It could be bleach, or some such disinfectant, it’s supposed to smell of cleanliness, but to me it triggers uncomfortable feelings of dying hope. Standing at the door, I have a feeling of stepping out of reality, into a strange place quite removed from the norm, where everyone seems to smile despite the obvious desperation that fills the whole atmosphere. I hesitate a little, telling myself I can still turn back, that I wont be judged if I do, but I’m suddenly interrupted by a warm soft voice,
“Sir, can I help?”
I stammer a little, my mind racing to come up with socially appropriate response in a situation like this. I’m kicking myself for not having pre-emptied this scenario,
“Yes… umm, I’m looking for the psychiatric ward, room 203.”
She doesn’t seem to notice my awkward behavior, which calms me down a little. She talks to me, always with a smile, she says down the hall, take a left and it’s the last door on my right. I can turn back and go home, I tell myself… but I’m already down the hall. Still, instead of turning left, I can turn back… but I’ve already turned left and the next door is labelled ‘203’. I hesitate, standing outside the door, do I knock? Do people knock in hospitals? It’s only a few seconds that I’m standing there wondering, but it feels like forever.
I knock, so softly you would think my hands are made of cotton, almost hoping that there would be no response so that I can turn back a say I went but she wasn’t there. The door opens, and our eyes meet. In that moment I flash back to two months ago, on that dance-floor, that exact moment when I knew my life had changed forever. She had seemed like she didn’t talk that much, and I was OK with it, because, well, I don’t talk, almost at all. I never have enough things to talk about.
That dance, the sparse conversation and the dimly lit club created a moment that spoke to me way more than words could ever do. So when she started talking about her childhood, the dreams she had, and the things she held dear, I was listening, for I was already sold. This was it. I’d respond with an eagerness to hear more, to keep her talking, praying that the night could go on forever. This was the longest I had managed to keep a conversation going. It was amazing how natural it felt…
“Are those for me?”
She interrupted my thoughts, her voice filled with excitement.
“Oh! umm, yes! Yes, here…”
I had brought flowers but buying them hadn’t been an easy task. The florist had eventually said these would do. She took the bouquet and asked me to come in. I didn’t hesitate, it was as if I had arrived, actually I had. Inside I took a moment to take in my surroundings. It was a small room, enough for a bed, two chairs and a small table. I sat on one of the chairs, while she busied herself with putting the flowers in water.
She seemed normal. When she had said she was bipolar that day we met, I just didn’t quite get it. I didn’t even know there was such a condition. After reading about it a bit, our first night made sense, the seemingly quiet girl on the dance-floor, who suddenly became bubbly and chatty. To me I had taken it was the drinks talking. It was a few days later, when I called her and she sounded depressed. She didn’t want to talk to me, and she told me she was going away for a while.
I had begged her to stay, she said she couldn’t. She had to go. I begged to go with her, she said I couldn’t. She had to deal with it on her own. So I had asked how far she was going, and she had said not far. It was this small flicker of hope that I had held to with my all.
“So I can come visit?”
It was a question, and a statement.
“Just tell me where and I’ll be there everyday”,
“The psychiatric ward”.
A pause, pregnant with confusion, unable to decipher whether she was being serious, and if she was, what exactly did she mean.
She prompted me,
“Umm, sorry… what?”
“Will you visit me in the psychiatric ward?”
“Why… why are you going to a psychiatric hospital?”
This was my second turning point in my life. The first was when I met her, on that dance-floor, that night. Learning about bipolar disorder led to an unexpected discovery. In the two months since meeting her, I was seeing a psychiatrist, and a week ago, it got confirmed; all my inability to engage in interactions that seem to come naturally to others, my excessive fear of being judged, always avoiding being the centre of attention, all that was because I had social anxiety disorder…
My therapist, who had driven me here, walked with me down the hall, asked me to knock instead of turning back, who was sitting in the only other chair in the room, had insisted I needed the exposure to all the social situations I feared, that he would be there with me all the time and help me through it. This was my therapy and it would help me get better, and while I was getting better, why not visit a friend and make them feel better too. So we sat there, with all the quiet moments interrupted by the therapist where he’d say things like,
“So ask her how her day was”…
Inspired by Will You Visit Me in the Psychiatric Ward? not that I could write half as good