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Case Study: Claire’s Journey

Claire* was admitted to Cygnet Hospital Bierley in 2017 after multiple hospital admissions. Now discharged and living in the community, Claire tells her story about her time on Bowling Ward:

“I was 10 years old when my mental health problems began. I had always been a happy and confident kid but that started to change when I faced a number of traumas and difficult experiences over several years. These included bullying, family stresses and abuse.

“Later I started purging, restricting food, and self-harming which got worse over time. I was also suffering with panic attacks and hallucinations. I became convinced that suicide was my only solution. One day I ran out of school and attempted to take my own life.

“At 16 I was hospitalised. I continued to learn unhelpful behaviours and I was transferred to an adolescent psychiatric intensive care service (PICU). I had many more admissions and became what some people call a ‘revolving door patient’.

“In late 2017 while under Section, I was moved to Bowling Ward at Cygnet Hospital Bierley. I started Dialectical behavioural therapy (DBT) pre-commitment work on arrival and began the full programme in January 2018.

“Treatment involved a one-to-one session with a DBT therapist for an hour a week and skills group for two hours each week. Homework for the group was a worksheet on applying the skill of the week and for my one-to-ones I was given homework tailored to what I personally needed to work on at the time. I completed a diary card to record my mood, problem behaviours such as self-harm, and what skills I had used. We would then talk through that diary card during the one to one session, pick a problem behaviour to understand by doing a chain analysis, and then plan and rehearse a solution so that I had safer and better ways of coping.

“At first, the work was overwhelming for me. It wasn’t until my second six month cycle that I felt that I was starting to understand and remember the skills, when to use them and how to use them.

“I didn’t have the smoothest ride with my DBT therapist. In hindsight, a lot of how I felt was fuelled by unhelpful thoughts.

“I didn’t handle these feelings very well and instead of being open and honest with my therapist during sessions, I would talk to other staff about it. I would take what was said in the wrong way and somehow fit it in to how I was generally feeling at the time. When we did start talking openly and addressing those unhelpful thoughts – labelling them as just thoughts, not facts.

“I remembered what my therapist had said to me in my very first session: That we were working together (not against each other) to help me get ‘better at feeling’ rather than ‘feeling better’, which I think was a turning point for me in my recovery.”

“There were lots of ups and downs throughout my DBT journey before becoming more stable. I completed therapy in August 2019, 1 year and 8 months after I started it. It doesn’t always take that long to complete it and can be different for everybody. Towards the end of my therapy I was able to sing at a live event, was incident free, and getting more and more leave.

“After 5 months of being incident free, my mental health Section was removed! Finally I had freedom to see family and friends and do all of the things I used to enjoy. I was able to celebrate my first birthday in a while outside of hospital. I was home for Christmas and New Year, and discharged from the hospital!

“Since my time on Bowling I have been able to go on some amazing holidays, meet actors from my favourite films, and simply take in my surroundings and feel free. Last but not least, moving into my flat in supported accommodation where even during lockdown I was able to cope by baking, going on walks, dancing, and starting yoga, which I now do every day.

“I still struggle, just like everyone does sometimes, but now I’ve got the skills to help me manage. I’ve never felt so positive and optimistic about my future. I plan to do more online courses, get myself back out into the community and do some voluntary work, and then hopefully start an access to nursing course in September next year. I can’t wait to help people who are feeling like I used to and share my DBT knowledge with anyone who needs it! Eventually, I would like to reduce or stop my medication, and get my Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder (EUPD) diagnosis removed – I’ve looked at the criteria and it doesn’t describe me anymore!

“If someone had said to me 5 years ago that I would get to this stage, I would never have believed them. But here I am. And a big part of that is thanks to the DBT programme at Cygnet Hospital Bierley.”

“To anyone thinking about doing DBT, it’s not going to be easy. I believe that what you put into it is what you will get out of it. Work WITH your therapist. Not AGAINST or FOR them. Be open, honest and fully participate (you will learn more about that skill!). Always try your best and you will see that although it can be hard work, it is so worth it. Recovery, and all the things that recovery brings is worth it! But remember, it’s not always about feeling better. It’s about getting better at feeling. And most importantly, it’s about creating a life worth living!”

*Name has been changed to protect her identity

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