Slouched in the cold aluminium chair, plastic cup of water in hand, I stared at my grey, cotton socks. Dirty from pacing the halls, scores of people and miscellaneous objects travelled back and forth along there every minute of every day. Crash carts and pathology trolleys, patients, visitors. They call it names like ward, but I know better. Time is marked by portioning of meals, unlimited and varied medications, meeting rooms, and blood pressure checks. Someone like me was never afforded permission to wear my own clothes.
Others wandered the wide corridors in off-white gowns that never quite tied up at the back. The furniture was all hard aluminium or plastic. There was a goddamned piano in the recreation room, and with all my might, I wanted to murder the person who thought that was a good idea.
The water in my cup made tiny waves. He sat across from me, rapping his fingers on the table.
Three. Four times. I kept my eyes on my cotton socks.
“How do you feel this week?”
I felt much worse. Like I was falling, headfirst. Always deeper and deeper into a bottomless ravine. I had no rights here. Nothing. I couldn’t leave, I couldn’t choose when to rise or when to lay in bed—there was a schedule to everything. A nurse for everyone. My body was a cage. I couldn’t refuse the pills that made my mind slow and my speech drawl. If I tried they’d hold me down, sedate me, and force them down my throat. Only people with electronic identity cards could open doors. There was no rest from the screams inside isolation rooms. I got the impression that most of the other patients feared me, at least a little. It worsened after I broke that pencil in half and stabbed my arm’s main artery with it so I could make sure I still bled scarlet. Crazy is as crazy does.
He pressed me.
“Can you try to tell me what exactly is wrong?” He blinked.
I explained that I can’t keep food down. I can’t sleep. There was no joy anymore. I didn’t tell him how good it felt to use my broken pencil. Because there isn’t one word I could put in a sentence that would be interpreted as sane. My existence was scrutinized. Emotion was taken as a sign of imbalance and instability. In this place of locked doors and thick plastic windows, time dragged on.
A cheap analogue clock ticked loudly on a nearby wall, each second marked.
I glanced at the door.
“Would you like me to fetch your mother?”
The whole time we sat in discussion, my mother sat outside by herself. As he moved to open the door (without waiting for my response), I saw her perched on a plastic chair, staring at her feet. They greeted each other, then walked inside. She sat in the chair next to me.
“I’m considering a few more weeks and a few more electroconvulsive treatments, Mrs Campbell. We can only expect a positive result after we have endured some unpleasantness.” My mother’s face relaxed.
“So, we can expect some improvement soon?”
“Oh, I’m quite sure of it.”
When they don’t know what to do with you, they put you in here. The prison for the sick. They take your dignity along with your clothes, speak to you as though you are a challenged child, and feed you mush from packets in tiny grey portions so that if you ever actually have an appetite, you lose it instantly. They watch you. Always. They record you. Always. They make note of every negative response or emotion you show, and praise passive behaviour.
Life can be measured in terms of events that succeed one another from the past, through the present. I didn’t see much of a future. I’ve been full of venom for as long as I can remember, my mind constantly betrayed me. I was as much of a patient there as anyone else, and in the beginning, I had moxie. In time that vanished, the way a bar of soap in the shower slowly turns into a sliver with use. Insanity is a curse.
Group therapy sessions were always difficult. I initially introduced myself with an admission of terrible anxiety, and an apology in advance. This was an apology for any future confrontations that I might cause. I knew that being unmedicated for so long prior to admission, made me savage when provoked. There was always an opportunity for conflict. Maybe I should have a go on that piano.
Author: Jes Schefe is a queer, neurodivergent freelance editor who prefers correcting other peoples’ grammar to putting stories on paper. She’s been studying at QUT for way too long and loves playing 90’s rap while she appraises manuscripts. She writes to wipe out mental illness taboos and stigmas, and has been an admin and advocate for the QUT Abilities Collective and the QUT Queer Collective for a few years. Her work can be found on the Loving Her Facebook page, The SPAWN Exhibition, Flunk Magazine, Glass Magazine, and a few others. You can also find her at @jesmassiveattack
Artist: Anastasia Notaras is an emerging artist based in Brisbane. She is currently in her third year of BFA in Drama at QUT. Her work has been published in ScratchThat Magazine and can be found on her Instagram @anastasianotaras. Her creative work is multidisciplinary as she delves into painting, collage, script writing and performance.