I started speaking French on the ward with an 83-year-old woman, who I'll call Ariadne. "Je voudrais aller fumer dans ma chambre, parce que je n'aime pas l'hopital," I’d say as flamboyantly as possible. "Bien!" She’d cackle, as the nurses looked nervously on.
"Jenny" discharged herself the day after the article I wrote about her was published. She’s safe and well. My old friend "Raf," another lifer, is currently on the adjourning ward. We coordinated our leave yesterday, and walked through nearby Farnborough Park, past the millionaires’ exquisite homes, lit up in Christmas lights. My parents are wealthy, but this is really another level financially. "I wouldn't know what to do with a house that big," I mused, lighting a cigarette. "I only really know what it's like to just have... a room."
"I hear you brother," he said.
"Still, it's nice to look at them," I said.
There’s a board on Norman Ward with the likes and dislikes of all the staff. The ward psychiatrist's favorite film is The Shawshank Redemption; his favorite book is Catch 22. Yesterday, when he informed me that discharge would be Wednesday, he told me I'd be back on the depot if I ever came back.
Raf called me about 10 minutes ago. Its December 2, five minutes to midnight, when the TV and lights will be switched off, and we'll all be sent to bed. We're planning to walk through Farnborough Park again tomorrow. He's fronting me a coffee. I don't get paid until Monday. I'm sitting with "Will," a ground maintenance team leader, who tends to the upkeep of communal and public gardens. He was admitted two days ago after an assessment by the police. He was arrested for ABH for head-butting his wife. On the verge of tears and stress-induced hallucination, he was given a Lorazepam by the duty doctor. Today, still a little unstable, he recounted an impressive story about a fight he had with six Yardies in Brixton in defense of his wife. "I told each one what I’d do to them before I did it, my wife was in hysterics as I battered them!"
Will has a Second Dan black belt in Take Kwon Do. A bipolar patient called "Stephen," 65 but looking 10 years younger, is bringing us coffee from a stash in his room. Ariadne is asking what my iPod does in French. Lights out. The battle will continue tomorrow. Inside a mental institution, everybody fights their own private war.
There was a 19-year-old kid on the ward last week. Tall, well-built, facially scarred. He went to the school where my Mum taught German. I was chatting to Stephen about my fourth novel, and how it would terrify a generation.
"Difficult to write books," he said.
"I've written more than one, bro,” I said.
"Self-published," I replied.
"Doesn't count," he sneered.
"Some people want to be famous writers, some just want to write." I showed him the Amazon page for SMOKING IS COOL, and the six five-star reviews. It seemed to satisfy him. Talk turned to drugs.
"I used to be a crack and heroin addict, but I'm eight months clean. All I do is weed now, and only occasionally."
"I do Crystal Meth," he said.
"How long does the high last? I've never done it."
"Wow," I said. "Where do you get it?"
"Dark Web, they mail it in an envelope."
"Is this your first admission?" I asked.
"Nah, man. I've been on all the wards here, and the Tarn.”
"I've been on the Tarn," I said, "During the 2012 London Olympics. Craziest month of my life."
"My Mum died in March," he said. "The psychiatrist wouldn't let me out for the funeral. You ever self-harm?"
"Superficially, just to see the blood, but not for years," I said rolling up my sleeves to present my scars. He rolled up his. His arms were blistered with savage welts.
"When did you start?"
"When my Mum died. Are you sectioned?"
"Nah, voluntary, but they did bring me in the back of a police van."
"Me neither. I've got some Meth in my room, gonna discharge myself tonight."
In my 15 years as a psychiatric patient, I've never seen the duty doctor discharge anyone at night. The kid had to wait until the next morning. "Good luck to you," I said, knowing the kid was in for a world of pain, known to Mental Health professionals and the police, hooked on Meth. He smiled grimly. "You too," and walked away out the door, looking ancient and dangerous, back into the savagery of his addict existence. All he really needed was love, but when you get sectioned (unlike when you go to prison) everybody you love walks away.
Back from 90 minutes off the ward. Logged into Costa WiFi to aimlessly tweet my book. When you have something to sell, Twitter is like fishing. I caught a big one about a month ago. Stanley Kubrick's daughter, Vivien purchased a Kindle copy, the last registered purchase. The two quid from the sale is sitting in my bank account. Before I perma-blocked him, Todd Michael Schultz, Bret Easton Ellis' long-term partner called it "unreadable." They said the same thing about Naked Lunch and Ulysses, of course.
Being a smoker on a smoke-free acute ward requires an aptitude for deception. We're not legally allowed cigarettes or lighters (both of which I slip into my winter gloves when I'm searched at the door). Stephen gave me five fags. We keep our lighters in our socks, distract the nurses as we pass loose cigarettes to one another. Will told me last night that back in '96, the year Trainspotting became a global phenomenon (and made Irvine Welsh, who I’m blocking on Twitter, a very wealthy man) he supported Tiesto at Rave in the Cave in Ibiza. He was barely 19, living the rock star dream. "The birds, mate, I tell ya," he laughed, "literally begged for it!" I told him to stay positive, in order to maintain his sanity he had to maintain his aggression. "There are two types of patient," I told him, "those that can't achieve, and those that don't conform. You have to work out which one you are."
There’s been little communication between the Mental Health teams responsible for my care. It’s almost unheard of for service users in the Tarn Secure Unit to be discharged back to the community. The psychiatrist who refused the Meth kid the right to go to his mother's funeral bought a copy of SMOKING IS COOL and excitedly told me I was Good Will Hunting, made real. A year later, languishing in the ward Raf is on, the psychiatrist angrily told me he was interested in me, not my book. When I was in the Tarn though, with the murderers, psychopaths and rapists, my Dad gave me Dispatches, Michael Herr's savage Vietnam memoir to read. It made me able to remember where I was.
"Jimmy," a 25-year-old who’s been off crack and heroin for five weeks is meditating in his room. He does this four or five times a day. His Dad gave him a chessboard and The Art of Attack in Chess by V. Vukovic, and he methodically plays out the listed moves on his board, losing somehow to the staff nurses he occasionally plays. He didn't start doing drugs until he was 18. First weed, then, when studying Digital Film Production at Gloustershire University, cocaine, until he dropped out and started smoking crack and injecting heroin which he bought from vagrants in Orpington. He is polite, shy, and sheepishly ashamed of his drug use. I like him, and every day slip him some fags.
A word of advice for any new admissions to a psychiatric ward: never talk to the ones in ward pajamas. A young man I’ll call "Monster" is probably a hebephrenic schizoid, and irretrievably lost. He spent his first days on the ward attempting to attack any of the girls, before collapsing into a medicated, gibbering wreck. As Clarice Starling puts it in The Silence of the Lambs, "Usually they go into terminal withdrawal and personality disintegration." This is happening to Monster as I write these words, knowing that he is at least partially responsible for his mental agony.
Will and I just watched the X Factor final. Stephen gave me some fags, and I slipped some to Will. Jimmy’s meditating in his room. What’s sometimes overlooked by anti-psychiatrists are the moments of camaraderie and even joy you will sometimes find on an acute ward. Will told me he really didn't like the person he used to be. "I'm an empty vessel, in a way," he said. "I don't want to come back here, I want to leave a better man." Just checked on Jimmy, gave him two fags hidden behind The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, a book I have no further use for.
Two days before discharge. In exchange for cigarettes, I’ve hooked onto Jimmy's hotspot to get online. He has a diagnosis of "Anxiety and Depression" and his medication: Quetiapine, Venlafaxine, Pregabin, and, until yesterday, Mirtazapine.
"Quite a vague diagnosis, isn't it," he noted. "I've snorted a shitload of Pregablin, my mate Sean was on it."
"Any good?" Jimmy asked. "Don't do it, but it's banging," I laughed. We agreed that cocaine was the best party drug, but crack and heroin were a lifestyle choice.
"People who will never achieve anything get to have their moments of joy," I said, remembering the addicts I used to know, as few brain cells as teeth.
Will was looking tired at lunch, conflicted, deep in thought as he sprinkled pepper onto his soggy penne pasta. "I'm a trained chef," he sighed, "I wouldn't feed this to my dog."
"A chef too?" I said, "Man of many talents! At least it's hot and free, though. Budget cuts. That's why there's no therapy here."
"I'm starting to understand this place a bit better now," he muttered, shaking his head when I offered him a cigarette. "Stay positive," I warned, "keep the energy up."
If you can trust my sincere efforts to present Norman Ward objectively, you can see that the majority of the patients I’ve described thus far are not "insane" as we would understand the term, but dealing primarily with situational crises and/or drug addiction. Of course psychiatric nursing is an attractive job for sociopaths. Jenny told me about her endless attacks by staff, even sending me her advocate notes via Messenger. She told me that even in recovery from her six-story suicide leap, when she could barely urinate on her own, she was restrained in a state of undress by male staff, and verbally abused. One of the nurses she has accused is the only one who lied about her likes and dislikes on the board by the clinic room.
"Ice skating, tennis, travelling, cross country," it reads, and when I pressed her on this, she giggled and said "We don't always tell the truth here!" Jenny said that after an injection, a nurse told her nobody loved her, and boasted about her own charmed life as Jenny was sinking into the unconscious. On a board by the door there is a Stonewall caption: I WILL NEVER BE A BYSTANDER TO BULLYING AND TEASING LANGUAGE. IF I HEAR IT I WILL CALL IT OUT AND IF I CAN I WILL STOP IT.
The savage irony need not be underlined.
"Staff grow to hate the people they're taking care of," wrote an anonymous psychiatric nurse, "and eventually have no problem beating the shit out of someone for wanting a second glass of water or wanting to go outside when the staff didn't feel like going with them."
One of the staff nurses who attacked Jenny just tried to force me into my room to search for cigarettes. "Come on Andrew! Let's go! You've been smoking in your room! Now!" I tried to contain my rage.
"Come on! Now!"
"No comment," I said, and pushed play on my iPod. “Paint it Black” drowned him out through my earphones. Don't be fooled by the relatively benign incidents I’ve recounted so far: In previous admissions (no doubt falsely described in my endless, confidential psychiatric file) I’ve been savagely assaulted by nurses in the past. Criminal convictions for psychiatric abuses are notoriously difficult to win. As I ignored the nurses’ "important mission" to rid the ward of cigarettes, I gave my friend (and former service user) "Max" a call on the payphone. He’d commented on Jenny's Facebook post about her attackers. It so happened Max had been on the ward at the time of the incident. “She was being a little cunt at the time, to be fair," he told me on the phone, "but it was still illegal."
Ten minutes later. I've just called John Alex Wood, a Scientologist. I gave him three names. Two nurses who assaulted Jenny, and one who assaulted me in a near-death attack in 2012, just before my admission to the Tarn. My room is locked, the staff are ignoring me as I attempt to get them to let me in to get my coat. I don't know if they'll kill me tonight, I need to get out of here.
My room is still not open. Will is writing an email complaint to Oxleas. "There's not a decent one amongst any of these fucking nurses," he says. "If they come for me, please back me up."
"Course mate," He says, smiling grimly back at me.
They've put on medical gloves. "We need to search you, Andrew, come into the room," the male nurse says, backed by four more nurses. The ward psychiatrist stepped out of his office. I'm panicking. "Come on, man, they're gonna strip search me!" He smiled. Psychiatrists are trained that when they start to find a bipolar patient funny, the patient is manic. "Have my fucking lighter!" I yell, retrieving it from my sock. "Come now, Andrew," the male nurse soothes. I pull up my tracksuit bottoms, take off my shoes, empty my pockets. I've been strip-searched before.
Several hours later. I made the 19.05 to Victoria with seconds to spare. I've absconded from the ward and I'm heading into the city. My iPod and earphones have at least three good hours on them. I fruitlessly searched for the Internet cafe in Bromley North but it had closed down, was now a gourmet cheese shop. My plan? Head to the all-night Internet cafe in Leicester Square.
Will called an hour ago. "Can't tell you where I am, bro, but I'm not coming back tonight."
"I was just checking you was okay," he said.
"Do you see now?" I asked.
"Savage mate, don't worry, I'm filming the cunts now, you se my post on Facebook?"
"No data, man, but keep a record. Psychiatry is Nazism, this is why my career has been suppressed by the media, God knows it's not cause I'm talentless. Society can't handle this kind of information."
"What's your plan, then?" He asked.
"Fuck it," I smiled, "I can melt into the shadows, I've got 25 quid, get another 50 on Wednesday. I'll try and make it into London and then, fuck knows, we'll see."
"Good luck, Andrew," he said.
—Follow Andrew Moody on Twitter: @VoguishFiction