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Diary Excerpt 2nd November, 8

*

I phone John on-and-off with my rapidly dwindling credit. I tell him that I would be considerably safer in the park with a crate of vodka and a carton of sleeping pills, because it would allow me to think about things, whereas the method I plan to use will take effect in a matter of minutes. There will be no second chance.

As with the sodium azide, I hesitate.

I don't think the pain will be a factor. It's the finality of it.

I walk around the room, checking the windows and fittings, pulling a face and looking disappointed for the benefit of anyone who comes to check on me to make it look as if I don't have a method in mind. I reckon I could probably do something with the grille that covers the airholes, but that would be in full view of the door.

Still pacing, I think about those five minutes we wanted to spend outside. What a difference five minutes can make.

There is another commotion outside. Someone is on the floor, has thrown herself off the bed or the wardrobe. Whoever it is, is more talented than me.

I take a look at the furniture: I don't think I could fit between the wardrobe and the ceiling. But if I'd launch myself from there, head first, aiming straight at the edge of the bed...

Whoever has had the fall has picked herself up, but is in pain. I can hear the nurse jabbering on about how the doctor will have to make a decision about painkillers. Maybe we can form an alliance of crazies and march on the doctors' office and demand to be seen. I mean, imagine seeing a doctor in a hospital...

I have a tiff with Nurse Queen Bee on her way down the corridor.

It was she who said that the ball was now in my court. Too right it is. I have moved the goal posts and my fear of carrying out the plan is subsiding.

*

Midnight. With the ball in my court, the panic attacks have gone and the night turns out to be quite enjoyable. At the rate things are going the Alliance of Crazies might become reality and we will stage a revolution.

I'm half-tempted to move a desk out into the corridor and start taking down names.

Suddenly I feel sleepy. After two hours, the Lorazepam has reached its maximum efficacy. I know that this is what they've been waiting for. But I will not let them win.

I walk to the common room to join the pacers. The Female Area door slams shut behind me, but I'm not worried.

There are four of the more agitated pacers doing the rounds, every one of them harmless. I realise that I've forgotten most of their names and they never knew mine; the one I had from before I became an entry on a registration form.

Suddenly it's too quiet. I'll be damned if I don't want to switch on the TV myself.

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Diary Excerpt 2nd November, 7

21

Suicidal Ideation

The speed with which things undergo a 1800 turn is almost dizzying. My mood has changed from amused to dejected to furious in the space of a few minutes.

The amusing part was the handover from the CDU back to Dorset Ward. We had made our way here on foot—a pleasant walk—but getting back was not so straightforward. It involved an entourage comprising a psychiatric nurse, a cardiac nurse, an ambulance driver and a porter who arrived pushing a wheelchair (which I managed to avoid). This was followed by an ambulance ride for the 150 metres back to the Chase Building after which most of the entourage peeled away, leaving me to marvel at the tentacles of bureaucracy extending into every little nook and cranny of the hospital. Where exactly did the jurisdiction of the CDU end? Was it when I got out of the ambulance? Or when we crossed the threshold to the Chase Building? Or was it when the cardiac nurse waved me good-bye inside the ward? And where did that of the Dorset people begin? Was there any one moment when nobody would have claimed responsibility for me?

In the A&E perhaps. If I'd wanted to run away, I should have run from there.

*

Now it is John who is furious. He who taught me to play the game, to remain calm, to negotiate.

He asked for five minutes for us to go outside and talk. And the nurses said no. "Not without seeing the doctor."

I have just seen the doctor! Quite a few of them. They formally discharged me from the CDU and told me to come back as an outpatient, presumably on my own two feet. My understanding from talking to Milkface is that I can go outside so long as I am accompanied, be that by a nurse or by my husband. It is no more likely that I will kill myself or drop dead of a heart attack if I'm standing just outside the entrance than if I'm on the other side of it.

But the nurses aren't interested in reasoning. And although John is usually the one who tells me to calm down, now it's me who is trying to hold him back. The Nurse Mother (whom I've come to respect a little because she took me out for a cup of tea that horrible Friday—hang on, was that only yesterday?) smiles at me. "First we have problem with patient, then she agree and now we have problem with this gentleman."

My return smile is a little lop-sided as I realise that I've taken the wrong side here. This is the last time I'll give as much as an inch to these people. But it is important to get John out of here before he causes an incident.

*

My pupils are dilated. I'm shaking. I think I'm having a flashback to that long, angry Friday. My state of mind is extremely mixed today and fury is not a good addition to the cocktail.

I'm in a shared room and I hope it will be OK because right now I crave solitude.

At least it's warm. They must have decided to turn on the heating, now that we're in the first weekend of November. I take off my coat and give myself over to my ruminations.

To recap: I've checked myself into a high security mental facility with no way out. I

mean, can you die of stupidity?

I'm looking up poisons and checking Facebook on my phone when I get a friend update about the latest Bond movie. Hang on: James Bond was in New Cross?

I wish I could see Skyfall before I die.

*

If I pool all of my resources I've just about enough for one lethal dose. It would put an end to Doctor's Orders for good.

I curse myself for having spilled some of the stuff earlier. I think my subconscious is getting in the way. But my fury prevails. I remember the contempt of the nurse who spoke to me when I first came. "The ball is in your court," she said.

Too damn right it is.

To conclude this little brainstorm: the method will have to be nastier, more violent and more painful that I'd planned on originally. Think of an animal gnawing off its own leg to escape a trap.

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Diary Excerpt 2nd November, 6

21

Suicidal Ideation

The speed with which things undergo a 1800 turn is almost dizzying. My mood has changed from amused to dejected to furious in the space of a few minutes.

The amusing part was the handover from the CDU back to Dorset Ward. We had made our way here on foot—a pleasant walk—but getting back was not so straightforward. It involved an entourage comprising a psychiatric nurse, a cardiac nurse, an ambulance driver and a porter who arrived pushing a wheelchair (which I managed to avoid). This was followed by an ambulance ride for the 150 metres back to the Chase Building after which most of the entourage peeled away, leaving me to marvel at the tentacles of bureaucracy extending into every little nook and cranny of the hospital. Where exactly did the jurisdiction of the CDU end? Was it when I got out of the ambulance? Or when we crossed the threshold to the Chase Building? Or was it when the cardiac nurse waved me good-bye inside the ward? And where did that of the Dorset people begin? Was there any one moment when nobody would have claimed responsibility for me?

In the A&E perhaps. If I'd wanted to run away, I should have run from there.

*

Now it is John who is furious. He who taught me to play the game, to remain calm, to negotiate.

He asked for five minutes for us to go outside and talk. And the nurses said no. "Not without seeing the doctor."

I have just seen the doctor! Quite a few of them. They formally discharged me from the CDU and told me to come back as an outpatient, presumably on my own two feet. My understanding from talking to Milkface is that I can go outside so long as I am accompanied, be that by a nurse or by my husband. It is no more likely that I will kill myself or drop dead of a heart attack if I'm standing just outside the entrance than if I'm on the other side of it.

But the nurses aren't interested in reasoning. And although John is usually the one who tells me to calm down, now it's me who is trying to hold him back. The Nurse Mother (whom I've come to respect a little because she took me out for a cup of tea that horrible Friday—hang on, was that only yesterday?) smiles at me. "First we have problem with patient, then she agree and now we have problem with this gentleman."

My return smile is a little lop-sided as I realise that I've taken the wrong side here. This is the last time I'll give as much as an inch to these people. But it is important to get John out of here before he causes an incident.

*

My pupils are dilated. I'm shaking. I think I'm having a flashback to that long, angry Friday. My state of mind is extremely mixed today and fury is not a good addition to the cocktail.

I'm in a shared room and I hope it will be OK because right now I crave solitude.

At least it's warm. They must have decided to turn on the heating, now that we're in the first weekend of November. I take off my coat and give myself over to my ruminations.

To recap: I've checked myself into a high security mental facility with no way out. I mean, can you die of stupidity?
I'm looking up poisons and checking Facebook on my phone when I get a friend update about the latest Bond movie. Hang on: James Bond was in New Cross?

I wish I could see Skyfall before I die.

*

If I pool all of my resources I've just about enough for one lethal dose. It would put an end to Doctor's Orders for good.

I curse myself for having spilled some of the stuff earlier. I think my subconscious is getting in the way. But my fury prevails. I remember the contempt of the nurse who spoke to me when I first came. "The ball is in your court," she said.

Too damn right it is.

To conclude this little brainstorm: the method will have to be nastier, more violent and more painful that I'd planned on originally. Think of an animal gnawing off its own leg to escape a trap.

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Diary Excerpt 2nd November, 5

20

A Bitch of a Meeting

A doctor comes to see me just to confirm that I would be going back to Dorset Ward for about the third time today. This one is from the mental health people. I'm not sure whether she is an actual doctor as I spent about five minutes explaining to her what a mixed state feels like, only for her to ask if my mood was better "today" than "yesterday" and going on to talk about anti-depressants.

If that is the state of psychiatry in Britain, I fear for the future. Mine in particular.

I don't like her much, either. If anything she's even more patronising than the doctors I've spoken to so far. She gives the impression that she's important and I'm not. I've half a mind to remind her that unimportant people like me are the reason why she has a job. Plus I bet she's never tried to find a cure for cancer.

To my surprise she then turns around at the entrance to the meeting room (yes, all of this happened on the way there, where other people could overhear) and asks me if I have caused a disturbance on the ward this morning. For a moment I'm overcome with fear. Am I suffering a black-out? Have I stepped on a bed pan and sent it clattering? Have I had a nightmare and started sleepwalking and screaming?

I don't know.

Or does she refer to my panic attack? It was after midnight when I arrived on the ward, and I guess that counts as a disturbance.

So I'm getting a reputation. It's Stirling all over again.

"You've had quite a few admissions," she now says, rifling through some files. I swear it's a different set of papers yet again. Somewhere in the basement, a whole squadron of elves must be busy transcribing patients' records in triplicate each time an individual is transferred to another ward or seen by another specialist, health worker, doctor or nursing assistant during their stay.

"What? You mean in the past?"

"No, just now."

Well, St. Ann's referred me to the NorthMid with the idea that I return to St. Ann's—which I did—and they in turn sent me here. The only complication arises from me insisting on a discharge after being ambushed with an IV drip, but I did my best to re-enter the system and it's not my fault if they do everything twice over or if the cardiologists think they found a problem.

If it were up to me I'd gladly jump on the bus home. She practically encourages me to do so, as I am a burden on the system. "But," she sighs, "it's not up to either of us."

What a shame, and there I was getting my hopes up. But to be honest—no matter how much I may come to regret it later—I don't have it in me right now to pick up and run.

If I want to continue with this experiment it means that I will have to stay at least until Monday, because I can't be assessed before then.

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Diary Excerpt 2nd November, 4

[Back online! Hallelujah...]


19

Crisis Management

Everything was fine just now. I wrote, joked, ate. Looked around. Listened and talked. John texted.

It was all going so well…until it suddenly dropped away like a roller-coaster heading down a mine-shaft.

I guess this was how it happened yesterday. I was quite happy drinking my juice and reading my book and occasionally watching what was happening around me—and thinking about suicide.

Then I got tired.

And then I crashed.

This is exactly how I feel now. I want to sleep. I want to hide under the pillows. And even now, while I am laughing and joking and waiting for things to happen, I have not for one moment stopped thinking about suicide.

I should go out and do something. I want—need—to be among people.

If I were to describe the state of mind I'm in right now, I'd say I could jump out of the window without hesitation. But this isn't like the rage I felt yesterday when I couldn't escape. It's more of a dizzy feeling; almost a yearning for it to end.

It's a good thing that the windows here are only about three feet off the ground.

*

Something that Dr. Nouch has said comes to mind:

nbsp;                                        a) Do not give in.

nbsp;                                        b) Do not lie down.

It's my choice. It's always been my choice.

But how can you want to both run and jump at the same time?

Here I am, wired to a monitor, and my heart feels like it's dissolving in my chest and yet everything is absolutely normal and I have the damn data to prove it.

So what's going on?

Before I can think about this too much, distraction arrives in the form of a bowl of soup. Sometimes that's all that is needed. During the thirty minutes that this crisis has lasted I couldn't read. My concentration was impaired. Watching TV or even reading a tabloid newspaper would have been too taxing, but looking at pictures, listening to music, doodling and scribbling are OK. It occurs to me that Sudoku could be a good measure of my mental state. If I'm depressed I'd be slow and lose interest before the puzzle is solved. If I'm hyper I'll be rash and make mistakes. But I might become obsessed with doing it really fast. Just like knitting or nibbling on sunflower seeds, Sudoku could prove to be a great distraction.

Lunch is over and I'm feeling dizzy again. I think it's because my mind is coaxing me to go to sleep. I must not allow it.

I really wish I had a Sudoku book.

John called just before two. I swear this is only the seventh call I have ever received on this phone.

I take back what I've said about my unerringly normal blood pressure. It's currently at 95/59. Maybe it's the stale air. For what it's worth all kinds of bugs are making the rounds right now, and one of them seems to have settled in my stomach. This is in addition to all the other shit that people are suffering from which makes them turn up here in the first place.

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Diary Excerpt 2nd November, 3

[Still no internet access. Can't format, can't see the screen, can't look at previous entries.]
*
Sunglasses guard my eyes against the striplights. I've had them in my bag since returning from Spain. It occurs to me how little of my things I have actually unpacked. Somewhere in my side-pockets I still have citronella-impregnated towels from China.
I'm trying to read but feel tired all of a sudden, as if something has drained me of my energy.
I don't like this feeling. Maybe I should get up and move around a little. But there isn't room for patiens to pace around, dragging cables behind them. I look for the oxygen tube, but it's out of reach.
At last I give up and allow myself to drift off to sleep. I can do with it after last night, and where is the harm? Waking up one hour later with a crick in my neck, I think that it was nice and I might do it again.
I awake to a full-blown panic attack.
*
I let it take me as they push the stretcher along more windy corridors and lift me onto a bed where I try to bury myself in the pillows. The bed is endless. I feel the size of a mouse by comparison.
Someone is urging me to move along, across this great expanse of mattress and blankets that seem to rise in waves, trying to swallow me. I blink open my eyes but shut them immediately against imaginary static. I have visions of being wheeled off to be turned into Robocop. There is complete sensory overload.
Among all this confusion, the offer of a cup of tea comes through. "Do you take sugar, dear?"
In any British film where people convulse on stretchers there will have to be somebody offering the afflicted person a cup of tea. It has something to do with the spirit of Keeping Calm And Carrying On, but in order for me to keep calm somebody will have to turn off the current that is shooting through my body.
Eventually I open my eyes and look at a set of perfectly pleasant curtains. The bed has shrunk to normal proportions. My heart feels as if it is melting inmy chest but the monitor output looks normal enough.
It seems silly, considering that I was at best semi-conscious a few minutes ago, trying to control my breathing and biting down my tears...
...but I'm hungry.

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Diary Excerpt 2nd November, 2

Chase Farm Hospital A& E, 02/11/2012 (Friday)
I get my fresh air after all, during a brisk walk up to A&E to check out my dodgy heart. The crisp air turns my ears numb, but I'm not complaining. I feel awake, refreshed, revived—which is just as well because as we enter the waiting area, time seems to rewind by about forty years. There are low ceilings, depressingly dim lights, painted corridors that seem to lead nowhere and children shrieking and flopping about, somehow triggering memories of my own childhood in the seventies. The nurses wear starched uniforms and upside-down watches. Only the tinny sound of mobile phones and the plasma screen mounted on the wall reminds us that we are still in the 21st century.
It looks to be a long wait, but we end up in triage, then in A&E, within minutes.
The emergency ward—a long corridor lined with sick-bays—looks like a _Terminator_-style underground hospital. It is so busy that it might be in a war zone. I expect explosions to rock the ceiling at any moment.
I'm seen by a succession of nurses and the questions start all over again, but now they're asking each other as my accompanying nurse answers in my place.
*
One blood sample and two ECGs in the space of five minutes, and I'm lying on a stretcher with wires dangling from my torso once again. After a while I can hear people talking about me; they are quick with the tests here. Apparently my trop-T isn't too bad. It was a spike—as I'd suspected.
I'm back to thinking about ways of suicide when a nurse and her trainee appear with more blood collection tubes. I hardly notice them as they do their thing. I could end it right here, under everybody's nose, while wired to a monitor in the A&E, and there wouldn't be a thing they could do about it.
The urge to put this notion to the test is almost overwhelming. I can't confess to anyone, can't talk about it. I can only do it.
Should I?
The bleeping of the monitor is steady behind my right ear. My heartbeat does not accelerate at these thoughts. I feel no panic.
Only sadness.
*

Diary Excerpt 2nd November

I was a rational person once; someone who came here seeking help with re-building their life. What I am now, I'm not sure; except that it's not entirely human. I'm imprisoned, stripped off my rights. Yet, I was once a keeper.
I'm playing the game, trying to fit in. Why else did I just tell the nurse that I am _all right_ when I am about to throw myself against one of those windows, even though it would be as futile as in the zoo where I once watched glass as thick as my wrist shudder as one of the male chimps hurled himself against it, trying to get at my colleague who he had serious issues with.
Yeah, sure. I'm _all right_.
*
The autumn sun is gone for good. And still I wait. Still I shake. The urge to throw myself against the window is a physical force within me. Now I understand that boy I've seen when checking in here; the one who was banging his head against the wall, over and over again.
If you're not mad when you get here, you soon will be.
*
How come nobody is concerned about my blood pressure anymore? Did the good doctor not prescribe hourly measurements? Has he rescinded his orders? I'm not even angry yet, but perhaps the nurses have realised that it is best to quit poking me with a stick.
*
Why *the fuck* did I not kill myself when I had the chance? Why did I have to put myself behind glass instead? I am in a goldfish bowl. Looking out over the reef.
*
By the time I finally get to see Milkface the afternoon is nearly over and he's about to go home from a day of non-stop meetings. He says that I can go outside with one of the nurses for ten minutes or so "when they have time", but he is apologetic and promises me that I will get to speak with the consultant on Monday.
That only leaves the weekend to get through.

Diary Excerpt 1st November, 3

16
Caged

Of course it doesn't last, this dawn which felt like a new beginning..
Crows are birds of endings, not of beginnings, and I am in a psychiatric hospital, not on some retreat.
The walls are moving in on me. Even people who seem to be new to the ward have access to fresh air, but I'm cooped up inside.
I'm watching the birds through the window—the blackbirds bullying blue tits, the crows bullying everything else—and I am thinking. Those fences across the car park look like cages or enclosures in a zoo.
Perhaps we are the animals inside.
In that case the husbandry arrangements are piss-poor. Zoo animals tend to get outside access at certain times, particularly if there are tensions building.
*
I've been staring out of the window for an hour now, asking myself what kind of moron walks willingly into a prison. The stable doors were open, but the lamb cowered inside.
I need some air. Some fresh air...that's all I need. I'll happily go inside one of those cages. A bird must at least be able to flap its wings. But apparently fresh air is something that has to be prescribed by a doctor around here.
Interestingly they haven't asked for another BP measurement. Is this game wearing them out as much as it is me?
The hours creep by while the doctors are in another meeting. I contact the Enfield and Haringey Advocacy Service because one of the nurses at reception has threatened me with sectioning if I bring up the subject of fresh air one more time.
I could always complain of chest pains—go straight to the A&E on Dr. Milkface's orders—but I'm a lousy actress and I don't think they'd buy it. Of course, now that the dissociative phase of the panic attacks is over, I don't think that I'll end up in the A&E for real.
One of the nurses asks me if I had my urine test.
Urine test?
"Go talk to the doctor," I say and he scuttles off. Taste your own medicine: I trade one urine test for access to some fresh air.
One hour later and I'm still cooped up inside. I can feel an urge to bash my head against the window to see if it's breakable after all. There are three doctors on the ward but not one of them has time to talk to me.
Out on the corridor, Milkface gives me a harried look in passing and stops for about ten seconds to urge me to see a cardiologist, but as far as I'm concerned, my dealings with him and Dorset Ward are at an end. I'll be out of here first chance I get.

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Diary Excerpt 1st November, 2

*

It's six a.m. The crows are cawing outside, the sound amplified by the fog. Two of them crest the fence.

There is still a moon in the sky. The view takes me back to my time in Oxford, as a freshly minted postdoc, when I would look out over the Isis from the window of my tiny room, shivering under the clammy blankets and waiting for the day to break so I could go to the lab. Princess Di was recently deceased, the country was in mourning and Tony Blair had been elected prime minister that May. The house was on a peninsula; a finger of land between the river and a dead tributary. It was hidden from view even from those who would look at it directly. In all the years I'd spent there as an undergraduate my gaze had slid right over it; it revealed itself only to those who inhabited it or who were invited in. Another bubble, separate from the reality around it.

All this nostalgia is new. It feels as if I'm processing things, as if there might be a change.

But what about the future? What does it matter how I feel now? The notion that I can remain a resident in Haringey, become involved in community matters, is pure fantasy. I'm haunted by what has been, what could have been, what can still be. And the latter feels like very little indeed.

At least I ought to give it a try. Find something to focus on.

One thing is my new passport: I wonder whether I will get out of here in time to collect it. Only last month I was in Spain, investigating opportunities to teach and travel.

The thought of travel brings on a feeling like jetlag, as if I've arrived from somewhere far away. Exhausted, disorientated, but definitely here.

The journey is only just beginning, but the focus remains. I am calm. I am ready.

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