J

J was a friend of mine on the ward. We were both very different people, from very different walks of life, but got on surprisingly well. He had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and was admitted to hospital around the same time as me. We both loved playing pool and we shared a love of sitting outside smoking and sharing stories about how crazy we could be.

To some people, J could appear to be quite threatening. He was very tall, of stocky build with a shaved head and several missing teeth, but I only saw how kind and gentle he was. He frequently made me tea, gave great hugs and was always there to listen when I was having a hard day.

It took just 24 hours for that all to change.

It was breakfast time when I overheard the nurses talking about a bed shortage at a neighbouring hospital, which meant three patients were due to be transferred to our ward. This wasn’t completely out of the ordinary and I didn’t really give it a second thought as I quietly went about my morning. It was only a couple of hours later, when I walked outside for my mid-morning fag, that realised there was going to be a problem.

J was sitting on the bench in the courtyard, joined by three, twenty year-old-something girls who were laughing and joking. As these were obviously the new patients, I reluctantly walked over to introduce myself. An elated J jumped up and said ‘this is V ! V,  I knew these girls from another hospital!’ I instantly felt that I was not going to be accepted into their clique. Hostility was oozing from their eyes as J excitedly introduced me. None the less, I responded politely with a quiet ‘hello’ but swiftly made my exit.

For most of the afternoon, I whiled the time away reading a Ruth Rendell book I found in the activities room. After a while, I decided to brave it and go back and go back outside but as I approached the courtyard door, I could hear shouting. I continued to walk outside, where I found J and a few other patients with the new trio, chanting and singing. Sometimes we had a friendly sing-song outside, but this was different, this felt antagonistic.

I spotted a couple of nurse leaning on the wall outside, seemingly monitoring the unruly group. I quickly finished my cigarette and went back inside to my crime novel. As the afternoon hours melted away, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something wasn’t quite right. Maybe it was the lack of nurse checks at my end of the ward or the eery silence that lingered throughout the corridors.

At 6pm I headed down to the dining room for dinner. When I entered the room, I saw J sat around our usual table with the new girls. He looked up, but instead of calling me over, as he usually would, he turned away, continuing to laugh and joke with his new-found friends. I took my soggy rissole and sat down on a neighbouring table. Before I could tuck in to my not-so delicious meal, angry shouts and a crash of doors broke the silence. The words “Get the fuck off me!” bellowed from the hallway.

We all looked up to see four burly policemen scramble past the dining room door carrying A, a patient who had been discharged a week ago. A flurry of nurses and doctors led the officers and A through the ward towards the PICU (Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit). His anguished cries echoed the halls, eventually leaving behind an uncomfortable silence that resonated throughout the dining room.

The silence was interrupted by one of the new girls.

“That’s fucking wrong.” she spluttered in a thick Welsh accent

Her crass words stirred something in all of us, but unlike many of the others, I knew that my feelings of empathy were distorting my perspective. I knew A wasn’t well and possibly a danger to himself – that’s what mattered. I abandoned my meal and headed back to my dorm, leaving the others to their angry whisperings.

At 10pm (and right on cue) one of the nurse’s shouted ‘meds!’ from the other end of the ward. I pulled a jumper over my pyjama top and clumsily threw on some slippers, before walking down the long corridor towards the dining area and nurse’s station. As I got closer, one of the health care assistants signalled for me to go straight in to the dining room.

‘What’s going on?’ I whispered.

He ignored my hushed question and gestured me towards the dining room once more. But just before I obediently complied, I heard a shout come from the courtyard. Through the glass doors on the opposite side of the corridor, I could see a large group of staff nervously standing outside. Under the orange glow of the courtyard’s security lights, I could also see that the staff were actually observing J, the three new girls and a couple of other patents, who had gathered around one of the benches outside.

After I was given my medication I was quickly ushered back to the dorm, where I got ready for bed. It was just myself and an older lady in the four-bed dormitory that night, so I had nothing to do but let the sleeping tablet take effect and drift off to sleep.

I must have slept for at least two hours before something woke me. Without moving, I opened my eyes and listened intently to the shouts coming from the far end of the hallway. I peered up at the doors leading into the dorm, watching the light from the hallway trickle through it’s frosted glass. My older dorm-mate continued to snore as I quietly pushed back my sheets and crept out of bed. A sudden crash of doors and more shouts from the far end of the corridor cut through the night-time silence and I jumped back.

I held my breath, frozen in the darkness. My curiosity urged me forward and I placed a hand on the wooden swing door, before cautiously pushing it open a crack. I poked my head into the corridor and checked for any staff. It was deserted at our end of the hallway, so I silently tip-toed though the door, keeping my back to the wall. As I shuffled further down the corridor, the shouts became louder and I could see fast-moving shadows at the far-end of the ward near the doors leading outside into the courtyard.

As I passed the neighbouring dorms, I could see a couple of other patients peering through the windows in the doors. I found safety behind a corner in the corridor, where I slumped to the floor and stared in disbelief at the carnage that was unfolding at this end of the ward.

About twenty feet away from where I hid, I watched two policemen pull a man through the courtyard doors back onto the ward. I winced at the sound of crashing bins and two more police officers dashed outside, followed by a few members of staff who barked threats at the clamorous collective who had obviously taken control of the courtyard. Some of the chants outside were almost certainly that of the new girls… and J.

Two police officers pulled one of the screaming girls through the doors. An out-of-breath nurse followed them inside, but just before he chased them down the hall, he turned and caught my eye. I sprinted back up the other end of corridor and darted into my dorm. My hands were shaking and breathing was heavy, but I found safety under my bed sheets. I continued to listen to the distant shouts, before drifting back to sleep.

The sunlight streaming through the windows woke me from my drug-induced slumber. As I opened my eyes, I remembered the night before and I felt a surge of anger well up within me. The anger churned inside and I thought about how much I hated J for getting involved with those girls – they ruined everything.

But when I looked at my phone and saw two messages from J, the jealousy disappeared and my heart sank;

“Got kicked off ward. Won’t let me back” 

“Dunno what to do.”

J was feeling as broken I was, but out there, alone.

Lights, Camera, Action

‘Do you suffer from loneliness?’ The junior doctor asked, her tilted face emulating her patronising tone.

I looked up at her and the duty psychiatrist who were both perched on the edge of my sofa. I thought, ‘You may see a fat, depressed, single woman living by herself, but outside of this hell I seem to have fallen into again, I work 50 hours a week in a busy newsroom, earning enough to pay for this lovely flat. I have friends inside and outside of work, who I regularly stay in or go out with. In between that, I write, try to make time to see my family and sometimes sleep. So don’t pity me after seeing five minutes of my life. Loneliness? No.’

I looked back down at my feat and just replied, ‘Um, yeah, sometimes.’

Dr K, the older, male psychiatrist, left the living room to make a phone call, whilst I was left with the young, blonde, junior doctor who kept patting my knee, making ‘awe’ sounds. Thankfully, Dr K returned, but only to say ‘V, you’re going to have to come up to the hospital for the night, if that’s ok?’

I knew the deal. If I said no, I would be sectioned. So I packed a bag and followed them both downstairs to Dr K’s car. I sat in the back of the new BMW, listening to the two doctors engage in appropriate small-talk, while I watched the city scenery begin to flash past the window.

‘V, are you OK back there?’ Dr K asked over his shoulder.

I hesitated, but replied ‘yeah, fine.’

There is always a moment, shortly after I have spoken with my CPN or doctor and just before I am admitted, where I feel completely powerless. It’s usually in a car on the way to the hospital or in a gloomy waiting room. I feel as though I’ve walked into a film, not as a participating character, but as an observer, as if the film is going on around me.

When we arrived at the ward, I was shown to my room by one of the nurses while Dr K filled out some paperwork in the office. My room had a bed, wardrobe, sink and bedside table. The walls were painted off-white and the curtains featured the standard green and orange geometric pattern I had seen so many times before. I sat on the bed as the nurse sifted through my bag, documenting all the toiletries and clothes I had brought with me.

The young nurse looked down at her form and said ‘I’m going to leave you to settle in, dinner is at 5pm and then you’ll have your medical.’

I shut the door as she left the room and casually walked back over to my bag. I preceded to un-hook the long leather strap and set about finding a way to attach it to the wardrobe. I’ve often found that healthcare professionals think that imprisoning you on a psychiatric ward will magically relinquish any of your suicidal feelings. Unsurprisingly, you tend to feel even worse.

With the strap now around my neck, I suddenly heard, ‘What are you doing?! Staff!’

A different nurse had appeared in my doorway and sounded the alarm. I threw the strap on the ground and rushed back to my bed. I sat staring at the wall, while nurses piled into the room. I shut-down and walked into the film again, staying silent and staring at the drab coloured walls. They continued to badger me with questions. ‘Why did you do this? V? What are you feeling?’

The truth is, I didn’t have the answers.

 

Hope

Everyone had gathered around the wooden bench, smoking and chatting under the small window of stars above the courtyard.

After just two weeks of being back home, I had been re-admitted on to the psychiatric ward of the local hospital. It was a clear summer’s night in July and whilst I knew all the patients sitting around me, looking up at the vast night sky caused a wave of loneliness to wash over me. I looked back down at my feet and took a long drag on my cigarette. One of the girls sitting next to me, gently nudged my side and quietly said;

‘Look, that’s L, she’s new’

She was pointing at a girl walking out of the doors on the other side of the courtyard. The darkness made it hard to see her, but the orange glow from the outdoor lights revealed the new girl’s fashionably short hair and cropped leather jacket. As ‘L’ got closer, I suddenly realised I knew her, not as a fellow patient but as an old school friend. I couldn’t believe it.

L walked up to the bench, where we shared a brief silence before both throwing our arms around each other.

‘V!’ She exclaimed as we finally let go of one another.

‘I can’t believe you’re here – I mean, I’m sorry you are here.’ I started to babble as she lit her cigarette.

It must have been six years since I last saw L, when we used to sit next to each other in GCSE art. In a group of 15 boys, we were the only two girls (who ever turned up to lessons anyway). She was a port in a storm back then and little did I know, was soon to become one once more.

Over the coming weeks, I treaded carefully around L. I was aware that we were both in hospital for a reason and she was fighting her own battles. Yet, as time went on, she became my rock.

When it was time for me leave the single room reserved for new admissions, I was moved into the same dorm as L and two other ladies. I would spend a lot of the time sitting on my bed scribbling in my diary while L would sit at her desk, painting and listening to old Billie Holiday songs. She had acquired the desk from the activities room and surrounded herself with paintbrushes, parchment and all things beautiful. L was an incredible artist, full of passion and great ideas. I often wondered how someone so gifted and full of spirit could be driven to this hell hole.

Both of us came from similar backgrounds and it soon became apparent how much we had in common. We found it easy to talk openly about what had lead us to this point in our lives. We even managed to get the old video player working and we would both curl up on the sofas watching old films from the eighties, reminiscing about happy and not-so happy times.

One day, L decided to start a new project. She wanted to paint a mural on a wall beside the wooden bench in the courtyard. Some how, she managed to convince the ward manager to give her the funding for paint, brushes and anything else she needed. I moved my diary-writing to the bench outside, while she painted the wall and listened to music through her headphones.

Before long, a beautiful bird surrounded by soft white clouds and autumn leaves, appeared on the once dirty and desolate wall. When deciding on the words that the bird carried in it’s beak, I could think of nothing better than “Hope” is the thing with feathers, by Emily Dickinson;

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all.

I’m not a very sentimental person but these words still mean so much to me now and I wear them on a necklace everyday.

Nearly two months of being in hospital together and just before L was able to finish the mural, she heard the news that I had been dreading – L was to be discharged.

The day she left, I helped her pack. I was so happy that L was feeling well enough to go home, but a part of me was breaking inside as I carried her things down to the ward entrance. I hugged L tight as the ward staff chit-chatted with her understandably excitable parents. As I watched L walk out through the doors, I felt that wave of loneliness hit me square in the face once again.

I was inconsolable and ran to the dorm sobbing with my face in my hands. I wanted to go home too and the one person who made this place bearable had gone away. I threw open the curtain around my bed and wiped the tears from my face, I went to dive under the safety of the covers, but something caught my eye. On my pillow was a note, wrapped around a paintbrush. I felt my heart lurch and I quickly sat down to open the elegant piece of parchment cloaked around the brush. In the most beautiful writing, these words were inscribed;

“There’s not much I can give you – you already know so many beautiful quotes and inspirational films, books….
So, here’s hope. I didn’t have any… Now I have some, and I share it with you. Love, L”

The next morning, I put on my headphones and walked outside into the courtyard. I stood in front of the wall, took a deep breath and dipped my paintbrush in the sky blue paint left on the bench.

A week before I was discharged, I completed the mural and I hear it’s still there. L’s hope was left for me in the wings of that unfinished bird and I like to think that I left my own bit of hope for others, who happen to find themselves sitting on that bench.

The Prisoner

They say prison is like a fishbowl, a world within a world. This is how it felt in hospital. Small dramas that would mean nothing on the outside, meant a great deal to those on the inside. A change in routine or a negative comment could mean disaster and massive set back in your recovery.

I was on a high dosage of anti-psychotics, which made me incredibly drowsy. By the time I had taken my sleeping tablets in the evening, I was out for the count and although I had an undisturbed nights sleep, I found it near-impossible to wake up the following day.

One particular morning I felt as though my legs were tied down with weights, I could barely open my eyes and it was struggle to get out of bed for breakfast at 8 o’clock. I managed to grab a slice of toast before wandering back to my dorm and drifting off to sleep again.

When I awoke around 11 o’clock, I just lay there, staring at the magnetic curtain rails surrounding my bed. The depression hit me square in the face. I hated the drugs and being tired all the time, I hated the hospital and most of all, I hated myself. I felt like a prisoner in my own body and I lashed out at my face and chest in frustration.

I didn’t usually go to the nurses for help but the anxiety was crippling me. The medication from the night before was wearing off and I felt like I mite explode. I wandered down the hallway and knocked on the staff office door.

“Can I speak to someone please?” I muttered.

An older nurse stood up with her cup of tea and sighed, as if I had just asked the world of her.

“What do you want then?” She replied despondently while picking at a loose thread on her sleeve.

I think i need a PRN, I don’t feel great” I mumbled.

She looked at me and raised an eyebrow. PRN means ‘pro re nata’ meaning ‘as needed’ and usually comes in the form of a lorazepam tablet to help calm patients. But Nurse Ratched was not best pleased with this request.

“As far as I’m aware, you’ve been asleep all morning, what could you possibly be anxious about?”

She then picked up her mug of tea and took a sip which was proceeded by a loud, sharp slurp.

I stormed out of the corridor and into the courtyard with my fists clenched. I kicked and punched out at the wall. I then lit up a cigarette and sat down on one of the benches. My body was shaking and my mind was racing, I had never felt so angry. Maybe it was being told no, or maybe it was because it felt like no one was listening, but I took my cigarette and stubbed it out on the back of my hand. I could see another patient in the courtyard run inside to get staff so I got my lighter out and carried on burning my already blistered skin.

A couple of nurses ran outside and grabbed the lighter out of my hand. I started to pull at my hair and claw at my face, I just wanted to tear away the layers of pain.

I was escorted inside and given the PRN, but I didn’t feel better. As I drifted back off into a drug induced haze, I caught a glimpse of how my life could be and tear rolled down my cheek.

Losing My Religion

I have recently been officially diagnosed with bipolar ii, which means my mood fluctuates and in the extreme, I experience psychosis. One of my more serious episodes happened two years ago in hospital.

Athough I had been confined to a psychiatric ward for two months, my mood was continuing to deteriorate. I had been taking my anti-depressants, but they seemed to be doing little to improve my state of mind.

With ample spare time on the ward, I was able to curb the boredom through reading, something I usually don’t have a lot of time to do. One book that I was particularly absorbed by, was ‘Shrine’ by James Herbert. For those of you who have not read this, the book involves a little girl who becomes possessed by an evil spirit.

As I sat in my little hospital room, consumed with depression and plagued by intrusive thoughts, I began to become increasingly agitated and I couldn’t help thinking about that little girl in the book.

I felt like something was crawling under my skin, like my body wasn’t my own. I stopped sleeping and spent most of my time studying the book and pacing through the ward. After a few days, my behaviour roused the attention of the staff, which lead one nurse to eventually approach me in my room and ask what was wrong.

“I want to see a priest.” was my nervous reply.

I think this took her by surprise, but she humoured me.

“The occupational therapist will be here tomorrow, maybe she can take you to the chapel?”

This response seemed to settle me and I curled up under a blanket as the concerned nurse left my room.

In the morning, I waited outside the office for the OT to arrive, but she never did. She was sick and there was no one available to take me to the hospital chapel. The absence of the OT only fuelled my paranoid psychosis. I was now convinced that I was possessed by some evil entity that had made this innocent member of staff unwell, making it impossible for me to seek help from a priest.

I lay on my bed, wrought with fear. My thoughts were spiralling out of control and I needed help. I called my Mum, a devout christian, who I knew would be able to comfort me. Although my story seemed to confuse her (as it was well known that I did not believe in God or anything spiritual) she actually sounded relived that I had confided in her.

What my Mum didn’t understand was that I was unwell, not merely seeking absolution. She told me to pray and seek forgiveness, which further encouraged my irrationality. I demanded to be let out of the ward so I could see a priest and pray with my Mum. My demands were not met and by the end of the afternoon, I was placed on a section.

I felt as though my life was over, I ran to the nearest bathroom and unscrewed a light fitting. I smashed the interior lightbulb and hid a piece of glass in my slipper. Later that evening, I took the glass shard and pierced my arm, severing an artery.

This desperate act saw the beginning of my high level observation and a cocktail of anti-psychotic medication. Facing your demons never felt so literal.

Wedding

This post is dedicated to RubyTuesday, whose kind words have encouraged me more than she would ever know.

“You get four hours and that’s it. If you are not back on time, we will call your parents and if needs be, the police.”

I nodded at the stern talking doctor. We had spent the last half an hour bargaining over how long I was allowed to leave the hospital and he had finally given in to my demands.

It was 2010 and my first admission on the psychiatric ward. Two weeks in, I was finally being let out to go to my friends wedding. My Dad picked me up from the hospital as Mum was away, but as soon as I sat in the car, all my feelings of excitement and relief turned into a roller coaster of sickening anxiety.

As we pulled away from the hospital grounds, I watched the scenery rush past the car window. This was my first visit home in two weeks and the world seemed as though it was caving in around me. As we drove into my village, I hid my face from passing neighbours who stared into the car as If they half expected me to jump out, brandishing a machete and throwing poo everywhere.

Dad didn’t say much for most of the journey but as we pulled up the drive, he broke the silence;

“Well then, welcome home. We’ve all missed you, especially the dogs.”

I smiled awkwardly and quickly grabbed my bag from the boot. I had one hour to go from ‘psych patient chic’ to ‘glamorous wedding guest’ and it wasn’t going to be easy without Mum to hurry me along.

After several arguments with the dodgy hair dryer, I felt vaguely normal again, maybe even better than normal, which was a first in a long time! I jumped back in the car with Dad and headed towards my friends farm, where the wedding reception was being held. I was bracing myself for the pity looks and awkward stares, but as I arrived, my boyfriend greeted me with such a big hug, I felt calm and at ease.

The wedding tent was incredible, the weather was glorious sunshine and everyone looked happy, it was a welcome relief. My friends all found me and it was like I hadn’t been away. As soon as the bride and groom turned up on the back of a tractor, I felt the best I had in a long time.

We had pictures, champagne (orange juice for me) and eventually all sat down for dinner. I was sitting at a table with my good friends who all joked about my ‘day release’ – very amusing. Just as the we finished the starter, my Dad rang my mobile.

It was time to go back

I stood up in front of two hundred people and left the extravagant marquee. My elated mood plummeted as I said goodbye to the beautiful bride and headed towards my Dad’s car outside.

I cried as we drove back to the hospital. I hated the doctors for making me come back but most of all, I hated myself for ending up in this hell-hole. We walked down the long empty corridor towards the ward and it was only then I realised, I was still in my wedding outfit.

I said my goodbyes to Dad and walked through the ward doors in my long dress and high heels. I held my head high, flicked my hair and headed outside into the courtyard.

I lit up a cigarette and adjusted my diamond necklace. It was only the shout of “meds!” from the nurse inside that brought me back down to earth.

The Great Escape

The noise from the TV filled the tiny hospital lounge, almost masking the misery that I was projecting from my corner of the sofa. I gazed intently out of the window, tormented by David Dickinson and his nauseating love of bargains.

I had been sectioned a week ago after trying to leave the hospital. Since then, I had made several attempts to harm myself with various sharp implements on the ward. Anything from drawing pins to lightbulbs, even broken CDs.

My cunning and persistent acts of self harm, ended in my supervision level increasing to 1A. This meant I had to be at arms length from an allocated member of staff at all times. All my possessions were taken away and any unnecessary furniture was placed in the corridor outside my room. I was also confined to a small lounge next to the nurses office during the day and i was only allowed to go outside for a cigarette when two members of staff were available to supervise me.

Now, this particular lounge was about the size of a small garden shed. It had a two seated sofa and two small chairs, which left just enough room for the TV in the corner. However, despite the considerable lack of space and it’s close proximity to the nurses office, when I had to sit in there, everyone else insisted on piling in too.

So as I glared at the TV screen, surrounded by chatty patients and numerous staff members having their afternoon tea break, I felt my hand tighten it’s grip the arm of the sofa. Everyone was talking loudly, slurping their drinks and swapping seats every five minutes. I felt trapped. I think it may have been the conversation about nurse C’s uncomfortable bikini wax that finally caused the red mist to descend.

I jumped out of my seat and rushed towards the door of the lounge, knocking nurse C’s tea flying out of her hand. I grabbed the door frame and swung myself out into the corridor, just missing the grasp of a HCA who had jumped out of his chair towards me. I darted into a nearby consultation room and pushed a desk behind the door to stop anyone getting in. I could hear shouting coming from the staff in the corridor and one nurse was pushing his way through my barricade.

My mind was racing at a hundred miles an hour, but my first thought was to grab a lightbulb from a lamp in the corner of the room. As I tried to unscrew the light shade, a HCA and a nurse managed to push the door open and they both pulled me out of the room, back into the corridor.

I surrendered. Tears were streaming down my face as I was lead back to the nurses office for a dose of lorazepam.

However, my brief taste of freedom was too good to forget so soon.

Just as one of the nurses turned, I ran again. I am not the most nimble of creatures but I sprinted past the staff in the office and outside into the courtyard. I kept running whilst being chased by a HCA, much to the amusement of the other patients. I careered across the courtyard and through another set of doors on the opposing side. I slid across the floor and fell into one of the larger lounges I had now claimed as my refuge.

I frantically looked around the room. i wasn’t sure what I was actually looking for, or what my plan was going to be, but the adrenalin and my new found sense of freedom made me feel like I was some sort of ninja.

Within seconds, the grey haired, middle aged HCA who had been chasing me through the courtyard, appeared in the doorway, panting and clutching onto a nearby bookcase. In a frenzied act of desperation I jumped onto a sofa and grabbed a clock from the wall. I glanced down at the unusual weapon in my hand then quickly looked back at the HCA. Just like a scene in a western, our eyes met and a tense silence shot across the room.

After a brief couple of seconds, in what I can only describe as a moment of sheer panic, I threw the clock at the feet of the unarmed HCA, who jumped out the way and stared up at me with a shocked and confused look on his face.

Realising I was cornered and clockless, I once again surrendered;

“Um, I’ll go back now. Sorry about the clock.”

He shrugged his shoulders and let out a loud sigh. After catching our breath, we both headed back towards the tiny lounge for a cup of tea and a biscuit, just in time to catch the end of Bargain Hunt.