Derren Brown vs the Coronavirus: my paranoid pandemic #4

This is the fourth in a series of diaries written at the beginning of the pandemic, by the inspiring and amazing @miserysquid . We’ll be releasing a new diary entry from @miserysquid, every morning this week.

You can find @miserysquid’s first, second and third diary entries here.

Trigger Warning: self-harm, suicidal ideation, hypomania, psychosis, paranoia, ECT, sterilization.

Thursday 26TH March -5:14PM

I sat in the garden, in the sun this afternoon. It’s so warm and bright. I’m knitting a scarf in a vivid green colour that exactly and pleasingly matches the colour of the grass. When I bought a bulk load of wool a few weeks ago- in the sneaking begins of hypomanic enthusiasm, not yet noticing the incline- I thought it would take me a year to make this scarf, but I’m nearly a third of the way through already. I should really have noticed this one coming. I was spending money on unnecessary things, magpie internet browsing late at night, flitting between browser tabs, busy Ebay watchlists. I remember very clearly, I got the wool home and cast it onto the knitting needles that evening, then after a couple of rows of knitting, started drawing instead. The cheerful green bundles of yarn sat on my bedroom floor for a few days, whilst I still had keen intentions for them, I stepped over them distractedly. After a week I shoved them to the back of my cupboard, next to the origami kits and puppet making tools, musical instruments and paints,puzzles and photography equipment. I dug the knitting out as soon as they closed the schools, feeling very grateful for that impulsive brose in the sewing supplies shop weeks before.

My Grandma taught me to knit with a funny little saying about a rabbit running around a hole, through, under and out. She was bipolar too, in the days when they gave ECT with a little wooden stick to bite down on, instead of an anaesthetic. It was the only thing she felt really helped her; she requested it every time she was ill until her body was too frail to tolerate it. Before she got dementia, her care-coordinator would visit her care home with student mental health nurses to chat with her about the care she received in her teens. She had four children and a manic post-partum after each, after the youngest was born, she was sterilized on the psychiatrists advice.

Today, with the increased quetiapine kicking in, knitting is just about manageable. It’s impossible to knit in an agitated way, there’s a soothing rhythm to it. You have to concentrate, just enough to keep your hands occupied but not so much that concentrating is irritating. After an hour in the sun, I can almost feel the freckles blooming on my pale arms. The warmth is calming, but I’m conscious every few minutes of the background noises, a lawn mower, a car going past. They feel out of proportion and too loud -I’m worried they might be messages I’m missing. I can hear a little bird chirping from the next-door neighbour’s garden and I cheekily imagine that Derren Brown is ducked down behind the wall, with one of those colourful child’s bird toys that you blow through to make the cheep, cheep, cheep sound. This amuses me. I imagine him in his tailored black suit, a luxurious silk handkerchief tucked in the top pocket, hiding behind my garden wall. As he plays a merry little tune, he jumps comically from foot to foot, and the children’s toy between the palms of his hands, becomes a high-pitched silver penny whistle that plays a jaunty tune. The Pandemic Pied Piper. I smile at that, in my head, and notice that this time I was just imagining it, it wasn’t a code. Then suddenly I’m not quite sure. I worry about making Derren Brown cross if I make fun of him. I grit my teeth and concentrate on my knitting and the hot yellow warmth of the sunshine of my skin, but I can’t concentrate and very soon I go back inside. 

Thursday 26th March –  9:38PM

This evening at 8pm we clapped for the NHS staff- nurse, doctors, health care assistants, cleaners, porters and cooks, for all the carers up and down the country. We clapped to tell them how much we love them and that we’re thinking of them and we appreciate what they’re doing. My housemate and I were sat watching Pride and Prejudice again, stretched out on each sofa. We nearly missed it, but at 19:54 I suddenly jumped up and hovered hopefully by the open window, waiting to see if anything would happen. I wasn’t convinced people would want to get involved. In a city, no one talks to each other if they can help it, we are inhibited and restrained; I don’t think they’ll be rousing singing from balconies in Bristol.

On Saturday, I walked past a strange poster sellotaped to a lamppost on White Ladies Road that had ‘NHS Applause 26th 8PM’ in big felt tip pen.  I had no idea what it meant and stopped to think about whether it was a code for me. I decided it must be something to do with the virus, so walked a couple of steps on, then went back and took a photo on my phone, just in case. Yesterday my housemate came into the living room clutching her laptop and read out an enthusiastic twitter post about the clapping and suddenly the poster I’d seen, made much more sense. At the moment, in real life, there are actually strange scrawled messages left in public places, instructioning people who have never met, to do something specific, at a set time later that week. In writing this, I’m beginning to understand why I’m currently so confused all the time.

We slide up the huge heavy window in the living room, stiff after being closed all winter. I sit on one side of the windowsill and my housemate sits the other side and we peer out across the road, at the houses opposite, further up the street. I scan the horizon for a sign, the rest of the city falling away into the dark, a tiny twinkling blanket. Most of the houses seem empty, but I notice a silhouette of a person moving three houses down on the opposite side of the road. Suddenly I make out another person further down the street opening their bedroom windows. Over the next few minutes, numerous front doors open and people appear, coming out to stand in their front gardens. They gather in doorways and hang out of windows. Then I hear the clapping start in the distance, it rolls up Cotham Hill, swelling across the city, clapping and cheering, from the streets below. The sound gets louder, whooping and shouting and I start to clap my hands hard, eager, elated, clapping. Someone across the road starts banging a pan, we clap and clap an insane grin plastered across my face, ‘instruments!’ I shout suddenly to my housemate, and run to my bedroom, grab the children’s musical instrument set I left discarded on the floor yesterday, and run, full pelt through the flat to get back to the window, before it stops. I slide back up onto the windowsill and leaning out, start banging a children’s tambourine with a unicorn painted on it, against the palm of my hand. Bang it and rattle it, I whoop and hear someone else whoop back, I shout, and other people shout and still the clapping continues. Every so often I’m making so much noise, I have to stop and tilt my head to listen and check that it’s real, my eyes fill with tears and I look across at my housemate who grins wide eyed and delighted. My housemate is clapping, I am clapping, we are all clapping together. A man’s voice shouts loudly, THANK YOU across the applause and a woman shouts, WE LOVE YOU and a firework goes off in the distance, a red chemical explosion in the sky. I cheer wide-, this is real, this is all real, I’m not imagining it. I hope they hear us at the hospital, I hope all the carers hear us and know we’re sending them love and gratitude. We’re all together, all together again, for a short blissful time, I’m not alone in my head, everything is in balance and makes sense. Then, as suddenly as it starts, it peters out. Ripples continue on in the distance for a while, smatterings here and there, then it comes to a halt and people start to go back inside. I look at my watch, it’s 20:07. I give my tambourine one last lengthy rattle and then sit for a while, just smiling to myself, full of feelings, clutching the tambourine in my lap. Suddenly a friendly booming voice shouts across the street, ‘BYE NEIGHBOURS’ I grab the side of the window to steady myself and lean out and shout, ‘BYE NEIGHBOURS’ at the top of my voice, suddenly feel inhibited that my housemate is behind and might not have heard the man shout first, not reasling I was shouting I turn to my housemate ‘they’re shouting too, they shouted too’, I say hurridly, hoping that she heard them and didn’t think I was shouting to myself. She laughs at me smiling and I turn back to the window ‘SLEEP TIGHT EVERYONE’ I shout into the night wishing warmth and hope and joy out into the air. The last time I stood in the street shouting and whistling codes made of claps and jumps and taps and clicks in the middle of the night, the neighbours called the police, but tonight, either I’m not mad or everyone is mad, or no one is mad. We are all shouting. Desperate and hopeful and grateful, clapping together into the darkness.

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