By: Saoirse Love
Did it begin out there? In the real world? Where I still had options and choices – whatever modicum of self- control and direction that anyone has – within a system.
For there’s a system within a system.
The outer realm, an organised and semi-functioning democracy, smack bang in the heart of the first, and most accountable, of the three worlds.
That used to bother me as a kid, that expression… everyone knew there was only one world.
Ah. Children are so wise. How do we forget to see the obvious as we grow?
It could have begun out there, but maybe nothing started until we were well hidden from public view. Hidden, at least, if you didn’t look. Hidden in the locked Ward. The inner sanctum, another existence entirely. Has anyone ever wondered what goes on in there?
In the very inside of our hospitals, hidden, just behind the pristine lab and well-clad men and women, just behind the smiling secretary at her desk, maybe painting her nails or pointedly holding a file. Just behind the fancy canteen, the state-of-the-art labs and fresh sanitised air with that sweet scent of cleaning fluid lurks the hidden world of the locked ward.
The ward nobody goes in without a good reason. At night, and other times, occasional screaming or the sound of furniture banging, may strangely emit from the modest entrance. This is the entrance where they put all the people you don’t want to know.
So here you are, either so head wrecked you are willingly walking in, or groped roughly by guards and shoveled in, it really makes no difference. Once inside the air has a different quality. It is congested and humid, thick and unyielding, forcing your lungs to revert to an earlier half-mammal-half-amphibian phase.
When the formalities are concluded, and by that I mean the rapid divestment of almost all your possessions, a look at your bed – or room, if you are lucky – the handing of hospital chic orange and green poorly fitting pyjamas, and the shoving into your hand by an irritable nurse, a small scrap of paper, which professes to guarantee your rights and fair treatment, with a couple of phone numbers, that all are out of date, you are to discover later.
When you are changed and washed, as uniform as the next patient, another tired and cranky nurse will show you around. There’s a narrow expanse that is merely a twisted corridor, beds on both sides, at the end, an office, a staff room, endless toilets and showers, a dubiously grim communal area, not much else but chairs and a TV, whose remote was long thrown over the wall, and half decks of cards, puzzles and games, missing more pieces than they ever had. This space was ours and ended in what at first seems like fresh air.
But it’s not. It’s a very tiny yard, which may once have contained flowers or grass, now disgusting with waste, all clogged and tight with cigarette smoke, the ground beneath rancid with week-old butts. The staff does not clean the yard. Yet this was where I spent most of my time, fag after fag, chat after chat, passing the time in whatever fashion we could.
Of course, that was later.
The initiation, in your bedroom or ward, was a brief already scripted conversation with a young child who claims to be a grown and fully qualified doctor, who was to warn me about a recent entry, who may be dangerous and abusive to women, I kid you not. The character was called Mark. At least on the first day. His name was to change as suddenly as his rapidly changing moods did.
Then, with the briefest introduction to your surroundings, coupled with a drug-induced haze, the doctor takes his leave, and from then on, your day-to-day care is overlooked and sadistically imposed, by what must be some very disturbed, yet “trained” so called nurses.
While on your bed after admission, they administer an injection in your bum. When you awake, what had been known to you as yours is gone, and you had become only another body, another statistic of the unwanted. The nurses treat you with quiet disdain, and some small tolerance, as if to say, “go right ahead, do your worst, scream and shout, assault us verbally, we are well used to it.” Here you have come to properly be ignored, and ignored you are.
The lunatics have taken over the asylum… hum, hum, hum…
By ignoring, I mean paying tremendous and careful attention to every irrelevant detail. The nurses would drop the basket of laundry and rush off on a patient’s whim for a colored marker, or endlessly, patiently answer silly question after silly question.
“How old am I?”
“Where’s my bed/the toilet/my cup of tea?”
“What’s your name?”
When greeted with any actual sincerity or understanding of the trauma or our predicaments, would practise what my son phrased… plausible deniability… they weren’t going to be pinned down – they just didn’t answer.
So, “Where’s my lawyer?”
And, “What’s my leave date?”
Are always met with silence.
Of tantamount importance, and to which end a tight and rigid routine was in place, was cleanliness and order, or the semblance thereof. To this end, every cup of tea and every morning shower were vigorously organised to an autistic schedule, at this hour, at this minute, no other.
To achieve such a structure, with such a raggle/taggle collection of vagabonds, miscreants and merely the very confused, an enormous quantity of drugs… in particular Benzo’s..were included in the schedule, to control everyone, four times daily, at a very high dose.
Similarly, in the evenings highly addictive sleeping pills were doubly dispensed to all, as the night staff would tolerate no indulgences or disruptions to their activities, sitting outside someone’s room all night, texting or reading, but often nodding asleep themselves. If caught – or disturbed – by a wandering, confused or even a demented person staggering up the corridor in the early hours, the strict and harsh attitude of the night staff contrasted dramatically with the smiling, often idealistically hopeful, attempts at placation of the student nurses prevalent during the daytime.
Yet the point was: they were powerless; untrained for the severity of the emotional and mental distress contained within their confines; and inept and unable to solve or even deal with, most problems that arose.
On arrival, unprepared and unexpected, I was handed one half of a set of standard issue pajamas, and what was definitely not the matching bottoms, and my clothes were taken from me and placed casually in a black bag, with a dubious label, in the storeroom. Everything seemed behind lock and key. The top two buttons of my unglamorous top were missing, but after complaining, it emerged that was the last item in the closet, so for the time being I must make do.
My breasts were showing, and sure enough, within the evening a huge black man I had not noticed before, sat down beside me pointedly.
“Tonight I will find you in your room and visit you,” he whispered in my ear, then made his exit.
If that didn’t have me nervous enough, the really dangerous dude, who was rumoured to be up in court for child rape, and merely biding his time here – made sure everyone in the place was biding it with him – yes to make matters worse he also had a penchant for me but did not display it by a whisper, but by loud and lewd and nefarious suggestion and cliched narcissistic ego-stroke demanding. His presence dominated the smoking yard, so if you smoked….
BOOM BOOM CLANG went the toilet light.
Red paint splattered on the wall.
Then the sudden character twist, the smiles, the coyness, the charm.
Perhaps I have never sat so near or shared a cigarette with, pure evil.
It had begun, maybe in real life, another distressed soul, however, this time I had signed myself in, a clever stroke, and through the drug-induced haze helped, it came very clear to me this polluted atmosphere was far from therapeutic. So, it ended here.
I attempted to do what I was told, as often as I could, because it seemed the easiest option. However, sometimes, because of my deteriorating – and still untreated – mental chaos, I was also to be in the badly-behaved category. My simple privileges were revoked.
The static routine dealt with such discrepancies, both little and large, by penalising. If you tried to make a run for it, pajamas for three days. If you destroyed the bathroom, well, there were times it was just covered over, with a smile or wink, there seemed no consistent guidelines governing our crimes and misdemeanours, or indeed their punishments. My stay was brief, but carved a dent on my soul, as did the empathy I felt for the other inmates.
The thing is, how can anyone understand, the de-humanising… the dis-empowerment, the very hurt it inflicts upon your soul unless they have been an inpatient?
And why should I tell you? Because I must let you know how you carved up my individualism, how your society rejected me and treated me, and how I survived.
This time though, I was wise, and said, “enough.”
I signed myself out, packed and hastily left alone in a taxi. Me, on my way to freedom. This time.
But for all of us mentally unstable, we are never safe, our freedom never guaranteed, and once behind closed doors….
Can’t you see our mad, mad, crazy eyes? Can’t you hear our screaming?
Bio: Saoirse Love
Saoirse Love is a disabled single mum with Bipolar 1, caring for a teenage child with Asperger’s Syndrome.
She has worked for many years as a craft worker, prop maker, puppeteer, and artist in Dublin, Ireland.
She is now writing poetry, short fiction, and memoir.
Two Drops of Ink is pleased to publish Saoirse for the first time. Please welcome her to the site.
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