Photograph by Studio Grab Down.- Twitter/Instagram @Studiograbdown
The events that led up to this are a bit of a blur. All I really remember about that cold autumn morning was being at the lake of a local woods, with a hand full of leaves that I'd somehow managed to convince myself were sage, and a clear intention.
I had wanted to end it all.
The numbness I was experiencing wasn't uncommon nor were the feelings of suicide, I have lived with them for such a long time and I had started to believe that they were just a part of me. They were, however, getting louder and much more difficult to ignore.
Their driving force was unknown. Could it be the demons of my past, demons I thought I'd vanquished long ago? The recent death of my childhood friend or the absent mind of the one person I had only ever really needed? Whatever the reason, it was like it had consumed me, entirely.
I woke up on the floor of A&E, still holding on to the bunch of leaves which had now dried. My mum was curled up on a giant blue chair across from me. It took me a few moments to come round. While I was still figuring out my surroundings I realised what a cataclysmic event had passed. I tried to think carefully about what had happened, snippets of conversations echoed around my mind, had I really been that honest? Should I have been that honest? I started to doubt my decisions as if I'd revealed too much Even in my writing I'd been more preservation than revelation. A nurse entered which broke my concentration. I don’t think she expected me to be lying on the floor. he brought in a bed and made sure I was okay.
Every inch of A&E was filled with people, the oldest of them seemed to be left alone to line the hallway, unable to move, faces full of sadness.
I doubted this was the vision Bevan had in 1948. The entire hospital reeked of austerity and the staff worked tirelessly to tend to every patient. It made me feel even more guilty for being unsuccessful in the woods, like me being there was the reason behind the NHS lack of funding and staff.
I was at A&E for the next four days Time passed slowly and my thoughts were getting increasingly worse, the only thing that seemed to be helping was sleep. When they found me a ward bed I was a little relieved, but I was also scared stiff. I began to overheat, it was like I couldn't breathe. I went outside and smoked cigarette after cigarette, I contacted my friends and family but nothing would take the fear away. I had studied mental health in my second year at University, and although my only knowledge of mental health hospitals wasn’t limited to what came from pop culture, I kept having these irrational visions of being taken to Briarcliff Asylum, being strapped to a bed whilst I had electrical currents forced fed into my brain. I arrived back at the room to see my Mum repacking my bag and judging me for how I’d just stuffed everything into it. Then a paramedic who could only be described as a Norse God entered, a clear descendant of Thor, his blonde hair was swept back, his slightly trimmed beard covered a strong jaw and his smouldering eyes were like pools of blue crystals. Typically It would be my luck to get the world’s hottest paramedic when I looked like the creature from the black lagoon. I found myself unable to look at him, let alone speak. He carried my heavy bag to the ambulance with such ease and I swear I nearly fainted so he’d carry me too. It was nice to know even at dire times I was still that girl.
I sat in the back of the ambulance trying to hold back my tears when another paramedic arrived, she was incredibly upbeat, a trait I’d normally find irritating but now soothing. She was with another patient, and her partner was saying his goodbyes to her reassuringly. He kissed her cheek just before the door closed, and the smiling paramedic distracted her by asking her how they met. I listened and started to think about how remarkable love was. She had travelled all the way from Venezuela to be with him, they'd been separated by the wildest circumstances and now they were being separated again due to her mental health, but his love for her was unquestionable. I felt a sense of regret that my relationships had been so disastrous. I don’t think I’ve ever felt that kind of love before.
We arrived at the Hospital at Hillview at around 10.30pm, entering locked door after locked door, walked up three flights of stairs until we arrived at the ward. A woman in her late 50s with short pinkish blonde hair buzzed us in, our belongings were taken away to be searched and she began to give us a tour around the ward, explaining how the assessment process would go.
I noticed a beautiful girl with wild hair, kneeling in a prayer position colouring. Another girl with shaved green hair stood over her watching. I tried not to make eye contact. There were a million things going on, but the only thing I could think about was my razor. Although I transitioned several years ago, laser treatment was only something I’d be able to do properly within the last year and I was still using a Gillette daily. I approached the nurse to discuss how I would go about getting it when I needed it. She looked me up and down “Oh, you know you’d never have guessed!” , like it was some kind of compliment. I stared at her. She continued “Have you had ‘the op’ then?” her eyes shooting straight to my crotch. “Some,” I replied … I was astonished that even in this environment the first thing she thought to ask me was about my genitals. I was too mentally exhausted to educate her, I’d just had enough.
I asked to go for a cigarette, only to learn the last one was at 10.30pm. Now that, I did care about. They took me for one (which meant two) even though it was past the time. I showered away the last four days off my body, got into bed and slept.
‘Hillview’ was an assessment ward, one of the first of its kind. They had social workers, nurses, doctors, consultants, occupational therapist, phycologists, even people to help you apply for benefits. In theory, it looked quite promising but in reality, they didn’t provide half of these services anymore. You were pretty much left to your own devices most of the time.
When some of my friends came to see me they didn’t even get searched. Looking back, I should’ve asked them to bring me in a bottle of Gordon’s finest instead of the novelty Prosecco Gums I was gifted. After three days I was allowed unsupervised leave, which meant I could smoke when I wanted up until 10.30pm.
One night, I had a 1-1 with my named nurse. He had his pad and I could see he’d already taken notes. He asked me questions about things I said in CAMHS when I was fourteen. I felt like I was reliving everything all over again. I remembered things I’d put to bed years before. When he mentioned Jay, I just cried. I thought about the support he gave me when I first came out and what an influence he had been on my life. The next day my mum and I had a massive argument, I told her not to come to see me. I felt like I was a teenager all over again, I was angry at her for things I’d forgiven her for years before. That night one of my exes drove to see me, we smoked a joint and had sex in the back of his Volkswagen Golf. I tried to hold back the tears but the moment he dropped me back of at the hospital I cried, I had wanted a shoulder to cry on and instead went for the one human connection I was capable of. Sex. I’m not saying I don’t have sex when I’m happy, but I have it a lot more when I’m down, sometimes it’s like the only form of validation I know. When I got back to my room I sat in the shower fully dressed and cried. A health care assistant who was doing observations couldn’t see me and came into the room. She sat with me and talked, I didn’t tell her what I’d just done but I did speak to her about how irrational I’d been over something so small. After I'd stopped crying she began to ask me about me inappropriate questions about my transition. I get she wasn’t being vindictive and she was just curious. However, It isn’t my job to explain the complicated world of gender to her while I’m being treated in hospital.
Over time my moods worsened, I was happy one minute, crying the next and I genuinely felt like I was losing my grip on reality.
To distract myself and to make time go that little faster I gave myself daily tasks. I tried to read, write poetry, I even tried my hand at short stories.
I integrated a little with some of the other patients too, It was interesting, meeting people I’d probably never meet again. As you can imagine it was sometimes chaotic. The girl with shaved green hair managed to set another girl’s0l room on fire and one woman ended up crawling about the ceiling tiles for about 45 minutes before anyone noticed. I still have to know idea how she got up there.
My moods were so interchangeable, I wasn't much company so I mostly tried to keep myself to myself. Finally, Tuesday arrived and it was time for the dreaded CPA. I had spoken to one of the nurses earlier that morning in preparation but I was NOT prepared for what was about to come.
This was my first time even seeing a doctor while I was at Hillview, I had been on no medication and I was feeling worse than ever. Throughout the conversation he was talking about my transition, like that was the root cause of all my issues. I finally had had enough and told him it was completely separate, that being transgender wasn't a mental health condition and his theory of what was wrong with me was a reach at best. Again I reiterated why I was there, how I was really truly feeling. He listened to my hysterics and eventually said he was going to prescribe me some medication and refer to a treatment bed. I felt kind of relieved that he'd finally listened to me. The weird thing is, I did want to leave, this is the last place on earth I ever wanted to be but I knew what the alternative was and if I was to go without getting any help then I'd just be back again, or worse.
The next day flew by, I had finally finished Trans Britain by Christine Burns and was feeling like I’d accomplished something positive. Then someone knocked on room and told me I'd be moving to another hospital, it was a little closer to home which was good and I'd finally receive some treatment. I called everyone I needed to and packed up my belongings. I then felt overcome with fear again. I put on my headphones and started to play Fleetwood Mac, there was something about Stevie Knick’s voice which just calmed me. A sleek black car arrived to transport me and we travelled the hour-long journey to the Priory. The roads were dark and windy and I'm pretty sure he got a little lost. The car eventually pulled up to this large Georgian-esque manor, Victorian streetlamps lit the paths of the grounds and in the centre was a giant, leafless weeping willow.
To be continued.