Girl, Interrupted

I spent my 24th birthday on March 10th cutting myself in my room, curled up in a corner, rocking back and forth, and humming the tune to Teddy Bear’s Picnic. That marked the beginning of my twelve days on a psychiatric unit.

Usually, I’m an open book and will write about all my experiences, but until now it’s been too difficult to even talk about. But, after being surrounded by Scousers celebrating humankind in all its forms at Pride this afternoon, I’m feeling brave. I have borderline personality disorder, and I’d stopped taking my anti depressant and anti psychotic medication. This was a regular occurrence. I would either feel frustrated because my emotions were dampened down, or think I was cured and no longer needed the pills. It seems so obvious, but at the time you absolutely believe these thoughts. I’d also just broken up with my boyfriend.

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My friend Amy found me in my room. I was hiding under a black fringed cardigan and wouldn’t let her turn on the light. She’d brought me a bag of birthday presents: ethically sourced earrings, a decorative heart-shaped rock, and a book about feminism in an attempt to educate me. She read the book aloud while I hid under the cardigan. She waited several hours for the ambulance to arrive.

A night at the Royal was by far the worst night of my life. A corridor full of people thinking ‘she doesn’t look ill’ is the last place you want to be.

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After many hours I was seen by the mental health team around 1am in a tiny, windowless room that was full of ladders and tins of paint. Amy stayed. I’ve got a squeaky voice at the best of times and the woman told me to stop talking like a little girl, so I instantly took against her.

There were no beds available on the ward or at the psychiatric hospital, so they left me in there all night. I became more and more hysterical in my exhaustion, hiding behind chairs because it was like being in a zoo with nurses peeping in. At 6am, they wheeled in an ambulance trolley for me to sleep on. I managed maybe an hour.

The day shift doctors took photographs of the room, which stank of paint fumes, because they were so disgusted I had been left in there.

Until midday, I didn’t do anything but cry my heart out. The ward was packed, loud, and claustrophobic. I became more and more desperate to just get out. They said I could leave soon, soon, and if I escaped a police car would be after me.

Once a bed became available at the psychiatric unit in Walton, a doctor escorted me there in a taxi. I was upset the taxi driver would know I was crazy. I was terrified, with no idea what to expect. This place was a world apart from the Royal. Tip: if you’re going to have psychiatric problems, don’t have them on a Friday night.

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I must have looked an absolute state. I hadn’t showered or eaten for five days and still wore a party dress.

There were about fifteen rooms on the ward. It was shaped like a square, with a pretty landscaped garden in the centre.

My bedroom was lovely, with yellow walls and lilac bed sheets. It looked out over the car park and a big Sainsbury’s. The door had a window so nurses could keep an eye on you, and the en-suite didn’t have a door so they might catch you on the toilet. The mirror was made of plastic.

The staff all came to introduce themselves, and made an effort to remember my name.

By now I was exhausted and still hadn’t seen a doctor who could prescribe me medication. A nurse scanned me with a metal detector and I volunteered the scissors stashed in my knickers. She weighed me, took my blood pressure, and watched me pee before testing the urine for drugs. It was a deep dehydrated yellow.

My only possessions were my phone, keys and Amy’s rock, which I hadn’t let go of. They confiscated the key and rock in case I did myself harm.

I wouldn’t leave my room to eat, but they brought me a cheese sandwich and orange juice. Someone checked on me every fifteen minutes, twenty-four hours a day.

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I concocted an elaborate lie for my parents, telling them I’d gone down South to visit a pal. I stopped answering texts and drew the curtains so I could curl into a ball and pretend the outside world didn’t exist. I just wanted to be alone, while also wanting someone to hold me and say it would be alright.

The night staff were less friendly. In my exhaustion and paranoia I became aggressive, chucking things around the room. I hid in the doorless wardrobe so the night staff couldn’t spot me through the slatted window, and screamed that they were stalking me when asked what was wrong.

They woke me up every fifteen minutes to check I was still alive. One of the night staff was a lovely religious lady who said ‘God bless you’ and used a torch to check on you. The other night staff  had no passion for their jobs, and turned on the big light as if out of spite.

A it dawned on me that I wouldn’t be able to just walk out of here, I tried to break the grilled windows. The nurse told me I would have to be sectioned if I tried to leave. Still no medication, because there would be no doctor on the ward until Monday.

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With absolutely no distraction, I was becoming increasingly agitated. Late into the night I called my friend Kairi. I was inconsolable and have no idea what I said, but she was the only person I felt I could talk to and I will always be eternally grateful.

I still wouldn’t shower because I had no clothes to change into, and I didn’t want anyone watching me.

Realising I couldn’t be here alone, I also called my parents who promised to come first thing in the morning.

I was given something to curb my agitation. I was so tired from all the rocking.

The next morning, I heard a girl in the corridor crying because she’d been locked out of her room for self harming. I sat with her and held her hand, and told her I was scared.

My parents brought books – the only thing that can distract me when I’m unwell. They brought a note pad so I could write, and my childhood soft toy. Mum cried and fed me fruit from Sainsburys.

I began to eat the cheese sandwiches and drink the orange juice the nurses brought, and one even donated her favourite book trilogy.

Over those two weeks, my parents drove a four hour round trip from Anglesey every single day, bar one, despite my lashing out at them or barely reacting when they did come. Every day there were new magazines, books, snacks, jammies, even a dress. There were countless pairs of underwear because my mum is obsessed with buying knickers; my favourite had neon pink flamingo detail.

I still kept my curtain closed. My parents took me to the hospital cafe and I became agitated to leave the ward.

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I began to venture out of my room to sit on the sunny window ledges. I ate a cheese sandwich every day without fail. I read obsessively to occupy my mind.

Dad brought me a magazine for writers, which encouraged me to write non-stop. I have always been a comedy writer, and laughing at my situation was the only thing that kept me sane. I wrote a script about the characters  I had encountered called The Good, the Bad and the Bonkers.

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My mood began to stabilise. The nurses didn’t recognise me after a wash, wearing my new dress. I wrote incessantly.

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Marie* was in her sixties, and said she was getting married to a monk at the Wigwam that coming Saturday (I still didn’t twig). She showed samples of her bridesmaids dresses, which were brown. We organised a hen party, which got closed down because we were supposedly making fun of her memory loss (OHHHHH).  We played pin the tail on the donkey anyway.

Chanelle* was a teenager who wore nappies and carried a blanket and dummy. She was referred to as the piggy bank because she swallowed coins and batteries.

Mary* took a shine to me and would follow me wherever I went. One time she insisted on tucking me into bed at 8pm, despite not being allowed in other patients’ rooms. I humoured her. Sixty seconds later she burst in, demanding I come to the cafeteria and insisting I was going to die.

She caught me picking the scabs on my arms once and said, ‘Don’t do that, darlin’.

My Welsh neighbour Vicky* was down because she was missing her little boy’s birthday. The Drugs Don’t Work by The Verve carried through the wall.

Rita* was a prostitute whose dad looked younger than she did. She was a right little tealeaf. I left my brick phone and belongings out to test her and everything stayed put. Nobody ever bothers stealing my phone but I preferred to pretend she liked me because I smiled at her.

Martha* had learning difficulties and cried hysterically all the time, to the point none of us could stand to be in the same room as her . She wanted to know when we’d first had sex. Shrieking with laughter, she announced that she’d been seven; an uncle, and three cousins.

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I met so many interesting people, and the staff were just fantastic despite the long shifts with too many patients, and too few nursers.  I was actually sad to leave and I am very grateful to everybody who cared for me.

I was apprehensive about leaving, and spent a fair while back in Wales with my parents. I felt guilty for worrying and hurting so many people.

Since then, I’ve been doing well. I’m taking my medication properly, and I eat well. I started going back to the gym. Cheese sandwiches still comfort me. I’m going to be OK.

marilyn

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A date to Denbigh asylum

Denbighshire asylum is an abandoned psychiatric hospital nestled in the north Wales countryside. Regarded as one of the great Victorian institutions, building began in 1844 and at its height was home to 1500 patients.

Its treatment of psychiatric disorders was often regarded as barbaric and the controversial hospital was designated for closure in 1960. It would take until 1995 to close its doors for good.

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With an Ouija board in tow, this was hands down the best date I’ve been on. I developed an interest in urbexing (urban exploration) last year and was buzzing to make a chum with similar interests.

The gorgeous grade 2 listed building with its Gothic architecture is soon to be flattened in favour of building a shopping complex, so I was desperate to finally see it.

I was particularly excited because my dad actually worked at “Denbigh Mental” as a trainee social worker. Wonder what he’ll think of our photos?

As someone who’s spent time in a madhouse, I also felt a particular pull to this place.

I was unprepared for its sheer scale. Here’s an aerial view:

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Image by David Gaskell

One of the first things you notice when you step inside is the total lack of sound. Despite window panes being long hollowed, the noise doesn’t carry and is totally silent.

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It wasn’t all bad. The first annual ball for patients was apparently held in December 1852 and in 1867, the first hospital band was formed. Here are images of the asylum i its heyday: 

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Denbigh-Postcard

Here it is now:

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We encountered multiple groups of kids creating their own summer fun. We were joined for a rest at a table and chairs by a gang of 12 year old boys. Settling, they offered a hit of their bong before spilling beer over our backpacks.

We politely declined but hung around the building, my date taking great delight in scaring them. Cruel, but my God, was it fantastic!

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My urbex buddy had been there previously and swore he’d heard a girl scream. Although I consider myself an open minded skeptic, I pretty much thought someone had been having him on.

After yesterday, I am well and truly a believer.

We took a breather on a stairwell.

I actually found this image online of exactly where it happened. We sat a few steps down on the first left. Below that was a dark scary basement:

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Suddenly, footsteps down the corridor. Coming closer and closer.

The supernatural didn’t cross my mind. I was more concerned with encountering infamous self-appointed security guard Elwyn and his rumoured nine dogs, whose favourite words are ‘If I catch you in the asylum I will get my dog to bite your bollocks off!’ Here is his Facebook appreciation page. I particularly enjoyed this recorded encounter.

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Elwyn. Source: Google

Holding my breath, I grabbed the boy’s hand so hard it probably turned white. We dashed down to the basement when it seemed like the footsteps were barely a couple of feet away. I didn’t even bother turning around to see the face of anger on the security guard, that’s how certain I was that we’d been busted.

We shivered in the darkness waiting for something to happen.

My date bravely went back up to investigate the source of the footsteps.

He scoured the building and its exterior to no avail – there was nowhere outside in the wide open space for anyone to hide. There was no wind, nothing inside the building that could have made such a consistent sound.

I was just relieved not to get my balls bitten off.

Not long after that we really did get busted by Elwyn, although your genitals remained intact.

Going back was initially a no-no. However, having driven all that way we took a chance and clambered inside the nurses quarters. 

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Nurses Quarters

I can imagine that at one point the nurses quarters had been warm and welcoming. Compared to the metal doors of the institution, care had been chosen to paint these in bright colours. Each room was of a comfortable size with its own wardrobe and floral wallpaper. I was surprised by how much effort had gone into individualising each personal space.

One of my favourite finds was the on-site creche…

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…which had teeny tiny toilets and murals on the walls. I was particularly taken with Jemima Puddleduck because of a soft toy my dad gave me:

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More than architecture, for me urbexing is all in the detail. Hand drawn murals, terrible 70s wallpaper, stickers, carpets. Details are where personality shines through, a reminder that people really did live here at one point. Imagining someone painting Jemima really gave me goosebumps.

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Gorgeous countryside views from a nurse’s room

Still debating whether to risk sneaking back into the actual asylum, we took some time to get out the Ouija board.

When  asked what name we should call the supposed spirit by, it SORT OF pointed the planchette towards Y-V. ‘Is your name Yvonne?’, we asked. it SORT OF agreed. Then it buggered off and we lost interest.

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Date hadn’t realised this photo had taken – Yvonne having a laugh at my expense?

On the top floor, I couldn’t quite clamber up into the attic. According to the boy it spanned the length of the entire building. Here are pics he took for me:

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Back inside the asylum we found tunnels which appeared to span the entire complex. We climbed up onto the mechanism for a lift. We found the tiniest cells which made me feel cold to look at.

All in all, we spent around seven hours at the asylum and still didn’t see everything.  As sunset approached, having combed through most of the buildings, we finally found the morgue (six freezer spaces, if you were wondering).

But for me, the crème de la crème was the abandoned chapel of rest. Inside had been gutted, but it was still so beautiful. We lay on our backs staring up at the ceiling with its gorgeous wooden beams. If you didn’t look down, you wouldn’t realise the place was derelict.

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Source: Google

This seemed like as good a place as any to give the Ouija board one last go. I wished I’d brought candles to really up the ambience. Nothing really happened, much to my dismay. I’m now inclined to believe that Ouija boards merely rely on the power of suggestion.

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Despite the asylum’s controversial history, I was overwhelmed with regret that such a grand building would soon be flattened for the sake of commercialism. Unfortunately the site is in such disrepair that it makes sense to knock it down and start again, but it’s a terrible shame.

Driving home, it finally clicked – if there was nobody in the building when we hid from those footsteps, who WAS in there?

If you’re interested in learning about the controversial practices inflicted on former psychiatric patients, check out the BBC documentary Mental: A Hystery of the Madhouse.

Images by Phill Gaffney. For more of his work follow urbanxplor.