After all the trauma of the past year and once I’d settled into my new apartment, things started to go downhill; I couldn’t stop, just had to keep working, pushing myself as hard as I possibly could; each time I tried to stop, I just fell apart. My trip back to Harrogate was great and gave me a focus for a while, but I couldn’t sleep, kept having bouts of unexplained pain and ended up going to A&E on one occasion.
On my return from the UK I went to see my doctor; I explained that I really wasn’t coping well and suggested that maybe I needed a few counselling sessions. His reply shocked me – a stay in a psychiatric clinic! He knew of a good one in Bayonne, where, in fact, his receptionist had stayed a while ago. He called his receptionist in and they both assured me that it wasn’t full of “mad people”, but those, like me, experiencing difficulties in their lives. The clinic specialises in addiction, anorexia and depression and the receptionist couldn’t speak highly enough of it. Woah, woah, this was all too much for me to take in, too sudden, too fast!
I simply couldn’t commit there and then; my very English view of “lock you up and throw away the key” being too deeply ingrained in my psyche. That was ok, said the doc; I could go away and think about it and go back when I was ready.
A week or so later, I went back; I’d give the clinic a try (there was always the reassurance that if it didn’t suit, I’d be free to leave). The doctor made a phone call and told me the clinic would ring me in the next few days to arrange my stay. I couldn’t believe how fast things then moved; they called me the next day – could I go in the following Tuesday?
I packed my bag and set off to drive to Bayonne, a challenge in its own right. My shoulders and neck were rigid and desperately painful with the stress of what I’d agreed to do. However, I got there safely and was admitted, I had no idea for how long. The first few hours were taken up with a full health check and seeing the on call psychiatrist before I was taken to my room, light and spacious with en suite facilities, in the modern part of the building, in the grounds of a lovely old chateau.
The general way things run is that you stay in your room in the morning, unless you have appointments with a physio, dietician, etc, and the psychiatrist assigned to your case visits you there every day. Lunch is served in the canteen, after which you’re free to go out till 6pm. There’s a lovely park in the chateau grounds and it’s not a long walk into the centre of Bayonne. Dinner is taken in the canteen, then you’re free for the evening. Some people go out for a smoke, others play boules on the allotted space, still others play cards in the common area near the nurses’ station The staff are all delightful and more than happy to help in any way they can; in fact during my second week they even found me a quiet space to practice singing, before Saturday’s rehearsal, where nobody would hear me and I wouldn’t disturb anyone.
At first I felt quite resentful, this was all rather overkill; all I needed was a few counselling sessions, not to be confined to quarters for hours at a time. I was sooo bored! Most other people I met were doing “ateliers” – workshops – in music, dance, theatre, art, sport, aquarobics…… But not me. I gradually realised that I was there to learn to do nothing for a while. After the first few psychiatrist’s visits, I began to see things differently and settled into my new routine. I was allowed home for my first weekend, to “see how I got on”, heading back at the beginning of the following week.
The second week’s psychiatrist visits were harder than those of the first week, dredging up memories and emotions I’d had safely hidden away under lock and key for many years. But at least the psychiatrist had a sense of humour (I guess he needs one)….. and terrible taste in jackets. He said that I’d suffered a burnout (same word in French, just try saying it with a French accent), but had made excellent progress during my stay. However, I really must learn to listen to my body when it tells me to slow down – not to wait till it’s screaming at me! I promised to try and was discharged on Friday, at the end of my second week.
Friday 2nd June 2023 will henceforth be my personal Independence Day, the start of my new life.
I’m so grateful to the French healthcare system for providing this service; I’ve never heard of anything like it in Britain. The clinic is private, but the costs are covered by my “mutuelle” – top up health insurance. Clinics like this exist all over France and are well used; so many people I’ve spoken to have been through a similar experience following a traumatic event in their lives; there’s no stigma attached to needing a bit of help here.