“If you do not leave the ward, I will call the police and have you removed”

Derren Brown Vs the Corona Virus #8

Content warning: psychosis, infanticide, ligature, sexual violence, delusions, self-injury, suicide.

There has been another admission, another tearing from reality into confused nightmare delusions, madness and chaos and emergency services. I have given birth to a baby that is also a blanket, I clasp it to my chest defensively, wrapped softly in a loose ball, from a distance it might look like there is something tiny and new tucked inside. I have killed the baby, I call 999 and shout again and again my baby has died, my housemate takes the phone gently from me to tell the operator there is no baby. I stand in a yellow dressing gown and piss on the stairs laughing while we wait for the ambulance, I feel the piss run down my legs and on to the floor, but it isn’t real, it is a Derren Brown special effect. My thoughts are fragmented, confused, where is the baby? I run to the bathroom, catch my shoulder on the wooden door, it bangs against the wall, I stop suddenly frightened. Something here feels strange, the bathroom looks empty, but it isn’t. There has been a death that I can’t see, a suicide, I must tell the ambulance. Step over the invisible body to check for blood. The body is in an alternate universe, waiting to be rescued, to be resuscitated. Run back to the phone to call 999 again, pacing, a raw knot of terror, sick feeling, it’s too late, he’s already dead, my child or my partner, I can’t remember. I find the blanket baby, wrap it across my body in a sling, confused again.

The ambulance arrives, dark green uniforms, gloves. They check the bathroom for a body only I know is there. The ambulance is hot and noisy, it’s a simulation, we stop, and they roll open the door. I wave to the cameras and the imaginary crowds lining the street to see us pass. We are a circus on tour, we are on the run.

There is a detention. A winding corridor, glass windows around an office where spies type notes without looking up as I yell and bang on the door. I’m auditioning for an Avengers film, I’m writing the prequel to Captain Marvel in clicks and whistling code, they are filming live as I act it out. The plastic mattresses here are turquoise instead of dark blue. I don’t know what this means. I wait in an empty room for them to tell me whether the surrogate will give up her baby. I drag the mattress over to the window and climb up on it. I cannot see over the wooden fence. We’re isolated from the rest of the world, we’re annexing, starting a country. I am a weapon of mass destruction; they are keeping me contained. The world is burning, war rages, it’s the apocalypse, we’re separate here, at the end times. I invent a code that taps in to all the international spy networks. I invent a code to communicate with the other patients, a series of door slams, we’re all spies, each one from a different country, detained because we know too much. I spit on the floor as a refusal of terms. The ward turns into a spaceship, I shake and tremble as we take off to land on the moon, we are going to start again, colonising.

I’m allowed out, I scatter my things around the entrance, turn out the green plastic bag with the hospital name printed across the side and leave it tucked under my jeans. They’re going to cast a statue, first in plaster and then in stone, this is where I was raped, they have given me back the clothes I was wearing when I was assaulted, they are memorialising what was taken. I am home, I am screaming again, Derren Brown is torturing me, he has cut off my head and is making me dance like a puppet. I’m having another baby – Michelle Obama has lent us the White House to keep us safe while I give birth. An actor dressed as an ambulance paramedic wants to come into the living room, I refuse to give up the baby, which is also a cushion, I bounce it gently up and down, the ambulance paramedic takes my hand. Someone has died. I’m standing on the Clifton Suspension Bridge; they want me to pass them the baby but I can’t. I hold it over the edge, we’re living out three timelines all at once. It’s cold and I have no shoes on. They send the Derren Brown helicopter. I take off all my clothes and walk into the street, I will not be ashamed, someone tries to put a coat on me. To the ambulance. This is a trick. Where is Derren?

I wrap myself in a blanket and try to push past the paramedic standing in front of my house. Two police officers tell me to get in the ambulance, but Derren is drowning. This is the finale. Derren has chained himself inside a bag and been dropped in a lake, a Houdini, an escapologist, a death-defying feat, only I know where the key is. I’m doing it wrong; he’s going to die. They won’t listen to me. ‘IT’S IN THE BUTTON TIN’ I shout ‘IN THE ATTIC’ I try to push past them again. Someone grabs my arms and holds them on top of each other and they handcuff me, and I realise I have it the wrong way around. It is me who will go into the lake, a handcuffed Houdini. I laugh in the police officers face, Derren will help me escape, I twist the handcuffs around and around my wrists and they make a clicking whirring sound. The hospital again, Taylor Swift agrees that I will punch her on the television show as a stunt, four staff tackle me to the floor and I scream and in a different room Derren arranges for the men who assaulted me to be punched again and again. I struggle and twist pinned to the floor. Later. We are in an empty room, Derren is dead, he died at the beginning that was the secret, before they started filming, he killed himself and they will play me the recording of his suicide note at the end. We made a baby disappear. I will go to prison for half the time, and he will be in prison for half the time, but he is dead. They have laid out his body, but it’s invisible, he turned himself into atoms smashed his body into bloody pieces and then smaller and smaller the finest grains, and then particles, dust, the stuff of stars. We have to shoot his ashes to the moon and a flag will unroll, and on it in cheerful font will be the words ‘The End’. Everyone in the whole world has already grieved his death. How will I ever recover. It’s what he wanted.

*

I am sectioned three times in four days. There are no psych beds in the country. I’m taken to the place of safety and transferred to a new ward. My memories are fragments, slivers of recollections that make no sense, tied into films and books. A week goes by on the ward and another. I can’t sleep on the blue mattress, it reminds me of being held down, I drag it on to the floor, it lands with a thump. I sleep as far as possible away from the door. If anyone tries to come in during the night, I will be ready. There’s no shower curtain, when they knock on the door for observations, I cower against the wall and peer my head around the doorway to the wet room so they can’t see me naked, but I know they watch me on the secret cameras all the time. I sit under the desk curled up in a ball and write on the underside of the wood. I stand on the desk and draw in pen on the ceiling in secret code. I use bedsheets to block the shower drain and press the small metal button to run the water again and again until there’s enough to paddle, bare feet splashing against the pale grey tiles.

The medication kicks in, dampening the codes and messages, I’m abandoned to this pretend hospital again, pretend patients, pretend staff. I communicate in sign language to the invisible cameras. I eat, sat on a table, one arm around the plate defensively hissing when actors pretending to be patients come near me. I place a bouquet of red tulips in a large plastic bucket and leave them in the dining room as a peace offering, the next day they’re gone. I find them in the ward garden, half of them have been pushed deep into a plant pot full of earth, they droop over. An optimistic gardener. I imagine these flowers will put down roots, in a way that we will not. The rest of the tulips lie abandoned on the concrete, scattered, a memorial to something lost.

That evening I receive an email from my landlord, an eviction notice, I cannot live there anymore, I am frightening, I have frightened them. I have nowhere to go. There is a surge of feelings, I’m overwhelmed, angry, desperate. I cannot manage this. I cannot stay here. I use a ligature, the observation window clicks open, alarms, they step behind me with a ligature knife and I scream and run through to the dining room, cut my arms, bleeding, crying, alarms again, four staff run after me, there is a stand-off, panting, staring at each other, time pauses for a moment, we all wait. ‘Jen’ one of them says, stepping towards me and I twist past them to the television room and they are on me with the ligature knife again. I slide down the wall and sob, and they ask if I will take some PRN and I nod. I take the tablets they have outstretched but it’s not PRN it’s an antipsychotic, I’m distraught, I did not agree to this. I try to throw it up, a nurse talks to me as I hunch over the bathroom toilet with my fingers in my throat. I ask her to leave, and she refuses, throw up bile and scratch my throat until it bleeds. It is chaos.

*

I wake up on the mattress on the floor and my arms have dressings on and my throat hurts and I remember what happened the day before and I feel so sad I can’t speak. I go into the bathroom, run my hands under the cold tap and look in the mirror. My face is swollen from ligaturing, the blood vessels across my jawline and around my eyes are blown, a pink scattered rash, either from the ligatures or from the throwing up. A strange, mottled pattern across my cheek.  A health care assistant knocks at the door. My advocate is here. The health care assistant is kind. I cannot find words to talk with her, my brain is disconnected. I sign instead, she sits with me, I write her a note, and she talks in a low calm voice and waits for me to scrawl a reply. I do not want to see the psychiatrist. An angry nurse comes to call me to a meeting, it is not a ward round, she says, just a meeting. I have refused to see my advocate. I am desperate. I am ranting at the psychiatrist, I am clicking and whistling and talking in code, they are extras, they are illegally detaining me, I want to go home. I cannot stay here. I have nowhere to go.  On my phone I have a pinterest board called ‘home’ full of colourful sun-drenched rooms with patterned textiles and cheerful ornaments and vintage furniture, Derren has made me a home out of electronic mood boards, but we can’t go there yet, first I have to navigate this intensity. I pace up and down then walk out of the meeting, go back to my room.

The angry nurse comes in and tells me they have finished the meeting and I’m being discharged. I stop pacing and stare at her confused. Derren is letting me out. I don’t want to leave, I don’t feel safe, I’m frightened and confused.

I hide in the bathroom, sit with my back against the wall, knees pulled up. There’s a small smear of blood on the tiles from where I wiped my arms across it yesterday. The nurse in charge crouches in the doorway, a male colleague next to her. I know her from a ward two years ago, she raises her voice when people don’t do as she says. She is not kind.

‘I can’t go home’ I say ‘I don’t have a key my landlord has evicted me, that’s why I was so upset yesterday’

‘You can’t stay here; hospital isn’t helpful for you.’ she says in a firm voice.

‘I don’t want to go. I don’t feel safe. I thought I was going to the women’s crisis house.’

‘They won’t take you after how you behaved last night. Hospital is not helpful for you’ she pauses, ‘you said in the meeting you wanted to go home’.

‘I can’t go home’, I say ’I don’t have a home, I don’t have a key, I don’t live there anymore’. She tilts her head to one side and replies, impassive

‘Well, you’ll have to knock on your own front door then won’t you’. I stare at her, shocked, and she stares back, and I realise that she’s not just angry and overworked. She doesn’t like me. There’s no sympathy here. I am too difficult, too challenging. She wants me gone. The other nurse looks at her sideways and then back at me.

‘You can’t do this, I’ll complain’, I hear myself say this and it sounds so hollow, childish, sat on the bathroom floor near to tears, and she shrugs and says ‘that’s fine you can put in a complaint, do you want my surname? I’ll write it down for you if you like?’ She stares at me, waiting.

‘I remember you from before, you were angry and unkind on Oakwood ward, that’s why they’ve closed the ward, people complained, there were too many incidents’ I want her to know that I see her for what she is, a woman who has decided not to care.

She shakes her head and says in a low voice,

‘They haven’t closed it babe.’ it’s the use of the word babe that feels like a slap, a false endearment, a taunt, there is no compassion, she can do whatever she likes.

‘I won’t leave’ I say, and she says,

‘If you do not leave the ward, I will call the police and have you removed.’ I wonder if Derren wants me to kill myself, if we are finally going to the Suspension Bridge to check if there’s a net.

‘I will call the police myself, I’m not safe, you’re not safe, I don’t know what to do.’ As I reach for my phone she gets up and gestures to her colleague to follow, he looks at me as if he’s going to say something and then follows her out. I call 999 and tell them I need an ambulance at the Suspension Bridge and then I say I do not want to die, I want to live, Derren doesn’t want me to die, I don’t need an ambulance, I just need to follow the codes. I cancel the call and go to my bedroom.

A health care assistant comes in with a handful of green plastic bags,

‘These are for you to pack your things; we’ve called a taxi.’

 I start to pack and ask her to leave while I get my things together and she refuses and begins to pick up my clothes and put them into bags. I ask her to stop and to leave me alone and she says she can’t do that she has to stay with me to make sure I pack. The dressings on my arm have come free overnight, one flaps loose. I ask to see the nurse to change my dressings. The health care assistant briefly leaves the room then comes back and says there’s no one in the clinic, the taxi is coming, I need to pack my things. I fold up jumpers and blankets, pick up artwork and cards and shove them into bags. I do not understand what is happening but there’s the vivid feeling of shame. I have misbehaved, I am being punished. The health care assistant is cold and withdrawn.

‘Where am I going?’

‘You’re going to Temple Street.’

I’ve heard of Temple Street, it’s where you report homeless. Derren wants to see what I will do when I think that nobody cares. They are watching me on the cameras, seeing what I can tolerate. They are removing all safety nets, they are testing me. On the way past the nurse’s office, the male nurse comes out and hands me an envelope with some clean dressings inside, and a piece of paper that says ‘the crisis team will see you at 7:30 with medication’

‘Where will I be at 7:30?’ I ask,

‘I don’t know’ says the nurse as he beeps open the door, the health care assistant goes through first, she carries two bags and I carry three, the nurse picks up the final bags and we go out, through the double doors to the reception and outside, to the waiting taxi.

*

The door slams and the taxi purrs into life, the electric hybrid engine diagram lit up on the dashboard. The taxi driver starts to talk to me. I stare at the rear-view mirror, at the hospital disappearing behind us, the ticking of the indicator as we turn out onto the main road, the radio presenter talking about traffic closures.

‘Where is Temple Street?’ he asks.

 ‘I don’t know’ I say staring out the window, watching the people waiting to cross the road, a woman with a buggy, a couple holding hands.

‘It’s where you go when you’re homeless.’ I say blank, detached,

‘Do you not have anywhere to go?’ he says, he is concerned, shocked,

‘No’

‘Can you call someone? he asks

‘No, I can’t call anyone’, they’re watching, they’re testing me, they’re in on it.

We cannot find the building, turn down the wrong street, I am numb now, folded in on myself, waiting to be let out, to disappear, to find Derren somewhere else. I get out and together we take the green plastic bags stuffed with my things and put them on the side of the road.

‘What will you do?’ the taxi driver says,

‘I don’t know’ I say and shrug and he turns to his car and rattles around in the small compartment by the gearstick. He comes back with a pen and writes a number on his business card and hands it to me.

‘My name is Kamal’, he says ‘here is my personal mobile number, if there is anything I can do to help, please call me’ he says handing me the card. He is a compassionate actor, an extra, he is a lifeline, there are options. Derren is still in charge. I take the card and say thank you. He looks as if he will stay but I turn around to my bags of things spilling out onto the pavement and look around for messages, a man drives past on a motorbike, keep with the programme, follow the clues this was a twist, an unexpected plot leap, a trial. I hear the taxi behind me purr away. There are four steps up to some glass doors that slide slowly open, a young man sits at a reception desk.

‘I’m homeless’ I shout through the doors and wave, an exaggerated pantomime wave. The man on reception looks up and says, ‘sorry, what?’ I smile and wave again at the security camera. I have reported homeless, now where shall we go? I am Jason Bourne, we will go on the run, Derren and I, hide from the police and the messages and await further instructions. To a hotel, like in an American movie, I’m a spy who is being monitored to see what they will do, released into the city, an acceptable level of threat. I have a credit card, we will find a hotel and see what happens next.

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