“Hello? Are you there? Fiona? Fiona please talk to me”
I was lying sprawled on the lounge room floor, phone to my ear, a movie playing on the TV in the background. The ceiling above me blurred. My heart was pounding.
Earlier that day I was standing in the backyard of my mother’s house, staring at the trees. My mind was empty, and I all I could hear was the ringing in my ears. It was a lot like watching a movie. I knew that I was standing outside, but it felt more like I was watching somebody else standing in my mother’s garden, like I wasn’t attached to that body. It was surreal. Later that evening, alone in the house I was minding for my mother, I put on a movie, sat down on the floor, and swallowed a box of paracetamol, pill by pill.
I hung up the phone.
I lay motionless for a few minutes, feeling the room begin to spin around me, and searched myself for any emotions. I felt so detached, almost ghostly. I don’t think I could have done it if I didn’t. If the world felt real, if I could experience what I was leaving behind, I might never have gone through with it. If I hadn’t drank that bottle of wine, I might not have gone through with it. But I did. I felt my consciousness begin to fade, and my stomach began to lurch horribly, trying to force back up the poison. I picked the phone back up and dialled the only number I knew off by heart.
I was fighting with myself. My call to the crisis line had been the mistake of someone who wasn’t sure that they could face death. I couldn’t bring myself to tell them my address.
“Fiona? Are you ok?”
“Tim? I love you a lot…ok?”
“Ok…what’s going on?”
I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t do it. I hung the phone back up as my heart raced faster than I had ever felt before. My heart was pounding as the room around me spun, and I just lay on the floor, staring at the empty pill packets.
Hours later, I woke up. I was dazed, I couldn’t remember what had happened, didn’t know where I was, couldn’t even remember my name. I didn’t panic, I wasn’t worried, I wasn’t conscious enough to feel anything just yet. But as the world came in to focus it all started to come back. I looked down at the bed I was lying in, at the needle in my arm, I reached up to touch the oxygen tubes in my nose and the noise of the hospital started to rise. It flooded back to me so suddenly, so painfully. This wasn’t meant to happen. There were nurses talking, rushing around, going from bed to bed. I could hear someone groaning, and there was this persistent beeping noise, so loud that it was like it was happening inside my head. I looked to the chairs at the side of my bed, and they were empty. I was alone. I think I cried for hours, but no one came.
I had done no permanent damage to my body. They managed to find me before the drugs affected my liver. They said I was lucky. My family did come, Tim sat with me for hours, but it didn’t matter. Everything was just noise.
The assessing psychiatrist decided to admit me to the hospital’s psychiatric ward, ward 2N. They took me there in a wheel chair, and gave me a tour. I was numb, unable to come to terms with what was happening. I wasn’t meant to be here. This wasn't supposed to be happening. The ward was warm, and quiet, and my room was just across from the nurse’s station. I sat upright in bed, staring in to the darkness, frozen stiff. Every half hour the night nurses came in and offered me a high strength sleeping pill. At midnight I finally gave in and took the pill, still terrified of what might happen while I slept.
I woke up the next morning to a dark room and a sleeping pill hangover. My mother had been in, and had brought a bag of my clothes, my toiletries, and some books. It all started to sink in. I was alive, and I was sitting on my bed in my room in the psych ward. I sat statue-still, feeling the despair rise in my chest, thinking ‘oh my god…what have I done?’ This wasn't what I had bargained for. But before I could sink in to hysterics, a nurse came in with a green tray, and a nice big needle. It was filled with medication to help repair my liver, and to balance the effects of my excessive alcohol consumption over the past month. After she injected the liquid in to the side of my thigh she left, only to appear moments later with my medication. I recognised the white and green capsules of my anti-depressant, but the little plastic cup contained two other pills that I didn’t recognise. The nurse explained impatiently that one pill was Valium, for my nerves, and that the other was a low dose of a drug called Seroquel, an anti-psychotic. This time I took them without hesitation.
Once the drugs had set in I was in a numb daze, so I left my room and began to wander around the ward. Directly outside my room was the mahogany desk of the nurses station, and the heavy, well locked door of the medication room. To the right of my room was a long corridor with evenly spaced rooms, and the doors to the bathrooms. The ward was relatively small, so there were only 20 beds. On the other side of my room was the door to the staff room, and the corridor down to the dining room. The dining room was bright and clean, and the second I walked in I felt like someone had just covered me in mud. It was so clean, and the bright light hurt my eyes, and I felt below human. The dining room had doors that opened out to a courtyard between the dining room and the art room. The tables out there were dirty, so I ate there for the majority of my stay.
The ward had a peaceful, warm atmosphere, rather than the chaotic, clinical scene I was expecting. It may have been the quiet, or it may have been the Valium, but I felt at ease sitting in the small lounge area, staring at the television until another nurse brought me more Seroquel, and took me to the dining room for lunch. Meals came on trays, and we were given a menu each day to fill out for meals the next day. Unlike any other account of psych ward life will tell you, eating or not eating did not earn you any points. There were no points, or levels, or rewards or limitations. You were just there, like everyone else. There was no up or down.
The nurses on the ward were a diverse group of people. There were the caring, kind, motherly nurses who would sit in my room and talk to me for hours, and there were the business-like nurses who were upbeat and efficient, bringing my medication exactly on time, and trying to inject some calm and reality when I was slipping out of control. And then there were the rest of the nurses, the disgruntled, impatient, clinical nurses. The nurses who had zero time for ‘dramatics’ and who ruled the ward with a strict adherence to the rules. Within those three groups of nurses there were no nurses who would sit with me while I was in the throes of a panic attack or while I cried hysterically over something meaningless. They all resorted to the same things, medications, or vague avoidance. Distance, always distance. Over the time of my stay I made a number of enemies on the nursing staff, and built a working rapport with others. I began to understand that ward 2N was a small society in and of itself, and navigating it was taxing.