As the days pass I find myself lost in thoughts of days long behind me. There isn’t much to do here but smoke and rest; the occasional conversation begins but soon resolves itself into a companionable silence. I am not interred in this house, not yet; I can come and go as I please as long as I am back for curfew at 10pm. But I have to check out and in on the board by the front door, an action giving lie to the illusion of true freedom.
I am here for respite, they tell me. The regular inhabitants all have chores to be getting on with; I am absolved of any daily duties as I am simply visiting for a couple of weeks. After a couple of days I realise I am desperate to make some effort towards my housemates, so I call my husband and request that he bring down my baking things; I am going to make cinnamon buns for everyone. I feel lost without work, without any direction and I feel it will be good to grasp some semblance of normality to give definition to the endless days. The buns smell wonderful; the staff and housemates lurk near the kitchen as I remove the tray of glossy goodies from the oven and give them a final glaze. It feels good to be popular.
When the buns are gone, the husband leaves. He has to go home and it is odd saying goodbye to him, knowing he’s going back to sleep alone in our king-size bed whilst I curl up in a duvet smelling of otherness; a strange washing powder that isn’t the smell of home. The first night I was here I struggled to sleep in a single bed. The second day was easier; I needed to sleep and spent most of the day dozing with the tiny television on for background noise. I think the loneliness of the second day was more than I could bear and twice I found myself sobbing into the pillow; those hopeless tears of pure desperation, at the situation I had found myself in.
This isn’t my first stay in a house like this. The first time was only 8 months ago but the house I stayed in then was very different and very far from home. The sadness was worse there without the security of family nearby and no connection to be made with the elderly residents. It was isolation in the purest form; even the room I was assigned was in an outbuilding affectionately named ‘The Barn’. There was no need to venture into the main house to cook food or interact; nonetheless I found myself frequenting the smoking area in the large garden just to be around other humans.
The house I’m staying in now is a lot nicer. I am part of the action here; I have to use the kitchen to cook my food, and eat in the dining room. The other residents – all male – invite me to watch a movie with them on the second night. It is some dreadful low-budget action flick and I lose interest rapidly. Instead I retire to the shelter in the garden and sit there, chain smoking the minutes away under the heat lamp. After a while I am joined by a jovial character who has gone out of his way to make me feel at home; we chatter a little but I am not up for in-depth conversations so mostly I let him talk and just listen. It is companionable and I wind up feeling a little better by the time I excuse myself and head to bed.
Whilst I’m here they want to change my medication over. Blood tests have revealed side effects of the antipsychotic I’ve been on for almost three years; we stop the old and start the new at a low dose. I am nervous about the change. The old one has been largely reliable and I don’t want to go back to where I was when I began this journey. But things have to change and I am willing to go along with my doctor’s recommendations. She comes by a few days into my time here and jokes that I am difficult to treat; I always get the weird side effects. There have been previous attempts to change my medication but nothing so far has worked particularly well for me.
The days begin to roll together but I pass the time smoking and writing. I make a point of venturing out to the local shop once a day; usually to top up my cigarette stash. The thought of buying a nice bottle of wine crosses my mind but it is a dry house and I know if I get kicked out the only other option is the psych ward. Without much to occupy me I barely notice when things begin to change. It is already like a bubble within reality; when my reality starts to warp it doesn’t strike me as anything strange.
No longer referring to myself in the singular; Eve is awake and we are sharing the experience of life here. We are two souls in one body. She is upset about something – she refuses to tell me what exactly. I find myself pandering to her; find myself slipping into the passenger seat. I am always aware of her but I can’t muster the strength to keep her quiet and calm. We allow ourselves time to sleep, time to think and process before she decides it’s time to act. She reminds me that I must be ready to face the eternity that we will find ourselves in. She tells me how wonderful paradise is and encourages my cooperation with her plans.
It is about a week into my time in the care home. We wake up early and join a resident in the smoking shelter to share a final mug of coffee and a soothing cigarette. The heat lamps beam intensely warm light upon our head; paradise is pure warmth, she says in our mind. Once dawn breaks we excuse ourselves and layer up before heading out the front door – not bothering to sign out against my name – and into the town.
The early morning bustle is just beginning. Workers stream from the station into many office buildings dotted around the town; Eve laughs and calls them soldier ants, she says that it is time to break humanity free of the bindings of life on Earth. I have no desire to contradict her. Besides, I am a willing accomplice in her plans now. She is running the show and I am just along for the ride – it might be my body but her will is stronger than mine. Nonetheless I am beginning to have second thoughts about my desire to go along with her.
We take the stairs to the top of the shopping centre. It is a vast atrium of a building, with circular levels and a gaping space through the centre running over three stories. She is happy with this location. She knows there is no point being subtle – this is her grand gesture of atonement. The shutters are coming up to expose the many shop-fronts, all familiar to me from a life I feel distant from now. I have been in and out of these units many times with my husband in order to furnish a life I now consider pointless; shoes, clothes, homewares.
Eve moves us to the railings that come up to my waist, and peers over the edge. I hear laughter echoing around the space and realise it is coming from my own mouth. This distance I feel between my psyche and my body terrifies me and I suddenly find a reserve somewhere deep inside that tells me I do not want this. My mind rallies against Eve and I tell her; this is my body and my life. You have no right to do this to me.
You are not the dominant personality in this body; I am in charge and I make the rules. I do not want to be your collateral damage. Give me back my body.
It is like stretching a hand into a warm glove; I feel my soul filling my body. My hands fall back into place and my toes are suddenly a part of me again. I feel strength; although I know this is temporary I also know I have the power I need to stop Eve in this precise moment. I step back from the railings and take a deep breath, allowing the air to permeate my lungs and fill my chest to bursting. I understand that she is second to me – I am the primary controller of this body and it is my right to be in control. In my mind all I can hear from her is crying; uncontrollable and desperate sobbing and I take pity on her. I am acutely aware of her pain. We have lived together in my body for a long time now and we know each other intimately.
With the tingling in my feet settling to a gentle buzz I take us away from that dangerous spot. We walk back to the house in a silence that screams tension; this battle is not won but I reason that I do not want to start a war. Reassuring both Eve and myself that I do not want to be rid of her I find myself unlocking the door and navigating the warren of hallways back to my little room where I sink onto the bed and drop into a deep, desperate sleep.
The doctor and nurse from my regular psychiatric team come to visit me the following day. I consider avoiding the subject of the previous day’s events but reason with myself to tell them everything. I simply don’t know if I’m strong enough to keep the control I need on my own. They listen with professional concern and once I am done the doctor tells me that she isn’t sure I am well enough to remain in an open house. I know what this means; she is considering a hospitalisation but I am terrified at the thought. Despite everything I am planning to be back at work after Christmas – just a week and a half away. We talk a while and conclude that if I promise to talk to the staff at the house before things escalate then I will be able to stay; she also writes out a new prescription to increase the dosage of the new medication.
I resolve myself to keep to my promises; telling myself that I need to remain the primary psyche helps a little. I begin to write in my notebook essential facts about who I am – full name, date of birth, home address and so on. It helps to see the information written out and over the next couple of days I write it again and again until, after half a week, I am feeling much calmer and finding that I can relax my guard against Eve. She has been quiet for the most part but I feel her upset and anger despite the lack of words to describe her feelings.
Two weeks after my admission to the home, I am once again sitting in the dining room with my nurse and a member of the house staff, filling out discharge paperwork. Leaving this place is terrifying and liberating. It is Christmas eve and I know my husband is waiting to welcome me home. When I walk through the door he offers me a hug; the electric fire is warming the room and he has brought the decorations out of the cupboard ready for us to put the tree up together. I am glad to be home.