Last week, I had a very bad health scare. I went to bed with a bad head cold and woke up shivering, vomiting and shaking. I have type 1 diabetes and this resulted in complications that could have left me in a coma, with permanent brain damage, or even killed me.
I found that line extremely difficult to write. It’s been a week since I was discharged from hospital, but the fear hasn’t left me and I find myself wondering if the fear of another DKA (diabetic ketoacidosis, the condition I had) ever will leave me now. But as terrifying as the prospect of what could have happened is, thanks to the excellent care I received in Portlaoise Hospital, I recovered. Getting back to health is going to be a daunting, long-term commitment, and I’m already worried that I won’t make it. I don’t want to in any way criticise the hospital that may have saved my life. The care was excellent and the staff were kind and supportive. But one area where our hospitals fall down is looking after patients psychologically as well as physically. I’m feeling this now, as I look at the life and career I’ve worked so hard to create and wonder how much of it I will have to sacrifice or compromise for the sake of my health, but I felt it more acutely when I was in hospital.
I passed out amidst a blur of needles, tests and a frantic team of doctors bustling around me in accident and emergency. Several hours later I woke up in intensive care. My arms were bloodied and bruised and I had tubes and leads connected to me everywhere. I was uncomfortable and frightened. I couldn’t sleep any longer. I was seriously dehydrated and although I had an intravenous line feeding me fluids, I had a dry mouth and a headache and was encouraged to keep sipping water. The one television station which I could barely see or hear in any case, was playing nothing I could engage with, and there was nothing to read. I had nothing to do except sip water and think about what had just happened. I was at that time physically and emotionally fragile and not yet in a strong enough state of mind to deal with the situation I was in, but I had no way to escape that very situation. I needed something not only to occupy my mind, but to mentally take me out of the hospital so I could relax, and recover.
HeadSpace is a writing and art magazine, based on mental health, that was launched in May 2013. One of the reasons we set it up was to provide reading material for patients in wards and waiting rooms, and my experience reminded me of how important this is. In those few hours after I woke up, if I had had something to read, maybe I could have gotten the rest I needed. Instead, my brain went round in circles, telling me again and again that this was my second admission to intensive care in a year, and terrifying me with thoughts of what could have happened. Orla Price, HeadSpace’s founder, spoke on Newstalk last summer about diagnosing herself with all sorts of illnesses she never had because when she was in hospitals and waiting rooms, the only distraction she had were dry information leaflets. Reading something like HeadSpace, which tells stories of difficulty and hope, mental illness and recovery, from people who have experienced these things, provides a feeling of comfort and solidarity to readers as well as a much needed distraction from their anxiety-inducing surroundings.
Our first issue was put together by a group of determined young people. We did receive a small grant from 02’s ThinkBig project, but this didn’t go very far. We worked extremely hard to spread the word about our project, collect submissions, and fund it through crowdsourcing and events. We were rewarded with a high-quality magazine full of inspiring poetry, fiction, personal experience stories and art. Most of the copies we printed were distributed for free in hospitals and mental health support services in Dublin, Laois, Wexford and Wicklow. We are delighted to have the support of Rehab Ireland’s arts fund to print and distribute a second issue, which we are currently accepting submissions for and which will be launched in January 2014.
A few months ago Orla was accepted onto an MA course in Goldsmith’s College in London, and I took over the editorship. Since that time I’ve been thinking about what I want for the magazine. Since my hospital stay this is clear. I want HeadSpace available for free in every county in Ireland. I want to find a way to make it self-sustaining without charging for it so that it can continue indefinitely. Eventually, I want our magazine in every hospital in the country. I want us, over the next ten years, to have enough issues that we can provide a mini-library for patients. We should have libraries in hospitals. The arts council funds schemes for writers and artists in prisons. Providing small, once-off grants to hospitals to provide them with a basic library to help patients cope with the tedium, stress and loneliness of hospital stays and to provide reassurance and diversion when waiting for appointments is something that there should be active support for from official bodies such as county councils and the arts council.
But in the meantime, we at HeadSpace will continue to do what we can. Maybe we won’t get a free magazine into every hospital in Ireland. But there’s no harm in thinking big.
Submissions for Issue 2 are open until 30 November 2013. Submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on HeadSpace, see www.headspace-magazine.com, www.facebook.com/HeadSpaceForAll or follow @headspacezine on twitter.