[Written in Oct 2014]
The looney bin isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It’s not a nightmare but neither is it the stuff of dreams. 25 years of depression leads to an East London mental health ward. A voluntary inpatient for two days (for starters). Except the nurse said I had to go – as I wasn’t considered safe to be home alone. Where’s Macaulay Culkin when you need him? Hospitals are grim at the best of times – we don’t come for a holiday. Overworked/indifferent staff, fluorescent lights, bad food, and worse décor. The Hilton it ain’t. And yet there’s something oddly reassuring about having your life taken out of your hands. An infantilising experience. Books and other media glamorise insanity – it is mad, bad and dangerous to know. But the reality is mundane. Bland hospital food, endless sweet tea, nothing to do and no one sane or sensible to talk to. Too bored to care, too ill to argue, I picked through the books on offer in the entertainment room. Slim pickings – mostly thrillers. Which seem like a poor choice for a psych ward. A Dummies guide to some computer programming language, which I consider. At least if I go madder I’ll learn a new skill. Then I find some odd gems – Elmore Leonard, Lawrence Block, Joyce Carol Oates. I select a temping collection: Murder at the racetrack. I wonder how long they’ll let me stay – long enough to read all of them? I wonder which other tortured soul left them here. Did he or she get out alive? Were they pulled into psychosis by a penny-dreadful thriller? Never to return to the redemptive wonders of hard-boiled crime fiction?
I’m being flippant and sarcastic – my defaults when cornered. This is not how I feel. I’m not sure how I feel. I rarely know. Alexithymia is a curse – not knowing how you feel until the pills/knife/rope is in your hands. I’m scared. I’m grateful for the lock on my door – and for staff making 15-minute checks through the glass. The room is cell-like and sparse, but the bed is comfy. Corridor noise veers between being intrusive to being reassuring. Terrifying and reassuring. That is the odd reality of being on a psych ward. I miss my son – I want to sniff him and have him sleeping in my bed. Even if he grinds his teeth and elbows me in the norks. It would be better than here. Perhaps that’s a sign that I’m getting better – or at least that I have hope. My ‘protective factor’ is what I miss. Missing him is a fishhook in my guts. But he’s safe with his dad. And I’m safe in here. Safe from the Cluedo objects that could hurt me. And the problems that will be there when I leave. Am I hopeful? No. I’m exhausted, depleted, demoralised, humiliated (and other ‘ed’ words that aren’t good). Fuck austerity. Fuck leaking roofs and endless bills. Fuck public sector payrises, overwork, single parenthood, and Asperger’s. Fuck skipping meals to make ends meet, and never paying for myself. Fuck men who offer me affairs, or over charge me for house repairs. Angry? Damn right I am.
Four days ago I screamed and swore at police officers who told me to calm down. So I shut down. Again. And talked about my cats. Mr Fred and Grey Stray. All NHS staff seem obsessed with how my pets are. Are they moonlighting for the RSPCA? Weird small talk. No more paper.
I asked for more paper and they gave me plain. Don’t they know I need lines to stick to?! A laptop would be better, but I’m guessing the NHS couldn’t accommodate that wish. A Kir Royale, a menthol cigarette and a cuddle would be good – but I’m guessing those aren’t to be had either. For what it is, the psych ward isn’t bad. Comfortable, safe, warm. The staff seem to care – a stark opposition to last week’s A&E debacle. A mercy dash to A&E, and a breakdown in the car park – it’s always cars or parking that break us, isn’t it? Something about those big metal monsters ramps up our stress. For me it was not having change for the parking. Broken machine in the deserted hospital entrance. Man in a little booth who said the canteen may have change, but it was probably closed by now. I stood dumbfounded. Having driven myself to A&E at the GP’s request (feeling suicidal), there was no way to park. And no way to admit myself – well, not without getting my car clamped. Somewhere up there someone was laughing at me. I was frozen with shock at this last straw. The little man asked if I was alright. A seismic rage came from nowhere. I threw my wallet, keys, bag on the ground and screamed, cursed, cried. Effed and blinded. Sank to my knees. Sobbing and broken. People walked past, still having their conversations. Apparently breakdowns are not worth commenting on. The good Samaritan is dead. He never existed. Not in Newham. Eventually a male nurse appears and tells me to calm down. I scream some more. Two police officers arrive. I scream some more. They fix a note to my car, promise me I won’t get a ticket, and escort me to A&E. One police officer is wearing blue plastic gloves. I ask him why, and joke that I thought my luck had changed. He looks at me blankly. An officer’s sense of humour – clearly no laughing matter. They leave me to the check-in staff, who point to a chair. (When one goes beyond words, everyone else responds in kind – they think they don’t have to talk to you.) I sit and sob in A&E until a triage nurse arrives. She asks me repeatedly what has happened. She is brusque and tactless. I shut down some more, as her questions are too stupid to answer. She sticks wires on me, blood pressure cuff, and thermometer in my ear – all without warning and conversation. She leads me to a fluorescent bright windowless room, tells me to wait there, then leaves.
An hour passes. I switch off the lights and shut the door, to stop people staring in at me. I feel like an exhibit. Eventually a pretty Nordic (Scandinavian?) psych doctor assesses me. My newish partner arrives and they discuss whether I should be admitted voluntarily or sectioned. My wishes seem irrelevant. But I insist on going home – I won’t be alone as my man will be with me. I remember I’ve had no food or drink since lunchtime (it is now nearly midnight). New man gets sweet tea. Scandinavian/Nordic chick gets toast and jam. No one asked me if I needed anything. I am a problem to solve – a set of symptoms, maybe an irritation. I am angry at the lack of humanity and communication. I am angry at my stupid brain, my stupid feelings, my reactions that cause me to fall apart and be helpless. To be such a child that I can’t take care of my child. I’m angry at being lonely, at being alone, at not telling people that I’m going down until it’s too late. I am angry at myself. I am angry at the world.
Back in the psych ward, four days after A&E. My brother has visited. We smoked and laughed at the décor. My partner cannot come till tomorrow afternoon. I have no clean clothes. It is midnight and no one has given me the pills they took from me – the pills that might keep me alive. I have a fetching pink hospital gown, which opens at the back. And no clean clothes. And no make up. I’m not sure which is worse.
[At this point I gave up writing, exhausted…]