This is how I procrastinate

With having chronic pain and being unemployed, I spend a lot of time indoors, wondering what to do with myself. Television has never been a big interest of mine, so I don’t have that outlet like many others do. Over the years I’ve gone through many time-wasting phases, mostly involving computer games.

The biggest time wasters in the past have been Age Of Empires (I was addicted for years), Spore and the Thief series. I’ve tried other hobbies, and I do have other interests – knitting, reading, writing, poker, music – but my attentions will always be drawn to gaming.

Over the past few months, I’ve been playing The Sims 3 incessantly, and building houses. It’s my favourite waste of time. I’ve been working on this house for a couple of night now:

A psychologist would have a lot to say about my obsession.


Crazy English Summer, Part Three


crazyenglishsummerPart One / Part Two

I don’t know how long I stayed in the unit the second time. Days turned into weeks, and my brain slowly became mush from the boring daily routines and therapy. Twice a week, we would all be taken into a big hall and be made to do trust exercises – catching each other, that sort of thing – and I hated every moment. I was crazy, not five years old. I didn’t see how running under a big plastic sheet would magically cure my bulimia and general madness. One time, I found myself talking to an empty chair, like the plastic ones we used in school; the patients were encouraged to sit opposite a chair and pretend somebody who’d hurt us was sitting in it. We were supposed to tell them why they’d caused us pain, but all I achieved from the exercise was feeling like an utter twat. I chose to ‘speak’ to a girl who’d been one of my best friends all through primary school and into secondary, who’d done a runner as soon as I started losing my marbles. I told her that she shouldn’t have given up on me, and that I needed friends. The member of staff overseeing it all said I’d done a good job. Again, I didn’t see how it could possibly help. It didn’t. My heart wasn’t in it.

In fact, I had absolutely no desire to get better; I didn’t think there was much wrong with me or my behaviour. The horse had been led to water, but there was no way I was going to drink; I felt a great injustice at being locked away in some sort of crazy place when all I was doing was struggling a bit with teenage angst.

Evenings were the worst times. The staff gave all the patients a rota for making tea, toast and cereal. I felt enormously guilty when it was my turn; Victoria would chew silently on a piece of buttered toast, tears running down her face, threatened with hospital if she didn’t eat it. Sometimes it took her two hours. We were also expected to do our own laundry, which soon became my nemesis. I avoided it, terrified of breaking the machine or somehow doing it wrong. I wasn’t domestic in the least, and had never used the machine at home. The staff assumed I’d know how to work a washing machine. I never asked; I was too shy.

Oe night, after midnight observation, we heard shouting and door slamming. We peeked our heads out of the door to see Rachel being dragged out. The staff told us to go back to bed, and that she had ‘hurt herself'; we knew what they meant, and so when she came back the next day with a massive bandage on her arm, we weren’t surprised. Again, she’d used a hook to gouge at herself.

It was easy to self-harm, binge and vomit in PL. Although there were regular observations and checks, there were plenty of hiding places. I kept a package of broken razors in the cheap MDF drawers next to my cheap, MDF bed. Carla broke a mirror to cut herself with. We took it in turns to throw up, one listening out for staff while the other tried to get it over with as quickly as possible. We’d troop to the Safeway down the road once a week and stock up on binge-foods, Although it was supposed to be a closed unit (apart from short trips in groups once we were considered ‘safe’ enough. It only took me a couple of weeks to be allowed outside) the door was often left unlocked and staff rarely checked the signing in/out board in the cramped hallway.

One night, one of the patients (Richard; ADHD) went missing. He was soon brought back, and spent the night in an isolation room.

I was never isolated; I was nearly always on my best behaviour. I was still in thrall of authority and was afraid to truly freak out in front of the staff, which proves I wasn’t sick enough to be there. To me, at least. Having my freedom removed was killing me; I’d dream of being at home and cry at night when Carla and Victoria were asleep. I hated showing any form of weakness – the other patients called me mum – and I felt I needed to be strong for everybody else. They seem to be suffering far more than I was.

The psychiatric staff were struggling with my diagnosis. When I was admitted, it was with the belief that I had schizophrenia. I had been hearing voices and had become increasingly paranoid, suspicious of everyone and convinced that they could hear all my thoughts. I’d turn photographs around because I believed they could see me, and dressed under the covers in case there were hidden cameras in my bedroom. At the time, those thoughts seemed perfectly rational, and I’ve never spoken of those delusions before. I’ve been ashamed of them; they’re embarassing.

However, I was believed to be “too rational” to have schizophrenia, and too able to control my temper when I was in company. In fact, by the time I left PL I had been given an entirely clean bill of mental health; I was sane. Nothing wrong with me but the fact that I was fourteen and shy.

Most days were pretty quiet in PL; nothing like mental health units in films. There was the occasional outburst or brief spell of violence, but most of us were too drugged to kick up a fuss. There was only one violent patient – Chris – a tall, wide-shouldered, acne-ridden nose-picking guy with a tendancy to stare at my tits and shout “FUCK!” whenever he thought he could get away with it. He smoked in the courtyard when staff allowed him to, and once I passed him in the hallway. He grabbed my chest and laughed. I never said anything, but refused to sit near him in therapy. Chris would wander into the girl’s rooms, but staff soon shooed him out. I don’t think he’d have done anything; despite his obvious problems he didn’t seem like a rapist. Heck, maybe I should have mentioned it. I just didn’t think anyone would care. One thing I learned in life is that nobody believes crazy teenage girls.

Despite feeling more comfortable being in PL than I did the first time around, I still contested my need to stay there. Needing control has always been my biggest coping mechanism, and you have no control in a mental illness unit. You’re watched; eating, showering, when you’re sitting in front of the TV. You’re forced to play childish games to ‘build trust’ and swallow the pills they give you. If a member of staff says jump, you ask “how high?”, because these people, these so-called professionals, have complete control over your life. We had to sit through a talk on safe sex and, god forbid, how babies were made. Carla managed a sardonic laugh at this. Having been abused by her father since she was six months old, she didn’t feel she needed the biological side of sex explaining to her. I was still a virgin (that would change the next year) but I knew how babies were made, and I didn’t need to be sitting in a cold room, under stark flourescent lights, putting a condom on a banana. I wasn’t a child. If fourteen year olds know anything, they know how babies are made. It’s all they think about, after all.

Then again, Chris sometimes masturbated in the day room, so perhaps it was required listening for some of us.

50 Day Song Challenge – Your Favourite Single

One of the clearest memories from my childhood involves a Sega Megadrive, strawberry jelly, and Aztec Camera.

I find it difficult to describe myself at the best of times, but explaining the way I was as a child is an almost impossible task. I was very innocent and prone to fantasies of fairies and ghosts, and although I was academically adept in all subjects but maths and art, I was quite backwards socially.Given to tears at the slightest provocation, prone to sudden apocalyptic outbursts in Safeway, I was a cross between a nightmare child and the ideal little girl who pushes prams around the garden, giggles with teddy bears and has tea parties with real tiny china cups.

I hated the colour pink because it made me too ‘girly’ and I refused to be referred to as a girl, preferring to be called a ‘tomboy’. However, out of sight of the gang of boys I’d infiltrated in reception class, I’d nurse my Tiny Tears doll, have long conversations with my imaginary friends and skip. My favoured books were by Enid Blyton, but I loved The Beano just as much as I wanted to visit Malory Towers. Football posed no threat to me, and I excelled at rugby later on in primary school, but I also indulged in making daisy chains at the back of the school field, wearing them as bracelets and allowing myself to feel pretty.

Most of my childhood was spent in a strange fantasy world. I was aware of what was going on around me and could interact happily, yet I never quite felt right. I always felt one step behind, and often realised I didn’t understand what was going on at all, so I’d retreat in to myself and construct stories. Some I based around the people I knew: my mother, schoolteachers, the postman. Other centred on me and my place in the world. For such a small person, I always wanted to analyse why I felt the way I did about things. I wanted to know why I like the smell of roses but not of thyme, or why ghosts frightened me more than strangers. I constantly questioned everything, never satisfied with the answers.

I liked to imagine I was somebody else, watching my life from the outside. I would watch cartoons and daydream about being in that world behind the TV screen. I never liked to spend too much time alone with myself without a fantasy to hide in.

Naturally, I begged my mother to get a Sega Megadrive when I saw an advert on television. We already had an Amiga (on which I’d become quite adept at Monkey Island and spent hours amusing myself making snowflakes with a brilliant little Spirograph programme) but after one glimpse of the controller pad (instead of a joystick!) and Sonic The Hedgehog, that was it. I wouldn’t leave her alone, and vowed to plague her until she caved.

On the day the fabled Megadrive was bought,  I crowded around the television while my brother set it up. I was only allowed an hour a day on it, but I made the most of that hour. Over time I built up a collection of games: Super Hang-On, Lemmings, Worms, Puggsy, Ecco The Dolphin… but my favourite was Sonic The Hedgehog. I couldn’t get enough of it.

One night, my sister was keeping an eye on me. Her boyfriend (who I liked immensely since he let me break the rules on a regular basis by allowing me sweets after tea) was taking it in turns with me on the console as we tried to beat Marble Hill Zone. I was wearing my Walkman (actually a hand-down from my sister), working my way through my brother’s tape collection.

The one song which stood out for me was Somewhere In My Heart by Aztec Camera. Up until that moment, I’d never heard a song which I had the urge to play over and over until the tape wore out. It created a perfect moment: a song I instantly loved, people who cared about me, and the best console ever.

I completed Marble Hill Zone first, by the way.