COME AND FIND ME!

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A big hello to all of you lovely people who follow me!

I’m sorry I have been incredibly neglectful of this blog of late, I have been cheating on WordPress with Medium (Shhh…she’ll hear!)  So whilst I am reluctant to let this go, being my first ever blog and all, I am cordially inviting you all to come and join/follow me on Medium (Account name: Jessica Ryn.) I shall be keeping this account for all of my caring posts and longer work, but all my newer shorts will be popped onto my new one.

Have a brilliant weekend!

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Dear Stigma…

Dear Stigma,

People say that you’re not around anymore, you know, now that we are ‘allowed’ to talk about mental health.  About suicide.  About our feelings.  We both know that’s not true, especially when it comes to dirty words like benefits.  I saw you there, all those months ago at my husband’s ‘work capability assessment’ for his sickness benefits. You were in the waiting room, clinging to the air like a cloying fog, and then again in the assessor’s eyes.  You don’t see the weeks of anguish leading up to the appointment, the utter humiliation of having to ‘prove’ an invisible illness that, at times can be life-threatening on a daily basis.  I see you flicker briefly across the glances of people when they ask ‘How’s work going?’ and I tell them I had to give it up again to be a carer for my loved one.  But most sadly of all, is that I see you in my own mind, allowing you to make me feel inferior.  Here are some reasons why I am kicking you to the kerb;

# I am helping to keep another person safe and supported, hopefully improving their quality of life, and as a consequence, that of our children also.

#I am saving public £££. Who knows how often my loved one may be in and out of MH wards without being cared for at our home? So, Stigma, put that in your roll-up and smoke it next time you taunt me for claiming carers benefits.

# Whenever my loved one has been in a ‘well’ or ‘well enough’ stage, we’ve both worked hard, damn hard for long hours.  Not being able to work broke both of us, and your undeniable presence splattered  across so-called ‘documentaries’ about claimants of sickness benefits do nothing but feed you all the more.  Yes there are some that ‘play the system’, but you just had to make sure that it was those ones that got the starring roles, didn’t you?

Yes, I am pleased you are being squeezed out of mental health a little more in recent years (although still not enough.)  I am happy that more people feel able to talk about suicide and their feelings.  My resounding hope now, is that you will stop being fed by the media, by people speaking scathingly about those people on benefits.  And that other carers that may have been feeling like I was, would begin to recognise their worth.  Because carers are awesome.  And you, Stigma, are pure poison, and no longer welcome in my life.

No regards, (any longer)

The Writing Carer.

Every Piece of Me…

A Short Story.

Every Piece of Me
By
Jessica Ryn

When I was a little girl I used to enjoy making plans to run away with my best friend. I had a care bears’ rucksack under my bed stuffed with clothes, a quarter pound of aniseed balls and one pound’s worth of pennies that were tightly contained in my swimming hat. Next time I got in trouble with Mum, I would call Donna and we would go and sleep in the phone box down the road, take my bag and then we’d have supplies of food and money. I never quite got around to making that call but I always used to feel for my rucksack under my bed whenever I got sent to my room and think, ‘that would show her.’

 

The trouble is, twenty years later, there are very few phone boxes around and I would be lucky if I even have a whole pound in my hat. All I have is the tiny collection of bronze coins in my upturned beanie on the ground in front of me. I got robbed again last night. Third time it’s happened since I changed towns.

 

‘Have you got time to help me to complete this quick survey, Madam?’

 

The too-cheerful voice carries a hint of desperation and belongs to a man in a suit and a Mickey Mouse tie. He isn’t asking me of course, but another lady in a hurry. A woman dressed smartly with a polite and dismissive smile. The same sort of smile I probably would have thrown at him way back when I was in a rush to get to work. But that was before. Now I find myself aching for him to ask me about my energy supplier needs just so that I can have a conversation with another human being that isn’t trying to take a piss on my sleeping bag. I realise I’m staring and blush when he grins back at me.

 
‘Tough crowd, eh?’

 

I am still trying to think of a witty reply when he asks me if I have lunch plans (I mean really?) then somehow, after a few minutes of the small talk I had been craving, we are walking towards La Scala on Canterbury High St. He keeps talking away to me as we are shown to our seats.

 
‘I hope you don’t expect me to pay.’ I blurt out. My cheeks burn at the crassness of the words but I can’t think of another way to say it.

 

Our waiter looks alarmed but the energy salesman is chuckling and reassures me that it’s ‘his treat.’ His name is Oliver, it’s his first day in his new sales job and so far, he hates it. I tell him my name is Bex and I used to be in marketing but had to give it up when my mum got sick. He asks how she is now and apologises when I shake my head. He asks if I have anyone to help me – friends, family?

 

I tell him there is no one. Not for pity but because it’s the truth. We sit quietly for a few minutes then. Oliver looks deep in thought. I try hard to eat my carbonara slowly so that people don’t give me sympathetic looks when they see how hungry I am. The rich creamy sauce tastes better than anything I have eaten in years and I burn my throat in my eagerness to swallow it. The cool air conditioning is a welcome break from the sticky stuffy august streets. I begin to relax.

 
‘So there’s this place,’ Oliver is leaning forward and speaking animatedly, ‘It’s like this amazing community for people that are down on their luck and got nowhere to live. Everybody is given a job to do in return for food, board and a basic wage. A friend of mine lives there – I could show you where it is if you like? Put in a word?’

 
I know that I should feel touched that he seems so keen to help. But the hairs on the back of my neck have started to prickle. His lopsided smile and wide brown eyes twinkling through his thick rimmed glasses should look cute but the last two years have taught me to listen to my instincts. I mumble something about going to the bathroom and spend a few minutes trying to sort through my scrambled thoughts on the cold porcelain toilet seat. The window is way too small for me to crawl through and it would be so rude to walk out of the restaurant when a stranger has paid for my meal.  It’s only the paranoia that’s scratching at my skin. He’s been kind to me and it’s not like I have anything to lose. I plaster on a smile as I sit back at the table.

 
‘That place you were just telling me about – it’s really good of you to think of me, but I don’t really do well living with others.’

 
To my relief, he doesn’t look in the least bit offended; he just shrugs and reminds me to drink my coke.
We start chatting about normal stuff – books we like, places we have visited and what our favourite childhood TV programmes were. I begin to relax more and more until I realise that I am completely off my face. Oliver had looked surprised when I had refused wine and informed him that I didn’t drink alcohol as I had seen it claim one too many lives. My heart begins to beat wildly and my chest tightens. I look up at Oliver and his face is swimming in front of mine. I scramble to speak but my tongue is thick and spongy. And then there is nothing.

#

 

My eyes feel too heavy to open. I can feel the sharp scratch of hospital sheet beneath my limbs as the smell of cheap disinfectant pervades my nostrils.  The inside of my arm is stinging, and I strain my ears to hear the muffled voices above me.

 

 
‘He’s done well with this one – We can use everything. Tests are all clear, she’s O negative and Liver function tests are good. Usually with this type of donor, their livers are screwed from all the crap they have been using on the streets.’

 

 
‘She looks like she may be coming round, maybe another 2ml of fentanyl?’ A female voice this time. I try to decipher her accent but then I can feel myself fading away from the room and then falling deep, deep down through the bed.
I am not sure how much time has passed before I hear the voices again – this time they are angry.

 

 

‘What do you mean they can’t make it today – I thought they were desperate?’

 
‘They’ll be here Thursday.’

 
‘That’s three days away,’ ones of them hisses, ‘I haven’t got enough to keep her under for that long, it’s getting harder and harder to get hold of but we need her alive for all of this to work or none of us will be getting paid.’

 
I cannot move a single part of my body and common sense tells me that I shouldn’t try to whilst they are still here. Fear is rearing up inside of me like a caged animal that has nowhere else to go and I wonder why they can’t hear my heart hammering in my chest. Turns out you have everything to lose, it seems to be saying to me. Then there are footsteps moving away. A door slams and then locks. I wait for what feels like hours, but is probably only minutes, then try to wiggle my toes. They are tingly but they move. My fingers follow and at last I force my eyes open.

 

 

My jubilation over regaining control over my body is short lived as I take in my surroundings. The windowless walls are bare with crumbling dirty white paint. There are machines that look vaguely medical along the wall beside me and a chipped sink piled with paper towels on the other side.

 

 
A cannula is pinching into a vein in my left arm and a blood pressure cuff is squeezing my skin on the right. Ripping off the cuff, I take a deep breath and slowly pull out the cannula. Blood pools into the tiny wound and drips down my arm. I watch it for a while, transfixed. I don’t want to die. A bitter-sweet relief after two years of the dark thoughts. It hadn’t always been that way. I had once been happy. But watching mum’s body fail her time and time again before it finally gave up had broken me in ways that I had never thought possible. James had broken up with me, unable to handle my ‘moods’ anymore and then there was no one. And nowhere.

 

 

‘Home is where the heart is, Bex,’ Mum had always said (she was a sucker for banal inspirational quotes.) But my heart has been lost for such a long time. And now I have no idea where it would end up. Who it will beat inside of. Bile rises up into my chest and I bite hard into my lip to keep myself from screaming as the realisation crashes over me, covering me in a fresh wave of panic. They want every piece of me.

 

 
Then I hear a creak and the door opens slowly. The girl entering the room looks no older than fourteen. She creeps slowly towards me with a shy smile, looking behind her at the door before she spoke.

 

 
‘I know I ‘m not supposed to come in here. I just needed to see what you looked like. And to say thank you.’

 
I notice the bright yellow tinge of her face and in her eyes.

 
‘Your kidney is going to save my life, and I’ll never forget that. I hope the money will help you to… you know…’ She trails off, uncertainly.

 

Adrenaline begins to surge through my veins and I begin to see a flicker of hope in front of me. I just need to tell her what’s really going on so that she can get help. I can’t quite grasp the words to use and she is still talking.

 
‘My parents are so grateful too – I’ve been on the list for a while but they didn’t want to wait any longer. They said it’s too risky to wait and that these nice people want to help.’

 
I open up my mouth to tell her that I am not here voluntarily, am certainly not being paid and after they kindly give her my kidney, they are going to carve out all of my organs and hand them out to whoever else decides to arrive here – so could she please be a darling and call the police from that pretty diamanté studded phone in her hand? The words don’t come out in time though and now the door is being swung open. A man and a woman in scrubs storm into the room. The girl is ushered out with a forced gentleness and before I know what is happening, I feel a sharp scratch in my arm and begin to float away once again. On the way down, I wonder if this is the last breath, the last thought.

 

 
‘What do you mean she’s gone?!’ A furious voice above me demands. For a moment I think they are talking about me and that I am already dead. But then I wouldn’t have this searing pain slicing through me.

 
‘She had just woken up, she was fine. I left the room to let the parents know the op was a success and then she was gone.’

 
There is a crash and a torrent of expletives. The door slams shut and I am alone once again. The effort it takes to move my body, even just a little bit is monumental and I let out a moan as I try to sit. As I do, I feel something heavy and unfamiliar slip from my chest. Something is wrapped up in a crumpled up paper towel. My heart squeezes harder when I see that it’s a key. The paper towel has a childish scrawl on one side that reads ‘Run!’ I look wildly around me. I know without getting up that I will not be able to run. But I am able to move. If I am spotted though then that will be it for me.

 

 

My eyes fall upon the trolley beside my bed and I know what I have to do. Without wasting any more precious seconds, I pick up the syringe and needle. with a shaking hand, I draw up the liquid from the two vials. I am not a doctor but I think it will be enough. I almost sing out loud when the key fits in the lock then nearly weep with frustration when it won’t turn. I jiggle the rusty key frantically in the lock and try again. It opens with a click.

 

Ignoring the tugging pain beneath my dressing, I shuffle quietly along the dark and musty hallway. When I reach a corner, I peer around it, straining my eyes and ears. It’s deathly quiet. Exhaling shakily, I edge across the next corridor. I can see the exit sign. My breathing begins to settle as the fear recedes. I allow myself to hope. And then it happens. Cold, clammy hands are around my throat and icy fingers of fear grip my stomach, squeezing painfully.

 
‘Let’s get you back to bed shall we?’ Her faux soothing voice sends a chill down my spine. I clench the hand holding the syringe and start to move it upwards just as her knee slams violently into my side.

 

 

I double over, completely winded as the syringe clatters across the floor. We both look at it and time begins to slow. I know that she should be faster than me. I am still drugged up and in agonising pain but I feel strong.  As if for the first time in two years I suddenly remember who I am, what I can do. I dive to the floor and land a split second before she does. I have it in my hand and then I plunge it straight into her neck.

 

 

She is staring at me open mouthed then starts mumbling incoherently at me. And then she goes limp. I haul myself up and continue towards the exit. I can hear him behind me now, calling to me and tripping over himself to get closer, but I know that I am going to make it, and I do. I swing open the fire doors and fall into the arms of a police officer. There are swarms of them but my eye is immediately caught by the young girl looking back at me from the back of the police car.

 
‘Thank you.’ I move my mouth to form the words at the same second that they are reflected back to me from hers. We both smile weakly and she places her pale palm against the window.

 

#

‘I think if I was on death row, I would request a big mac for my last meal.’ Ellie is tucking hungrily into her burger and grinning at me from across the table. She is looking stronger every time I see her. Her sallow jaundiced skin has been replaced by a healthy glow and her eyes are clear and bright. ‘Do you think much about that day?’ she asks between mouthfuls.

 

I nod and think carefully about how to answer. I still have the nightmares. Every night I dream about would have happened if I had stayed in that hellish room. If Ellie hadn’t overheard them talking as they were putting her under. But that day also gave Ellie her life back and in a way it gave me mine back too.

 

‘I’m just glad they caught them all.’ I manage. And they had. The woman that I had drugged had sang like a canary in the efforts to get a lighter sentence and a further ten people had been convicted of crimes relating to the illegal harvesting of organs for the black market. After the trial, the police had put me in touch with a supported housing project and last week I moved into my own bedsit.

 
‘How’s the new job going?’

 
‘It’s great.’ I am beaming because it’s true. I began my nurse’s training last month and I have been placed on the renal ward. It’s hard work but helping other people like Ellie to get better is so worth it. I relax back in my seat and sip my coke. We both laugh as Ellie spurts ketchup all over her nose and I say a prayer of thanks that I am no longer alone.

.

 

Pushing Daisy.

This short story was my first and highlights the importance of perinatal mental health support, particularly for women and their families suffering from loss, PND or post-partum psychosis.

Pushing Daisy.
I watch the police officer numbly as she gently prises the knife from my bloodied hand. I wonder how long I have been holding it for, time seems to have lost its meaning whilst I’ve been held captive in this hideously beautiful room. I must have been here for at least six months because my womb is now empty and I can hear her crying. She is safe though. The other lady, the one with the police officer, is holding her close, all wrapped up in a blanket.

‘Do you understand what has been said to you?’ The policewoman’s voice is gentle and I nod when she informs me that I need to go with them to the police station. I mean – it’s obvious, really isn’t it? Discussions about coffee and phone calls and lawyers all happen when we get there, and then finally I get the chance to tell my story.

‘Jennifer, in your own words, please tell us what happened on the evening of the twenty third of October last year.’

I hold my breath, One, two, three, and try to sort through a thousand memories as they all come thrashing through at once, like a wrecking ball of torment.

‘It was the first time in months that I had finished work on time.’ I begin. It’s important to start at the beginning. So I force myself back there.

#

Its eight pm and I have, for once, finished work on time. I hug myself and look forward to actually having time to eat before surrendering to the call of my bed. It’s freezing outside though, and now it is ten past eight. Patrick is late picking me up and my feet feel as beaten up as they always do after a 13-hour shift on the maternity ward. I strain my eyes towards the pick- up point to look for a battered silver Fiat and wish that the hospital would invest in some decent outside lighting. At last I see headlights approaching.

Plonking myself unceremoniously into the passenger seat and dumping my bag on the floor in front of me, I sigh heavily and launch into my usual post-shift bitch-fest about no breaks and not enough staff. I know he’s heard this all before and I finally turn to him to ask how his day has been. And then my moaning really does stop.

‘ooops …. you’re not my husband, are you?’

‘I don’t think I am love, no.’

He is laughing and actually, so am I. Embarrassing as this may be, it is sooo the sort of thing that I would do and Patrick will find this hilarious when I tell him.

‘In my defence, you do have the same car.’

‘Well, yes I actually do.’ He grins back but his eyes are not joining in with the smile and something isn’t right.
A cold stab of panic slices through my gut as the sharp edge of the knife held against my abdomen threatens to do the same. The clunking sound of the doors being locked does not surprise me as I begin to recognise my driver. I never forget the faces of parents whose babies I have helped into the world, and his will be forever hotly branded into my mind. I stay silent. As before, there is nothing I could say that could possibly help. My phone starts ringing. The cheerful tones of S club7 reaching for the stars and climbing mountains higher sound so insane in this once-familiar car that I actually have to resist the urge to giggle.

‘That will be your husband calling about your stolen car.’

I try to remember his name but my mind is full of fog. I don’t need to be told not to answer my phone so I leave S club singing merrily away in my pocket as the car pulls further away from the hospital grounds and into the dimly lit streets of Leeds. I may not be able to remember his name but I do remember Caitlin. A beautiful 7lb, 6oz baby girl who had never taken her first breath. Bile begins to rise in my throat as the car turns sharply around a corner and I instantly know where we are going.
We pull up outside the terraced house in which I had conducted my last ever homebirth before begging for a permanent transfer to work on the wards. The man – Ben! Says nothing as he opens the passenger door and we walk in silence to the house.

The carpet feels slimy beneath my crocs and the closed curtains are thick with grime and dust. I may have been here before but this is a completely different house to the one I left over a year ago. Claire is sitting at the kitchen table. Her hair is limp and greasy and her skin looks pale and sallow. Exactly how I would expect a grieving Mother to look except that she is smiling and her eyes are too bright. She actually looks pleased to see me. My pulse begins to settle and I remember how to breathe. Claire and Ben probably just want answers. I would too if it were me, but I probably would have just made an appointment.

‘You came!’ Claire is now positively beaming.

I nod wordlessly, completely unsure if I should smile back or not.

‘You’re not even showing yet.’ She sounds disappointed and is frowning at my middle.

Then I do vomit. Right there on the kitchen floor.

‘How do you know?’ I manage to croak once the heaving subsides.

Claire just keeps smiling but doesn’t answer me. She had been amazing during her labour. Strong and in complete control, she had managed with just gas and air. Everything had been going so well until the final six minutes. Six minutes of trying desperately to birth a baby whose shoulders were inextricably stuck behind her pelvic bone. Ever since that night, managing a shoulder dystocia at work has filled me with dread.

‘Oooh, let me show you around, Jennifer.’ Her voice is bright but my name sounds like ice on her tongue.
I follow her through a door. It’s all I can do all the time that Ben is holding the knife to the back of my shoulder blade. The staircase is steep and it feels like a long time before we reach the bottom. The room should be described as beautiful. I force my eyes closed for just a minute and try to breathe but the sickly stench of patchouli nearly overwhelms me. There are no windows in this converted cellar but the pastel lemon walls make it look bright and airy. The plush double bed to the right of the room is sporting a yellow duvet covered in daisies. The same daisies are dancing across the cot bedding that is lying prettily on the white crib in the opposite corner of the room. The crib has an adjoining changing table piled with nappies, wipes and fluffy yellow towels. I want to go home.

‘What is all this?’ My voice comes out as a whisper.

‘Well, we weren’t sure if you were having a boy or a girl.’ Claire is explaining to me in patient tones, as if speaking to a child. ‘So yellow seemed like the obvious choice.’

The room is spinning violently, and I can no longer feel the knife against my shoulder so I sit clumsily on the armchair that is facing the rest of the room.

‘I knew that you would feel at home in here! It’s for a little longer than we had planned for, we had thought that you were further along, but I am sure we can make it work – these things can’t be rushed, can they?’ Claire lets out a little giggle that sends a shiver down my spine.

‘I’m sorry about Caitlin.’ I blurt out and her smile disappears.

‘I know you are.’ She is speaking slowly now and not breaking eye contact. ‘And I know that you want to give back what you have taken from me. We both truly appreciate what you are doing for us.’

I look behind me at Ben. He won’t look at me and I see the exhaustion beneath his eyes. He is still carrying the knife and I realise that his hands are shaking. He stands there, staring at the floor whilst Claire instructs me on how the en-suite shower works, where the kettle is and the times that my meals and pregnancy vitamins would be brought to me. Anyone watching the scene would assume that I am checking into a hotel room. If I was in a film, I would now be asked if I want a wakeup call or a morning paper. They probably won’t suggest that I use the mini bar though on account of me being pregnant. I feel like giggling again and silently beg them both to leave so that I can give into the building hysteria.

Then they do leave but I only have the energy to change out of my hospital scrubs. We are not really allowed to wear them home and I notice a large amniotic fluid stain on my sleeve. Lovely. I search for my phone that I already know has been removed from my pocket by Ben on the way down the stairs. I check the integrity of the door and hunt for convenient trap doors in the ceiling. The sharpest object that I have on me is a hairclip which I doubt is sharp enough for me to tunnel my way gradually out of the room before the baby is due. No sleep arrives for me.

 

#

 

‘Morning, Jennifer!’

It’s odd that Claire has the manners to knock before she enters and walks down the stairs, given the circumstances.

‘Please…I really do need to go home.’ I try to keep my voice level but I can still hear the desperation in it and I am sure that she can too.

Her eyes narrow and in an instant, I know that this is not a disturbed woman who I can reason with. The hate she feels for me is palpable and I pull the duvet higher around myself. It’s then that I realise that Ben is the only way. The fear in his eyes the night before as he had looked away from his wife had told me everything I needed to know.

 

It is twenty-five days before I see Ben. I have had twenty-three breakfasts and twenty four dinners and that is the only way I can tell.

‘She’s not well today,’ he explains, as he hands me my lasagne.

I raise an eyebrow but decide not to comment. I need him on my side and I am sure he must be aware that she is probably ‘not well’ most days. He puts down my tray and goes to walk away.

‘Have you tried to get her any help?’

He rolls his eyes and chuckles.
‘A couple of counselling sessions after months of waiting and a ‘mood diary’ to write in – does that count as help?’ He is moving back towards the stairs.

‘And how about you?’

‘Me? I never even wanted any pain-in-the-arse kids,’ he is snarling now and his pain hits me like a tsunami. ‘But I’d got used to the idea. Claire was happy. She trusted you, you know? We both did.’

I want to scream at him that I am sorry. To make him see the months of tears and self-torture as I read the birth notes over and over with my supervisor, desperate to know that I had done the right things. The weeks that I had off sick because I had lost faith in myself. But the words won’t come and I know that it won’t help.

‘She was so beautiful.’ I whisper. ‘And such a pretty name. Was she named after anyone?’

‘My Mother.’ His face has softened and he sits gingerly on the edge of the bed. ‘She would have known what to do with Claire, she was good with…stuff.’

‘I can help, Ben – please let me try? I just need you to get me out of the door.’
He looks at me for a while. I can’t work out what the expression on his face means. Then he shakes his head slowly and he is gone.

I can’t swallow the lasagne. Since I have been here, I have devoured every meal. It’s the only thing to look forward to each day. The thick slabs of pasta stick in my throat as I try to shake off the memories of the night of Caitlin’s birth. I throw the plate and fork across the floor and watch the tomato pasta sauce splatter up over the freshly painted walls. But I keep the knife.

#

My belly is now swollen and decorated with delicate silver and purple ladders. The flutters have become kicks and I am running out of time. I can hear her in the kitchen. Screaming at Ben, laughing and sobbing. She only does that when she drinks vodka. This means that it will be Ben that brings my breakfast in the morning. This means that I have around twelve hours. The cramps are coming every eight minutes, increasing in strength and duration. This along with the puddle on the beige carpet tells me that there is a chance that Daisy may get here in time. I just need to stay quiet. Really quiet.

I gasp silently as my tummy tightens and swells. Wave after wave crashes over me and I have a new respect for the crazy women that do this more than once. I flip around so that my knees are on the floor and clutch onto the cot side for support as I bear down. The carpet is pricking my shins as the sweet smell of birth floods my nostrils. A primal strength fills me and elation envelops me as I realise that I can do this. Alone and silent, but not afraid.

‘Hello beautiful one.’ I whisper through my tears.

Her newborn squeals of protest at being expelled into the cold, harsh world are a welcome sound but I hold my breath for several seconds and strain my ears for noises overhead. Nothing. Daisy has stopped crying and is looking at me through squinted, inquisitive eyes. My hands shaking with relief, I wrap her tightly in a yellow towel and hold her close. After boiling the kettle to sterilise the knife, I cut the cord, grateful for the sterile plastic clamp I had in my scrubs pocket. I don’t have very long now. I build a fortress of towels for my princess inside the shower cubicle, hiding her from sight of the door.

Then the footsteps begin. Adrenaline pulses through my veins, but I am no longer that scared little girl under the duvet. I am a Mother in a dressing gown splattered with blood and I will do what I need to do. The knife is still slick with blood and difficult to hold in the palm of my hand but I hold fast to it as Ben creeps uncertainly down the stairs. I let out a low moan. I have heard enough labouring women to know what they sound like. He looks a bit pale.

#

‘How did you manage to alert your husband Mrs Reynolds?’

I must have stopped talking for a while and the police officers are looking at me expectantly.

‘I faked labour pains, then slipped Ben’s phone from his pocket.’ It had been surprisingly easy. Almost as if he had wanted to be caught.

‘Can you tell us what happened to Ben and Claire Bainbridge on the day that you contacted Mr Reynolds?’

It’s nearly told. It’s nearly time for me to hold my baby again. I take a sip of the bitter coffee and go back again.

#

‘Is it…happening?’ he is gesturing vaguely at my lower regions, his eyes darting up at the ceiling as if asking for guidance from his wife.
I let out another gasp and clutch at my abdomen. He comes a little closer.

‘What should I do?’

I grasp onto the pocket of his hoody and pull it down towards me with my free hand. He stands still and noble probably feeling that his is ‘doing his bit’ by letting me maul at him while writhing in pain. And then I have his phone tucked into my hand.

‘Water?’ I croak, ‘could you get me some please? Don’t get Claire yet though. I think it will be a long time yet and I don’t want her to get anxious.’

He hesitates but then he is nodding and scurrying up the stairs. I curse my fat, pregnant fingers as they stubbornly refuse to hit the right keys. I know without looking that I won’t have the bars I need to make a call but a text should send once the phone manages to grasp onto some signal.

‘False alarm!’ I try to sound apologetic when he arrives with my water.

Relief floods his face. But then it happens. I had been willing her not to make a sound but her indignant cries mean that I will probably have to move to my plan B. He moves quickly and gets to the shower before me. He crouches over the cubicle and I tense my hand, the one that is holding the knife. Inhaling deeply, I close my eyes tightly. When I open them, I see that Ben’s shoulders are heaving heavily. He is staring tenderly at Daisy through a cascade of tears. My hand relaxes and the knife clatters to the ground. My knees drop to the floor beside him and I hold him for a long time as he sobs into my shoulder.
Just as I begin to wonder how long it will be before Claire wakes up, I feel that all – too familiar blade on my back. I hadn’t heard her arrive. My stomach twists painfully and I let out a guttural grunt as I birth the placenta. Claire just stares at it, mesmerised. The metallic smell of blood and afterbirth permeates the room and everything around me appears to slow. I hear shuffling behind me and a sharp inhalation of breath.

‘I’m sorry Claire.’ Ben sounds so different. Stronger.

I glance behind me and see that Ben now holds the knife that is around Claire’s pale throat. Daisy begins to cry and I ache to hold her but I don’t dare to move. Claire darts forward without warning to scoop her up and Ben tosses me the knife. I stare at it then look back at the crazed woman holding my baby. I wonder for the second time this morning what I am capable of.

#

‘And that is when we arrived?’

I look at the red-haired police officer and smile gratefully. I will never know for certain what would have happened next. But I have my Daisy. Ben and Claire are safe now and we can finally go home.

 

Self-Care for Carers…

When a large proportion of your life is directed towards caring for someone that has a strong dependence on you, it can be easy to let your own needs and wishes go by the wayside.  It’s natural, and some days it feels like the only way.  Here are five small ways to take care of yourself as a carer.  If doing them makes you feel selfish, then think of it as looking after yourself so that you can look after that person even better.  Without self-care, it’s all two easy for ‘compassion fatigue’ and underlying resentments (on both sides) to start creeping in like silent monsters…

#1) Join a carer’s support group.

I felt an enormous sense of relief the second I got to my first meeting.  People who actually ‘got’ what I was going through.  The space to rant a little without feeling that I was being disloyal.  Hearing the stories of others and sharing tips on coping and caring. Contact carers UK for your local one or google search if reading this from outside of UK. The meetings are only once a month as they know it is often difficult for carers to get out.  If this is impossible for you, try an on-line group.

#2Be honest with your friends and keep the drawbridge open.

So many times I have had to cancel on friends or turn down plans due to changes in my care-ee’s health.  I used to spend so much time concocting elaborate excuses so I didn’t feel as if I was blaming him.  And what happens then? People eventually stop asking.  Life as a carer can be isolating.  Be honest and if they are friends they will understand.

#3) Find a hobby.

I have found writing and it has transformed my caring life as well as giving me back my mojo.  My life has taken in some new meaning that’s just mine.  As a consequence, I don’t have to go through the fake-it-till-you-make-it happy demeanor in order to be an ‘uplifting’ carer.  For you it may be learning a musical instrument, art or ….crochet. *involuntary shudder*

#4) Remember to eat well and exercise better.

*I am still working on this one myself!*

Many carers are on limited budgets making it more challenging to purchase healthy food or access swanky gym memberships.  A short walk outside once a day if that is all that’s realistic can still make a world of difference.  If your care-ee is able to join you this could be fantastic for both of you.  An even better way to facilitate daily walking leads directly to my next point…

#5) Get a dog! (Or another pet of your choice, but preferably a dog!)

Obviously, it’s not practical for everyone, but our dog (see my spaniel post!) has very possibly saved our sanity (ish) and possibly even our lives.  Yes it’s another living being to care for but the change of focus is a healthy one and can help to spread the intensity of the carer/care-ee relationship.  The necessity of getting out for a walk is also invaluable as it over-rides those easy excuses…

#5 Reasons Why It’s Ok To Be Obsessed With Your Springer Spaniel…

I warned you all in my intro that I would indulge in an occasional rant about Springers, didn’t I?  My lil Luna lights up my day, and here’s why…

#1) Their souls literally shine through their eyes…thBSKS7DR6

#2) It is physically impossible not to smile back when a springer is smiling. (which is almost always.)thKUL9XS77

#3) Springer puppies possess a cuteness level that makes me so broody that my ovaries literally twitch when I see one…

th5ZYE4CH5

#4) Their boundless energy and love of tennis balls mean hours of endless playtime…thGDJD3F5Z

#5) Their loyalty and unconditional love is absolutely priceless…untitled

 

Where the Broken Things Are…

A short story depicting the pressures on mental health workers.  Due to the ever-spiralling cuts to MH services, countless staff are on their knees, many of whom become sufferers of MH conditions themselves and don’t know where to turn…

 

Where the Broken Things Are.

 

 

‘Dominic is missing again,’ is the first thing I hear when I arrive on the ward. I take a breath and try to put on my most patient voice.

 

 

‘Well, were the alarms on?’ I’ve failed miserably; even I can hear the bite in my bark. The young nurse flinches a little and looks at the floor.

 

 

‘I think that the night staff forgot to reset them. It was mostly agency.’

 

 

I tut and roll my eyes. This place just gets worse. I have been a nurse at St. Steven’s Psychiatric Unit for 32 years and I am beginning to regret accepting my position as staff sister.

 

 

‘He’s nowhere to be seen outside, so Jane’s gone to look in B wing.’

 

 

‘Jane won’t know what to do even if she does find him, she’s hopeless.’ I want to suck back my harsh words the instant I see the shocked look on her face but instead I shrug off my coat and stalk off to join the search. I start with the grounds. She was right; he definitely must be still in the building. I make my way upstairs and leave Jane to cover B wing. I do trust her really; I’ve no idea why I said that before.

 

 

No one else apart from me comes up these stairs very often. All the wards on the first floor have long since been turned into training rooms or places to store old mattresses and broken chairs. Then there is that other corridor. The one that I hope Dominic hasn’t found his way down yet. I walk along it and flick the switch on the wall. The hallway becomes only slightly more visible in the dim and flickering light. I knew that he would be in the very place I didn’t want him to be and I curse loudly just as he is about to open the door on the right. He pauses when he hears me and spins around.

 

 

‘They‘re up here, I know they are, they’ve been calling to me.’ His eyes are wide and wild and I know instantly that he’s been spitting out his medication after hiding it in his cheek – probably for at least the last couple of weeks.

 

 

‘I am not coming back with you.’ He holds one arm out in front of him and something flashes from his opposite hand. Damn it, he has managed to get a razor from somewhere. Or someone. ‘Stay back or I will have to do my arm.’

 

 

I glance at the many scars scattering across his arm and I know that he will. I am surprised to feel my eyes prick with tears. Years of doing this work has hardened me. And I know that everyone calls me a heartless bitch. It’s just that Dominic has been here so long, not surprising given his history, but he had really been making progress. Policy dictates that I should be getting help from other team members and raising the alarm. But I just nod, hold my hands up in surrender and sit on the floor a little bit nearer to him. After a beat, he comes and sits beside me. We sit together silently for several minutes before I feel him stir. He turns towards me wordlessly and places the blade into my upturned palm.

 

 

‘Thank you’. I murmur.

 

 

He gives me the briefest of nods and I walk with him back to his room.
The rest of the shift drags by and I am exhausted when I leave the ward at the end of it. I glance around to check that nobody is watching before I walk right past the exit and sneak quietly back up the stairs. I leave the corridor in darkness this time, my chest tightening as I feel my way to the second door on the right. I take a deep breath and open the door slowly before flicking the switch inside the large cupboard. The cupboard where the broken things are kept.

 

 

‘I bet you thought I’d be gone by now,’ says Betsy sticking out her tongue, ‘surprise!’

 

 

My heart sinks when I see her sitting on the end of my makeshift bed. I try my best to ignore her as I have told countless patients to do in the past. I pull off my shoes and wiggle my tired toes before sinking down onto the other side of the mattress. Then I hear a cough and realise that there is a man sitting up high on the archive shelf against the wall. I have seen him in here before. He is new and not one of the ones to follow me here from my house but he hasn’t told me his name yet. I close my eyes tightly and try to quieten my mind.

 

 

I try to go to my happy place, the clifftop that Derek and I used to walk along every evening after tea. A fresh wave of pain crashes over me when I think of Derek. Then a flash of anger as I picture, yet again, the note that I found in his pocket before washing his jeans. The crippling sense of betrayal. Then the loneliness of the empty house. It hadn’t stayed empty for long though.

 

 

‘You can’t just pretend I am not here you know.’ comes the petulant voice from the end of the bed.

 

 

‘You’re not real.’ I wanted to sound firm, authoritative but it comes out as barely a whisper.

 

 

‘Not real?’ She sounds incredulous, ‘Ha! I was real enough when I lived here wasn’t I? – Well, before you killed me that is!’ and now she is cackling, her shrieks bouncing off the cupboard walls louder and louder until I have to cover my ears with clenched hands.

 

 

‘You killed yourself.’ I look at the floor as I say it, unable to meet her accusing eyes.

 

 

‘But you could have stopped it. You know you could have. I told you what I wanted to do and you didn’t believe me. You knew I still had that rope in my hoody, you knew.’

 

 

The room is spinning so fast that I want to vomit. I put my head between my knees and try to take in gulps of air.

 

 

‘Murderer.’

 

 

She is chanting the word over and over, her voice dripping with bile. I choke back a sob. I shouldn’t have come here. I thought it would be quiet here, safe. My home had been full of them. The accusers. Everywhere that I turned and in every room. The threats had got so bad that two weeks ago I had packed my bag and made this cupboard my home.

 

 

‘No wonder your husband left you.’ comes the voice from the shelf.

 

 

A hot tear escapes and burns my cheek.

 

 

#

‘That’s really great news, Wendy,’ I smile encouragingly, ‘You’ve worked so hard and the progress you have made is phenomenal.’

 

 

‘Thanks,’ Wendy beams back, ‘I think that the new medication is really helping.’

 

 

I stifle a yawn as I help her to fill out her discharge paperwork. I managed to get minutes rather than hours of sleep last night. I glance at Wendy’s notes to see which medication I need to collect from the clinical room for her to take home. My hands hesitate when they find the correct packets on the shelf. I think for a moment and then instead of picking up one, I scoop up two. Pocketing one packet before I breeze back into reception, I hand the other box to Wendy and show her out with a flourish. I hurry to the staff toilets and check that I am alone. Then with shaking hands, I press the blister pack into my hand. Before I swallow the pill, something catches my eye in the mirror.

 

 

‘I wouldn’t do that if I were you.’ That spiteful voice again.

 

 

‘Yeah Julie, don’t take that. People may think you’ve gone mental.’ another one joins forces and sings at me.

 

 

A moan of frustration escapes from me as I throw the pill down the toilet. But I keep the rest.
I am still staring in the mirror when I hear the emergency buzzer go off in the resident’s lounge. The usual splurge of adrenaline shoots through me as I hurry over there. I see the chair flying across the room as I enter. It nearly hits the new student nurse in the face. She swings her head around to face me and I curse myself for leaving her on her own when I see the panic in her eyes. Dominic is in the corner screaming obscenities and is picking up another chair. I am there in two strides but he is too strong.

 

 

‘I’m going to need 10mg of midazolam, IV.’ I state clearly to the two support staff that finally saunter through the door. They look blankly at each other.
‘We haven’t had our medication training signed off yet.’ one of them mutters.
I throw up my hands in exasperation, usher everyone except Dominic out of the room and rush to the clinical room. I curse loudly when my shaking hand drops the key to the controlled drugs cabinet and it clatters across the floor. I hate leaving patients alone when they are in crisis. And now I can’t find the midazolam. I look wildly along the shelves but all the boxes are blurring into one, their labels swimming around in my vision. I find it at last and I have almost finished drawing it up when the student appears behind me.

 

 

‘Didn’t you say you wanted midazolam? That’s haloperidol – isn’t Dominic allergic to that?’

 

 

I take a sharp intake of breath.

 

 

‘Well, find it for me then.’ I snap, throwing the filled syringe and needle into the sharps box and standing over her shoulder whilst she gets a new set of equipment ready for me. Neither of us speaks as I get the medication ready and I look away from her pinched face so that I don’t have to look at her efforts not to cry. It isn’t the first time I have barked at her today. I try not to think about what would have happened to Dominic if she hadn’t come in when she did, whilst I administer his injection. A few minutes later, he is sat in the corner, shoulders slightly slumped and muttering quietly at the floor. Everyone gets on with their day.

 

 

#

The cupboard is freezing tonight. Sweat is pooling from me but my teeth are chattering. I pull the duvet around me both for warmth and to place a barrier of protection between me and them.

 

 

‘So you’re trying to murder them all, one by one?’

 

 

I know that the taunting voice belongs to Betsy. I don’t answer this time. I know that it was an accident.

 

 

‘You wanted him to die. Just like you wanted me to.’

 

 

‘Murderer.’

 

 

‘Murderer.’

 

 

I lay face down covering myself completely into the duvet, the pillow absorbing only some of the noise from my sobbing. It makes no difference. They are lying next to me, whispering directly into my ear.

 

 

‘They would all be better off without you. At least they may make it out of here alive.’
‘Then I will quit,’ I decide, I’ll hand in my notice tomorrow.’

 

 

‘But you are nothing without this job. Nothing.’

 

 

‘Nobody wants you around. That’s why they left. Your Husband. Your son. It’s because you are evil. The world would be better if you weren’t here.’

 

 

I lay still for what feels like a long time. It’s all quiet now. My mind feels blank. Calm. And I know what I have to do. I get my bottle of water out of my handbag and reach inside the pocket of my uniform that is hanging on the back of a broken chair. There is the packet that I took when Wendy left. And there are medicine bottles filled with tablets. I can’t remember how they got there. I pop out every single one until they are in a pile in front of me. They are all different colours. Bright and vibrant. I don’t hear him open the cupboard door. He gently takes my hand and I flinch.

 

 

‘You’re not really here.’ I mutter to Dominic. He holds his hands up in front of him, just as I had to him – was that really only two days ago?

 

 

‘It’s just me. I am here.’ He says simply.

 

 

‘They won’t leave me alone.’ I whisper, hoping that they don’t hear me and start all over again.

 

 

‘I know.’ He nods and I know that he does. Without speaking, he scoops up the pills one by one and puts them back into one of the brown bottles. Something breaks inside of me and I begin to weep. Softly at first. The weeping turns to wails and I allow the tears to flow. Dominic sits close beside me. He doesn’t touch me or talk to me. But he is there.

 

 

After my sobbing subsides, He stands and offers me his palm. I stare at it for a long time.
‘You just need to give them a voice, the secrets. Otherwise they scream, locked up in the tiny boxes.’ Dominic breathed softly. And then I grasp his hand and let him lead me back down the corridor. Towards truth, towards help. Towards knowing that I’m not alone…