Hannah Moore, member of the Equally Well Expert by Experience Group
As a child I was very active and competed as a dancer and in gymnastics but started to become unwell at a young age. As a teenager I was on anti-psychotic medication which increased my weight. By the age of 14, I was admitted to my first hospital and was put on a concoction of medication, coupled with being very inactive my weight ballooned.
Throughout my admission I continued to gain weight and became morbidly obese. Not only could I no longer do my dance or gymnastics, I found it difficult just standing in the medication queue due to my back hurting. It was and still is so debilitating. It’s really hard as I NEED the medication! I’ve often been tempted to stop taking it as I drop weight SO quickly, but I know I need it! What I have had to come to terms with is that it’s better to be well and overweight than it is to be unwell and of average weight even though sometimes doubt that as it seems I have to choose the lesser of two evils.
Throughout my many years in hospital the right to smoke is something that always provoked a lot of emotion in me. When you go into an acute ward you are often allowed fresh air leave (otherwise known as smoking leave) straight away. It’s about getting you better and shipping you out quickly. You spend more time in Psychiatric Intensive Care Units (PICUs) or secure wards and its more like a home, but smoking is completely banned unless you get unescorted leave.
Also I was never really ever offered anything to help me quit other than a little white inhaler that did nothing for me. I only found out about this inhaler from another patient and then it took ages to be prescribed it so I really suffered with nicotine withdrawals from going cold turkey. The support was not tailored to my individual needs
In the hospital that I was in you only got 3 hours of escorted leave a week and you were not allowed to smoke as you were with a member of staff. You started off with 15 minutes of unescorted leave and what did everyone do in that time? They went bought a pack of cigarettes and spent all of it smoking as many cigarettes as they could. This plays havoc with your clozapine levels and other antipsychotic medications as smoking affects that and gives you an almighty head rush! Surely it would be simpler to have a smoking break once an hour at the hospital. We’re there to get better from our mental illness NOT to give up things that we’ll just start again when we leave.
The right to smoke shouldn’t be taken away from you when you are at your most vulnerable or stressed. If you’re in an open area where there is fresh air as to not infringe on a non-smoker then who is the hospital to decide what you can or can’t do? You have so much taken away already.
You probably won’t have guessed, but I am advocating for smoking as a non-smoker. I quit 15 weeks ago but still believe patients should have the right to smoke as long as it doesn’t affect any non-smokers.
Medication and being sedentary in hospital affect your weight severely to the stage where I was 25 stone and was still allowed to eat as much as I wanted. I would have 5 or more bits of toast, cereal and eggs every morning for breakfast and then on the 11am shop run a member of staff would get me five or more chocolate bars and crisps that I would consume before lunch and then eat again. I could do this because staff weren’t allowed to withhold food from me or any other patient, even though I was 25 stone and on a cocktail of physical health medications that I was given because of my obesity and high blood pressure.
There seems to be a tension between this and hospitals’ strict smoking rules. Since being out of hospital I’ve managed to lose 4 stone, but this has taken me 5 years and every day I struggle with my weight. It only took me one day to decide to stop smoking. I hope that has given you food for thought.
Our guest blogs share the experience and views of the authors; these views are not necessarily those of Equally Well UK