I must start by explaining that everything from this point gets extremely confused. The events, conversations, and chronology are entirely as I remember them. I am the most unreliable of narrators to report what actually happened during these lost weeks, but what I do have are very powerful imprints of what I felt and said, the people that were around me, and the effect the staff had on me. Those closest to me would come to correct me on most details over the process of my recovery, but this was my life, my reality.
I was distraught when my husband left the unit. I was holding my tiny baby, wrapped in the folds of my dressing gown. I was told I should eat. How could I? I was being harassed. Continually told I should eat and drink. I'm trying, you keep stopping me! Stop talking to me. Leave me alone. Every mouthful I forced in fell back out as I sobbed. Never had I felt so utterly alone. Who were these people? How long would I be here? Is this what my life is now? Thank the god of mental illness that I was oblivious to how long it would take to recover. I was surrounded by strangers and couldn't even say I knew myself.
I don't remember exactly when I first met Gretel, but I do remember the powerful effect she had on me. We shared a two bed apartment in Hackney. To outside eyes she was patient occupying the room next door to me on our ward in Homerton. We shared a bathroom and an illness. The first time I saw her she told me that it would get better. I believed her. I trusted her. She had only been admitted two days before me, but to me she was the experienced guide I needed to survive. We moved around like dressing gowned ghosts, fragments of ourselves, full of medication, but we had each other and we had plans.
First on the agenda was that we deserved some pampering. We were demanding beauticians to come in, for manicures, pedicures, massages and haircuts. Due to our separate delusions we had vastly different expectations of what would happen, but we were determined that it would. Every day. It didn't. It was just another trick of psychosis.
My writing was at fever pitch by now, I carried a notebook and masses of post-it notes with me wherever I went to write down everything that came into my head. One morning I found myself with Gretel at the dining table. We had so many ideas about what the ward needed, we were inspired. It was then that we began coming up with all sorts of amazing ideas, including our name. We were the psychosis(ters).
At this time I was still very suspicious about medication and I was extremely confused about how the ward worked. It often felt like a prison to me; you had to hand in your hairdryer, razor and iPhone charger, you weren't allowed plastic bags, there were set eating times, visiting hours and security measures to get in or out, no toilet seats and no proper mirrors.
While we were sitting at that table, Gretel said three words that really saved me in those first few days. She said: just do it. Whatever they give you, take it. They know what they're doing. Just do it. Her words spoke straight to me. The me that didn't want to fight everyone. That's what I would do. I wouldn't give The Thing a look in. I would take anything I was offered immediately with no question or fuss and as soon as any resistance came up I would remember to follow Gretel's advice. This is how I would get better. "You're my breadcrumbs out of here" I told her. The problem was, no matter how many breadcrumbs could be laid there were always birds waiting to swoop and stop me finding my way home.
Gretel was just one of a cast full of characters I was about to meet in the psychotic film of my life. 9 women. 9 babies. All struck down with various acute mental illnesses. All determined to recover. It isn't much of a movie pitch, but it was the narrative we were living. The thought of them all now makes me want to laugh and cry. I owe so much of my recovery to each one of them. They were part of my life now, my Hackney family, my story.
Love and gingerbread houses,
Mutha Courage x