Does anyone else who suffers mental health problems feel bored when there’s no crisis? It’s good not being suicidal or erratic and stuff, but it’s so illogically tempting to go cold turkey on medication just so something will happen.
My life is the calmest it’s been in such a long time, despite big things going on around me. Instead of my usual meltdowns I’ve been the calm at the eye of the storm.
But I’m painfully bored.
Borderline personality disorder is often likened to being on a roller-coaster. The problem is, as terrifying as rollercoasters are – they’re also exciting. The adrenaline rush makes them addictive.
I wouldn’t wish mental health issues on anyone (much). It isn’t pretty like in films. It hurts when your parents find tissues covered in blood from when you self harmed, or seeing the scars on your stomach turn purple when it’s cold. It hurts reading the morbid quotes you texted yourself as a reminder of your sins whilst in the throes of cold turkey (‘eternal damnation!’).
Dealing with mental health issues is like an eternal search for peace, but once things seem remotely peaceful you squirm and start thinking up ways of creating havoc. The future doesn’t seem exciting, because finding that happy place feels impossible.
But you keep trundling on, because maybe this time things will be better.
Last week we said goodbye to an old friend far too soon. Lucy was really supportive of my writing, so I hope she wouldn’t mind me sharing this.
Lucy was diagnosed with a brain tumour during our first year at university. After being sent straight to the hospital by an optician, having complained of blurred vision and headaches, her life changed forever.
That was over six years ago.
I admit I wasn’t a great friend when Lucy got ill. I didn’t check in as often as I should have, but the ‘what ifs’ are mine alone to live with. Instead, I’m going to tell you about the times I did get to spend with her over the past year.
She told me she’d wanted to have as many new experiences as possible, so I took her to the North Wales Burlesque Festival. I told her someday I’d be up there, and I’m sad to think she’ll never see it.
We also went to her first music festival – Festival Number 6 – based in the bonkers Italian style village of Portmeirion in North Wales.
I had gone fully stocked with neon paint, glitter and fairy lights. I was appalled when Lucy said she didn’t like glitter, and briefly questioned our friendship, but she did wear my fairy lights in case I lost her in the dark.
One of the most intimate moments I had with Lucy was wondering through the woods with a bottle of vodka in the middle of the afternoon. I asked whether she was afraid of dying, and we talked about it for a long time.
We were having a lovely time, but I don’t remember ever feeling as angry at the situation as I did on that day. She couldn’t believe what was happening because she felt so well. The only thing that hinted at her brain tumour was that she could get lost easily and needed help finding her way around.
She told me how people kept calling her brave, when really she had no choice in the matter. But I am proud of her for achieving so much when other people might just curl up and shut the world away.
The best case scenario, apparently, was another four years. This was excellent news to me – she’d be here a minimum of four years and not a day less – and surely a cure would have been found by then, anyway!
We caught up on normal girl stuff – I needed to know every single detail about her boyfriend – and I sent her to give the burger boy my number. We had a cracker eating competition with her friend Kevin, and when the rain became too traumatic to handle we went to my friend’s grandmother’s house for a hot shower, which Lucy was eternally grateful for.
We headed back to the festival in our freshly dried clothes, Lucy delighted with her idea to put carrier bags inside her leaking wellies. She said she would buy us lunch, and the outrage she expressed on learning that a portion of fish and chips would cost £10 (‘TEN POUNDS???’) was priceless.
Re-reading the blog post I wrote about the weekend, it feels surreal that she’s already gone. If I had realised that seven months later we would be saying goodbye, I would have made an effort to remember everything we said (and possibly put the vodka down).
Then there are the older memories. On a French exchange trip, we stayed with a miserable elderly couple who only fed us dry pasta, overcooked carrots floating in water, and canned hotdog sausages. In our room we found a swastika emblazoned book and were horrified to realise we were definitely probably living with Nazis.
The day after I heard about Lucy’s passing, I was at the BBC in Cardiff for work experience. On my way out the door I had grabbed any old notebook – this one hadn’t been used since 2011 – and a page fell open with the words:
‘Good things that have happened to me this Christmas:
Lucy saying “I’m just happy I’m still here.”‘
I just about fell off my chair. I was transported back to Beaumaris town square on New Year’s Eve with all our friends, when Lucy said those words as we watched the fireworks. I will never forget it.
Lucy left us on Sunday March 19th. Not being able to say goodbye is difficult – I visited a day too late – but I’m glad she died surrounded by family.
That week I was at my friend’s grandmother’s house for the first time since last summer, and I could imagine Lucy curled in front of the fire wearing Nain’s dressing gown. It seemed surreal that an old lady was still here when Lucy wasn’t.
When I see the little green dot pop up on Facebook to signify that her account is active, my heart stops for a moment as I convince myself it was all a mistake.
I wish I had profound words to share but I’ve been struggling to find any that seem right. Nothing I write will be as good as the post Lucy herself wrote. I remember being so proud when she asked me to help her set up a blog.
I can’t go back and recall every single moment together, because life doesn’t work that way. All that’s left to say, I suppose, is that I’m so very proud to have known Lucy and am grateful to her for reminding me to make every moment count.
So at 10:30am I’ll be graduating with a Master’s degree in Screenwriting. To start with, let me explain how much I really, really dislike mornings. I’m contemplating staying up all night to make sure I get there in time.
I’ve spent several years getting to this point: I studied Welsh and English at A level, then a Creative Writing degree, then a Foundation Diploma in Art & Design because, according to my CV, I wanted to ‘gain a more thorough understanding of the production process’. And now, finally, we’re here.
I was so excited to start my two-year course. All was going well – I was getting 60+% grades, which at Master’s level qualifies as a Merit.
…that is, until March, when I ended up in the nuthouse. Since March, I’ve felt like a deflated balloon. I just stopped caring. It’s been a couple of months since I received my results, which I still haven’t opened because I don’t want to face the guilt of dad spending £4,500 on a degree that I barely managed to pass.
I had so many good ideas inside my head, but what came out on paper was half-arsed. I don’t feel like a master of anything.
I’m sad that I’ve let myself down. I’m nervous to see my lecturers because I let them down. I’m annoyed at myself because I was supposed to be more, but instead I’m only just making enough money to eat through my writing – forget rent, and the general cost of being alive. And I’ve had a bad week, which prompted me to scratch my arms and I don’t have a long sleeved dress to hide them.
I went to the pub with Dad, and tomorrow I know I’ll be okay, because I don’t have a choice. I’ll keep applying for jobs I might get rejected for, and keep writing about boilers and safe sex so I still have the right to call myself a freelance writer.
The one thing that comforts me is this blog. Right now I should be dying my hair, ironing my dress, finding unladdered tights, and maybe checking what grade I actually got for my degree. It reassures me that I’ll always be a writer, because all I’ve ever wanted to do is write. I’m guessing around 10 people will read this blog post, but that’s okay, because it will be out there in the universe, existing, regardless.
There are plenty of traditional Welsh gifts out there. Love spoons, slate coasters, salt… but to be honest, as a 24 year old female who isn’t a grandmother I wouldn’t be that impressed with a spoon, no matter HOW MUCH?!?!? it cost.
Instead, here’s my pick of Welsh-inspired Christmas gifts, which prove that Wales can be cool…right?
I once had a fictitious Facebook profile named Welsh Chick Issues. Then Welsh Girl Problems came along who was much funnier. I catch up with her posts on social media when I’m feeling homesick, and now she’s got some lush merch on offer. I actually bought the ‘Tywysoges’ jumper a couple of months back.
I met author Siôn back in 2012 at the Terry Hetherington Young Writers Awards in Swansea (shudder). After I read aloud my work he came over to tell me it was funny, so obviously I liked him immediately.
Siôn yn dysgu’r bychan sut i gyfarch Saeson
Siôn is himself a highly entertaining writer, unfortunately even more so than me, and I can’t wait to read this collection of essays, short stories, cartoons, poems, comics and a recipe for cawl. Nice one mun!
I visit Wales’s first chili shop in Beaumaris whenever I need a present for Dad. The owners are fab and customers are free to sample the huge range of products available, and conveniently there’s a legendary ice cream shop situated across the road.
I like the Cheeky Girl, whereas the boyfriend prefers the Bad Boy. Reckon we’re a bit wrong for each other if you ask me.
The chili marmalade is surprisingly moreish, and there’s even chili jewelry.
I would say you’re more than welcome to buy me this for Christmas but to tell you the truth I impulse bought it at the Electric Mountain gift shop in Llanberis several years ago. Tidy.
If you’re wondering what else I’m giving this Christmas, Mam’s getting this vaguely overpriced but had-to-have-it bunting by Elements Crafts (£15), whilst I bought soap containing world-renowned Anglesey Sea Salt for the boyfriend’s mum (£4.50 wrapped), in the hopes she’ll like me cos I’m exotic. And for Dad, an album by the true love of my life Meilyr Jones, partly so I can steal it.
Even if my suggestions are too ridiculous for your tastes, I hope I’ve inspired you to shop local.I’m a firm believer that unless you’re gonna put thought into presents, you may as well not bother. I love searching independent shops for Christmas gifts, especially around Beaumaris and Betws y Coed.
Now that I spend most of my time in Liverpool, it can be lonely without anyone to speak Welsh and discuss sheep with. I personally would love any of these gifts to remind me of home.
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.
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 excited to make a pal with similar interests.
The gorgeous grade 2 listed building with its Gothic architecture is soon to be flattened in favour of 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?
I was unprepared for its sheer scale. Here’s an aerial view:
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 from outdoors doesn’t carry.
It wasn’t all bad at Denbigh. The first annual ball for patients was held in December 1852, whilst in 1867 the first hospital band was formed. Here’s the asylum in its heyday:
…and here it is now:
We encountered multiple groups of kids creating their own summer fun, and were joined for a sit-down around a table with a gang on 12 year olds. They offered a hit of their bong before spilling beer over our backpacks. We politely declined but hung around the building, taking great delight in scaring the bejesus out of them.
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.
Denbigh is a huge place, and we took a breather on a stairwell that led to a basement. I actually found this image online of exactly where the incident happened. The stairs are on the first left.
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 favoured phrase is, ‘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.
We dashed further down into the pitch dark basement. I grabbed the boy’s hand, ’cause this was a date, after all…
The footsteps were so close. We held our breaths and it seemed like they would hear my heart thumping. I didn’t even bother turning around to look at the security guard’s pissy face, that’s how certain I was that we’d been busted.
We shivered in the darkness waiting for something to happen.
My chivalrous date left me in the basement and headed back upstairs 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 relieved to still have my balls intact.
Not long after that we really did get busted by Elwyn, although our genitals remained in full form.
Going back was initially a no-no. However, having driven all that way we took a chance and clambered inside the 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 taken to paint these rooms in bright colours. Each 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…
…which had teeny tiny toilets and murals on the walls. I was particularly taken with Jemima Puddleduck because of a soft toy my dad had given me:
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.
Still debating whether to risk sneaking back into the actual asylum, we took some time to whip 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.
Upstairs, the attic spanned the entire length of the entire building.
Back in the asylum, meanwhile, we climbed up onto the mechanism for a lift. We found the tiniest cells which made me feel cold to look at, and tunnels that appeared to span the entire complex.
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.
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 rely on the power of suggestion.
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, meanwhile, 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.
After Christmas I learned second-hand that an old school friend has cancer again. An optician first suspected a brain tumour during our first year at uni because her vision was blurred; she dropped out to receive treatment and wasn’t allowed to drive a car even when she recovered.
I went to send a message of condolence, but I was ashamed. I had made a vague effort when she was sick, but over the years it gradually petered out. I didn’t know what to say because we weren’t equal any more; she had looked death in the face and kicked its arse, whilst I was playing hide and seek in the dark with knives in Liverpool. Was it wrong to only make an effort when you were at risk of losing someone?
I’m the kind of person who lets friends come to me, otherwise they’re forgotten. I assume everybody knows I care – no need to shout it from the rooftops. It didn’t quite click in my mind that relationships are a two-way street; maybe the reason people weren’t asking me to hang out was because I wasn’t asking them. So, I decided that in 2016 I wouldn’t take friends for granted.
I wrote a list of every single person I consider a friend or potential friend. It’s going up on the wall, and when I’m bored (or preferably just out of the goodness of my heart) I’ll mail my pal Matt who I met in Thailand because I’m still in awe of ginger Aussies, or tell Alex from college how jellyfish surviving 500 million years without brains gives me enormous hope for him.
I was going to leave flowers on the doorstep, but grew some balls and asked if she was in – and I’m so glad I did. It would have been incredibly stupid to let pride get in the way whilst I had a chance to redeem myself. I’m sorry for being self-centered, and for expressing guilt through my own blog post.
One NYE a couple of years ago, my pal said whilst watching fireworks in the town square, ‘I’m just happy to still be here’. This year I’ll make sure my friends know I’m happy they’re still here.