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  • Claire Freeman

A DAY AT THE ASYLUM


Hillmorton Hospital.... Mental Asylum

I don’t have a mental health condition, yet I’ve been in hospital for actions I’ve inflicted upon myself. I have no idea what drives me to make many of the decisions I have, but I know I can be a danger to myself. I strive to maintain an air of calm, class and kindness yet inside my head, I’m a cauldron of rage, grief and despair.


I had a reprieve from that overflowing dangerous and self-destructive poison coursing around my body after being forced to sleep and reflect on life from a botched neck surgery. My conclusion was that I was lucky to be alive and I would try to find answers to the questions that haunt me.


Over the next few years I slowly took on more tasks, more causes and I strived to make the world a better place. A kinder one. I’m not perfect obviously, but I tried in the best way I knew how; to utilise my creative skills to impregnate that kindness amongst people. Using a candyfloss photo of the product – me – I managed to share my message of hope, of grief, of love, of traveling, of fighting, of living with trauma and suicidal ideation, of hope.


This year, my father had a catastrophic stroke, I said goodbye a few times after being told he would pass away but like his daughter, his body never gave up despite the odds. It was sickening seeing him in hospital, helpless, trapped in a body and unable to communicate at first. Family thought ‘it might be best to let him go… would he want to live like this?’. My answer was a steadfast no, he has to keep fighting. In hindsight, that no was also meant for a young 17 year old me, who tried giving up but lived on.


Life wasn’t all bad either, friends were made, lovers drizzled over me from time to time, learning from my studies and travelling. It wasn’t easy, but sometimes it was worth it.


Then the storm of 2019 hit. Category five and I tumbled back into the darkness. This time was different. I had seen what life could offer and I didn’t want to give up, not without a fight. Despite declaring my stance on how disabled people are viewed and treated within society, I found myself at my GP’s office asking for anti-depressants and a hip x-ray from where I had fallen due to a new found dependency on opioids that limited strength and movement. She inquired about suicidal thoughts, I was honest and said it had crossed my mind.


That night I went home with my friend from Germany with a special fetish for girls like me and we chatted the night away. The next morning, I wanted to show him Akaroa and maybe go for a kayak, but a call from the psych emergency team put a stop to that plan. Instead we drove into Hillmorton hospital for a ‘chat’.


Being back seemed so wrong. I had failed myself. This should never have been an outcome, I had assumed I was ‘fixed’ despite never addressing the guilt still rattling around my head. I had dressed like a man due to an idea for Instagram I had with my German friend. I wanted to demystify his fetish and challenge people who felt it was ‘wrong’ to ‘desire’ disabled people. I had come to the conclusion perhaps it was our own self-perception that drove that rhetoric. I knew of people with the fetish who hated themselves and I wanted them to feel ok, because unlike other attractions such as liking red heads, liking someone with a disability seemed ‘creepy’ when perhaps it wasn’t always the case.


Back to Hillmorton. I received 5 star service. A wonderful team showered me with support. I was even offered respite care, although the new respite facility wasn’t wheelchair friendly. How can that be in this day and age the team said! … welcome to my daily reality I replied. Luckily, there was a back up option if needed once ‘carer’ issues were sorted.


The only action that had me scratching my head was about 5 minutes into the interview with the psychiatrist, he asked if I was recording the conversation. I replied I was. When asked why it was a problem, he said: “I have to be really careful.. I must be honest and say I do (feel uncomfortable). Taking the advice we’ve been given previously, the difficulty with recording is where that disseminates out to and things … so I’d like you to stop. I then stopped and turned off my phone to appease him and make him feel more comfortable – the irony!


Unfortunately for him, we had a wonderful, helpful discussion. He was brilliant and and I came away feeling much better… and extremely confused! To be given such great treatment yet I hadn’t even attempted suicide, I was flabbergasted. And then the little Claire questions popped into my head. Why? Was it because of the fuss I had made that had been seen in the media? Was the system finally healing? I came away with more questions than answers. I was exceptionally happy with my experience and wondered if everyone had this experience, shouldn’t our suicide rates be falling? A naïve thought I know.


I saw Dr L.C who had instructed me that assisted suicide was a good idea for someone with my disability. We locked eyes, his like a scared rabbit, confused, mine, bewildered, sick, angry and calm as I told myself he's simply a product of the system, his intention, I don't think, was to harm me. He honestly thought i'd be happier getting plugged up with worms six feet under.


My fetishist friend appeared annoyed the day had been ruined and rightly so. Admittedly, I felt annoyed that he didn’t seem to care about how what had just happened had impacted me. I was humiliated I was back to square one. I was embarrassed to be there, I felt like a failure and my friends rhetoric didn’t help. I got home, munched on some quetiapine from the psychiatrist and went to bed.


The next day, I awoke from a wonderful slumber feeling energised until the messages came through stating my dad wanted to die and was so angry he didn’t have that option. Knowing I might have played a role in taking that away from him was a kick in the guts. I knew how he was feeling, that trapped feeling, the fear of how much function will return, the tiredness from a lack of sleep in hospital where there was always a chorus of beeps honking away even at night.


In a hasty and potentially stupid move, I offered to ‘help him’ if he needed it and we would ‘do it together’. I just wanted to help as it sickened me to think I had trapped him into his current position.


So today I sit here with a pile of books needing to be read for my PhD, hundreds of messages to reply to from social media and an uneasy feeling in my gut. For someone who gets told they are so smart, I feel I just keep failing. I’m not sure how to deal with the heartache of losing my partner, and possibly my dad. I want to ‘keep calm and carry on’.. and I hope I do. But somehow diving into my PhD seems hollow compared to the potential tsunami that awaits.


Please let me be strong enough to get through this. Without caving into the familiar arms of my former partner who holds my house in the palm of his hand, dripping in lies and deception. But more than that, the mild itch of a promised sleep as I dream of sleeping in a bed of snow creeping over New Zealand. I tell others to hold on, I need to seriously take some of my own advice.

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