CROYDON COMMENTARY: Officials in charge of the NHS locally are proposing a range of cuts to services, including the closure of a women’s mental health refuge at Foxley Lane. TANYA McMURRAY, pictured right, says they would be wrong to do so – because Foxley Lane helped to save her life at a time of personal crisis
I just haven’t been in a good place mentally after I found out about the closure of Foxley Lane.
You see, earlier this year, on March 14, my stepson, Mujaahid Wilson, was stabbed to death on Thornton Heath High Street. I went into Foxley Lane for a while after it happened.
I have been a single mum since I was 22, but some of my step-children have lived with me.
I have had mental illness for some time, something called schizo affective disorder. I also have post traumatic stress disorder.
My illness includes some positive symptoms, but also some negative ones, like severe depression.
I was what’s called “prodomal” for many years. I went everywhere just trying to get some help. They never really took me seriously as a young woman who had been through an awful lot, and the anti-depressants they prescribed did not help at all. They actually made me worse, increasing the insomnia and mania.
At its most severe, my psychosis meant that I would hear and see special messages meant just for me on the radio and TV. I used to play songs back to “them”. I became unable to function in life at all. I had to leave my job. I was having at least 10 full-blown panic attacks a day.
I had to put my son in care. I wish I hadn’t. I wish I knew then what I know now about mental health.
I knew I had a problem, I knew I needed help. I had already been through a lot of trauma in my life, my mother’s death, my father’s alcoholism. A severe domestic violence relationship and rape.
I looked online for help and found Foxley Lane, at the time it was a respite service through self-referral.
I was too ashamed to talk to anyone about my psychotic delusions and felt desperately lonely and suicidal. I made an appointment with Foxley and when they accepted me to stay, I cried with relief.
At the end of my first stay at Foxley, I was given an appointment with an understanding doctor. They realised how very ill indeed I was.
So over the years I have stayed quite a few times at Foxley Lane, always learning something new each time. The staff have become closer to me than some of my family, as they understand me far more than friends and family do.
I have met so many truly amazing women there.
The lady who drank caustic soda and destroyed her oesophagus but remained positive and loving towards her daughter.
The lady soldier who planned her suicide with military precision, and was only saved by the grace of God.
The survivor of childhood abuse that was so severe that she suffered from amnesia sporadically, and her friend the artist, who grew and grew from being in Foxley and gave most of the money she made from her art to charity.
And my favourite, the beautiful lady who had been pushed into a nervous breakdown by her work, who was expected to do her own job and that of her boss after he had resigned, but became suicidal when she could not fulfil her work demands and still look after her children.
The staff over the years have watched over all their women patients with great care and professionalism. They have watched me grow as a woman and taught me so much. They understand my insecurity about the weight gain that my medication causes, and they now know all the ins and outs of my family. They probably know better than my family even knows about themselves.
This year, while I was grieving for Mujaahid, my son, one nurse took me to the back of the garden and made me a cup of tea, and we discussed skin care and make-up, and then I just let loose. All my anger and frustration unleashed at once. All the time, she just looked in my eyes with real compassion and told me how well I was doing.
She understood and I will never forget that.
The thing about the nurses at Foxley is that they enjoy their job. And they enjoy it because they know they are making a big difference. They are helping and saving lives, so they are happy to come to work because for them its a vocation.
And they save lives every year.
There is nothing like Foxley Lane elsewhere in Croydon, or anywhere south of the River Thames. They are doing such an amazing job that really people should be learning from them.
Foxley is women only. And when men have to come into the unit, even our psychiatrists, we are forewarned. This creates a safe environment.
It is very homely. We have our own bedrooms and they are lovely, two shared bathrooms and a kitchen we can go to at any time to make a cup of tea or get a snack.
There is a beautifully cared-for back garden that all residents find very healing and calming.
It is very structured, which is helpful. Also we can have one-to-ones whenever we want with our nurses.
I have never been a patient at any other mental health ward and I am very lucky. My care co-ordinators have refused in the past to let me on the wards at the Bethlem because they believed the chaos and the noise would make me much worse and I needed the nurturing focused care that Foxley Lane gives.
At the end of the day, Foxley Lane saves women’s lives. Most women who end up in Foxley have tried to kill themselves or hurt themselves. Foxley Lane helps them get through that time in their lives.
It heals desperate, damaged women and keeps them safe. We should be looking at trying to replicate Foxley Lane all over the country, not shutting it down.
If that happens, I believe it will cost the lives of women in Croydon.
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