Writing by Lucy Hotchin // Photographs by Sarah Walker
I’ve been here a few days so everything is starting to become familiar again. I’ve been here before, many times, and the cracks and quirks of the ward fall in sync with your memory of how they’ve always been. The white halls with bannisters along the sides, and the ability to ALWAYS find the halls confusing even though I’ve been here so many times and know them by heart. The halls have doors, all with corresponding numbers that increase and decrease depending on which side you’re looking at. Waking up in a private room is always more enjoyable than a double, however I wasn’t as lucky this admission so I’m sharing a room with a lovely older lady with a proclivity for 6am showers. The lights come on and push through the curtains and I cringe at the thought of another long and slow day. My headphones are still in my ears, meaning I didn’t really move while I slept, thanks to four valium, a clonazepam and a Phenergan. I check my phone, 6am, excellent, the smokers courtyard will be open. We affectionately call the smokers courtyard the ‘pigpen’ as it half-shuts after 8pm leaving you with a 3 x 3 metre square box with mesh over the top. At night it gets packed, leaving standing room only and resembling a pigpen. I walk out of my room in my pj’s and pull my dressing gown tight, not bothering to put a bra on. On opening the door of the pigpen I’m greeted with the familiar and bizarrely comforting smell of stale tobacco and sleep. A few people are as equally awake and asleep as I am. I talk for a while with other patients; generally they are all nice people, it often makes me sad that we are here suffering from something so extreme that we hand our independence over to someone else. I see faces with drawn lines of sadness and stress, eyes that protrude with fear and intensity and warm smiles that rise through the hurt to greet other humans.
Breakfast is a non-event; the dining room is large and bright with fluorescent lights leaving no place for shadows. I have a vegemite sandwich, just like always; it’s slim pickings anyway with a variety of breads/crumpets or a few cereal options and the good old stewed prunes to help with your entire bowel related needs. I walk back to my room and ignore the whiteboard which lists all the groups on today, they are things like ‘understanding your depression’, ‘take control of your life!’ and ‘medications, a run down’. The only thing I want to go to is art therapy which isn’t even really art therapy, it’s more just “go to the art room and do whatever you want”, which works great for me. Walking back to my room, I micro-organize the day ahead in my head, shower, tidy room, try and go out for coffee, don’t smoke as much, do a Sudoku, watch one episode of something, read for half an hour etc. I get to my room and realise that I’m not going to do any of that. My mood is low and I don’t see the point in showering when I’m not going to see anyone except a contact nurse and my psychiatrist. I sit on my bed and the anxiety rises from my stomach to my chest to my throat and my eyes sting with tears. It is all very much pointless. I lie down in bed and think of reasons why I like life. I love my parents and my sister and my dog and I know I could never leave them. So if I have to stay, then what else is tolerable? Writing and art are, music is, my friends are good people, my psychiatrist is hilarious, maybe one day it won’t be this hard. Maybe one day I won’t wake up with the weight in my chest. I guess I’ll have to see. With that in mind I lie down and let myself drift off to sleep with the plan to not kill myself.
On waking I discover that it’s 2pm and I’ve slept for six and a half hours…oops. But it was nice and I had a lovely dream about a person I don’t know and we were friends and it made me smile on waking. I missed lunchtime medication and I walk to the med room and find my contact nurse with a look on her face that says “I’ve been waiting just for you”, I take my medication, one orange tablet that is clonazepam .5mgs. Walking back to my room I pass the art room and then make a dash for my own room to get changed into day clothes (pj’s and dressing gowns are banned from the art room). I’m always greeted with a pleasant smile that resembles someone’s loving grandma greeting you at the front door like a long lost grandchild. The room is filled with paints, pencils, glue and pens, collage materials, popsicle sticks and anything and everything that every primary school art room should have. A comforting place away from the stark clinical side of the hospital, art is open for three hours but I only ever last 20 minutes. I throw down a quick sketch promising myself I’ll finish it later, my concentration levels are minimal and I’m unsure whether that is the medication or the depression. I spend the rest of the afternoon travelling between the pigpen and half filled Sudoku puzzles. Dinnertime is often a disappointment and it holds onto that namesake again tonight with an oily, salty shepherds pie with powdered mash potato and over-boiled veggies, at least I lose weight in hospital.
Many days pass like this, countless days filled with boredom and intense feelings of anxiety, depression and identity issues. I’ve tried a lot of medication and I’ve had two courses of Electro-convulsive Therapy; for now, I use my admissions to de-stress and refocus on why I want to be alive, which seems to get lost in the outside world. Hospital is a safe space for me, a quiet, sometimes intense, sometimes nightmarish place for me, with the patient drama and the good and bad nurses and the medication. It’s where I find my place in the world all over again.