Book extract number five. This is when I was in Parklands Hospital in about 2005.
I had magazines to read, but I did that frequently and felt like something different. The same was true of the music I had to listen to. I had a collection of about 15 CD’s, a mix of Rock, Pop, Rap and Dance music which I listened to on my personal CD player, which was a constant companion.
It may seem that there were actually many things to do, but when you have been recycling the same routine for a few days, the whole routine gets boring. It may not have been boring if we had computer games, a playable pool table, a running track, gym, sports hall, music room, etc. like we had at Thornford Park hospital.
One thing I sometimes did but not that much was to have some musings on political networks, there was a lot going on in the political world at the time. I could also ponder the meaning of life, or whether things that have a beginning must have an end, or whether that was just hearsay. No matter what time it was, there was always some food to be had. I kept a collection of junk food in my room, crisps and chocolate, and some sesame snaps and peanut brittle, and I could always get either a sandwich or a salad plate from a contact of mine who worked in the kitchen. The kitchen staff were very nice. When it came to staffing, we didn’t have orderlies to keep the peace when need be, like Barney the Orderly who watched over the fictional Dr. Hannibal Lecter, and the orderlies in the film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The Nurses had training to deal with those situations. Some hospitals with more dangerous patients probably have orderlies. I wonder if orderlies show up for work looking unkempt and disorganised would they then be referred to as ‘disorderlies’?
I could play some pool, but the table was useless, and the cues were little more than a crude stick. There was no internet provision, this was 2003 and there were no smartphones. Despite my psychosis and grandiose delusions I hardly had an imagination to play with and I didn’t really know how to meditate. I could play my guitar, but I knew I’d get bored of that. I could read books, but I had nothing I was interested in, just my magazines. I knew somehow that there was something else. Something that I had been meaning to do today but had forgotten about. It was something I knew I could enjoy a bit, like knowing that you have something nice for dinner in the fridge that your mum kindly bought for you but you can’t remember what. Have a shave? No that wasn’t it. Tidy my room? No. Strip naked and run around the ward? No, although I genuinely wish I had. Ah there it is. I was going to have a bath. If I had a long one, by the time I was dressed again it would be almost time for Countdown on the TV.
I took it upon myself to have a bath and make it last as long as possible, so I could watch TV as soon as I was dressed. I got dressed, and then watched TV. Countdown had the ability to create a hive of activity on a good day, I wasn’t the only fan on the ward. We all like Countdown in England. Its appeal crosses all races, classes and cultures.
Passing staff would get drawn in and would stay until they got reminded that they were not actually that good, usually staying for a couple of 30 second games of anagram recognition and identification, where nine letters are chosen at random and displayed on the gaming board and the contestants would try and get the longest word. The contestants on the TV were always good to the point of amazement, forming words using magic like Tom Hanks in ‘The Da Vinci Code’. The passing nurses, less so. In the identical manner each time, they came up with a few simple four letter words, or possibly a five, and were happy, but I could usually manage a six, and when I did, the nurses said, ‘I’m not very good at this’ and left the room. It was all good fun though. I knew they’d be back the next day, unconsciously wanting to better me but I was mean and never dumbed myself down.
The TV room had rubbish chairs with hard wooden arms, allowing only for temporary comfort as if to give us one more little annoyance on top of the rest of it all. It was all too far away from the TV as well but that was no problem for one so bold as I. I would move a chair from the perimeter of the room to the middle so I was closer. This would have been a reason for one or two ward managers from previous weeks to flex their managerial muscle and tell me I couldn’t move furniture like that and then come up with a questionable reason as to why the furniture must not be moved, but power tends to corrupt and there isn’t anything I can do about that. They probably recalled such feelings of power for days to impress their wives. Though some ward managers from recent weeks were, for want of a better word, dicks, the ward manager on Hawthorns, at least the one I remember, I think there were two or three, was actually very nice. He showed me a few tricks on my guitar, including how to use a cigarette lighter as a slide. It felt good to play my guitar now that I had a new thing to do on it. I sat in the TV room often over the next few days, sure that my new playing methods were pleasing to listen to for everyone as well as me.
Chapter 15 – Home again
I hope by now I have given you some insight into what happens on a mental health ward, through my eyes at least. I remember when I was 18 years old, I heard about a friend of a friend who had been admitted to Parklands Mental Hospital because he had taken some drugs and had started to talk to his hand. I remember that this sounded a bit funny, and thinking that it can’t be true, nobody really believes that they can talk to their own hand. I think it is the case that certain things, drugs, traumatic experiences, can take away or at least affect the part of the brain that says ‘Don’t try and talk to your hand’.
I can remember thinking how weird things must be for that friend of a friend, and thinking that it would never happen to me. When I was about 18, I also heard that a friend from school had tried to commit suicide by jumping from a bridge in front of a train. It turned out to not be true, but at the time I would occasionally meet another old friend from school, and would say; ‘Did you hear about Mr.X? Apparently he jumped from a bridge in front of a train! That’s a bit fucked up isn’t it?’
And now since my bridge jump suicide attempt in 2002, I am that person. There must have been many conversations that went a bit like that about me, and they probably still happen all the time. I knew lots of different groups of people my age in my hometown when I was 19, and they all knew each other to varying degrees. I wonder what the rumour mill has come up with during these social interactions. Perhaps nothing. Perhaps I have become a myth, a legend.
Probably not though. Sometimes I feel a bit too grandiose. It is a remnant of my old beliefs which remain in part today. Saying that though, it is rare that my pride swells up without good reason, for example, when my mind thinks I can talk to anyone telepathically, whereas others cannot. This sort of thing could easily turn me bipolar one day.
Book extract number two – an example of the type of things I was doing with my days at the height of my grandiose delusions and psychosis
I was doing something one day, mid-October, probably watching TV, when I decided to colour my eyelids green and yellow, with a felt tip pen, and go out like that. I bought some cheap bangles for my wrists, and put them on. Honestly I have no idea why. The green and yellow on my eyelids probably made it look as if I had bruises on my eyes.
I also remember thinking I would like to go to mass one Sunday, with my messiah complex I was after all the most important person in the Catholic Church. I went, dressed in a suit jacket borrowed from my brother, it was too big, and took a place at the very front, a couple of steps away from the priest. I remember acting as though I was simply the most important thing and given half a chance, I would have got up on the altar and delivered a sermon. I can imagine myself as confidently saying to the priest ‘I’ll take it from here, Father’. Genuinely if asked I would have stood up and shared my thoughts about God, Jesus, myself and I would have probably talked about my imaginary friend, nicknamed ‘Britney’ too. I was using body language and eye contact with the priest in the hope that he would ask me. It felt like the appropriate thing to do.
I didn’t preach that night.
It was 13 years ago, and I don’t remember what I was doing on a daily basis to pass the time. The pursuit of buying and smoking cannabis was a priority. I was not employed, I left college in October or thereabouts, and it was getting to be winter again. I remember that on Halloween that year, I was living with my dad, and found myself watching the night sky, and I noticed how blinking lights from planes flying high overhead sometimes seemed inconsistent. If you stared long enough, your eyes could play tricks and the lights seemed to jump around erratically, moving in strange patterns through certain areas of the sky. It was as if the craft that was shining the light was jumping from place to place in impossible movements. Also, the more I looked, the more the red and white blinking lights appeared to not be blinking, but steady lights, that only appeared to be blinking because they were revolving quickly around a circular aircraft, and coming in and out of view. So as one would think, given this new information, these crafts were actually flying saucers being piloted by Aliens.
I began to imagine an emotion, one of good will to the aliens on these craft. But there was a problem, these craft always did the same thing, and flew away over the horizon. I would ask them to stay, reassuring them that they should. With every flight I would hope that this one would stay. I watched the sky until morning.
The next day would have started in some crazy way, me talking to the TV or trying to communicate with the neighbours’ pet. I don’t remember. Possibly the next day, or maybe a week later, I was home on my own with lunch on my mind. My dad was at work, and I felt inspired to do something Jesus would do. I went to the shops to buy lunch, probably with my headphones on, recycling the same old music that would embarrass me to listen to now. I returned home with a tin of sardines. I threw them in the pan, a wok that I would use from time to time. But it wasn’t particularly substantial, so in went some chopped veg, carrots, potatoes, etc. Next some sauce, whatever was to hand, soy sauce, some tinned soup, and a bit of ketchup. I had a partridge in the freezer which I had bought to show off my classy and mature tastes to a certain imaginary friend, but that was for another time. (I ended up microwaving it one day after not being able to wait any longer). My plan was to make a sardine sandwich, so I got out the brown bread, sliced it and thought what the hey, let’s just chuck it all in. I crumbled up the two slices of bread, and in it went. I stirred it, and was noticing how it had made quite a lot, a whole wok full, and before long was drawing parallels with the miracle of the loaves and the fishes. ‘Oh so this is what the Bible was referring to when describing the miracle of the loaves and the fishes.’ Yet more proof to ‘Crazy me’ that I was still the modern day Jesus. Apart from a serving I had that lunchtime, the mix went uneaten, and that’s saying something as my dad was a fish eating Vegan at the time. I don’t even think a gouge of curiosity appeared as is sat in the fridge going bad. That reminds me of when at around that time, late 2002, I made a stir fry at my mum’s house, and it was fairly nice, quite normal, except for the yellow and green flowers I had picked from the garden to put in the pot. Nothing wrong with being creative in the kitchen though right?
Sometimes I would do some gift shopping for when my imaginary friend showed up. I bought things here and there, there was a farmers market nearby, where I got the partridge. I bought some expensive honeys and quite randomly, some avocadoes. When I got home, probably after being inspired by the TV, I decided to make a face cream, using the avocadoes, some fresh aloe vera (I had a plant in my room), some lemon juice and zest, some moisturising cream, and it had some black speckles, which may have been ground coffee beans. I put the cream on my face, and it was actually not bad. I put it in the freezer so it would keep until Britney made a move. I still have a penny sized hardened smear on my cork notice board, and it remains a lovely avocado green, something must have protected it from oxidisation, possibly the lemon.
Book extract number three – one of the frequent scuffles I engaged in while living on a mental health ward. I was a delusionally confident fighter.
Thornford Park’s Chievely ward was a nice place. The crux of it is that it had no corridors. It had a large central space, a lounge space, a square shaped area that was about 15 metres by 15 metres, perhaps a bit less. It was about half the size of a common British swimming pool. There were ten rooms situated on the perimeter, with each room opening directly onto the central lounge area. The lounge area was connected to the rest of the ward at one corner, which is where you could find the smoking room, the dining area, the TV room, the staff quarters and a bath room. The smoking room was cleaner than what I was used to, but there is little point trying to keep a smoking room looking nice. The dining area was nice enough, tables and chairs with artwork on the walls, with French windows opening on to an outside green that was securely fenced.
The lounge area had brand new modern furniture, including some bean bag style furniture by the TV and the X Box and Playstation 2, which was very comfortable. There was an informal style low height table, surrounded by two clean couches, and two clean comfortable armchairs. The feel was close to that of the reception area of a friendly company. It was also a bit like being in a library. There were magazines on the table, and you could quite easily take an afternoon nap on one of the couches. It was usually quiet, and my memory tells me it was always bathed in warm sunlight, which is unlikely given that I was there in winter time of 2002/2003.
The TV room was just like a living room at home. The same size, the same feel and the same everything else. A TV in the corner, in front of some DVDs and videos on shelves. There was a three seater couch and an armchair along one wall, and a two seater couch along the other wall, all pointing at the TV. It was homely. It even had the occasional caring adult, in the form of a nurse, who would ask if you wanted a tea or coffee, and sometimes told you to go out and get a job. Well that’s not quite true, but they did encourage you to do something more worthwhile, but in a nice way, if you had been parked there for more than a few hours.
There was an art room, there was an athletic track, there was a music room, there was a shop, there was a gym and a sports hall, all off the ward, but we would be encouraged to use them, we could go on escorted trips to all of these. We could play football at the sports hall, and we did a few times. It was a challenge to find enough people though, we didn’t have any communication with the other wards, but I was quite happy on my own with a football and a wall to kick it against. I went to the gym a few times. It was small, with a few multi-purpose machines, some weights, some gym balls, mirrors, and a rowing machine, but not much more than that. I used the art room quite a lot, painting pictures and playing with clay.
The ward walls were decorated with patient’s artwork throughout, and although simplistic it was very colourful. I only used the music room twice, it was hard to find a nurse to escort me there. I sat at the piano and improvised for a bit, it was skilled music to my ears, although my accompanying nurse may just have thought differently.
The shop was a welcome foray every day at 11.30. It had an interesting selection of sweets and tobacco. It had other general things, like a shop at a caravan holiday park, but without seaside essentials or runaway prices.
The athletic track was run of the mill, we tended to use it for evening walks, and it was a chance to view some splendid sunsets. A couple of members of staff would accompany us off the ward to the athletic track. It involved some ascension up a few steps, clearing the way for a good view. The compound was entirely fenced, so there was little danger of a patient successfully running away. We were out in the countryside, so the view of the sunset was unobscured by any surrounding buildings. I watched the big orange ball in the sky sink lower, turning a pinky red as it seemed to grow in size, before disappearing in between two hills in the distance. Just before it set it was the same colour as the running track. Thornford Park is the best mental hospital I know of. I came to know the patients and staff while I was there, and they were always friendly on the whole.
Once again, the staff on Chievely ward were thoroughly caring professionals. We were lucky to have them. They were lucky to work in such a nice environment. Most of us, patients and staff, all got on well. There was one man who liked to throw his weight around sometimes, but when he wasn’t doing that he believed in politeness and was no problem to live with. I guess it would occur once every few days, for about 20 minutes. He would find something to get upset about, and use a bit of threatening behaviour for a short period. He and I had a fight once. I think, now there is a fair chance I could have this wrong, due to my over-confidence and delusional bents, but I think that he respected me from the start. I remember my first meal on the ward well. It was spent having what should have been an intense eye contact stare out with this guy, from almost across the room. For me, a confident and sharp fighter at the time, Bruce Lee trained (I thought I could talk to Bruce telepathically) and crazy to boot, I felt no intensity, just a fairly enjoyable few minutes assessing my surroundings, which happened to include a large man who liked looking at me, especially when I showed no fear and looked right back at him. When I looked back at him, he gave a hard smile and continued with his dinner. For the time I was there, except for one occasion, he showed no interest in me, occasionally we talked about one or two things, but that was all. It turned out that he knew my dad, who he described as being ‘As strong as an Ox’.
One day I woke to some shenanigans. I could hear raised voices coming from the dining room and went to investigate, I could tell from the voices what was happening before I got there. It was about 10.30, and according to my memory it was sunny and warm again. The large man, I’ll call him Mr. Hard, was throwing his weight around and seemed upset. He had misplaced his cigarettes and was accusing people of stealing them, which may have been true. He told us all, about four or five patients and some staff, who had gathered for a bit of morning entertainment, and were possibly a bit scared, that he was going to ‘Bust some heads’. He went on like this, acting all hurt and hard done by, which I thought was very hypocritical. Here was the most confrontational man on the ward acting wronged. After 10 minutes I got bored and left, and sat down in the smoking room to have a roll up. In walked Mr. Hard to do the same. He was under the influence of adrenaline, and as he lit his cigarette, blew the smoke from his nostrils and looked right at me, I said to him, ‘Stop being such a hypocrite’. Mr Hard really was a very hard bloke, he was big and at least six foot one inches tall. If there were no nurses and their resources to sedate patients if need be, I might have not said anything.
He replied to my comment by jumping across the smoking room at me, I was about two metres away, and throwing what I can only describe as a huge punch. I was sharp, and dodged it. He hit the wall nearly a metre behind me, (I was on the edge of my seat), such was the force used by him. What was thrown was a huge lunging uncontrolled punch that would have put me off my lunch had it hit me.
I was sat down on a cushioned bench, and as the fist came, I ducked it in a backward motion, tipping my upper body over to my left and swivelling my legs up to the right, and there he was on my right, so I kicked him with both feet in the stomach. I didn’t hurt him. I was in a state of fighting readiness, and he was too, but that was the end of it. The nurses got there and stopped it and possibly saved me from a bit of a hiding. The whole situation came to a peaceful conclusion and I never did find out who took his smokes.
It was rarely boring on the ward. On our ward there was a one armed man who liked to wear purple and black and very spicy aftershave. I remember one day Mr. Hard and the one armed man were having a fight in the dining room. They were usually disagreeing over something and today it was over cigarettes. I felt sorry for the one armed patient, he was at an unfair disadvantage in a physical fight, especially against Mr. Hard. They were having a fight 10 metres away from me on the other side of the room. There were about seven people in the room in between me and the fighters and everyone was trying to do something, either get out of the way, break it up, keep their prime fight viewing spot while the fight moved around, and some were trying to get the attention of the rest of the nurses. I was this close to flying across the room by leaping across the tables and chairs and then hitting Mr Hard to intervene. It was very recent that Mr Hard had tried to hit me. I’d probably had slipped while trying to skip across the furniture, but I very nearly went for it. Mr Hard hit the one armed man a couple of times and the one armed man managed to get in a few kicks, but no one was badly injured.