A bell rings out. I slowly come to. I have slept surprisingly well, all things considered. I reach out my hand to search for my phone and do a time check. 7.50am. The light stings my eyes, and there’s an uncomfortable warmth moistening the small of my back. This quilt sweats.
I cast my eyes around the standardised room.
Rounded corners for safety, and beige walls, the terrocotta curtains, stark blue floor all slowly blurred into a sense of bland immobility. The bed is comfortable enough, its central position in the room surely being deliberate so as to ensure that no activity could take place around it. There was a wash basin, the tainted aluminium bowl sink reminding me of run down public toilets in faded sea side towns. Like those washrooms, the tap didn’t work. ‘To prevent washing away.’ Safety precautions mean that the windows don’t open, making for a warm stuffy fug. There’s an extra bar, to ensure that if we do force them open we can’t slip through. The bar is only 3 inches off the surface of the glass. None of us are that thin.
It suddenly hits me with force. I am here. In that place they had warned about but I thought would never come.
I’d tried hard to enforce my own personality on the room, and already there were piles of paper in the corner, clothes over the back of the chair, books lined up, their mismatched spines as varied as the content, and photos and pictures all over the wall. Rather than see this collection as sign of a young girl with varied interested, dabbling in them all, exploring the world and the city, and indeed the body and mind in which he found myself, but now needing a little help, I see them as failure. Debris. Like my life.
Yesterday had been so hard. A well rounded individual with lots of potential was what I’s school reports had said. My bosses could not praise me enough. I lived in London. My calendar was full. Mum and dad loved me. Friends tell me I am bloody brilliant. Yet for some reason I could not feed myself.
And now here I am, my life being stripped down to the essentials – essentials as defined by the hospital. As the nurse searched my bags, removing my tweezers (what, in the fear I pluck myself to death?) I tried to make conversation, but I could not help feeling judged. These people clearly thought that I was a failure, incapable.
I worried for my parents, and wanted to scream out ‘They didn’t do anything wrong. They loved me. They still love me!’
I had been on psychiatric wards before, and had a vague idea as to what to expect. I knew the vacant looks. The pacing shuffle. The anxious shiver and the potent tang of bleach. But it was all new for my parents. I could see them trembling. Dad was trying to be strong, and I loved him for it, but I knew that this was breaking him. Tears rolled down his cheeks whilst he pretended they did not.
He tried to be practical. ‘Your tap doesn’t work, we’ll get that fixed.’ The thoughts of water loading, or washing away the dregs of a meal just doesn’t cross his mind.
‘You might need to be here now.’ Mum had said as I clung tightly to her, ‘but you don’t belong here.’
A nurse bursts in, carrying my breakfast. As I sat eating my Weetabix, I wondered what belonging in a mental hospital looked like. Were there certain behaviours that were expected of my? Should I start crying over my cereal? Why was the nurse staring intently? I ran my fingers through my hair. I had brushed it quickly when waking, but now wasn’t sure whether it looked a mess, or was too tidy. Were crazy people meant to bother with their appearance? Not that I was bothering I thought, looking down to my dishevelled pyjamas and screwed up bed linen upon which I sat.
I hadn’t slept at all well, screaming and banging coming from the room next door. Curiosity was one of my virtues. Or vices it could sometimes be said. I wanted to know, but I was also scared to find out what was going on.
I wasn’t really sure what to do with my breakfast. I mean, what they expected me to do? Meals in the first week are very small, and the primary source of nourishment comes from milk. I wonder whether I should refuse. Throw it around. Stomp and squeal. But the truth is I am hungry. I’ve been hungry for so long. I’ve been starving for a decade. This is my chance, permission granted.
‘So what happens now?’ I ask, when the final crumbs and drops of my breakfast have been consumed. The battered plastic tray and carefully measured portions, labelled with scrawled biro on shreds of lemon yellow post it notes reminded me of my grandfather’s nursing home. I really am a patient, adult responsibilities removed. I am to be observed whilst eating, watched on the toilet, and not to leave my room without getting permission. As the days go by I find myself squirming as my bladder fills, so reluctant am I to traipse to the toilet with a nurse in tow.
‘You wait.’ Said the nurse, not smiling.
It is like I have been told to sit in my room and think about what I have done. Pure punishment.
I don’t want to wait. I want to recover, I want my life back.
Photo from here.