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.

Food

I hate food. I hate eating food, talking about food and even watching food. So after noting the title of this post, you can understand this is going to be difficult for me to write.

Here we go.

I was 14 years old, at the beginning of my summer holidays, just before the start of year 10. I was starting to find myself and become more aware of how important body image was amongst my peers. I wasn’t huge by any means, but I was ‘chunky’ and the boys in school certainly made me aware of this, through nasty remarks and cruel jokes.

I made a decision at the start of that summer, that I was going on a diet to reinvent myself. My parents were all for it, they always thought I needed to lose weight and be more healthy. I don’t think they realised how destructive and painful this weight loss would turn out to be.

I started by using a points based diet, which worked really well. I was shedding the pounds, still eating healthily and I began to think that I could lose more weight if I skipped the odd meal or cut some more calories. I was right. The weight dropped off me and by the end of the six week holiday, I had lost two stone.

I received so many compliments and my parents just turned a blind eye to my injurious methods. I felt great when I went back to school. I had new popular friends and boys were actually interested in me. I became obsessed with becoming thinner.

It wasn’t long before the elation turned to misery. I kept cutting out meals and hiding food. The first time I made myself sick was awful. I drank salt water and cried for an hour afterwards. I just lay on the kitchen floor and sobbed;

“Why am I so fat and disgusting?”

The longest I went without food was a week. Not one morsel passed my lips, just water. I felt weak, like I would faint any second and I had constant headaches. My friends started to notice I wasn’t eating and asked me to stop. I kept thinking;

“How dare you tell me to stop this, you are only friends with me because I lost the weight in the first place!”

I had lost nearly four stone and my friend’s Mum became concerned. She made an appointment for me to see a doctor. The only reason I agreed to go, was so I could ask for diet pills. When I arrived in the doctor’s office, I asked for the pills but was suprised when he asked me to get on the weighing scales.

I stared at the scales, frozen with terror. I weighed myself three to four times a day but never in front of anyone. Eventually I got on and started to cry. The doctor said he wanted to refer me to a psychiatrist and he would give me a letter to give to my parents.

I was a mess. I didn’t want help, but I was exhausted and tired of being controlled by food. I decided I would leave the letter on my Mum’s bed and head out for the night. I should have just told my parents face to face but I was young and scared of what they would say.

I returned home the next day and lay on the sofa. My Mum came rushing in.

“WHAT THE HELL IS THIS?!”

she was holding the letter in her hand and shaking it wildly at me.

“THIS IS TYPICAL! YOU’RE ALWAYS AFTER SOME DRAMA, A BIT OF 999!!”

All hope drained away from me. I looked up at Mum with immense sadness. This was the one person who was meant to throw her arms around me and tell me everything was going to be OK.

I kept quiet and we never spoke of it again. I can’t eat with my parents now and I have put on a lot of weight after constant secret eating. Food, to me, will always feel like an affliction.

Pyjamas

“Sometimes I feel like I am not here, that I am a dream somebody is having. A nightmare someone has conjured whilst sleeping. Everything is empty and lifeless. An empty world full of empty beings, believing what happens to them matters. Nothing matters. It is all forgotten and we shall be forgotten.” – My diary, April 2010.

 

I walked in through the back door and shouted the usual ‘hello!’ as I kicked my shoes off. I didn’t hear a reply from Mum, so I assumed she was out.

As I pushed open the kitchen door, I saw Mum sitting at the table with a serious look on her face, that told me she was pissed off.

“You OK?” I asked with a sense of trepidation.

Mum looked up at me and replied “What the hell is wrong with you at the moment?”

I knew she was referring to my behavior from the night before. Her vile friend S had come over for dinner and to make the evening more bearable, I took eight diazepam. I could barely string a sentence together and every time S spoke, I uncontrollably smirked, laughed or snorted.

“I wasn’t feeling well, sorry.” I mumbled.

“Well, your attitude stinks, and not just last night!” She snapped..

I couldn’t do it anymore, I was unhappy and was tired of hiding it. This was it, I was finally going to tell her about my depression..

“Mum, I’m sorry I was weird last night, I’ve not been feeling great for a while and I’m seeing a doctor because I’ve been depressed.”

Mum sighed and replied with

“So are you taking medication then?”

I felt my eyes well up. For years I had kept quiet so I wouldn’t disappoint her. When I was 14, I was referred to a psychiatrist but Mum and Dad refused to acknowledge anything was wrong. Nearly 10 years later, it was happening again. I needed my Mum but it seemed she just dismissed my pain and just sounded irritated at what I said. I half expected her to whip out a giant fly swat and splat me against the cooker.

I told her how I felt and we argued until I couldn’t take anymore. I ran upstairs and fell on to my bed, sobbing into the duvet. The one person I was worried about hurting, didn’t care about hurting me. Everything just felt hopeless.

I snuck into the bathroom and grabbed every pillbox I could find. Paracetamol, sleeping tablets, antihistamines, Ibuprofen, it didn’t matter, I just didn’t want to live anymore.

 

“Do you know where you are?”

I slowly opened my eyes and looked up a nurse, who repeated “Can you tell me where you are?”

I looked down at the tubes coming out of my arms and saw that I was wearing my favourite pyjamas.

My mouth was so dry, I could barely speak. “How did I get into my pyjamas?”

“Your Mum dressed you, she didn’t leave your side all night. She will be back soon, she told me she wanted to get you clean clothes before you woke up.” The nurse replied softly.

I drifted back to sleep and when I woke later, Mum was sitting beside my bed. I felt a huge amount of guilt in the pit of my stomach, but before I could open my mouth to say sorry, she reached over and hugged me tightly.

Any feelings of emptiness vanished in that hug. I felt as though I mattered and that Mum needed me just as much as I needed her.

 

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.

Games

In my first post, I promised not to bore you with tales of my sadness and woe. I want you to know that through telling these stories, I hope to reach out to people experiencing mental illness or give insight to those of you not directly affected.
I want to give you an accurate and truthful account of my experiences, so some will inevitably touch on sensitive issues or will include graphic description of injury. There will also be some strong language. I hope you understand that this will enable me to depict a factual and honest account of what happened.

Now that’s over with, let’s begin.

I am not a religious person. I do not believe in God but after being diagnosed with psychotic depression, I do believe in the power of the mind and how dangerous the brain can be.

In August 2011, I had been in hospital for two months with severe depression. After several serious acts of self-harm in the hospital, I was under constant surveillance. I had my own room, personal guard and no furniture or possessions. I had a lot of time to think in that room and quickly became obsessed with outsmarting the medical staff.

Most of my mind games involved the nurses. I loathed the nurses. Of course, there were a couple of good ones who were very patient and caring, but the majority on the ward were cold, soulless and bitter. They hated their job and had no capacity for empathy. On the other hand, the HCAs (Health Care Assistants) were excellent. They were on minimum wage, had little medical education, but supported and helped me more than any of the doctors or nurses. I will always be very grateful.

A typical example of my persistent game playing, happened one morning. I was standing in the shower while a nurse watched me. I awkwardly washed my naked body while trying to hide from the old woman’s judging eyes. When the water stopped, I asked her for a towel and stepped out, desperately trying to hide my bare skin. Just as I was putting my clothes on, the emergency alarm went off. If the alarm goes off, all available staff have to run to help. The alarm was rarely activated so the nurse I was with, panicked. She looked at me, hesitated, and ran out of the door.

For the first time in over a week, I was alone. I was stood in the bathroom with no supervision and my desperate mind took over. I had a minimal amount of time before the nurse realised what she had done and ran back to the bathroom. I felt the adrenalin run through my veins. I rushed to the sink, unscrewed the bulb above the mirror and performed my usual trick. I had smashed the bulb in a towel and picked out the sharpest pieces in seconds. I put the rest of the glass in the bin and placed the towel in the laundry basket. I put the selected shards in a tissue, hid them in my bra and calmly waited.

The alarm stopped and the panic-stricken nurse reappeared. She came into the bathroom and closed the door behind her. While trying to get her breath back, she coldly asked;

“You haven’t done anything, have you?”

“No” I casually replied.

She knew she would be in trouble if someone found out I had been left unsupervised. She walked up to me in a fairly threatening manner and said;

“Good, cause I’m trusting you and I won’t trust you again if you’ve done anything.”

She looked down at the wounds I had inflicted on my arms the week before. With a hushed voice she snarled;

“Why do you do this? What do you achieve by doing this?”

I could feel the disdain in her voice, but I said nothing. I didn’t care, I had won. I followed her out of the bathroom, smiling while I briefly glanced at the empty light socket above the mirror.

First Night

This time last year I was being detained in a psychiatric unit of a hospital. I had been there 3 times in the previous year but this would prove to be my longest and hardest visit.

I promise not to bore you with tales of my sadness and woe, nor do I plan to delve into the secrets of my past. All I plan to do is tell a story and I’ll start with my first night on the ward. This was the first time I had a ever been admitted to a hospital, it was roughly 2 years ago but I will always remember the first night. If I hadn’t been so terrified im sure I would have found it quite amusing, but after having the nurses search my bag for sharps and confiscate anything remotely resembling a ligature I started to feel my sense of humour and last ounce of self respect drain away from me.

I was left in a very small room that contained a wardrobe, set of bedside draws, an old sink and an even older hospital bed. The room had the typical hospital odour and was also painted in the typical hospital green. I did have a window, though it only opened an inch and had iron mesh covering the outside. I was just able to see doctors and nurses walking back and forth to their cars. The room was quite clean but it was so tired and worn that it just started to reflect my mood and probably that of the previous patients who had stayed there.

I felt very much alone sitting on my hospital bed, I was confused, scared and I felt entirely hopeless. It was a scream that brought me out of my self pity coma. I looked up at the door and listened, I could see shadows moving past the small pane of glass in my door but I didn’t dare get up. The screams got louder and pretty soon they were at the top of my corridor. My curiosity got the better of me and I slowly edged across the room, I was terrified but I had to have a peak, I opened the door and poked my head out slowly.

“YOU BITCH! GIVE ME MY BIBLE BACK!”

I looked in the direction of the noise, the scream was followed by a tall skinny young woman sprinting around the corner of the corridor waving what seemed to be the stolen bible. She had long blonde hair extensions which were half covering her face which showed a mixed expression of sheer joy and panic. She stopped, placed the bible above her head and proceeded to wildly tear the pages out.

“SHE’S RIPPING UP MY FUCKING BIBLE!”

The screams got louder as a middle aged woman dressed in pyjamas came running around the corner, she was screaming and raving for the bible the younger girl was now destroying and headed straight for her. Just before she tackled the bible stealing girl to the floor, a head popped out from another room next door to mine, this floating head was that of a man in his fifties with blackish grey hair, he looked up the corridor at the carnage unfolding and slowly looked back at me, with wild eyes and a deep gravely voice he calmly said,

“Welcome to the mad house”.