“Pear” Support – a short story
Writer and mental health activist Jessica shares her short story ‘Pear’ Support based on her own experiences of being sectioned with psychosis.
We are huddled in the garden. We’re a varied bunch. Some of us hear voices. some of us see angels, some of us believe things which others find bizarre. Like Tommy for example, who believes that the devil is talking to him and telling him to do things.
Despite the occasional outburst, he’s a pretty nice guy. You learn not to judge people by their thoughts in here. Or even by their actions. Just more generally by a hazy watercolour of their overall presence. I try to imagine what people are like when they are well instead of judging them by their illness.
We’re sitting puffing away on electronic cigarettes and talking about the conspiracies and the voices. Every single one of us is a smoker. We are gathered together in a circle like an informal support group on battered bean bags in the garden. Most of us are puffing on electronic cigarettes at the same time. Like a meditation session. Breathe in. Breathe out.
They sell puffers in the nurse’s office for £2.50 and they come in two flavours: menthol and regular. They have a little green light on them that lights up when you breathe in, kind of like a magic wand. Sometimes I think that they’re using them to deliver some kind of poison or disease. Maybe it’s really heroin and they’re making me an addict. That’s silly, I think to myself. It’s just nicotine. And I am ALREADY an addict. A smoker.
“Can i borrow a vape?” the new guy asks and I offer a spare sealed disposable one from my pocket. He is wearing multicoloured trainers and his t-shirt features a flock of crows.
“You can keep it I say.” Not wanting to share germs with a strangers. The illness makes me particularly paranoid about diseases.
“What are you in for?” he asks, sitting down comfortably.
So I tell him. The others listen. Some in their own worlds, some in this one. Their bodies are here, but their minds are somewhere else.
So I tell him about the delusions. “People are after me,” I tell him. “They’re following me. Maybe it’s Extinction Rebellion, maybe it’s the Masons. They’re filming me, and everyone is actors. It’s like The Truman Show meets Black Mirror meets My Name is Earl meets The Matrix meets Josie and the Pussycats. I like to think it will win a BAFTA.”
We share war stories. “They’ve got cameras in the smoke alarms.” he tells me. And I nod approvingly. It’s true. They do.
It’s the hottest summer for years and we sunbathe and play pretend smoke with our hospital vapes. I wear blue lipstick (if there’s anywhere you can get away with blue lipstick, surely an acute mental health ward is one of them) which my friends snuck into me a visiting hours and lie on a beach towel that’s covered with illustrations of the ocean. I sporadically offer people suncream. Factor 30. Gotta protect your skin.
There is nothing to do in this place, This cult. Or TV show. Or prison. Whatever it is. Something which remains consistent for the month i am there. i don’t mind really, I’m living in another world, tracing lines between unrelated things and making connections.
If it’s possible for people to gather dust, then this is what’s happening to us. We have been packed away into the loony bin like unlabelled cardboard boxes tucked away in an attic. Abandoned. If this really is a hospital then it’s definitely a loony bin. And that’s what’s happened to us. We’re in the bin of society. With the lint and the dust bunnies. Invisible and forgotten. Unpalatable.
We are a patchwork quilt of humanity. Working class. Middle class. Even some vaguely yah people. There’s unemployed people and a stockbroker too. And people are all ages, although most of us rest between 20 and 30 years old. The nature of the illness is that it starts in your twenties. Slightly older for women than men. More like thirties for women. There’s a much older woman here who keeps trying to attack her patients. She even slapped me around the face once and accused me of being a Nazi Spy. But she’s not in her right mind – that’s the nature of the illness.
I start walking in circles around the garden. Anticlockwise. Arguing with my voices and delusions. Circular conversations about the conspiracy. I have headphones in and the others watch me. Eventually they start to play a game, Avocado Smash! My brain is too discombobulated to understand the rules. I walk back and forwards like a tiger in a cage. I am trapped here. Mad rights are human rights! And they’ve taken away my liberty. I need a human rights lawyer to get me out from this torturous hole.
We discuss Leave. Who has it and who doesn’t. The Costa attached to the A&E department of the hospital is our paradise. There’s not much else here, so whether someone accompanies or or we go alone, we trail along the path past the cancer wards and to A&E where there’s a coffee shop and a gift shop. It’s these little pieces of freedom that get us through the day.
Lucy talks about the demons haunting her. It’s like a scary story and we’re sitting around a figurative campfire. She describes getting points for things like going to the gym. As though her life is a real life video game. It’s interesting, like each conversation is a window into the human mind. My dad dropped of a copy of that Oliver Sacks one earlier – you know the one – The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat or something.
Earlier I bought some Post-It Notes and I stick them to things with messages. Post-It-Hopes. Sometimes they are upbeat. Sometimes they are about kidnapping and torture. It depends where my thoughts are. The others ignore me, this behaviour is perfectly normal. In here anyway. A member of staff follows me around slowly and removes the Post-It notes as I go. It’s a futile task spreading joy in here.
The days passes. We talk. Exchanging stories back and forwards. Sometimes real ones, Sometimes imagined. No one’s lying, you understand, just many of us are all reality tourists hopping between horrifying dimensions in our own minds. It’s hard to tell exactly what is “real” real and what is just real to us. Most people don’t have to make this distinction clear. Reality is like a kaleidoscope – you twist it one way and it looks like one thing and you twist it another and it looks like something else entirely.
Someone undresses in the garden. And I go to get a nurse. A group of them rush outside and inject her in the garden. Four of them holding her down. We all look away and try to be well behaved. No one wants that to happen to them. Later on we find the plastic cap from the needle and it upsets all of us. An unpleasant reminder that we are mad.
We talk about going to the pub and sipping a gin and tonic in the garden. We talk about going back to work. We all dream of outside when we are inside. We dream of real lives that we struggled to live. I get the distinct impression that some people prefer the hospital to their own lives. They make us food here, and there’s always someone to talk to. I ADORE cafeteria food as I went to boarding school as a kid and it feels familiar to me – like my version of a home cooked meal.
When some people get discharged they start bargaining to stay on. Outside here, there are no mad people. Instead, you become an otherling, outside society. In here, it is like a secret society. We are all part of the same fucked up club.
In the time we’re in here, we get close. We exchange mobile numbers. We arrange drinks on the outside. We have our own rooms but these are all our cell mates.
There are cliques too, just like in school. I’m part of the main group of people who sit in the grass all day and chew the fat. We’re the most lucid by the end, we arrived at roughly the same time, and the drugs start to work on us. Popularity dictated by sanity. It seems we’re divided mostly by how lucidity rather than social dynamics. Our social skills ebb and wain.
There is a cat that sneaks into the garden beneath the fence and we give it a name and pretend it belongs to us. We give her strokes in the sun and she comes back every day to see us. She doesn’t know that we are mad. And equally, I know she can’t be in the conspiracy. Because she is a cat.
They call out to us for lunchtime and we go inside. I grab a pear from the side as I hold my plate. Lucy gets a pear too. And Tommy. We sit all our pears on the table, moving our chairs with great effort (they have weights in so you can’t throw them at things). It’s a “pear support group” I say and we all laugh, looking at the pears together on the table in the psychiatric hospital, gathered together, exchanging stories.
Lucy lifts up her pear, and takes a bite.