Ben Russell, Lived Experience Group member for Equally Well UK
*please be aware that this blog contains themes that some may find triggering.
I’m in the supermarket for what feels like millennia and I’ve been queuing for years. It’s the middle of summer and there’s no air con. The atmosphere is hot, prickly and close and my legs are killing me. I have Cerebral Palsy, which I don’t usually acknowledge, but today I’m giving myself the treat of a cab home.
My feet burn as I wait in line, protesting loudly at having to take my weight. Eventually I get to the front of the queue and then, thank goodness, out of the shop. I’m staggering a little, leaning on my trolley for support. The driver of the cab waves at me before leaping out and grabbing my shopping, manhandling it into the boot of his car. As I sink gratefully into the passenger seat the cabbie smiles at me, then leans over like a co-conspirator before saying: ‘I can see you’re deformed. Tell me, how did that happen?’
For a second I’m dumbstruck as I process what he just said, then, catching myself completely by surprise, I burst into tears. The driver says something else, but I can’t hear him. I rip the passenger door open and get out of the car, I have to get away.
In school I was bullied for having Cerebral Palsy, called things like Spastic, cripple and thalidomide. I never retaliated though, because I was scared that they were going to beat me up. So I just took it. Latching onto the old adage of sticks and stones and words never hurting me. But I was a fool, because on the way home from the supermarket I remembered every bad thing they said. Every single one. It was like my mind was a geyser. Years of bottling up my emotions had turned me from someone who looked strong on the outside to a snivelling mess. Words didn’t just hurt, they’d broken me.
At last, I make it into my house, but things go downhill pretty quickly. I am, I realise with a heavy heart, weak, pathetic and still crying. I go to my front room, curling up on the couch, hoping to find a distraction on BBC One, but instead there’s a fox underneath my television, on top of the DVD player. It’s sitting there, snarling, showing serrated teeth. Its blood red eyes seemingly stealing the light from the room. I’m too scared to move. There, something on the periphery, in the corner of my eye. I look round but it’s gone, I turn back to the TV and the fox has gone, too.
A huge bang and a crash sound from the room above me, followed quickly by muffled shouts. I leg it as quickly I can upstairs towards the cacophony, kicking the door open in my haste. All at once the noise stops as I enter the room. It’s completely empty, save for my furniture, and all of it is in one piece in spite of the kerfuffle that went on before I got there.
‘Idiot.’ ‘Failure.’ ‘Loser.’ ‘Kill yourself.’
‘Shut up!’ I yell, slapping myself round the head hard. No time for the negativity of the Universe. The Universe is my name for the collective voices that plague me, and they don’t like being told what to do. Suddenly, they get loud, screaming at me. I have to get out of the house, get some fresh air, find something else to focus on.
As I get outside, there’s a large burger van parked in front of my house. They’re filming me on it. They must be. I look to the left at the street, and see a young lad doing a paper round. Another cunning plan. There’s got to be a gun in his bag. They want to kill me after all. Because I’m special, chosen by God to prevent hell on earth.
‘Mate, are you alright?’ One of my neighbours is looking at me, wide eyed. Of course he has a gun concealed, he thinks he can get the drop on me. ‘Ben,’ he calls more gently this time ‘where are your clothes?’ I look down and see that I’m just wearing a pair of boxers standing in the street outside of my house. Where did they go? ‘You’ll catch your death if you’re not careful,’ he said trying again. I want to talk back to him, but suddenly I’m tongue tied and my brain feels like spaghetti junction.
I also realise that I’m not well. And that, yes, I do need help. I have steps to follow. The list is in my front room on top of my fridge. I give my neighbour a little wave before rushing back into my house. Ignoring the din that starts as soon as I set foot indoors, I run for my fridge and grab the list which reads: IF YOU’RE FEELING UNWELL, YOU AGREE TO CONTACT YOUR FAMILY OR YOUR CPN OR THE DUTY OFFICER AT THE CENTRE. IF YOU’RE FEELING SUICIDAL, YOU PROMISE TO GET IN TOUCH WITH YOUR CPN, OR THE DUTY OFFICER AT THE TAYLOR CENTRE. IF IT’S OUT OF HOURS YOU PROMISE TO GO TO A&E AND SPEAK TO THE MENTAL HEALTH WORKER THERE.
I call a cab and get myself dressed. The Universe is telling me to kill myself, so A&E it is. Though I’m still not thinking in a straight line, I’m confident that I’m doing the right thing. This particular visit to A&E ended with me crying hysterically to a nurse and getting transferred to the Mental Health Unit, where all the patients are kept under supervision. It was pretty rough, but on the other hand, I didn’t kill myself, I got well over six days and came home to my family, which shows how powerful a promise can be.