Please join me in welcoming my #DCfC guest, Henrietta Ross…
The World on the Opposite Side
Let us turn back the clock.
It’s 2006. I’m sitting in the smoker’s hut, on a damp metal seat, holding a cigarette in my hand. It wasn’t always here, the Perspex nicotine holding bay, it’s a new addition, added after my last stay. There is a world on the opposite side of this hut, I can see it with my eyes and hear it moving about, but I am on the wrong side or perhaps the right one, depends on your perspective. A health care assistant sits next to me, taking quick, confused glances at my pale, glum face – perhaps hoping a cigarette will take away five minutes, but add a grin. She’s too optimistic.
Everything carries on, everything always continues doesn’t it, even if you’re on the dirty floor with cut, bloody knees and being part of the ever spinning universe is no longer an option. I thought this time would be the end, this wasn’t a cry for help or a cry to make things stop, this wasn’t even a cry. I remember feeling dizzy and sick and seeing double. The kitchen moving, the floor no longer solid, but alive beneath my feet turning this way and that, until everything is upside down and I am falling down, confused and disoriented and I don’t know where I will end up, but I am so tired and I’m not sure I care anyway.
She found me, which is disappointing. I am supposed to feel lucky, I tried to kill myself, but someone stepped in and edited the script, deleted my chosen ending. They didn’t have the right, they certainly have no reason to be all cheery, offering grapes, and chocolate and cheap, shitty magazines, patting my leg, asking for a smile. They’re grazing on their hero complex, proclaiming their daughter is still alive like an over excited pastor at the lectern shouting about the return of the prodigal son. I didn’t want to be their daughter anymore, that was the point. I don’t want to be anything, to anyone, to be more precise.
After a few days in hospital, a social worker transferred me to a psychiatric unit and this is where I am now, outside in the smoker’s hut, hoping I never have to go back inside. Should be happy, I have my own tiny room and spend most of my time in there by myself. I’m not. I lie on the bed all day, staring up at the yellowing ceiling wondering what I am supposed to do now. I am still here, that’s the dilemma and now they are forcing me to take different coloured drugs that will shut me down cognitively and then when I can no longer think coherently and I can’t remember I tried to kill myself, they will say I am better.
This is the problem with suicide, still wrapped in archaic criminality, viewed as the actions of an irrational person. They argue that the suicidal person isn’t thinking straight, so they drug them to stop them thinking at all.
Family and friends always have something to add, understandably devastated, demanding you stay, reminding you that people need you, forcing you to keep two feet on the ground, when really you want no responsibilities and to just lie down and close those tired eyes.
It wasn’t the first time, people knew that I struggled, wanted to be dead because it seemed the only form of effective pain relief against the crushing bruising of life. Sometimes they said I was being self-indulgent, which sounded like I had been greedy, thinking of my next foreign holiday or an expensive meal or night out when in reality my diary remained un-inked. Depression isn’t a real thing, not a tangible illness like cancer seemed to be the thinking of the many, rather than the few, which would have been easier. If I had cancer and wanted to give up, stop chemo, die at home surrounded by tearful family members, plans would be set in motion and everyone would say ‘she fought a hard battle, she was brave and courageous.’ If you want to give in because you’re depressed, it’s a very different reaction, one that tells you’re weak, selfish, and often pathetic, the moral undertones the last thing someone on the shaky ground of self loathing needs to hear.
The truth is we keep on fighting, and fighting by its definition in this context means we are strong and courageous and are trying to defeat the odds that often mount up in our lives. We also often discover that life gets better, I know, as it has for me and that we don’t stay in pain forever, but we may taste the same pain again.
I stub out my cigarette and look at the healthcare assistant sitting next to me, pulling her collar up against the cold. She has a daughter, a small one, about five, probably not aware of anything except dressing up as a princess and toy cars. She told me off for trying to hurt myself, told me it wasn’t fair on my family, which makes me wonder why she just doesn’t go home, back to stuff that makes sense to her like baking fairy cakes and making colourful collages.
That’s the problem when there is no comparable understanding, when the person you talk to thinks life is an absolute blast and suicide something others do, those misfits and weirdos they try desperately to avoid who stumble about talking to themselves on the street. It’s the same as any mental illness, often a failure to understand, so people push it away because it makes them uncomfortable and raises difficult questions about the corners of their own mind and what resides in the crooks they can’t quite see.
Who would want to think they might lose their minds, that all they take for granted might change and they may wake up not knowing who or what they are, but know deep down that something has inexplicably changed, and they can’t find the path back.
It’s what we do though, find a new direction, chart a new path. Mental illness changes all of us, to lesser or greater degrees and we don’t have the choice when it begins to reject it because we’re frightened, or it’s the wrong time in our lives or we have plans for tomorrow or we might get the sack or have families to take care of or friends who won’t understand.
Just like physical illness, it waits for no one, and just like physical illness, dealing with it by yourself is a lonely existence, but dealing with it surrounded by lazy, ignorant thinkers is worse.
When not writing, she likes to speed dump her writing in impromptu places, leave local charity shops with a wheelbarrow to transport her books, occasionally try active mediation in a field as she wanders after sheep or dance absurdly to cheesy eighties music, because like Rockwell, she thinks somebody IS watching. Henrietta is working on a crime novel. She hopes to finish it in this lifetime.