Water Baby

I walked quickly from the bus station, clenching my fists.

I cursed myself for being late. Why did I not get an earlier bus? I was always rushing for everything. I continued to swear at myself as I briskly walked under the bridge towards the leisure centre. It was quite warm considering it was October and beads of sweat started to collect on my upper lip as I neared the car park.

I arrived outside the dank old leisure centre and started to angrily pace back and forth. I was trying to work out how I ended up here, waiting for a carer to take me swimming. The cursing continued inside my head, until I had enough;

“Fuck it, I’m going!”

“Hello?” A voice behind me made me jump.

“Are you Virginia? I’m G, the support worker, we spoke on the phone?”

G only looked a couple of years older than me, which was surprisingly comforting. I stopped being angry and started to feel anxious. I love swimming, I was always a water baby and even won medals in school, but since I started self-harming I couldn’t face getting into a swimming costume. The thought of having all my scars on show made me want to curl into a ball and die.

I followed G inside and headed towards the changing rooms. I stopped before the door,  I could hear the splashing sounds from the pool and the smell of chlorine was overwhelming. G nudged me forwards and told me to get changed and she would meet me by the showers.

As I got undressed, I looked down at the scars that completely covered my arms and legs. The cut scars were like thick red and white zebra stripes and the burns disfigured my wrists. I started to cry, how could anyone bare to look at me?

G came and found me. I was wrapped in a towel, hiding behind the lockers.

“You better be coming in, I need your advice on clothes for Download festival.”

I shrugged and slowly took the towel off, expecting G to recoil in horror. She looked down at my legs and cheerfully said;

“Nice tattoo! Now hurry up, I’m cold!”

I looked down at the tattoo on my foot and smiled to myself. I followed G towards the edge of the pool and took a deep breath. I lowered myself in and although I could see a couple of old ladies peering at me over their floats, it didn’t matter. I was finally in the water after years of hiding and it felt brilliant.

Visiting Hours

This week, a couple of close friends and family told me how difficult it was for them to visit me in hospital. My Mum told me how she cried when she left the ward and how hard it was to see me so down.

It’s always hard to see someone you love in pain, I don’t dismiss that. The guilt I feel for what I put my family and friends through, is heart-wrenching and I deal with that every day.

So with that said, I would like to give you a brief glimpse into visiting hours, from a patients perspective.

 

It was 4 o’clock in the afternoon, I was sat on the cold, concrete floor of the ward’s courtyard. I had my back against the porch wall, smoking a fag, trying to escape the rain that was slowly getting closer to my feet.

There were a few of us crammed into the porch, trying to smoke while avoiding the hurricane style conditions. And can I just say, squeezing a bunch of nicotine craved mad people into a small space, is never easy.

I was sat next to K, a girl I liked very much, but unfortunately didn’t get to see that often. She stayed in her room most of the time, hooked up to a feeding tube. She didn’t like visitors and only talked when she came outside for an occasional cigarette. We liked the same music and shared a love of fashion, so it was nice when we did get to catch up.

K hated visitors. She was only 17, so the ward allowed her parents to visit whenever they wanted. When K’s parents would visit, she would come outside for a smoke as much as she could. She found it hard to see them so upset,

We both decided to go inside after one of the guys who was pacing back and forth, fell over me for the tenth time. Dinner was almost ready, so K wandered back to her room to face her parents, rather than see the food trolley being wheeled in.

At that moment, my mum called me on my mobile, she said she wanted to visit tonight, which would make it three visitors in total. My Mum, my boyfriend, M and my birth Mother, T. I should say, I’m adopted and at this point in my life, I had only recently met my birth Mother.

I went to the dining room and quickly ate my cauliflower cheese with my designated nurse watching my every move. I got up, scraped the remaining smelly cauliflower into the bin and headed back to my room. I had 45 minutes to get ready for my first visitor and there was a lot of preparation to do..

That morning, I had cut and burnt myself pretty badly, so I was given a large padded dressing on one arm. I wasn’t allowed access to my clothes, so I had to direct the nurse through my bags to find a large jumper that could hide the bandages. Make-up was also a challenge, as I wasn’t allowed my make-up bag. As the nurse passed me my mascara, I just wanted to punch the mirror. Looking at my reflection was painful, but I had to put on make-up, as the more normal I looked, the happier my visitors were.

I brushed my hair, cleaned my teeth and put on the big cardigan my nurse had found for me. I felt my chest get tight and the panic set in. My boyfriend at the time, visited me everyday and I did look forward to seeing him but he was a daily reminder of the world outside, something I desperately wanted to hide from.

I stood waiting by the door. The nurse had given me something to help calm me down, so I was feeling a bit whoozy. I saw M through the glass of the ward doors and I instantly put on my best smile as they let him through.

I took his hand and lead him to the dining room, which turned into the visitors room at 6 o’clock. It was quite small, with only four round tables to sit 20 patients. The confined space made it difficult to talk about anything personal, as you always had other patients and nosy relatives listening in.

M talked about his day and what was happening on the news, fairly usual stuff. I never had much to say, as I felt he wouldn’t want to hear how bad I was feeling. He asked about why the nurse was watching me and I reluctantly told him about my arm, which made him upset and he looked angry.

Mum turned up and chatted with M for a few minutes at the table, but I felt like a spare part as they discussed my medication and how they thought I was feeling. They pretended to be happy in front of me and made small talk, joking about the old fashioned hospital curtains.

I just kept smiling.

When M said his goodbyes and left, I felt the panic again. I had to pretend to be happier in front of Mum and look like I was getting better, when really I still felt desperately suicidal. I sat there listening to her tell me how all of her church friends were praying for me and that God could save me.

It made me angry and I felt like I mite explode, any chance to shove religion down my throat! But I stayed quiet and smiled. She gave me some grapes and hugged me goodbye. As soon as I waved her out the door, I rushed outside to the courtyard and cried while I smoked a cigarette. I spent my whole life hiding, pretending to be fine and visiting time was no different..

Within minutes, my nurse called me to let me know T, my birth mother, had arrived. I had only known T for a matter of months, so having her visit me on a mental ward was a whole new kind of awkward. We sat down and chit-chatted while I carried on smiling. I was starting to get tired, but I felt so guilty about her coming all this way and I understood it must have been really hard for her.

While we were talking, T started to look away from me and stumble on her words. I thought it was getting too much for her, when all of a sudden she discreetly pointed behind me and whispered;

“Sorry I’m not concentrating, I think the couple on the table behind you may be enjoying themselves a bit too much…”

I subtly turned around and caught a glimpse of a large Vicky Pollard lookalike trying to hide her vigorous hand movements under the table. A scrawnier looking guy in a hoodie (who I recognised as a patient) was trying his best to look nonchalant.

I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry. One of the nurses broke up the couple’s intimate moment and reminded everyone that visiting time was over. I said goodbye to T and hurried back to my room to scrub the make up off my face.

I did appreciate visitors and I loved them all, but after every visit I felt the need to go over every little detail of the meeting, and analyse everything that was said. I had serious paranoia which left me exhausted and embarrassing hand-job moments certainly didn’t help ease any of my anxiety.