am sorry if you are reading this and you were a victim. Although I had 3 people on my obs, I felt very lonely. But the Bearsted Ward staff treated me well, we did do some activities such as making smoothies (when I was allowed to come out of isolation).

I then had an autism test. It turned out that I had ASD. The team immediately responded by looking for places I can move to. They came to visit and assessed me to go to Cygnet Sherwood House, a rehabilitation unit. When they accepted me and it was my time to go, I suddenly felt scared. Bearsted Ward gathered everyone in a circle and staff and patients alike said what they thought about me. I felt emotional. This was a really good thing they did back when I was in Cygnet Hospital Maidstone. So, I went in a secure van and moved to Sherwood House…

Cygnet Sherwood House was the place I stayed the longest. I had my ups and downs, with a lot of incidents i.e. of being AWOL and much more. I got diagnosed with ADHD then. This was the place where I could’ve gone up the endless game of snakes and ladders. I did a lot of good things and bad things here. I had so many chances but my time came. I over familiarised myself with staff, which was good in terms of therapeutic gain, but was bad in the time to come. I did so many different things there, such as watching films, playing video games, cleaning the garden, working out in the massive gym we had. The staff there were amazing. I would name them but there would be too many to name.

It was a dark night where I decided to abscond from the unit and go to the bypass near the unit, waiting to get run over by cars. The unimaginable bravery of the staff who worked there saved me. The staff put their lives at risk for me. To those involved, I am sorry and I am inspired by your courage.

Then the time came. I had to move again. It was either a low secure or Cygnet Sherwood Lodge. I was lucky to go to the open rehabilitation unit.
I’ve learned more than I ever have at Sherwood Lodge. Many have helped, but I have to mention a nurse. He said the things that were true. I knew that, but I didn’t want to hear it. Labels are dangerous due to the self-fulfilling prophecy. I’d have an incident and blame my diagnosis.
You see, I realised my issues were mainly behavioural. I realised I am more than just a few labels. And that’s the difference between the growth mindset and fixed mindset. I’m more in control of my actions than I realise.

This nurse changed my life. He spent so much time with me, we’d read a lot of books, especially on self-growth, we’d go for long walks where we practiced shinrin-yoku AKA forest bathing and mindfulness, we did mindfulness meditation which reduced the psychomotor agitation I had and my symptoms of ADHD, we’d do some gardening in the allotment, we’d openly talk about my problems and issues, following up from my psychology sessions. He was my saviour.

You see my mindset has changed. Instead of accepting my diagnoses and rejecting responsibility, I do the same, but know that I play a massive part in the incidents I have had. I also had help from my psychologist, with acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and Compassion-focused therapy (CFT). Basically I now have four values that I need to think about before doing something rash; myself, my family, my career and me being a better person. Also CFT teaches me about how there are three mind states I can be in. Threat mode, Drive mode and Soothe mode. It was agreed that I am a mixture of the drive and threat mind states when I am agitated and I need to focus on soothing myself.

Now I am still in Cygnet Sherwood Lodge and I significantly improved my behaviours, in the grand scheme of things. I aspire to help others by becoming a support worker and then doing psychiatry. I am also getting discharged soon.

I also like to write poetry. This is a poem I’ve written called ‘Tiger Stripes’.

These are my scars, they’re my tiger stripes,
They are proof that I have survived the fight,
They help me with what I have to find inside,
To support me in those desperate nights

You could wake up every morning with a smile,
It will take some learning but you’ll be fine,
You should try to start counting your blessings,
Every mistake is a stepping stone, every mistake is a lesson
Time will tell in this difficult journey,
I don’t belive in fate, you don’t have to prove that you’re worthy,
Hurting ourselves is never the answer,
After the dip we get from the laughter,
We do it it a lot but don’t have to,

These are my scars, they’re my tiger stripes,
They are proof that I have survived the fight,
They help me with what I have to find inside,
To support me in those desperate nights

I write rhymes to tell myself I’m surviving,
If I told you I’d stop at once I’d be lying,
But my courage is a magnitude which is that of a lion,
I’m proud of these scars because I’ve come so far,
I’m telling you that you are strong (to tell those who self harm),
Just try to stop and don’t hide your arms,
Life is precious it tells you that you lived,
Even though it’s not good what you did,
Just remember that, one day you will get through this

These are my scars, they’re my tiger stripes,
They are proof that I have survived the fight,
They help me with what I have to find inside,
To support me in those desperate nights.

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