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