Ashley Tauchert 71

Ashley Tauchert

Skimming

My named nurse told me about a WRAP plan. A WRAP plan is a document that patients fill in. It is pages and pages long. You write about yourself, what you are like when you are well, what you are like when you are becoming unwell, what helps you stay well. I completed it in a morning. When I am well I am calm, generous, compassionate, considerate. When I am becoming unwell I chain smoke, stop sleeping, start talking to myself and laughing out loud, I dance to music no one else can hear, I see complex messages in car number plates, the radio is addressing me personally, I see things that other people can’t see, I cannot sit still… My nurse was surprised that I had done it so quickly. She tried to get me to do the Recovery Star, but I couldn’t stand trying to plot the different elements of my life onto a star-shaped pattern. She turned this into a conversation about why I don’t want to do the Recovery Star.

All the staff were trying to help. One of the HCAs hugged me in the clinic room one evening. She told me they were all rooting for me. She brought her dogs and we all went for a long walk together over the hills behind the clinic. One of the dogs went missing on the way back but we still made it in time for lunch. I was older than all the other patients. I was the only one with children. Most of the patients were younger men in joggers and trainers. They all smoked. I stopped smoking. The medication made the tobacco taste bad. I missed my morning cigarette especially, and the socialising that happened between the smokers. I still went to the Activity Centre whenever it was open. One morning I was stringing some beads there and the radio played ‘Wish You Were Here’. The OT turned the volume up. The music flooded me with memories of Chris. I was taken by surprise by the emotion and went to sit in the toilet for ten minutes to control the sudden rush which broke through the wall of medication and anxiety like a wave. The medication blocks emotion. Only the really strong ones get through, and even then it is like sound under water. You know it is there but it isn’t clear what it means. 

I had another new psychiatrist. She asked me into her office and drew a picture of a circle with segments. Each segment was one part of a whole life. Family. Friends. Health. Work. She asked me to consider what was in each segment. I wanted to be sick. I paced in my room when no one was watching, or sat in the lobby looking out through the open door on sunny days. The rainy days were the worst. We prowled about the clinic, bumping into each others’ pain. I tried to listen to the radio but the songs triggered associations that I couldn’t bear. I tried watching television but the faces were all ugly and the voices cut through me. Everyone seemed to be shouting. The short nurse with glasses gave me knitting needles and a ball of wool. She told me to knit. I looked through the shelf of random books in the patients’ lounge and found a novel by Joanna Trollope. I could only read in short bursts. 

A new doctor turned up and sat next to me in the lobby one day. He told me I had to keep trying. I knew he was right but the struggle was overwhelming. Life without psychosis was worse, I thought. I felt like I was drowning. Madness was easier than recovery. There was no going back now but the future looked like a field of broken glass and I had lost my shoes. I attended the recovery group. One of the patients kept talking about his wet dreams. The psychologist brought in a young man who lives with psychosis. He was doing a degree. He talked about seeing spiders. I wondered how I could ever get back home from here. 

Then one day Chris was standing in the lobby. He looked smaller than I remembered him. His face was tight. He was wearing the same jeans. He smiled but I could see he was uncomfortable here. All eyes were upon him. Staff and patients couldn’t help but look. I glanced through the lobby door. It was raining but I mouthed ‘going for a walk’ through the glass wall of the nurses’ station and did the gesture with my right hand, fingers walking through the air. They laughed and nodded. Chris was already out the door, hunching against the rain. I walked down the three stone steps after him pulling up the hood on my new charity shop jacket. It was green corduroy. Padded. It would absorb the worst of the rain. The only other jacket I had was three sizes too big. I had bought it when I was living alone. That seemed like an age ago now. Was it only a few months? The thought made me shudder, or maybe it was the rain. 

We didn’t talk as we turned right through the car park and out the main gate under the dripping trees. It was late evening in late September. I looked back and saw lights being switched on in the clinic windows. That is the patients’ kitchen, I noticed. It looked cosy from a distance. Next to it the art room remained dark. The grounds were peaceful at this time of day. Birds sang in the old trees longing for the sunset. Most of the cars had driven off by now. The patients were settling in for another night away from home. The night shifts had already arrived and taken up seats at the computer screens where they read about the day just gone. TVs murmured in the background as the dishwashers were filled. No one was shouting for a change. 

The sun slipped away too quickly. We walked together out onto the quiet streets. I thought about holding his hand. Maybe later. I put my hands in my jacket pockets. We walked round the perimeter of the hospital grounds, stepping on early-fallen conkers which slid out of their prickly casings. The rain stopped like it always does eventually. I took Chris’s arm and felt his body’s heat next to me. It had been a long time since we touched. I flinched at the thought, sharp and sudden. He asked what was wrong. I said, ‘Let's have a hot chocolate in the hospital cafe, it should still be open.’ We sat on hard chairs drinking watery hot chocolate from a vending machine. A few people occupied some of the other chairs, waiting for someone or avoiding something. The hospital hummed with constant movement. I felt safe there. We touched hands and looked at each other for the first time face-on. The hot chocolate powder was a thick sludge in the bottom of the paper cup. Then we walked back across the lawn and found a bench. The asylum faded into the darkening sky. Daddy-long-legs skimmed clumsily across the long, damp grass.


Ashley Tauchert is a writer who lives in Devon (UK). She has mostly published boring academic work but is quite proud of Against Transgression (2008) and Diary of a Literary Schizophrenic (2016). Following a prolonged encounter with psychosis she now writes mostly creative non-fiction and poetry. She is on Twitter but isn’t sure why. She recently started smoking again.