Spirals by Cycy Smith

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The end of the longest night of the year and I'm reeling, drunk on wine and the elation of the new dawn when my sister comes at me out of the half-light and grips me by the arm. She's speaking in a low urgent whisper and in my current state I have no idea what she's saying but then the words materialise and I hear it clearly, ‘Richard's dead, Richard's dead, Richard's dead' over and over like a chant, like a charm and I...

The thing that shocked me most was the quietness, the sense of order. Of all places you would expect a psychiatric hospital to be loud, filled with the cries and babbling of the mad, but no one here is mad really, not like that. They just couldn't uphold their safe view of the world, let the cracks show, moved into a disparate reality. Most of them are just here for a rest, a respite from the demands of the outside world and though this is a cliché, the nurses' comforting parroted introduction there seems to be some truth in the oft-mouthed phrases. For myself it's a relief, not to be normal, not to hide the tears, not to pretend I'm not broken. The confusion in the eyes of my family was too hard to bear any longer, and though I put up a token protest I was glad to have the responsibility taken away. Yes decide for me, put me in this place where my hours are regulated where the boundaries are strict and I no longer have free will. Who would want that burden?

My roommate is a girl named Sylvia whose parents put her in here when she got so thin she collapsed in a shopping centre. Embarrassment she says, not at the idea that it might be their fault, but instead at the public nature of her collapse, the shocked and concerned passers-by, the well-meaning old lady who observed ‘oh she just needs a good meal, that'll put her right.' Sylvia's parents visit once a week, and stay for one hour, during which she ignores them and they, running out of inconsequential chat, stare at her, separately wondering how she can be fixed. Otherwise she is a talkative girl, surprisingly eloquent about her condition and the factors that brought her to this point. ‘It's not their fault' she tells me after one parental visit ‘to them I'm incomprehensible, a changeling, I never want the things they think I should. They want to explain me, and I'm unexplainable. They didn't make me this way, but that means they can't fix it either. I have to do that myself.' When I asked her why she stopped eating she just shook her head ‘you're asking the wrong questions' She replied ‘there is no why.'

Quite different from the normal perception of psychiatric treatment; the constant search for reasons, triggers, the blame on social factors and, of course, the parents, treatment here focuses on the individual. They would never tell us that it's our fault, but they don't let us be blameless either. From the beginning recovery is our own responsibility. This is a daunting prospect; I want to be absolved, to have no choices and no responsibilities. But when I ask any member of staff to tell me how to do it, how to get better, they just laugh.

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