Image courtesy of

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The girl I share a room with is weeping, screaming and shitting herself. No-one’s helping. It’s been going on for an hour or so.

– Can you not ask someone to do something? Maybe Olga?
– She doesn’t speak English.
– Of course she doesn’t. Sign language?
– Have you ever tried sign languaging “shit self” to a nurse whilst trying to prove you’re not mentally ill?


You don’t really believe it until your parents lock the car door. The clunking noise of the locks add insult to injury and you flinch with the hangover. In a way you kind of feel good about yourself, better than you have done in a little while, like maybe you’ve done a good deed; after all, your parents were looking for a common enemy, someone to hate and to bond over, and here you are. Locked up in the back of a car on the way to the hospital, absent-mindedly self-harming with the hard corner of a box of tissues. Saving their relationship. You laugh darkly, and Dad shoots you a look in the front mirror.

“I don’t know what you’re laughing at.”

You haven’t said a word to him in days now despite sharing a living space, and you’re not about to break that pact, but even if you were what could you say? How could you possibly explain that what you were laughing at was the suddenness of it all, the surrealness; that stones had been sent rolling, which tomorrow morning, fully sober, you would have to fence off. It’s a terrifying thought. You cast an eye to your handbag – unzipped, you had to text your boyfriend – and make lingering eye contact with the silver metal of your ever-present flask.

He’s seen. Pulls over to snatch the bag and actually gets out the car. One overdramatic motherfucker; you can see where you get it from. He tosses the flask down a back alley. You start laughing again. You want to tell him off, frugal as he is – you can’t just toss that gin away! Think of the sober people in Africa!

In A&E you break your vow of silence and ask for your phone back. The boyfriend has responded. He’s as scared as you, probably more so, since unlike you he actually gives a shit if you die. You’re feeling like maybe you will, just out of spite, though the second you stepped into A&E two pre-briefed paramedics confiscated all your sharp objects and your belt like you were in some airport, destination Shit, so you don’t know how you would. You have to hold the top of your jeans; inches from your waist though you remember one day they used to fit, and you had been so happy throwing out the larger pair. Thinking, This is it now. Thinking Time to stop.

You have been in A&E a fair few times now and prepare yourself for a four-hour wait but Doctor Rooney has contacts. It was a mere hour ago that you met with her at The Priory, so ready to wax lyrical about recovery and how well you were doing. Sure scuppered that; the second you entered the room she called the hospital. Said you looked ill. You wondered if she noticed your smile.

As a result you are whisked on through, a first-class passenger. Your poor mother is crying, which is all your fault, and it breaks your heart: she kept so much hidden from your father, thinking it was what was best, that this would all blow over and it didn’t. She has been crying for an hour. You make half-jokes to her and she laughs through tears: with short small breaths you inflate a PVC glove that you steal from beneath the bed you’re allocated, draw a face around the thumb, tell her it’s an elephant. Tell her you’re a balloon animal expert, that you can make snakes, and worms, and eels… When the doctor comes back in he asks you how often you throw up and you send your parents out. But at least she knows you can make a glove elephant. Not such a disappointment. You think again about killing yourself.

The doctor brings in a nurse and together they check your blood pressure and stick little stickers all over your chest and back. These you are familiar with, having spent many a hungover morning peeling them from tender skin. What you’re not familiar with is the sit-down scale, like a wheelchair that dictates your fate; you worry that sitting will make you weigh more than standing, and that it will make you weigh less. You don’t know what you want, not numbers, not food.

The numbers visibly shock the nurse. “But your thighs, they’re so big! For your size, I mean.”

And suddenly overtaken with rage you think can you shut the fuck up you dumb fucking bitch they’re my fucking legs you KNOW why I’m here you KNOW that I’m dying how motherfucking dumb can you be but instead you smile and say “Yeah, I wish they were thinner.”

She doesn’t even react to what you thought was such an obvious dig in the context but you decide to forget about it (although you will never forget about it, not really; your thighs will always now be medically diagnosed as ‘too fat’). Instead you try and pay attention to what the doctor is saying. Low potassium is the main issue, and a low platelet count – they’re scared you’ll cut yourself and bleed to death. Your heart, too, does not chug along like a heart should, no train engine or well-oiled machine; it staggers and stumbles like you do in heels, it is weakened and tired, it does not know if it wants to go on and neither do you. You daydream about this for a few minutes. When you come back you are on a different bed, plugged into a machine.

When you ask the nurse, a new one, if the IV has calories in it she shoots you a strange look and leaves and you feel like an idiot.

They tell you it will take a couple of hours, and then that you will be staying overnight. You protest but you know it’s too late; the cogs of the hospital are turning, you can see it in the eyes of the nurse as she jots down your numbers, in the way the doctor mutters into your father’s ear. The pursing of his lips; what a car crash his daughter is. What a fool. Small inconsistencies of late have revealed the toll you are taking on his heart – he fills his glass to the brim and his eyes are always red and watery, as if he is on the verge of crying.

Your mother goes home to pick up your laptop and some clothes and it all starts to feel overly real. You are allocated a bed. When put in stressful situations your default is to harm yourself somehow and, when that can’t be done, you tend to regress into the most childish of mentalities and so predictably you play around with the controls on the bed for an hour and a half, laughing like an idiot. Up, down, up, down.

“See, I’m great at bringing things back up,” you tell the nurse, and laugh harder. She doesn’t get it, or at least she doesn’t laugh along. Strange, you were proud of that one.

To your credit, that first night you do actually digest the dinner that is brought to you, or at least parts of it; immediately you pick up the small plastic bowl of chicken curry and the equally sad-looking apple crumble – a dessert that you will forever now associate with these white walls and wires, since they serve it every night – and tip them into the tiny bin beside your bed. But the yoghurt you eat, and you feel proud. There are chunks of fruit in it that slip uncomfortably down your tattered, damaged throat and taste of sugar and blood.

Your doctor gives you sleeping meds but you tell your mother that he doesn’t, and so she brings some in. You still miss the booze but the buzz is enough to get you through for an evening. It’s only one night, you remind yourself.

By day two you have figured out that enough wires have been crossed for your nurses to think you are anorexic. This means that you are able to make your excuses and disappear to the bathroom after each of the two meals they make you eat – you pretend to sleep through breakfast. Bathroom trips are the one time you are unaccompanied and there’s a huge part of you that wants to confess, to tell them that you should be banned from bathrooms and sinks and showers, please someone stop me spending my evenings poking my dinner through plug holes. But you don’t.

Day two dinnertime you realise you are not going home today and cry for three hours, then you eat the apple pie. Excuse yourself.

Your boyfriend and your mother visit and promise they’ll do so every day you’re here. The way it’s phrased fills you with dread, like they know more than you do. You know you won’t be going home tonight. You buy another day of the overly-expensive hospital WiFi, read three Cracked articles before you realise you’re crying.

When you sleep you dream about eating bowl after  bowl after bowl of cereal…

On day three you are moved. You have had two nights alone, your only complaint being the way the spine of the bed digs into your own. Tonight will not be so easy. You share a room with a woman in her thirties who re-watches the same episode of the Tweenies until she finally falls asleep some time after 2AM. She alternates between laughing and screaming hysterically. You cry into your pillow and dig your fingernails into your arms, which doesn’t please the doctors. You are placed under 24 hour watch, which is where you meet Olga.

You come round from that familiar Zopiclone haze at 11AM on day four and realise. You don’t want the other nurses to hear – you feel embarrassed for the roommate you’ve been forced together with.  But she has definitely, 100% shit herself. You cry for half an hour and then decide to be proactive. This is when Olga really lets you down.

“She needs…. bathing,” you eventually hiss.

Olga does not speak much English. “You want shower?”

Day four also marks your first escape attempt. Afterwards you hear the nurses laughing and you can see why, it’s ridiculous to think that You could beat Them. Thirty kilograms of skin and bone racing down the corridor in jogging bottoms that sagged down halfways to your knees, skinny limbs flailing at any of the staff that approached her. Day four you are moved and sectioned under the Mental Health Act of 1983.

The nurse who breaks the news, you punch her square in the face and then burst into tears and apologise; she tells you it’s not your fault, that you’re sick. But you’re not, you’re just a piece of shit, and you’re fucking terrified. You tear the drip from your arm for the seventh time and she warns you about scarring. You laugh, apologise again, and tell her it’s a bit too late for your arms, isn’t it?

The room you are moved to is shared by a very old woman who breathes like the movement of mice, scuttling and scared, terrified by noise. A man in his forties wearing a baseball cap comes to visit her – eavesdropping, you discover he’s her son. He brushes her hair and feeds her a grey chicken korma from a plastic pot, and you laugh at all his jokes. Eventually you are part of their conversation.

“What are you in for, anyway?” he asks, in an accent your father would mock. You can take the boy out of Newcastle, but…

“I don’t eat,” you tell him, since it sounds more glamorous than the reality. His face drops with his fork. His mother looks disappointed and you can’t blame her; the woman is dying. You’ve heard through the whispers of nurses and their superiors that this ward is reserved for the dying, and you feel incredibly guilty even just being here – lives are being snatched and here you are, giving yours away, auctioning it off to the lowest fucking number.

On day five your mother visits again and brings gifts, a milkshake and a large bar of chocolate. They are bizarre gifts and you wonder what on earth was going through her head when she bought them, but you don’t want to upset her; choke them down, excuse yourself.

Day five you spend drawing sharks in your sketchbook. Day six you watch every episode of Black Books. Both days you vomit up the cottage pie and apple crumble, both days you cry until 5AM and then take your double-dose of sleeping meds. You try and escape three more times and another Mental Health Act is dug up to keep you there, in that uncomfortable robot bed with its up down, up down.

Olga quits on day six. You’ve spent three days alternating between miming ‘defecation’ and ‘kill me’, so you aren’t too surprised. She is replaced by a woman called Josephine who wears her braids in a high pony and tuts as she tells you that she hopes her daughter makes more of her life than you have. You cheerfully agree.

Day six rumours start to fly about being let go. Josephine grins and tell you she hopes it happens, that she hopes you can be ‘normal’ one day like her daughter. You ask her about her daughter; she tells you she studies Theatre. You tell her to teach her daughter the truth about sitcoms and fashion magazines. You tell her never to aspire, merely exist. You tell her those women are fake.

She tells you she knows that, you’re the one who’s fucking starving. You keep forgetting that, keep feeling so fucking normal. That’s true! You ask if she wants a balloon elephant. She doesn’t, particularly.

Josephine asks you why you are killing yourself and you tell her you aren’t, not at all. Suicide is for the brave – you thought you had been, googling the way the razor had to go and the right knot to tie, and yet you never followed through. You are merely letting yourself die. She tells you it’s the same thing because she does not understand that it isn’t.

There are combinations of pills that you are more likely to vomit up than to die from. You have learnt such recipes by heart, like the one for your favourite cookies and your favourite pasta sauce, your favourite cocktail. These days everything in your mind is an ingredient.

It is six nights before they let you go. You have to lie to a lot of people. Your parents take you in which is kind, they didn’t have to do that.

Next morning your mother finds you passed out with an empty bottle of wine beside the bed and cries for two hours.

And you, you are still dreaming of bowl after bowl after bowl…

Natalie Hance

Natalie is an aspiring science fiction writer and full-time nervous wreck. She spends most of her time blogging and thinking about jellyfish, and her dream is to one day become Kanye West.