Memoirs from Inside the Psychiatric Ward. Part three: Disturbia

May 31, 2010

Mrs. MacQuarie's FollyHe’s trying to hog-tie me.

My husband.

I’ve fought like a champion scrapper, but he’s used his sheer length to pin me to the bed. He’s clasped my hands and feet together; and now, he’s trying to tie me up with something. I crane my neck around to see with what and break into chortles of laughter. He’s attempting to tether me with garden wire. MY flexi-green garden-wire that I use to train the creepers and vines along the fences and walls with.

I see myself as a grand vine, sprouting honeyed, purpled granadillas, and I’m hysterical now. My loud guffaws are fever-pitched which draw forth tears from the corners of my eyes.

He shouts out for my father, who is downstairs. I laugh even harder at the expression perplexing my father’s features: the weird scene played out before him – this inane drama upon my bed.

“I’m tying her up,” my husband heaves, “I’m taking her to the hospital. She’s mad! She’s trying to kill herself!”

“Bull-dust,” I retort! “I will never kill myself over him!”

And that is the plain truth of it.

He pulls my left arm out from under me, and roughly waves it in front of my father, “Well then, what’s this,” he demands?

I vaguely register my father’s gasp as my blood trickles to the white linen. I like that: the stark image that it presented. Red against white: like innocence lost.

My father demands the same answer. “I wasn’t trying to kill myself,” I explain to my father, ignoring the brute above me. “I was only letting off a bit of steam.”

“Like this?” my father gentles, while he carefully examines the neat tapestry of welts from my inner elbow to my wrist.

“Honestly dad, they’re not deep.”


I can see the pain in my father’s eyes. Despite his years of neglect and benign parenting, I feel a twinge of something: remorse, shame, guilt.

My mother comes crashing into the room, my two children in tow. My son immediately begins to cry and I begin to feel like a real shit!

“Leave her!” my father demands of my husband, in a long-forgotten voice that dominated my childhood. My husband unravels me and ushers the kids out. I rub at my aching body, knowing that there will be bruises come morning.

My parents sit me down and try to come to terms with what just happened. Why was I cutting myself?

I don’t know, I tell them; and that is the sheer truth of it.

I really just didn’t know why.

My mind fast tracks to the events leading up to this. Another business trip a few days prior for my husband, an argument over the phone. Him telling me not to bother fetching him from the airport.

“I don’t want to see your fucking face,” he had bellowed!

I remember looking at my face in the mirror. The same fucking face, which only a few weeks prior had undergone another round of stringent therapy for an illness I was trying to beat off with a stick.

But like all the other times I’ve needed him in my life, the magician I married, disappeared.  I suppose I should be grateful though, I’m stronger. Throw in a few of his indiscretions, and I’m tougher now… harder.  I remember leaving the kids with my nanny, jumping into my car, and driving to the airport. We sit down at a coffee shop. I wanted a place that was neutral and public, where we could talk-instead of yell.  I want a divorce I say. I tell him he can keep everything: the house, the meagre savings we’ve accumulated. All I want are the children.

“I will fight you,” he declares. “I will prove that you are mentally unfit, that you’ve been institutionalised! I know people!” (And he does too, himself being a mental health professional.) “You will never have them,” he storms off, leaving me to digest the acidity of his words. Can he really take them? Will my previous stints in the D-ward really count so staggeringly against me?
Catherine Wheel
I’m dizzy now, it’s difficult to breathe. I stand up, but I can feel the world spinning about on its axis. His younger sister is there. It vaguely strikes me that that was how he was planning on getting home from the airport. She’s saying something to me, but my blood is making a ruckus in my ears and my heart feels like a Catherine-wheel.

I remember pitching forward; the man who tried to catch me as I tumbled; the same man shouting for a paramedic. Faces came and went. My sister-in-law’s concerned features; the salt of my husband’s tears as he hovered above my fucking face; me shoving him away.

I’m in an ambulance now. It’s my first time: a rookie. There’s a medic fussing over me. You’re in an ambulance, he explained. You fell down a good few flights of stairs. We have to examine you for a closed head injury. When last have you eaten, had anything to drink?

“It’s my first time in an ambulance,” I offer him. He smiles.

There’s something amiss though, we’re not traveling at any great speed and the ambulance is far too quiet. “It’s my first time in an ambulance,” I reiterate, “can you please switch on the siren?”

I’m back home, my parents are there with the kids. They look older, burdened. I’m fine, I say, I just hadn’t eaten in a while and had another panic attack.

They force me to eat. My husband is there, like a silent spectre, watching, biding his time. I silently wonder where Houdini will escape to next.

I take a shower and espy the razor. It has a trimming edge. I pick it up and, as if someone else were in my body, I fashion a dazzling array of neat patterns on my arm. Each line parallel and concentric to the other. The pain is not unlike a paper-cut, only kinder and sympathetic even. I watch the blood mingle with the water. I feel the sting… and I feel alive!!

And that’s how he found me, Houdini. Damn! I should have locked the door.  “What the fuck are you doing? You’re mad! I’m going to commit you!”  By Jove, the man should work for the UN in the tact, peace-keeping and diplomacy unit…

And that’s how the events unfolded – to my mother and father who are now gently quizzing me on the bed.

It’s around 4a.m. The house is quiet. My mother is in the bed next to me. I realise two things: a) I’ve managed to convince my parents that I don’t need to be committed; and b) My sleeping pills have worn off and it’s pointless trying to coax more sleep.

I slip quietly to the bathroom. There’s something wrong with the mirror. Who is that strange girl-woman staring back at me? Her eyes are wild and there are dark circles beneath them.

I look down at my arm and take off my neat bandages, the smell of blood macabre and immediately pleasing. I fish around for another razor (did they really think there was only the one?) and climb into the shower. Silly girl, I chastise, don’t do anything where they can see! I etch out a neat array of lines across my thighs and hips. They sting. I watch as the blood sorrows out on to the paleness of my skin. It’s as if all of my tears, that I can no longer shed, weep out. These red tears mingle with the water sobbing in tiny rivulets down my legs.

I spend the next day oddly elated.  I play with the children, eat, babble to my parents. In fact, I can’t stop talking. I’m so verbose and filled with an enormous sense of exhilaration.  Each time my jeans brush against my thighs, I wince. The pleasure-pain punishes me. I feel like that scary-looking monk from The DaVinci Code. The one who would self-flagellate. But instead of his crazed, fanatical lashings, my cuts were controlled, neat. Even then, my obsessive-compulsive personality ensured perfect symmetry.  I break out into laughter and my mother looks strangely at me.

That night, I cut again. I try not to go over the older wounds. They hurt something awful. This continues for a few days. I limp a bit at work. My bi-polar friend (bulimic; fat a few months, anorexic the next) notices something amiss.  “You’re not yourself,” she accuses. “Frankly, you’re high and you’re talking way too much shit! What is going on?”

I tell her. And then I show her. She cries. She’s punished herself before too, but only in a different way. Let me help you, she begs. If not for you, then at least for your children. “Do you want him to have them?”

My answer is an earth-shattering, dread-dawning, “NO!”

“Then fight,” she insists. “I’ve done it, for my son! Fight the madness! You don’t need to punish yourself, hasn’t life punished you enough?”

For the first time in a long time, I cry. Real tears; and I realize the unerring truth of her words. In a world that can be so punishing, why do we beat ourselves too? Instead of being our own haven, our own friends, our respite; why are we harder and shittier upon ourselves than our shitty childhoods and shitty lives? Why is so difficult to relent and break the cycle?

We all speak words of peace, more humanity, no more hatred, no more war. Imagine, just imagine the possibilities if we could speak those words to ourselves, too.

The next morning, my friend accompanies me to a different hospital this time. One that she has had more personal success with. My husband is there. She’s probably given him a call. He’s looks different. There’s the beginnings of a beard on his face. He hasn’t shaved. (Perhaps because I’ve gone through all the razors, I silently muse.) “I’ve arranged for someone to see you. Her name is Doctor-So-and-So. She’s excellent when it comes to these things.”

A striking woman, slightly younger than me, materializes from his side. I am stunned by her beauty. He introduces her as my new shrink, the one who will be admitting me and seeing to me. Part of me, the part with the shaggy hair and unflattering clothes wishes to run away, screaming. Is she one of them…One of those women… from before? My mind revolts: even he can’t be so tacky, right?

My friend senses my thoughts and squeezes my hand as if to restrain my flight.

Her warmth, her presence, her silent understanding gives me the quiet bravado I need. “Hello,” I sound deceptively confident. I introduce myself, stressing my married name. “Thank you for seeing to me today.” We walk off towards the ward. From behind, no-one would have imagined the hassles and distress of the past few days. My nose is in the air; and as the new-stunning-shrink struts in her expensive high-heels, I too strut in my shapeless flip-flops.

I’m ready for this round… Bring it!!

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