Memories from hospital:
—Playing uno with Oliver on the couch when Leo unceremoniously plonked himself next to us. Oliver and Leo began to swap admission stories; comparing notes on drug induced psychosis (a truly horrific experience which affected them both in varying ways). I watched on, quietly content to listen and observe. After a while, Leo asked a few questions about recovery and what it meant to me and I responded in my typical depressed thinking style ("life isn't worth living if it's a daily struggle to cope, I'm unfixable, I've tried everything, I shouldn't have to fight this hard just to live..." etc). Leo looked at me sadly. He said that before he took drugs and experienced the consequences, people with depression or anxiety seemed so other. Not that he would have told someone to "get over it" or "just snap out of it", but he didn't understand the illness, both physiologically or psychologically. He said that it was previously inconceivable to feel as low as he did upon admission, to lose connection with life and believe in another version of reality that does not exist outside your psychosis. So he developed a philosophy that was based on the idea that if previously he could be totally unaware or unable to perceive the extent or capability of human suffering; then maybe he is also unaware of the depth and breath of happiness we can experience too? He said, picking lint off his blue hoodie, life is circular; pain and joy are experienced equally...you just have to stick around to experience both (he gave me a particularly intense look at that point).
Whenever I got upset in group therapy and questioned what makes life worth it, Leo would look at me sadly and say; "remember how you said that every time you thought you'd hit absolute bottom, a new trap door opened and you fell to new depths?". I would nod, sullen and helpless. "Well, every time you think you'll never be happy again, or that the pain isn't worth it, remember all the impossibilities you previously believed about pain and reverse them. Life is circular, you'll get your inconceivable happiness as long as you stick around for it".
—Sitting on the couch one night during visiting hours, feeling lonely and sad. Leo's dad stopped to say hello (ever the gentleman), and I voiced perhaps the source of my loneliness...I told him that I thought he was a fantastic father for visiting every single night without fail from 6-8pm. He smiled sadly, looked straight into my eyes and said, "now listen Eri...my youngest son is trying to buy a car, so I help him save up. My eldest son is studying at university, so I help him there. Leonardo is in hospital, so we visit. Family is there, no matter what. It doesn't matter what the issue, we're supporting Leonardo on his way to good health." He looked so determined, defiant and loyal; I almost cried. After that encounter, Ricco ordered vegetarian pizza on Friday nights (their hospital family tradition) for me, bought me baklava (my special craving) on a weekend when he knew I didn't have visitors, and always stuck his head in my room; just to let me know that he was there for me, perhaps in a way my own father could not.
—A common topic on the ward was childbirth; probably because most patients were female and because it's a completely natural type of pain...anyway, one afternoon we were all sitting in the living room, I was curled on Aileen's lap, feeling content. Autumn, a relatively new patient, started talking about giving birth to her first child, Patrick. She said that when she went into labour she was beside herself with pain and worry for the future. The responsibility of bringing up a tiny human being, instilling all the right values, morals and ambitions into the person that she helped create, finally hit her and she became paralysed with fear. She began to scream and cry and so the nursing staff gave her double the dose of anesthetic in her epidural. After a while, the drugs kicked in and she said it was the first time in her entire life that she wasn't worried about anything, she stopped mapping all the possible outcomes of the current situation, making mental to-do lists in her head or thinking about her past mistakes and the implications for the future. She was released from worry because nothing was in her control anymore (god, she couldn't even feel her legs!), and the only thing left to do was push. I remember thinking: fuck, that is the epitome of generalised anxiety disorder. I don't think I've ever had that kind of clarity.