Please note: this piece contains references to sexual violence.
Coming into the light
It’s 4 am and the darkness is comforting. There is a constant hum in the background coming from who knows what. I am at home and remembering a time when there only seemed to be silence and darkness. The only noises were the thoughts in my head, berating me for existing. I was having what I believed to be memories of my infancy. Of course, according to the illness, I was an evil child, born bad and destined for damnation – there was no way out. This was the same psychosis that had consumed me before. I had never really stopped believing outlandish things, even though they had given me medication. The thoughts were always lurking in the background, spitefully reminding me that I was alive and that it would take more than pills to help me cope with what was happening to me.
During this time, an acquaintance had been visiting. He would bring with him, second day cakes and sausage rolls from the bakers, and lots of cigarette ends which he must have picked up from the street, or ash trays in pubs. We would eat and drink tea, breaking the cigarette ends into rizlas, reprocessing them into new cigarettes and smoking profusely. I was a heavily addicted smoker by now, after one stint in the mental hospital and being on medication. Unfortunately this seemed to be a particularly common side effect of the entire hospital experience. Even though I had smoked before this, the number of cigarettes I got through in a day – pre mental hospital was less than half of what I now needed. Also the urgency with which I smoked was extremely intense.
I had stopped taking the medication though – mainly forgetting about it after being discharged from hospital and not attending medical appointments. I was back in my flat in Stirling, only about 40 miles from family in Edinburgh, but there was no phone in the flat and it was the 1980s, which meant going to a phone box with a pile of coins to call home. More importantly, nobody could call me and there were no mobile phones. I didn’t know much about mental illness, or the importance of medication, but the main thing I remember was my brain being released from its chemical straight-jacket. The bizarre mental meanderings with which I was now faced were both a source of interest and terror to me.
Nowadays I do meditation and yoga in an attempt to find parts of myself which are stronger and somehow more exciting than what I call my ‘surface self’. But my current inner world, is a lot steadier and not so engaging and devouring of attention as it was when I was ill. I am thankful of this though, and feel a lot happier now. I still automatically default to expecting the worst in all situations and often phone the Samaritans or the Edinburgh Crisis Centre to help me get through the day.
As life unfolded in those days, it wasn’t so much a feeling that it had happened before, but rather that I had foreseen that it would come to pass at an earlier time in my life. This of course was not based on fact, but was part of what would become a web of extremely strange firm beliefs that I would try to run my life in accordance with. I didn’t really see any other people except my slightly shifty acquaintance who came round from time to time and had started to make more sexual overtures towards me. I started to feel uncomfortable with him and one day, he stole the last ten pounds out of my purse.
I had about a week to survive and really had nobody in Stirling to borrow from. My ex-flatmate, ‘H’ was in hospital, pregnant with high blood pressure, waiting to give birth and her husband was working every day and visiting her at night. I didn’t want to bother them with yet another calamity in my life.
It was at this time that I really became nocturnal. I scoured the streets at night, picking up cigarette ends, as I had several packets of rizla papers in the flat. My clothes were old and tattered and my shoes had huge holes in them. I wore an old sheepskin jacket and looked very much like an old fashioned tramp. There was very little furniture in the flat and no TV, radio or books. ‘H’ and her new husband had moved my stuff out while I was in hospital, so I had nothing to occupy me except my imagination. I slept very little, even though I was using up a lot of energy walking all night, every night. I wasn’t tired.
One time, I remember finding a half eaten packet of crisps, which had been discarded. It was lying on the pavement so I picked it up and ate the contents. I remember eating quite slowly, even though I was very hungry. Another time I found the remains of a bottle of Globe, sun-kool cola. I was a bit afraid to drink it because it could have had anything in it (including pee). But regardless of this it somehow tasted delicious to me and gave a much needed energy boost.
Eventually I didn’t even have any tea bags, coffee or even oxo cubes left. My cupboards were completely empty and most days I would just stay in, drink hot water and have a bath. I had opened the padlock which was on the electricity metre with a kirbigrip. There wasn’t much money in it as it had been recently emptied, but what there was I spent on tobacco at the beginning of my ordeal, until I was left with one 10p coin. I re-used and re-used this repeatedly and it really gave me as much hot water as I wanted. There was also an electric fire in the flat, so I wasn’t completely uncomfortable. Nevertheless, I was aware that I needed food, even though by now, feelings of hunger weren’t that much of a problem. I was completely high on exercise from the night walking and lack of body fuel, which must have contributed to my mental state.
It was then that I decided to go down to the little grocer’s at the end of the street. The man who owned it was elderly and reminded me of my late grandfather. He had often told me that I could have credit whenever I wanted, and should come into the back shop for a meal with him. He gave me the creeps. However, my situation was getting desperate as giro day approached, and I was getting more and more delusional and spaced out. He gave me five cigarettes and a bar of chocolate. I declined to tell him just how hungry I was and perhaps by this time I was looking the worse for wear, so he didn’t invite me into the back shop. I am absolutely sure that this was for the best. The next day I got my ‘giro’ and bought a jar of coffee and a sweet iced cake. It seemed to fill me up with just a few mouthfuls. I also bought some real, tailor made ciggies for a treat. After all this extreme need, I afforded myself some luxury.
Around this time, my acquaintance came back to see me. I was angry with him for stealing my money and was determined not to let him in. I only opened the door slightly, when he poked his head around it, obviously drunk. I tried to push him away, thinking it would be easy as he was very small. However, to my dismay, he had plenty strength and energy and forced his way in. He twisted my arm up my back and punched me in the face, before shoving me into the main bedroom and locking the door. (both the rooms had keys in them as they were usually rented out as bedsits). He put the key down his trousers and lunged at me, shouting in a rasping, crazed voice, “I’m going to rape you!”
Everything felt in slow motion and time seemed to stretch. I began to make a lot of noise, hoping that someone would hear and come to my aid. Of course, this didn’t happen so a fist-fight ensued with him getting the better of me. He dragged me to the floor and tried to unbutton my trousers. This was when I had had enough and I turned on him. I am just under 5’ 4”, but he was probably even smaller and quite thin. I turned the tables and jumped on top of him, putting my knees onto his shoulders and pinned him down. I am not ashamed to admit, that I then wrapped my hands tightly round his throat and bashed his head off the floor. All I could think of was that I was not going to let him rape me. When I let go, he seemed to become sober and sensible. I suppose it was the shock of what I had done to him. He got up, apologised for his behaviour and left the flat. I never saw him again.
This whole experience resulted in a long spell in hospital, once my family got in touch and brought me back to Edinburgh. Nonetheless, I was mainly treated with medication and was never really given space to talk about this incident or about the tough physical and psychological conditions I was living in. I wasn’t able to open up about it until a few years later and by then the psychiatrist I was seeing wasn’t interested, saying that it wouldn’t change my diagnosis and nobody was to blame for my illness. Although this particular hospital experience was pivotal in me making important changes in my life that were to significantly improve it, I still sometimes lie awake at night feeling angry that I was the one who ended up being detained and forcibly injected and stigmatised, while my attacker was free. Mostly though, I just feel sorry for him and the whole incident has melted inmy mind. I have better relations with psychiatry now and see a Wellspring counsellor once a fortnight.
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