A personal story which most probably should come with a trigger warning, but doesn’t. Missing school but learning something more valuable than a classroom could ever teach. This could at first be seen as a story demanding despair, pity, shame and judgement however that couldn’t be further from the truth. From within the walls of a psychiatric clinic, a world class education is given and one which the world too, should learn from. Growth and understanding, discoveries and realisations are made through coming to terms with the experiences and hurts of life. If you do not wish to experience growth, even if it is uncomfortable and at times seemingly unbearable, do not open your mind to learning from lived experiences – here is your trigger warning.
I was a child again. Seventeen years old but a child. Sitting in the “children’s dining hall,” the nurse’s eyes burning holes through me as I tried to make small talk but avoiding eye contact at all costs. Afraid. Not allowed to talk to or spend time with the “adults.” Controlled. Every move, every decision, every spoken word – watched, heard, analysed, judged. There was no escaping. Don’t we all wish to be children again, turn back time to better, more simple days? No. Not like this.
Mum told me it was for sleep therapy – “You haven’t slept properly for months now darling, please can we at least give this a try? I’m really worried…” I didn’t want anyone to be worried about me; the attention, the hidden whispers, the conversations that halted as abruptly as they would start again once I’d left the room. They thought I didn’t understand, couldn’t hear them and was oblivious to their opinions. It just made it worse. Knowing that I was such a focus, such a reason for their worry, time and energy – the guilt was unbearable. I knew when this supposed “sleep therapy” was suggested that it was more than just that. I knew that by this point, the only way to try make them happy, the only way out of this, was by accepting and following instruction.
Medical details checked and confirmed, bag stripped of “dangerous” objects/substances, any forms of communication to the “outside world” sent home with Dad, Room 14 (Bed A), nurse and timetable assigned – it was during this very process I realized how much of a child I still was. Slipping into induced sleep that night, air thick with sliceable humidity and fear of the unknown, the nursing sister watching over me, I curled into the familiar fetal position and slept as a baby would.
The most difficult part of the next two weeks was waking up not knowing where I was, confused disorientated and then the slow realization of the situation washing over me; the fact that this wasn’t just a bad dream, that I had caused this. It was a whirlwind of timeless activity, of talking, writing, drawing, medicating, playing, listening, quietening, more medicating and then dream-filled nights. This may sound dismissive of the goings-on, of the process and each little moment that filled the day however, this couldn’t be further from the truth. This was more than an experience and a period of time in my life. This was an awakening. I remember the smallest of details, the screams and shouts and the punching of walls echoing down the halls, the smell of the room in which I’d talk and cry and listen and be silent, the taste of the colourfull bouquet of pills sticking in my throat and the incessant feeling of needing to do and be more, dying to help the others. A child is not allowed such responsibility however. A child must first learn to survive and help herself before being able to make a significant difference to the world around her. This was my time to learn, this was my education.
Within the third and last week, I fully grew to understand this.
“It’s Nick,” she said.
“As in Nick, as in our Nick?” My voice trembled as I asked – I knew what was coming.
“Yes, our Nick… Our beautiful, fucking Nick.”
We held each other and couldn’t move, time had stopped. The kindest, most caring, creatively insane human I’d ever known, in for exactly the same reason as I, had left us. There had been tears when he stepped out though the big glass doors yesterday but now I couldn’t feel anything. He hadn’t just been discharged yesterday, he was now gone forever. I thought he was better, we all had! He was the one giving advice and talking to us about our experiences by the time yesterday came around. Could it be true, could he really have “achieved” giving up? I was numb. I really, truly did not want to believe it.
Gradually though, in that last week, feeling returned and I grew to understand what had happened. I couldn’t yet accept it but I did realise that I couldn’t save him, nor everyone else in the world who was suffering in some way or another – it was an important hopelessness to feel. By the time I left on that stormy Friday evening, I re-entered the reality of the world with gratitude, understanding and a great awareness. I was educated and empowered, no longer a child.