On (Not) Being Believed
By Eleanor Higgins
I still remember the feel of the cold steel in my palms. My hands blue from the November chill, my heartbeat thrumming in my ears, the bile rising in my throat. I remember the final cigarette stale on my breath; a futile smoke signal rising and disappearing into the concrete-grey drizzly day. I had resigned.
Rewind six months. I’m just back from a holiday, a friend calls to tell me our mutual friend, Lyn, has died. She has hanged herself whilst in the psychiatric ward on one-to-one observations. The staff had been watching the wrong person. A mistake. I am rage. Days later I throw away my medication – I am on a wholesale rejection of all things psychiatry. I am hot-blooded, distraught, impotent. Weeks go by, my mood becomes erratic. I am in a maelstrom of grief and drug withdrawal; the middle ground is somewhere I swing past on the way up or down. Electric-shock sensations reverberate through my brain whenever I move.
I am on self-destruct. A danger to myself. I am admitted to the ward in which I met Lyn. The staff are unremorseful. I am rage. I am also an attention-seeking hysteric with no sense of responsibility. I am playing games, there is nothing wrong with me, they say. I become increasingly mad, convinced I am possessed by a child who can only be free if I die. My mind is splintering. I climb the high roofs of the looming Victorian hospital building and sit. I watch. It’s the only place I feel safe, and I can’t explain why.
I run. I am on trains, I am off of trains, I am here and there and nowhere. I want to be wherever I am not. I discharge myself from hospital, I return, I go to a different hospital. I am manic. I teach myself grades one to five in ballet. From a book. I leave the hospital only to go to the dance shop. I must have everything; I am a dancer now. They medicate me with a mood stabilizer that makes me catatonic. I come off of the drug and reacquaint myself with mania. I have messages for the world, which I write on big sheets of paper and stick all over my bedroom walls with toothpaste. Top to bottom. I crash. I am in the wardrobe, heaving with grief and despair.
In and out, round and around, I am dizzy and demented. I return to the original hospital because I am not getting any better. My parents are visiting, I am listening to Tori Amos ‘I don’t like Mondays’ on repeat. “You know I can’t live, don’t you?”, I say. Their faces are grey and they look defeated. My father has to leave the room. I am destroying them. Another day something inside of me snaps. I am hanging out of a broken window with glass at my throat. I can’t remember which side my jugular is on. The riot police are here, they speak softly-softly, I am not convinced. A kind nurse talks me back in. My sanity is threadbare.
Another day and I hear my mother shout. She never shouts. I come to; I have picked up a table and am going for the window. A nurse comes in, says “I know you. This isn’t you. I see you. I see it now. You’re not okay, you’re not yourself, something is very, very wrong”. The ice fortress inside of me melts; I am human again. I am scared and terrified and guilty for the pain I’m causing.
The nurse in charge says, “this isn’t you”. I am relief. Someone can see I am possessed by a madness I cannot control. They are going to help me. For the first time in six months I feel like I am being taken seriously and that an end to this distress may be in sight. The next morning, a new nurse in charge, I can call him Chris because that’s his name and he is no longer alive, so let’s call him by his name, okay? Chris says I have been smoking drugs on the ward. Everyone who knows me knows I do not take drugs. He says everyone knows there is nothing wrong with me, that I need to simply take responsibility, that he’s in charge now, and no one believes me.
I understand the statement ‘my heart sank’. I understand it in the breath that leaves my body, the way my shoulders drop, the anesthetized feeling that descends. I say I am going for a walk to clear my head and think things through. “We won’t chase you”, he says. I know, I say. I am long gone. I am in a taxi, I am home, I am in my car, I am driving away from the madness as fast as I can. If I keep on the move, then the crazy will wear itself out and I will emerge, in time, from this chaos. This is what I tell myself.
I am not convinced. As I doubt myself I look up and there is a road bridge, to my left: a car park, and a pub. I pull in, I am done. It is a concrete-grey drizzly day and I am smoking my last cigarette. I write a note and leave it on the passenger seat. It’s cold; I can see my breath. I am crossing the road and I am waiting and watching. I am waiting for a gap in the stream of cars, a long gap. Here’s one. I run up the steps two at a time, I am running up the steps, I am at the top. I can still feel the cold steel in my palms. I climb over the rail and I hold on. “NO NO NO”, a voice shouts. The voice is in my head. “YES YES YES”, I reply, and I fall head first.
I am at the bottom of the bridge. I have landed almost perfectly on two feet, facing the other direction. The sky is grey, the underside of the bridge is grey, I am probably grey. I am on my back and I am broken. I have never felt so alone. I know nothing will ever be the same again. I have crossed a line that feels inhuman. A betrayal of the sanctity of life. A violent goodbye.
My heels were shattered and my back broken in three places, but I healed. Only I did not. I am haunted by the violence that overtook me that day. There is no day without the bridge now. There is no freedom from the terror of a mind that twisted on itself. I live. I carry on. This is how it is. And also, I am still under that bridge, alone.
Eleanor Higgins is a queer writer of nonfiction prose and poetry, a survivor of madness, and a feminist activist. She particularly likes to lose and find herself in pages, lines, and spaces. She runs a poetry open-mic for people with mental health problems in London, England, called Mad Poets Speak, details of which can be found on twitter: @madpoetsspeak