Introduction Transformations Oral History

Rose Ward, Horsham


Interview Thomas France, covering time spent in Rose Ward, Horsham, and Highdown Unit and Swandean, Meadowfield Hospital in Worthing, 1997 to the present.

by Mike Larter, Length 14.55mins, 8 July 2013

Mike

Hi, um, my name is Mike Larter, um, I'm going to be, I'm at the Park Barn in Horsham. The date is 8 July 2013 and I will be interviewing Thomas France, basically to talk about his experiences of Rose Ward, in Horsham, and Swandean, in Worthing. Okay, first Tom, thank you for agreeing to speak to me

Tom

You're welcome

Mike

and thanks for agreeing to share your memories with me.

Tom

I hope it will be edifying. It's a pleasure.

Mike

To begin with, er, how did you come to be at the hospital.

Tom

Okay, well um, my first breakdown was in 1997, it occurred, I had come back from University, late 95, with aspirations for a career, um, a professional career, initially at Sun Alliance and subsequently at American Express in Brighton. Um, however I had had serious problems, adjusting to life back back in Sussex, living in Wales as a student and had had quite a, quite a, larger-than-life existence as a student, where I had done narcotics, and serious alcohol problems. Um, as time went on at University my hair started to thin and fall out. When I went to University I had had long hair and to adjust to life in an office I found rather complex and I started to make lots of mistakes with reconciliations and credit and debit controls. Um, And slowly I, I, started to get iller and iller in my physical health. I thought I had bronchitis from smoking, um, and I went to the doctor and they said it might be stress. It might be psychosomatically induced. They put me on some strong medications, um, amitriptyline, Prozac, and temazepam. Very strong Valium at the same time. It triggered a massive breakdown. I ended up in Rose Ward.

Mike

How was your treatment there, would you say?

Tom

Well, it was quite extreme at the time, um, I don't remember a lot at the time, thing about Rose Ward is, for the first two weeks, in Rose Ward, I do not now remember. I was put on a very strong dose of a drug called clapixol when I entered Rose Ward and, um, it knocked me for six. The first two weeks I do not remember at all and when I started to get my memory back I was finding it very hard to think, to be cognitive and coherent, I would have lots of side effects, and twitches, involuntary muscular movements, sweats, shivers, cold sores, spots, pores on my backside, quite bad. And I would be in a lot of pain, like a feverish sort of pain and I would find it hard to keep my food down it was quite a, I mean hospital food is notoriously bad, and to cap it all the air conditioning wasn't working. It was a hot summer in 1997, and the air conditioning wasn't working in the unit, and it was really hot and sweaty.

Mike

How did medication, or the level of your symptoms, affect your experience?

Tom

Well, the doctor I was under was called Dr Ownin and he was a Nigerian and he gave me 500 mg of clapixol. Well it turned out with hindsight, after some investigation, that the recommended dose was 100 mg. So I was put on a really big dose of this and this doctor was actually struck off the NHS a year after I was let out of Rose Ward. For miss-prescription of drugs. And he ran back to Nigeria. And I feel like I was one of his people. But I didn't sue the NHS at the time because I had a CMH team and an AOT team and a care coordination team around me, you know, who were tutoring me in what it is to have mental health issues, what it is to be bipolar.

Mike

How long did you stay at Rose Ward for? Can you remember

Tom

It was about three months as an inpatient and about six months as an outpatient in Lavender Ward.

Mike

How did the place look and feel to you, do you have any recollections of that?

Tom

And it wasn't very pleasant, there was a smoking room, there was a pool games room, TV room, there was a stereo which had constant dance music on the whole time like techno dance music, and it made me go into involuntary muscular movements, like my leg would be twitching to still be at a rave myself. But I wasn't, I was in hospital, which was quite torturous, in a dialectic way, a few years earlier you would have been at that rave having a dance and enjoying yourself on dance drugs. And then suddenly to be in a mental health asylum with rave music on it was quite twisted.

Mike

Was there any emotional or spiritual support, you know, on offer to patients there?

Tom

There was a chapel there, and that's what helped pull me through the deep depression I was first in, a suicidally deep depression. I'm not mad, the world is mad, and there's nothing wrong with me, I need to get out of this place, to escape. But I actually went to a hospital chapel and there there was nine old ladies and a bearded chap in sandals and they could all sing better than me. There was all these old ladies that were all positive and chatty and they could sing better than me, I was like croaky with bronchitis still and it made me think there's something in this faith there's something more in life than just atheism, there's something in the chapel that can take you on.

Mike

I think you have answered this already Tom, or you touched on it, but you mentioned about hospital food, what were mealtimes like, and organised time of day or was it a little bit chaotic?

Tom

Mealtimes at Rose Ward were structured, yeah, there was three a day, and you had to order them in advance. And I seem to remember at the time when I was actually on this drug and struggling and in a fever I forced myself to remember what I had ordered, like if I had ordered a chicken curry or something, I had a choice of three different meals or something, each order, and they would make the meals up for you, at the kitchen, I had to force myself to at least remember what I had ordered. It was like my game, to remember what I had ordered on this piece of paper that I handed over to the kitchen.

Mike

What were the communal living quarters like, can you remember that?

Tom

There was a dormitory, a single room.

Mike

Can you tell me about a typical day, how would you describe a typical day for you, in your months you spent there?

Tom

There was arts and crafts that I went to and I would try to stay awake once I was up. I would try to stay awake until 10 o'clock which was the bedtime, I would force myself not to sleep during the day. But there would be various trips out, kite flying in the Park and various other bits and pieces at the same time, but it was quite hot. People would sit around playing cards together and whiling away time together.

Mike

Were there any humorous moments?

Tom

There were some I remember talking to my friend James and James would say treat it like being in a hotel Tom and that made me laugh I would say a hotel it's more like a prison and he would say it's a hotel, you get all your meals cooked for you and you haven't got to work the world is looking after you, you haven't got to worry. That made us laugh. Another time we had a game where we put on as many items of clothing as possible and we were walking around with all that clothing on for a day. We were like Eskimos wrapped up with five different layers of clothing but it was so hot we sweated buckets, everything had to go into the washing machine afterwards. There was some mad times. I remember one time stealing a beanbag from a fair in the park. I don't know why I stole it, I'm not a thief by nature it's not something I see myself as but I wanted this beanbag and I wasn't allowed access to my money whilst in hospital and I picked it up and walked off and this chap chased me up the park and pinched the beanbag back.

Mike

Do you remember any particular people from that time? You mentioned James

Tom

There were several friends, I remember John at that time, and he he he went on to work for the Socialist workers party. And we did music festivals together at a later date after I was out of hospital. And we would work bars and stuff, for the Socialist workers party. There was another chap in the hospital, um, an Indian guy, Arshan, and he had scalded himself, and he was in a permanent trance and we played cards together. There was another character Ben Moon who was very humorous. He had a Jim Carey like quality and we would be cracking jokes. We would go up to the pub together and we weren't meant to be in the pub, we were meant to be in the hospital but we used to break out, tiptoe out and get beers in the station and sit around. Look at it this way Tom, we could be laying train tracks like those chaps in the photographs on the station wall. We could have pickaxes and be laying track so it's not so bad being mad, you know. We've got it easy compared to them.

Mike

How did you get out can you remember the weeks leading up to being released?

Tom

Well they gave me day release, but I used to do breakouts. One time I got on a train to Victoria, I went up to Victoria station with the intention of not going back to the hospital because I didn't want to be mad. And I met this guy Jim, big Jim, in Victoria station, and he offered me a place in a squat and I was like shall I go? But I didn't want to let my parents down and I was on this new treatment of drugs, I shouldn't do heroin in a squat, if I was on clapixol in the hospital. And I went back to the hospital but I would do breakouts. I would be let out for the day and as long as you got back by 8 o'clock, no 10 o'clock, at night you were fine. You had to be in by 10 o'clock. But I wasn't deemed as high risk, so I was allowed access to move around.

Mike

Do you remember any particular smells or sensations from that time?

Tom

Rose Ward was very anti-antiseptic, very antiseptic indeed, lots of bleach and hospital cleaner and that sort of thing.

Mike

On a more personal level, obviously a stay in a hospital elicits all sorts of memories, but from a personal perspective did the experience change you do you think?

Tom

Well Rose Ward, it did and didn't. When I got out of Rose Ward I went back to the office again and tried to carry on as if there was nothing wrong with me, and I relapsed back into drinking quite significant amounts of alcohol and doing narcotics again as well. I got it into my head that this clapixol was so strong that I ought to do these street drugs again which were much weaker. But obviously that was wrong and I ended up having another breakdown and that's when I ended up in Highdown, and when I reached Highdown, which was a different unit to Rose Ward, which was Meadowfield, I had to more seriously look at my addiction issues and my mental health issues and I accepted that my addiction issues were a mask, to mask my mental health issues.

Mike

And that was Meadowfield in Worthing?

Tom

In 2003 yes. And that's when it finally, I guess it took me five or six years from 1997 to 2003 two accept that I genuinely had a mental health problem. And I genuinely needed to change my ways, change my lifestyle.

Mike

Is there anything else that you would like to share that you haven't really touched on or asked about?

Tom

Yeah, there's quite a few things that could be mentioned. Once you are diagnosed with mental health you can feel that the world is falling in on you, that the sky is falling down or whatever. It's like every aspiration you had like when I was a student and getting an honours degree, I was expecting to have a mortgage, a company car, wife and kids, maybe become a teacher who knows, and then once you are diagnosed with mental health it's like the whole world has fallen in, your whole opportunities for the future have changed and you've got to totally reassess your position in the world. Obviously it can be transformative, but it can only be transformative if you are willing to actually change if you are willing to accept that you have got mental health issues, you have got to deal with depression, you have got to live in the world in a new way, and that can be holistic, it can be therapeutic. I mean, since 2003, in the last 10 years I have quit smoking, my alcohol consumption has reduced by about 70% I would say, I have taken up several hobbies, sculpting, art, I am much more sporty than I used to be, I am much fitter, and that has all occurred because I have accepted I have got the mental health problem.

Mike

Congratulations, that sounds really positive, and it is nice to know that there are green shoots now and in the horizon for you. I would like to thank you for sharing your memories with me.

Tom

It's been a pleasure, thank you.