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The Butterfly on Fire: Mind, Body and Soul
Copyright © 2017 E L Croucher
All rights reserved.
Edited by P Goulding
I was surprised that I could dream about her like it was any other night. After everything that had happened. It was like my subconscious didn’t care. Did that mean I didn’t care? Well, no, of course I did. And yet, I dreamt like I always did. It was waking up that was the problem. Facing the next day. Facing my family. Facing the doctors and therapists. Facing the other patients on the ward.
Telling one of the younger female staff members: “I don’t belong here, I think I should be able to go home” was probably the worst thing I could have done. She just smiled and said she would talk to one of the doctors. I didn’t realise that saying that would actually make me look even less stable and lead to me being kept there longer. How come they were the ones with the power to tell me when I could leave? It didn’t make any sense. But then again, none of it did.
At least I had stuff to keep my mind occupied. Stuff to stop me from reliving it all over again… That night. It was only two nights ago, and although it was still so fresh, I could tell that it was a night that I would never forget. I would look back on this day as the day that changed everything. Because everything had needed changing.
I had gone to eat breakfast and was sitting in the small dining area when one of the younger male doctors came in to check everyone’s mood. The middle aged woman who had checked on me before hadn’t said anything. She had just watched me and taken notes. This guy was new – or at least he seemed it to me – and was making sure not to miss any details. He saw me and looked on the list again, as if to say “who are you then?”
I guess the other doctors hadn’t told him yet. Shit.
“Erm, hi, can I take a name?” he said, oddly shy. He was actually very handsome. Short, blonde hair and a well-defined chin. Muscly, but still slim. I looked down to the floor to avoid his eye-line but glanced up quickly. I wonder if he could tell that I was attracted to him.
“A… ask the other doctors… please”, I managed to say. I felt like an idiot. What even was that?
“Oh, ok. Sure.” He looked confused, but he clearly knew by now not to question strange behaviour in a place like this. The rain outside seemed to pick up the pace and the noise was loud around us. I was starting to feel so awkward. I just wanted him to move on to the next room of patients. Leave me alone. Leave me alone. I didn’t know what to say.
“E… everyone calls me Beam.” The words fell out. “As in a beam of sunshine… You can call me that if you want.” Oh my god, I was flirting. I couldn’t believe it… In a place like this. After everything that had happened.
“Ok, Beam. Nice to meet you. I’m Dr Martin,” he said with a genuine smile, before walking out the door. Of course, that name wasn’t on the list he had in front of him, but I felt rude not introducing myself at all.
I looked back down at my breakfast. It was actually really nice. I had been dreading the thought of hospital food so much, but I was pleasantly surprised. I had bacon, eggs, beans and chips. Today was only a Thursday and yet we were being served a fry-up! A strange pang of guilt hit me, as I thought of tax payer’s money being spent on my breakfast. Did I even deserve this? No, I didn’t. Not after what I had done. The guilt worsened and gradually I completely lost my appetite. I pushed the plate away, but then I noticed one of the cooks watching me and she began pointing and whispering something to one of the other staff members. Oh right, I had to eat. They would check my plate. They would ask questions.
I picked up the fork and tried to force the bacon into my mouth. Then a girl around my age walked in. She was holding a guitar and looked extremely absent, as if she was surrounded by a thousand fairies that made her dizzy. I tried to catch her eye, in an effort to make friends, but she was miles away. I wondered why she was here. She didn’t look insane or too thin. Or anything. Just normal.
Then I realised I would look fairly “normal” to her if she even saw me. Maybe I looked a bit worn out. But just like any other patient in here. True. I wanted to talk to her. I hated feeling so lonely in here. I just couldn’t catch her eye. After trying a couple more times, I thought I would give up. It’s not like she was going anywhere. I could talk to her another time.
“No! Fuck no!” boomed a voice from outside. It was loud enough to get this other girl’s attention too. Yet, still with a gazed look on her face, she looked through the open doorway that was directly behind her. The brunette ponytail cascading from her head gently flicked as it fell from behind her shoulders.
“Calm down. Just calm down Samantha” a doctor said in a soothing voice, but it only seemed to freak her out further. Two other doctors ran in and grabbed an arm each. One of them was the hot doctor from before. It was the first time I had seen something like this – although I had been expecting it. There were about twenty patients in the ward in total, some with more severe mental conditions than others. I constantly tried to reassure myself that I was of course one of the less mentally ill patients, but what worried me was that everyone in here seemed to do the same. Samantha was taken to her room and everyone on the ward continued like nothing had happened. I heard her lock her door as loud as she could. All the patients’ rooms locked from the inside, but the staff had a key anyway. The locks were really just to make us feel safer – that’s all.
I had to get out. Even if it meant pretending that I was a completely normal person. Just as that fleeting thought ran through my head, a therapist came out from the therapy room. It was built deliberately in the centre of the ward. The main sitting area was next to it, where most of the patients sat and stared at the TV all day. I couldn’t say for certain that they were watching it, just staring at it. One patient enjoyed singing along to the music channels so loudly that the ward staff had to send him to his room. The singing, however, would not stop. I was scared that the other patients would kick off or something, but instead, some smiled, others joined in. One stood up silently and left to go to his room. But no one seemed disturbed or surprised at this elderly man’s attempt at singing Little Mix. In fact, he was rather talented for an old man.
“Next it’s…” The therapist’s sentence trailed off. She turned to face me. “It’s your turn darling”, she said gently. I smiled. How kind. She must have really liked me. I felt the safest I had for a long time in that small moment.
“Ok, do I need anything?” I was used to saying that for job interviews, or meetings at school. Always ask if you’re expected to bring something. A notepad. A pen. But here, in this context, the question seemed almost sarcastic. I had nothing. Barely any possessions at all. The therapist just walked back into her office, expecting me to follow her. So I did.
I walked into a small room with too many people in it. They were all sitting around in chairs like the patients on the ward, but they were clearly different. They were doctors, therapists and other staff that I hadn’t seen on the ward yet. They didn’t stare, they watched. They didn’t sing, they whispered. They didn’t smile, only nodded. I sat. They were analysing me. Every movement. Each one of them gave off an aura of superiority.
The main therapist, who I assume was in charge of the rest of the staff, was a small, thin lady. Many of her colleagues were double her size. She wore a black blazer with sleeves that were rolled up so far that they only came down to her elbows. Her hair was in a tight bun with a small black band around it. Her shoes were stylish, but simple. She looked like a PA to a CEO rather than a doctor. Then again, what does a doctor in a mental ward look like anyway?
“So, how are you feeling?” asked the main therapist. It was uttered in the most condescending and pitiful tone that I had ever heard, and yet, it was still somehow comforting. It made me want to explain everything. But that was not going to happen. No way. Not here. Not now. I couldn’t. No way.
“To be honest, it’s all very overwhelming being here. But, if it’s going to help me get my life sorted, then I don’t mind. Obviously, that’s all I want.” I tilted my head gently to the right and faked a small smile. I felt like I was performing for them. GCSE Drama paid off. They were waiting for me to fuck up. But I wouldn’t. I would keep it together.
“And how is it you would like us to help you achieve that?”
“Well, therapy to help me deal with the issues I have in my head would help, I think. If that’s what you think? To be honest, I’m not sure I want to start taking anti-depressants. Not if I can get better myself.” I could feel the words start to tumble out, so I stopped there.
“Therapy won’t be a problem, of course not. That’s what we’re here for. You seem like a very positive, happy… person. How did you get yourself into all this, eh?” piped up one of the other therapists. She was larger and wore scruffy clothes. Her hair fell recklessly down, covering her face. Was she allowed to talk to me in such a condescending way? No one challenged her, so I guessed she was.
“It just all got too much. The realisation of what I am. Obviously, deep down I have always known that one day I would have to deal with the shit… oh sorry, deal with the stuff going on in my head. But it got to a point where I couldn’t run away anymore. And knowing that I had to deal with everything just seemed so… so…”
“Scary?” another therapist suggested. Her hair was cut short, and she was slightly chubby. She was the first therapist that actually looked me in the eyes. She seemed genuinely gentle and understanding. I felt like I could trust her. To tell her everything in the hope that she could make it all better. I wanted a friend.
I looked down. I wanted the questions to stop but they had only just begun. The main therapist stopped writing notes and put down her pen. Then she looked up.
“Ok, well, this all seems standard enough for now. We will have to put you on anti-depressants and keep you here for another couple of days. You will be able to leave when we are convinced you won’t try anything stupid again. Can you promise us that you won’t? Ok? You are so young. You promise? We’ll do one hour of therapy a day, and we will arrange for you to see the psychoanalysis expert. You can go off site with a member of staff, but not on your own yet. Does that all sound fair?” She wasn’t asking me. She was asking the room. Her large group of subordinates nodded. They were not going to argue with their boss. So it was set. I had no say at all, but I had never expected to, to be honest.
I continued to sit there while they continued to watch me closely, until I realised that I was meant to get up and leave. So I did. I couldn’t tell if it had gone terribly, or perfectly. Later that day, I saw other patients go in and then come out crying that they were being held for another month. That really hit home. Maybe I wasn’t crazy like this lot. Maybe I was just in a bad way. Regardless, if I kept this up, I would be home before I knew it. Work wouldn’t need to know. Friends would understand. And my family… Oh fuck, my family. Every time I attempted to think about my family, a dark cloud of guilt surrounded my entire being, and I just couldn’t face it. Not yet.
* * *
That evening, I was showering in my room when I heard a noise. My room was the only one with its own toilet and shower on the ward. I felt lucky, but then again, I could understand why I had it. Maybe the other patients were jealous, or maybe they didn’t even notice. I didn’t care. I was too busy enjoying my shower. The negative energy of the day was flowing off me and down the drain. It circled and tried to hold on to this world, but the force of the water dragged it away. It left me clean and a step closer to happiness.
Then I heard the noise again. It was coming from directly outside my room. I dried myself off with a towel, and looked through the small glass window in my door that the therapists used to check on us. They checked that we were sleeping at night by turning on a haunting red light every two hours or so. It made falling asleep difficult. Even when it woke me, I would pretend to be asleep so that they would think that I was ok. One of the other patients had told me to sleep facing the other side so that even if my eyes threw themselves open, only I would know.
After I was dry and in my PJs, I crept outside. Curfew wasn’t for another couple of hours, and yet it seemed late in the day. The girl from earlier was outside, with her guitar. And now a boy was with her, around our age as well. They were playing the guitar and singing. It was outside in a kind of cage like extension for the smokers. I could smell it from my doorway, but luckily the smell of smoke had never particularly bothered me.
I didn’t recognise the song that they were singing, otherwise I probably would have joined in. Instead, I just walked over to them smiling and waved gently. They turned to me and whilst smiling, they kept singing. It really was lovely. They seemed at peace and untouchable. The guy stopped playing the girl’s guitar and rested it on the floor beside him. He was tall and thin, with jet black hair. He had a goofy look about him, but was still quite handsome. In a geeky kind of way. If you had seen him with the girl out in public it would have looked odd though. You would immediately know they weren’t a couple. If they had been in the same secondary school, you could tell that she would be with the popular kids and he would be in the library. But in here they were friends. It was sweet.
“Hey, you alright?” he said. Charming. Very charming.
“I’m… good. Sorry, I couldn’t help but hear the guitar. You guys seem really cool.” I felt like I was in secondary school again.
“Aww, you are the cutest thing ever. Why are you in a place like this?” the girl asked. I felt like I could trust them, like I could tell them anything.
“I tried to kill myself a couple of nights ago.”
“Oh shit, really? But you seem so happy?” He seemed shocked. I thought that attempting suicide would be seen as normal for patients here.
“Well, I guess, yeah. It’s like I’ve been reborn I guess. I don’t know, it sounds stupid. I had a lot of stuff going on in my head.” I was starting to mutter so quietly, I even irritated myself.
“That sucks. I’ve been here for ages now. Therapist says it’s not safe for me to be out there.” He turned to face the other side of the smoker’s cage. The main road leading to the hospital seemed to tease him with cars casually driving to and from it. The guy dropped his head and his jet black fringe covered the left side of his face until all I could see was the back of his neck. He didn’t strike me as dangerous.
“What about you?” I said to the girl.
“Let’s just say it’s safer for me in here too.” She deflected the question with an ease that had taken months to perfect. I could tell.
I stayed outside with them for what felt like hours. We talked and laughed, just like normal young adults did. Except that, every two hours, one of the staff on the ward would come and check on us. They took notes, and then carried on.
After a few days on the ward, it was finally time for me to leave. Georgina had come to pick me up in her small Ford, with flowers and a huge tub of ice cream.
“I bet you were dying in there with all that healthy food they must have had you on,” she laughed. Georgina was my best friend, and had been for years. We had gone to the same secondary school together, and moved into a small flat together through college, along with two other roommates. We went on to get a smaller flat together when we both started working. It was a Saturday, so she could come and get me without taking time off. I’m sure she would have done it anyway, but I would have felt even guiltier.
“Thank you for coming Georgina.” I sounded sad, but thankful.
“Don’t be silly, you’re my best mate, I will always be there for you. I just wish I had been before…” Her usual bubbly personality fell away. The guilt was too much for me to bear. I had to change the subject. Or maybe I should’ve faced it head on. It was still all so new to me. How was I supposed to react to people?
“I… I hope you brought spoons!” I joked. Awkwardly. She just stared at me and forced a smile. She was always better at faking smiles than I was.
“Listen, I’m sorry. I’m sorry I couldn’t see the signs earlier. You clearly weren’t happy… even after everything we tried. I will do my best to be there for you from now on, ok?” Georgina said as she touched my arm. She looked me dead in the eyes and nodded. I could feel the cold droplets of water from the ice cream tub fall onto my already freezing finger tips, as the summer sun began to melt it. Soon it would be soup.
“Thanks. That’s all I could possibly ask,” I said with a smile. The engine started, and soon we were driving on the M25 back up to our flat in Camden.
It was the start of a brand new me – I had decided. I had to. I had no choice. It was time to face everything that I had run from for years. Everything would be fine, surely? I would put the past behind me as of this day. That would end up becoming the single most important day of my life.