(Picture by Ilkka Kallio)
In this chapter of the Ward Chronicles, I would like to tell you about another friend I made at the ward, Skye.
Skye was somewhat of a veteran of mental wards. She had been to all of them, and several times to the one we were in. She would know every member of staff by name, walk around with her arms behind her back like the owner of a country estate.
Despite her sweet name, Skye was quite rough. ‘Troubled’ is the polite expression. She had been to prison, had been to court for breaking several windows at the ward. If something was covered by wood panelling instead of a pane of glass, you could almost bet that Skye had gotten angry about something.
Had I seen her on the street at night, I would’ve been scared of her. She was always dressed in the same clothes: a jumper and cargo shorts. The scars in her arms were so systematic that they resembled tattoos. She had that look on her face that said that she had seen it all, and all the fucks that she gave were long gone.
I am embarrassed to admit that, because actually Skye was lovely. Like I said before, I never met an unkind person at the ward. Our worlds were very different but we got to know each other on my first weeks at the ward as she would often accompany me and a nurse to go to the shop. We talked about our lives, how we had ended up in there.
You’ll never have more honest conversations than on a mental health ward. You’re both there. There’s no point being coy anymore, is there?
Skye was never allowed to go to the shop on her own. Once I was allowed outings, I realised just how restrictive having a nurse with you is because they might not have time and you might have to wait until the afternoon handover or the next day in the best case scenario. I’d take upon a habit of asking Skye if she wanted something from the shop. Usually she asked for diet coke or gummy worms.
She’d offer money at first but at the end we’d end up having this gentlemen’s system where one would bring something for another when they went out. Usually coke.
“Full fat?” she’d ask before following the nurse out.
She did have tiffs with others because she would be very vocal if someone was annoying her, and would immediately retaliate to a snide comment. One time I was one of the people calming her down after another patient did her best to wind her up, because she knew that the nurses wouldn’t let Skye hit her. In any other scenario she would’ve kept very quiet, there would’ve been nothing left of her.
“Honestly mate, it’s not worth it,” I told Skye and finally she turned and walked away.
I would spend a lot of time in the crafts room when it was open. It had better light for colouring than my room did. To my surprise, Skye would be a frequent visitor.
She’d sit down, usually with a nurse tailing in the background because she was under observation, and start making a card or something out of play dough. I’d be chatting to the nurses or Lenny, who organised the crafts sessions, and Skye would rarely take part in the conversation but you could tell that she was listening. Sitting on that plastic chair there was something quite young and vulnerable about her.
On one of our last crafts sessions before both of us were going to be discharged, I told Skye that I would miss her.
She didn’t say anything, didn’t even raise her eyes from the play dough. But she smiled.
One of the irritations of ward life was having to keep all your electronics in a charger room, in case you or someone else decided to try strangle themselves with the cord. One of the most common requests of the ward was ‘can you please let me into the charger room?’ and sometimes because of staff shortages or just a crazy day in general, it would take ages for someone to come over. Absolutely infuriating if you had a phone call scheduled.
As a side note: These days I absolutely adore charging my phone. The novelty still hasn’t worn off. I’m able to charge my phone whenever I want, take it out whenever I want, I need nobody’s permission!
One time after excruciating wait, I got an idea. Skye was under 24-hour ‘obs’ and had a nurse constantly following her. I went over.
“Hey Skye, would you mind standing in front of the charger room for a minute?”
Then the observing nurse could unlock the door for me, as long as she saw Skye. She never minded, no matter how many times I asked.
A few days after I was discharged, I was waiting to see the crisis team at my local hospital. It shared an entrance hall with the mental health unit. Who else did I see but Skye? Still in the same clothes.
“Hey Ida, you all right?” she greeted happily. Following a short exchange it turned out that she had ended up on this another ward less than 24 hours later she was discharged from the previous one.
I have no doubts that Skye either is in a ward right now or soon returning to one. People like her often go unnoticed because we don’t want to recognise just how little it would take for things to down a very different path.
We would see each other every once in a while when I’d come to see the crisis team. Often Skye was accompanied by her boyfriend Henry, who would faithfully visit her and bring her whatever she needed. I had a short chat with Henry once while he was waiting to get to go see her and all of a sudden I was happy that these two, who might have been considered outcasts, had found one another.
The last time I saw Skye she was leaving for an outing with Henry. She would smile and nod at me.
Then she paused.
“I’ve seen you go all the way around to the main entrance. There is a shortcut next to the oak tree. It’s quicker.”
That’s what she was like. What she was really like.