rs21 member Leila Platt writes on experiences of mental health treatment, Covid and power in Patient Humans and other poems. (Content warning for mental health crisis, sectioning.)

Seaglass. Photo credit: Ama Strachan, Flickr (2015).

In 2020 during the height of lockdown, I was sectioned and spent 6 weeks in a Psychiatric Unit. I also had a crisis admission for 48 hours in September 2020. The following poems were written as a result of these stays. In fact they were penned whilst I was in the hospital, mainly on my mobile phone so I could save them and ironically so no one could find them at the time. Although, after a while I remember uttering the words, ‘There’s a poem coming on’…

Before I went into hospital I had never written any poetry before, I thought it was a bit self indulgent and perhaps too difficult. I have a small collection now of about twenty poems but I have only written one since I was in hospital. I know some memorable poems but I am not a big reader, though I do love to listen to Holly McNish read her brilliant poetry. She writes observational poetry also drawn a lot from her own experiences and I highly recommend her.

Patient humans

We are all human, we all have skin, bones and bodies,
But our frailest of organs you cannot see with the naked eye.
You fill us with pills, white, blue, yellow and tell us we managed on them yesterday.
What has changed?
We make similar beeps as you when you test us with the obs machine,
But no one lays hands on the head that needs healing.
You, the ones, giving the pills, you have mental health too.
You become anxious when things ‘don’t go right’,
Or maybe they just don’t feel right.
In fact things that heal our bodies cannot always heal our minds.
Pills distort, dampen, punctuate days, demand compliance,
And dictate complacency in our management.
We seem cared for because we are given our pills,
Pills we don’t choose because we don’t have that knowledge.
Well I beg you to listen: you, the prescriber, do not have my knowledge either.
You see the colour red but is it the same as my colour red?
You may have seen and heard of deaths but not the same ones as me.
You eat foods, maybe the same as me, but what do you taste?
You have not tumbled down into the same hole that I try every day to climb out of.
If you did, you would realise I landed down here without a ladder or a map,
Then I hasten to suggest that you too would struggle.
What I need to do is write, explain, but the words in my head are a jumble.
Not smooth and deserving of crisp pages,
Angular and wearing like sharp edges.
I need to write and to talk and to tell my truth.
That truth may hurt, but it remains my truth.

 

Drowning in Custard

Breakfast, Lunch, Tea and Supper
Eight, Twelve, Five and Nine.
Every day.
Porridge, Pie, Sandwich, Toast.
Puddings.
Drowning in custard.
Meals punctuate our hospital day,
Waiting for what we will eat today,
And wondering what we might have tomorrow.
We can’t cook, sometimes neither can they,
They have kind eyes behind the masks,
The people who serve meals.
So we eat, digest and thank.
Porridge,
Pie
Sandwich
Toast.
Would you like custard with that?

 

Standing on one leg

When I concentrate I stand on one leg,
Gently, rocking between the two,
Finding an equilibrium.
The age old adage is keep your feet on the ground.
But my rocking soothes.
Sometimes it lets me think,
Sometimes it helps me not.
I feel like my feet are on cotton wool
And my head is on the ground.
But, I know I look like I am standing tall,
Definitely not upside down.
Staying grounded, standing on one leg.

 

4.37am

I saw you peeking round the curtain
The summer dim
Did it go dark at all tonight?
I saw you, 2am, 3, 4…
In my restless state
I wonder who else is awake
And what they think of 4am in June
Friend or foe?
The light peeks around the curtain
Following me as I rest my gaze on the grey wall
I had hoped for a good 8 hour.
The night had other plans.

 

Smackdown 2020

It feels like a battle everyday,
As we tussle with news and other people’s views.
More akin to a war or a wrestling match
Than an international healthcare emergency.
Whose voice do we listen to when
When it feels like those who lead us are unshackled?
We are left in the storm,
Some literally left out in the rain.
An international healthcare emergency.
Who’s fighting for those who cannot?

 

Crisis Admission

Not a place I wanted to be, but a feeling I wanted to have. Safety.
I think they made a mistake sending me in the first place.
Not a therapeutic experience.
Isolated.
Swabbed.
Ignored.
Meds late.
Meds missed.
Information gaps.
On the other side of the door.
No fresh air.
Sleeping pills.
Pies and mash.
Wrong name.
Another patient left to hold my hand.
No “hello my name is”
“This is a crisis admission”
“Observation only”
“We don’t do anything therapeutic”
Too right you don’t.
2 nights, crisis averted?
Home.
Bed.

 

Nothing about me without me

Constantly writing notes and doing your checks
Checking for what?
What I have, you cannot see.
I hazard a guess that I would not make sense
Of your scribbles, but they remain recorded.
Forever.
Yet it still stands
Nothing about me without me.

 

The secret of sea glass

Your entry into my life was not planned
Neither of us want to be here
This world has sharp corners
Corners that soft souls cannot fully command
I wish I could help you to smooth the edges
I dream one day you will lay a collection of sea glass on your window sill
Sharp edges weathered in your storm
Colours still glinting, a smooth reminder of your temptress.

 

Mid Year Endings

It reached the time for me to leave
One ending is another beginning.
Even though I am going back to what I know,
Things still feel uncertain.
“You get to sleep in your own bed”
Is the common promise.
That bed was my prison some days,
Not too long ago.
I’d rather no bed than that prison again.
Time to focus on other new beginnings,
The garden, the green and the longest days of June.
The mid year ends, the mid year starts.
I carry on.

 

Helianthus

2013, Working in Edinburgh, young professionals were trying the dating scene
One successful lady, let’s call her Lou, was handy at the dating dream.
Two dates in and a large box appeared in the doctor’s room,
Some keen guy had sent Lou sunflowers in the fullest of bloom.
Poor chap.
He tried.
Suddenly sunflowers became the danger flower.
Too big, too much, too soon.
However, 2020, leaving hospital this time, all I wanted to see
Was the sunflower seedling my mother had watered for me.
And standing on the table a vase of dangerous glory.
Half a dozen sunflowers – Mum’s not privy to Lou’s story.
So, when you feel like hell, keep going,
Or,
Think of Helianthus.

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