If you know me well, if you see me in person, if you get me chatting, I talk about hospital a lot. I especially talk about it with people who were there with me. I don’t mean to bring it up quite so much but it’s hard not to when it was such a big part of my life, such a long time of my life. But there’s a reason I speak about it more than that. It’s to make it seem human again, to make it seem real, to remember the funny moments to remind me it wasn’t all traumatic.
I know others had it worse than me in there, others stayed longer but in my own way, it was awful. The constant noise, the beeping, the alarms, the shouting, the non-descript noises from the ward downstairs. I get images and sounds in my head of things that happened, other people’s trauma, but my wise boyfriend reminds me that just because you weren’t directly harmed by a trauma, being witness to it is still harmful. For a while, I couldn’t even eat foods we had while we were there. I couldn’t bear to see those images, to be reminded of it. But slowly, through being open about it, through talking about it, I’ve worked to remember that those moments, those memories, don’t control me. I tell myself I am safe now, I am okay, I am not there anymore.
I tend to remember most the things that overwhelmed me – the light from the hot plate where our food was kept, the screaming, the crying both my own and others, the days where we couldn’t go outside to walk. I remember sitting in groups hearing bracelets clicking, pens clicking, breathing, teeth being sucked. I remember crying for hours in my room, so overwhelmed that I was hyperventilating, so loudly that I could be heard through the door, being told after that staff were walking straight past not caring. I remember being so overwhelmed by the amount of food I was being forced to eat, by the weight I was being forced to gain, that I was driven to exercise, something I had never had an issue with before. I remember that it was impossible to cry and exercise at the same time, so I’d run and run and run, to stop the tears running. And I cried about everything – the wrong mug, the wrong bowl, the wrong song at the wrong time, the wrong brand of peanut butter, putting on weight, losing weight, leaving the hospital grounds, coming back to them.
But there were saving graces. Some being the occupational therapist and assistant who got me going out again, who made sure I didn’t only leave in a car at night in a poncho under a blanket (yes, my poor Dad drove me round Richmond in those exact conditions). But the real saving grace were the other patients – they were the ones who said how proud they were when I didn’t go out wearing my poncho, the ones who sat with me while I cried in the uncomfortable brown chair, the ones who never sat in my spot in the lounge because they knew the change upset me, the ones who swapped bowl with me at breakfast because I needed the same one. They were the ones that carried me through when they were busy carrying their own pain and troubles. They were the ones who helped me realise I was ill, and the ones who gave me hope that I didn’t have to be ill forever.
I didn’t leave better. I left and went straight back downhill but I have clawed my way to recovery. I have fought harder for recovery than anything else in my life but I refuse to be defined by the place that left me in a worse state than it found me.