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.

 

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.

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.

Sixth Sense

I was scratching at my hand.

The thoughts racing through my mind were mirrored by the scenery rushing past the train’s dirty window. It was the middle of the day, but everything felt dark and blurry. People were chatting and laughing in the seats around me and I was angry at their happiness.

The one person who didn’t seem happy, was a man sat in front of me on the opposite side of the train. He caught my attention after we came out of a tunnel. I had been on the train for nearly half an hour and hadn’t noticed him until now. He seemed to appear from nowhere.

He was facing away from me, staring out of the window, watching the world rush past. He turned forward and held his head in his hands. I could see he was wearing weathered clothes and had dark scruffy hair with streaks of grey behind his ears.

With his head in his hands, he now looked as though he was crying, but no one else in the carriage had noticed. I was trying not to stare, but I was drawn to him. I wanted to get up and ask if he was OK but something was stopping me. I felt anxious, I wanted to get off the train but I couldn’t, everything felt so fast and the laughing got louder.

I kept staring at the man who was now sobbing into his hands. Why had no one noticed? I needed to move, I needed to help him but I was frozen. I looked out of the window at the blurred trees and grassy hills. By the time I looked back at the man, his eyes were staring into mine.

Everything stopped.

His cold stare consumed me. His skin was chalk white and his eyes were empty and dark. His lips were pale and his skin was pulled tight around his skull. He reached out to me, pleading for help with his skeletal hands.

He was dead.

I shut my eyes tight and pressed myself against the cold glass of the train window. This couldn’t be real, yet he was still there and I could feel his pain through his piercing eyes. I caught my breath and jumped out of my seat, pushing my way up the aisle, past the other passengers. I wanted to scream but I knew no one could help me. The train started to slow down and I ran towards the doors, keeping my eyes fixed to the floor.

The train came to a stop at the station and as soon as the doors opened, I rushed off the carriage. I stood on the platform, took in a deep breath and collapsed against a wall. As the adrenalin started to leave my body, I felt a sharp pain. I had scratched the back of my hand so hard, it was bleeding.

I stared down at the wound I had unknowingly inflicted. I knew this was all in my head but I was still terrified. How could I tell anyone I see dead people?

I was officially trapped inside my own horror film, but i knew Bruce Willis wasn’t going to rescue me.

Smoking Room

A lot of the stories I tell are only brought to life by the characters within them. These characters are all real people, with their own troubles and their own stories. I will always be eternally grateful to them, as they made my darkest times, a little brighter.

 

I watched the police standing outside my flat.

My psychotherapist called 999 after I rang him from a bridge over the river. I had taken too many pills and drunk too much rum to remember exactly what I said, but I do remember that empty hopeless feeling that had led me to the water’s edge.

He told me to walk back to my flat and that help would be waiting for me. As I got closer to home, I saw the police making their way into my block of flats above the busy high street. As I watched the ambulance crew follow the police in, I decided to get up there before they broke my door down, or worse, call my Mother..

It was only at around 6 o clock the next morning that I fully realised what I had done. I was in hospital, freezing cold, feeling like shit, listening to the choir of snores coming from the other patients in the beds surrounding me.

I didn’t know what hospital I was in but I knew it was god awful. I was on a mixed ward with eight beds and one tiny post box window that had bars on the outside. I got out of bed, put my coat on and crept past the nurses station in the dark. Bizarrely, there was a smoking room on the ward, so I quietly snuck in there and sparked up.

It was a small dingy, damp old room, that had paint crumbling off the walls, and a cardboard bed pan for an ash tray. I wasn’t complaining though, I was desperate for a smoke.

As I sat there, drowning in my own thoughts, an old man wandered in and sat down. He was quite slim with a mop of silver hair and a bushy moustache. His face looked grey and sullen, but as soon as he saw me, he gave me a big smile. He reminded me of my Dad.

I expected us to sit there in silence, but after he lit a roll-up we began to bond over our mutual desperation for a cup of tea. He went on to tell me that he had multiple brain tumors and was waiting for an operation. I think he could sense the sadness I felt for him, so he quickly changed the subject;

“You’ll never guess what appened to me las night!”

I smiled at his strong Welsh accent..

“The nurse tolds me I had to av an enema and I should strip off and part my cheeks.”

My smiles faded.

“So I wents to the toilet, took all my clothes off and parted my cheeks over the bowl!”

I let out a snort.

“So the nurse opens the door and there I is, stark bollock naked, spreadin my arse over the toilet! She screamed and threw a sheet over me! ‘Cover your dignity!’ she said. Well I didn’t know, you was meant to lie on the bed and do it.”

He let out a choking laugh and though it may have been inappropriate, I couldn’t help but join him.

Film Club

Not all my memories from hospital are bad. There were brief moments in which I felt content and safe from the outside world. I remember A, a healthcare assistant, who was particularly kind. His wife was a nurse on the ward and both of them always had time for you. They never used the words ‘I’m busy’ even though they always were.

It was dark outside.

I stubbed out my cigarette and wrapped my cardigan tight around me. It was spring, but in Wales that means nothing. I turned around to walk back inside but A, who was my supervising guard for the night, stopped me.

“I’ve got something” he whispered.

There was a mixture of excitement and trepidation in his hushed voice. I felt reluctant to reply but he was standing in the way of the warm.

“Um, what is it?” I reluctantly replied.

He looked around the empty courtyard and back through the glass doors on to the ward. Once he established no one was watching, he unzipped his coat and reached inside. I was nervous, could my trusted HCA be losing it?

My confusion deepened as he pulled out a DVD case.

“It finally arrived… I’ve got Salem’s Lot, the original TV series, are you in? Only a select few can know!”

I have to inform you at this point, A was about 6”5, built like a brick shithouse and must have been in his late 30s. Even though I was cold, it was quite amusing listening to him get excited about his 70s vampire DVD.

After 8 o’clock tea and biscuits, I got into my pyjamas and headed off in the direction of the lounge. When I got there, my other female HCA left me in the hands of A, who by now had drawn the curtains, rearranged the furniture and loaded up the DVD player. I sat down and said hello to the other reluctant patients who had been chosen to join A’s secret film club (I understood that vampire horror wouldn’t be appropriate for everyone on the ward).

A proceeded to tell us how lucky we were to be picked to watch such a classic film, to which I reminded him I had no choice, he was my guard for the night I had to follow him everywhere. We all got comfy and as the film got scarier, we all started to cling on to each other and laugh when we got scared.

Even though the film made us jump, we felt at ease. A had achieved his goal, he had brought together the patients on the ward who felt most alone.

And It would have been an outstanding triumph… if one of the dementia patients on the second floor hadn’t screamed and thrown a pillow at the lounge window.

We lost a few members after that.