I awake each morning in a confused state, not knowing where I am. In the first moments my dreams flitter between the unconscious and conscious and then have gone, out of reach, I am only certain that I never dream about being here. I reach behind my head and pull the curtains. The light does not flood but rather seeps into the room; that northern European muted pale summer grey. It is both comforting and subduing.
The knowledge and pain of reality are still present but apart from me, though I can see it waiting, slung over a chair like my clothes, to be adorned, ready to face the day. At the moment my thoughts are gossamer thin, I can feel everything and nothing. My body rises from the bed and I can shower and dress but only as I slowly become more alert, will the knowledge become real and tangible.
The shower is indisputable. There Is no cold or hot water here. Nor are there any controls. The sensor knows more than I do when I am there and when I am not. I am enveloped in warm water that requires no thought or feeling. It simply is. The shower of mindlessness. I am tempted to stand under the water for hours, but by its very conformity to time, the shower too is rule bound, and I must leave.
What to wear? It matters too much yet matters not. The temperature is the same inside and out, clothes are simply my protective shell and form an appropriate response to social norms; my age, the weather, the current trend. Sometimes I get it wrong, but mostly not.
I fear the chemistry of medication. I would rather leave my body to its natural rhythms; to feel pain, rather than to mask it, but this is not an option. The extent to which I have resisted has been slowly broken down. Twice a day I stand obediently at the stable door of the dispensary, ready to be sedated and normalised. I would prefer to accept unquestionably the huge variety of coloured tablets which have been prescribed but I have to become focussed; I have noted that in their haste, the staff are not always correct. I have become an unwilling expert. My job in real life does not allow for error. I feel the tingle of frustration, but I smile and smile and conform.
Breakfast is by far the easiest meal of the day, I have the energy to battle the voice that resists. Yet even so, I have to score a victory. I pour less than the prescribed milk and cereal into my bowl, yet I eat the additional banana. I fear loss of control, the one balances the other. My fellow diners this morning are polite yet reserved, conversation is limited to the necessary. I find enough room in my head for the milk and cereal, the toast and peanut butter, the fruit juice and family-sized banana. I feel sated and bloated. How can I consume these extra calories when I am not allowed to even stand let alone move for a whole 9 hours in each day?
After each meal is a rest period of two hours when no type of exercise is permitted, including standing up. This is policed carefully by the ever watchful staff. Again, the tingle of frustration, sharper and more focussed this time. The toilets are in lock-down until the end of rest period. Forgetting to use them before a meal results in either having to hold on to the discomfort or suffer the consequence of being scrutinised. Dignity dictates that It’s usually better to adopt the former.
There is no option for solitude. I am checked up on every 15 minutes, including all through the night when a torch is shone onto my face. I am not sure why this is unless it is simply to check I am still alive. Between rest periods, I am allowed two 10 minute walks out, but am shackled by the presence of a chaperone. I long to have space alone in the open air. I dream of walking, steadily, one foot in front of the other, unbound by time, until I reach the top of a mountain and can gain the perspective I am craving. Instead I walk around the hospital grounds and make conversation with a nurse. I am lucky that small talk comes easily, it’s part of my armoury, but I would still rather have my own company, just for a few precious minutes, even just to enjoy the stunning view of Oxford from the nearby park.
Back again, a call to arms comes all too quickly; yet another visit to the dining room, this time for a snack. The routine is monotonous yet soothing. Every meal is a battle. The rigidity of the rules of combat are clear and so there is no cause for misunderstanding. The only problem is that I do not know whose side I am supposed to be on.