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You don’t want to come across ungrateful, but it wasn’t meant to go like this. If you hadn’t given her that key, she wouldn’t have let herself in and she’d never have found you. It started right: overdose, collapse, loss of consciousness. Only then she walks in and sees you under the table in a pool of your own piss.
She calls for help, then the cavalry arrives to breathe life into the dead thing that was you. They blue light you to hospital, pump death out of you and force life in through tubes like plastic worms. One of the nurses is pissed off, moaning about how selfish you are, a waste of their precious resources. You’re too sick to give a damn, so you don’t say that if anyone has the right to be pissed off it’s you. When you wake he’s gone and there’s a Nigerian nurse who smiles and says you remind her of her daughter, says you have to look after yourself because you’re a beautiful person. Her words prick you in the eyes.
The next day the psychiatric team want to talk. They make notes on their clipboards as they ask why you did it, and were you gonna do it again? Of course it was a mistake, a moment of madness. You tell them what they want to hear, make it convincing so they leave you alone.
They move you to a ward with geriatrics who are trying not to die. You doubt they notice the irony. The woman in the bed opposite has hair the colour of clouds. She calls you dearie and offers you biscuits. Your chest tightens when a doctor in his twenties talks to her too slow and loud and makes her falter over simple maths.
They get an agency nurse to guard you. She follows you to the bathroom in case you try to choke yourself on loo roll or shatter your reflection and slit your throat with the shards. She’s Nigerian too, only she doesn’t smile or talk to you. She talks about you to the nurses and then watches the clock until her replacement arrives.
You convince the doctors that you can’t believe what you’ve done. You say you realise you have so much to live for. They’re glad you can see that now. They release you into the care of your family who make you promise it will never happen again. You promise, cry and beg to go back to your place. After a few weeks of following you about the house they let you.
You’ve worked it all out, refined your plan, but this time you call to say goodbye. The problem is you’re not dead by the time they arrive. The police break through your furniture barricade and you end up back on life support. This time no one trusts you, you’re a serial offender who needs to be locked up. When you’re mobile they transport you to a secure unit in a van with a cage in the back; makes you think of wild animals. The driver says ‘For the disturbed ones. Safer to put them in there.’ God knows who you’ll meet on the ward. Your nails cut into your palms.
Secure ward? There’s a misnomer if you ever heard one. They won’t let you lock your door, but through the window you can hear ranting and swearing from the men’s ward and there’s a woman roaming around with a plastic bag on her head. You stay awake all night and refuse to come out of your room to eat the next day. You talk yourself out of there, but you have to commit to a therapy programme. Now you’re to sit in a room each week. You don’t say you’d rather be dead.
There’s a long wait for talking therapies on the NHS, too long to be a lifeline. Your mother insists on private sessions. She’ll pay; she’ll even drive you there. In the first session you’re stingy with your words. The therapist sits opposite you and stares with this faint smile until you give in and speak. When you pause she wants to know why you don’t share your feelings with your friends. You say ‘Because no one cares.’
You describe the relief as blackness overwhelmed you. You say it was the most wonderful feeling and you can’t stop thinking what if you’d been left to die. You tell her you know she thinks you’re making a fuss when there’s nothing wrong with you. But she says ‘you tried to kill yourself twice, there’s evidently something wrong. It’s really important that we get to the bottom of what’s making you feel this way so you can begin to enjoy life.’ You just cry.
The next time you see her you say you feel like an alien. You can’t read other people without a map and there is no map. You say you have these constant negative thoughts, like missiles exploding into you: everything you do is wrong and you’ll never change. You say you’re blamed for every argument, but never know what you’ve done.
You tell her you think about punching through a window and crave the comfort of ITU where it feels like you’re floating outside time. There’s no hope for you, your life is over, you say. She says you’re in immense pain, but it will get better and she’s there to help. You tell her you don’t want her help and walk out. She doesn’t follow you and you wonder whether she thinks you’re going to die, wonder if she cares.
But the next week you go back. You tell her you hate your mother because she kept you alive just so she wouldn’t feel bad. You say your mother isn’t speaking to you because you broke your promise and tried to kill yourself again.
She hands you a box of tissues and says ‘And how does that make you feel?’
Aisha Phoenix is British, Vincentian, Grenadian. She writes short stories and poetry and is working on her first novel. Aisha is awaiting her viva for her PhD in Sociology at Goldsmiths and is doing an MA in Creative Writing at Birkbeck. She has a post-graduate diploma in newspaper journalism and has worked as a journalist.