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12 Jun 2022, by Jessica

The Retreat

Mental health writer Jessica shares an extract from her memoir in progress named “Stark Raving” about her experiences with psychosis.

*TRIGGER WARNING* This article contains references to suicide.

I’m not sure what day of the week it is, or what month. I’m scared. I’m reckless. I’m suicidal. I’m in so much emotional pain I think I’m going to die from it. I’m walking in the road and screaming at strangers, accusing them of being in a conspiracy.

I’m submerged in a completely different world that I can’t escape.

By the time I get sectioned by the police I’ve totally lost the plot. In fact, I’ve lost the genre, the language and the bookshelf too. Words and accusations spew from me in a puzzled mess.

When the police bring me into hospital I’m searched – patted down from pocket to shoes – the change and lint emptied.

My belongings are sifted through. All the obvious things are removed: razors, lighters. Glass bottles are taken too – from perfume to foundation. They log each item on a sheet alongside the amount of money in my wallet. Later I find myself handing in other items that I start to see as potential suicide methods, each item a confession of my poor mental health. They say thank you with wide eyes.

Once the search is done, I am walked to my room. It reminds me of a budget hotel room. The bathroom has a sink, a toilet, a shower and shower curtain. The bedroom has a wooden bed low to the floor and a blue plastic waterproof mattress covered in basic white sheets. And although there’s no chocolate mints on your pillow at night, there’s complimentary white towels and toiletries.

I ask in the nurses’ office for pyjamas and I’m given some that read ‘hospital use only’ across them – perhaps they’re worried we might be tempted to take them home as souvenir? This time I have nothing with me but the clothes on my back and my handbag.

There are no bars on the windows and instead there’s reinforced metal scattered with tiny holes each smaller than a needle point. I find myself placing my palm on the metal when I’m in my room, wishing I could reach the world outside.

Sleeping is hard. They shine a torch on you every few hours, or if you’re unlucky, they open your door and check in on you every hour. I find myself awake all night convinced that sleep deprivation is part of the torture and that’s why they’re waking us up so abruptly every hour. In reality I imagine it’s to check we’re still alive.

Eventually I fall asleep.

Life is structured around mealtimes. There’s toast and cereal for breakfast, sandwiches and hot food choices for lunch and an array of warm meals for dinner. I eat everything from hummus and wraps to mac and cheese in hospital. And if I’m honest: I liked the food. There’s even a snack before bed.

There’s an activity table with colouring sheets and puzzles to pass the time. The ward’s occupational therapy team runs activities each day –  from creative writing to cooking classes. In the evenings there’s not much to do except sit in the garden and vape and so that’s what we do. For the first few weeks I avoid the other patients, convinced that they’re part of the conspiracy too. By the end of my stay, we’ve become friends and pass the time by telling stories about the past.

When my friend visits he jokes that some people would ‘pay a fortune’ to stay on this kind of ‘retreat’. We contemplate this for a second, both of us smiling, and I think fondly of the improvised yoga lesson someone did this morning. Teaching the others downward dog and the lotus pose.

We sip our tea for a while, looking around the garden with its 15ft walls in a sombre silence, listening to the sound of seagulls overhead.

And then someone starts screaming obscenities and – RINGGGG – an alarm goes off.

And we are jolted back to reality, just for a second.

As well as writing for charities, you can also find me on Twitter @lifeinunreality and on my blog

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