Summer of illness

Today is the hottest day of the year. I’ve spent it indoors in my pyjamas, sad. I don’t know why exactly. Do you need a reason when you’re depressed?

I guess because today is the first nice day of the year. Throughout the time when I was really, really ill, the weather was always beautiful. As if to contrast how shit I was feeling. Everyone else were having get-togethers and outings and I was too exhausted to attend any of them. All I wanted to do was sleep, but I couldn’t manage more than 90 minutes of continuous sleep at a time. I would spend the milky lighted nights howling at how exhausted I was.

I got more and more ill as the spring progressed, attempted suicide in the early summer and then spent the rest of the summer in hospital. The most beautiful part of the year was completely overshadowed by illness.

Not that it mattered. I was too ill to see that it was a nice day. The only problem was the sunlight hurting my eyes every time I turned on the wrong side and faced the window. There were these horrible plastic sheets in the hospital bed, and I would wake up at least once every night soaked in sweat. Imagine that in the middle of July. It’s not like I was after Egyptian cotton but fucking hell.

I can’t remember much of my time in hospital, especially of that first month. We were trying out different sleeping tablets, none of which worked. Days and nights would sort of merge together into this one excruciatingly long day filled with merciless sunlight.

I do remember how one of the nurses dragged me out for a walk on a particularly sunny day during that first month. I would bitch and moan about it but once we were out, I saw fields, flowers and cows behind a fence. I would feed them grass. Their hot breath blew gently against my fingers. We passed a little shop next to the hospital, and the nurse bought me a coke. By the time we reached the ward, I was glad she had dragged me out of bed.

Things got easier when I was eventually allowed out on walks on my own. First I had half an hour before having to return to the ward, then an hour. Nurses would ask which route I was taking and I had to keep my phone with me but otherwise from the moment the last guarded door was opened I wasn’t a mental patient anymore. Just some girl in a hoodie and sweatpants.

I started doing a long-winded loop around the hospital, which was around three miles in total. At first my muscles were sore from laying still for so long and even the gentlest of paces would result in pain but it surprised me just how quickly my body got used to walking again.

I have always been a fast walker and was soon able to cut my time from fifty-five minutes to forty-five. I would place bets with the nurses for two things: how long it would take me to walk the loop and what waiting time the billboard outside the A&E was showing.

I enjoyed the route as it was varied. I would pass houses, smell the flowers growing alongside the hedges of people’s gardens, lavender, peonies and roses. The intoxicating, hot mix of scents didn’t just attract me. I would hear the buzz of bees, see colourful butterflies as they stopped in one of the flowers.

I would pass a plump and fluffy cat basking on a stone fence warmed by the sun. I would stroke its warm fur, feel its purr like a little motor and the tickle of its whiskers as it pushed its head against my palm. I would see ‘for sale’-signs being put up and taken down, and I’d wonder what sort of people had moved in and what had made the family that left to sell their house. Sun would be in my eyes and instead of stepping into shade I would stop, close my eyes and feel the warmth on my skin. This moment is right here, given to me.

An unleashed dog would run over to say hi to me and petting it felt better than anything had in ages. Once I got used to having walks, I would have a walk almost every day. Passers-by would start recognising me, nod at me, say good morning or smile. I would do the same back but at the same time it made me sad that none of those things would happen if I was with one of the nurses. Then people would pass us without as much as a glance, or in some cases they would stare, or move on another side of the road altogether as my face burned with shame.

I would like to use this opportunity to say that nobody dangerous would get escorted leave from a mental ward. The patients you encounter with their nurses are harmless and getting a chance to say hi to a friendly dog might just make their day if not their entire week.

By the time I got out of hospital it was autumn. I have always loved autumn, and a new season made return home easier. I had been in hospital in another city so when I returned home, it was as if it had been in a different reality. That I had just stepped away for a minute. The flat was exactly as I had left it, as if time had stopped.

I would limit my public appearances to the sparse daylight hours, terrified that I would run into people I knew who would ask questions. I enjoyed the long dark evenings, because it was easier to hide. Hide in the flat. Hide under layers of clothes. Hide my face behind a long fringe.

Maybe I’m just sad tonight because it’s the first nice day of the year, and there are outings and get-togethers just like before. There is no point in mulling over it but suddenly I was reminded of the sunlight that didn’t show mercy, the rays I could only feel as a distant hue. Social media isn’t doing me any good either because I see other people moving forward in their lives and I’m basically facing the pale ghost of a year I lost.

I can only move forward in the pace which before all this was alien to me. One day at a time.

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