Story- Needs Comments!

Recovery (ICD 10: Tobacco related behavioural disorder)

But I don’t smoke. Didn’t. I mean, really. I say it to doctors and dentists and even my mum, but it’s true. Since the age of 14 I’d had about 5 fags in my life. ‘Til I came here. So it’s not that I’m desperate for this yellowy fag end. It’s just, I’ve decided that listening to five minutes on the efficiency of the pterodactyl as an alternative to The Flying Scotsman isn’t gonna do any harm. Actually, it’s a little bit intriguing. Racist Scottish Woman slips me the very end of the fag and goes inside. I open the door for her, balancing right-handed so as not to contravene smoking laws (IT IS ILLEGAL TO SMOKE ON A MENTAL HEALTH UNIT, the door-sign and the nurses’ faces say). Smoking is the only way you can get outside without hassle. Ironic, really, that a fresh air break is looked upon with suspicion but a casual lung-blackening gets you a nod and an open door.

Actually, a mental health unit is like a pub just after the ban. All the social happens outside. It’s an acquired taste, and it’s cold outside but there’s fuck all else to do. I started off getting other people to roll for me, shaky and inexpert at it. When I worked out how to do it myself it was a highlight, like popping the menthol bit on a new Pall Mall. Highlights, bear in mind, are not all that great in this place. Highlights include contraband aerosol deodorants, or being allowed to use your own phone charger.

Days. Yellow and and greenish detox pills; blue mood stabilisers; dazzly-pams, lozzie-pops. Nights, zoppies to make us treacly, hard pushed to try running through the thickness. In between just fags, fags, fags. I measure my steadiness by them, by the tightness of a roll, by learning to inhale without missing my mouth. Suck, hold, exhale. The courtyard is where Smurfy let me cry on his shirt and promised it’d get better and made me believe it a bit. It’s where Irish agreed to let me call him Irish, even though he isn’t. It’s the hair and the mouth, I keep telling him. And a compliment. It’s where Sunglasses routinely makes his jokes about using fingers (rollies), sucking deep, sucking boxes (wall-lighters for “safety”). He likes the word “suck” in almost any context. He swears the sunglasses are for some kind of light sensitivity, not a hipster statement. We don’t like his jokes, so pretend not to believe him.

The courtyard is also where Racist Scottish Woman called me a “Paki fucking doctor” all three of which were inaccurate. I threw a few things. Insults, a face-cloth when she came near me. A book, a mislaid punch and days later, a snowball at her back. Smurfy told me not to get wound but I know that snowball made his day.

DSM IV: Inappropriate Anger.

RSW informed me later that she loved “my people” and our “beautiful silk saris”. I told her to get one of her own and change her nasty sequinned skirt.


Fuck off, Old Dave shouts now, as Racist Scottish Woman goes inside. You old boot! I love Old Dave. He saves me the odd wink and returns me my socks. They keep going missing, weirdly, and I’m not totally sure I want them back. (Sunglasses).

I bought my own fags today. First time ever. I was allowed over the road to Tesco, escorted, and got some Menthols with the only money I thought to bring. I didn’t have any ID (my passport was slung across my desk at home, part of a brief unfulfilled escape plan). Kindly, the nurse pretended they were for her, and kindly the shop assistant pretended to believe her. Now, suddenly, I’m remembering, listening to Dave and Smurfy joke-fight, that I stuck them in the bloody washing machine. Trust that I bothered to wash stuff today, when I was about to prove I’m not a total bum. Lowlight. Still, I needed at least one of my three T-shirts to be clean. I got rushed here and nobody reminded me to bring a toothbrush. They don’t, do they, it isn’t them who’ll have to spend days without one, trying hard to care enough to ask for a spare. I started smoking and I started to care. Smoking= recovery? Anyway, I apologise about the fags spinning in the machine, probably a brownish gloop by now. And I think maybe nobody believes me, or maybe they do.

DSM IV: Paranoid Ideation.

Are the drugs making me a bit crazy?

Speaking of which, it is Pills O’clock. Nights are the worst, when I send my venom through the treacle, hateful texts aimed at the people I love(d?) most. My room mate snores, unblockable by iPod, Zopiclone, lorazepam, even the drink I’ll-Name-No-Names snuck in for me a couple of nights ago. At least the roommate has a way of getting them to let her out to smoke after lights out, and giving me a draw of the sleep-fag. A sleep-fag is different to a day-fag because it makes you woozy and chills you out, rather than keeping you semi-alert. Is that a highlight? Night’s a twilight here, I can’t be sure.

On the last night, I accept half a fag off Racist Scottish Woman. She’s let it burn ’til it’s as much ash as tobacco but I flick the cherry anyway and take a draw. We’ll share it, she says. It feels like an ending, a soap or a sitcom or Girl, Interrupted drawing to a disappointing climax. I watch Smurfy, Jess and Old Dave inside, laughing. Doesn’t smoke, Smurfy mouths. My arse.


7 thoughts on “Story- Needs Comments!

  1. I love this!
    Smoking in mental hospitals, what else is there to do? Over here they’re trying to phase out smoking in hospitals and have completely stopped it in public hospitals. The last time I was in one I was given a nicotine patch and an inhaler. I still sat outside and pretended to smoke. I loaded up the inhaler with the cartridges the nurses supplied. I got accused of smoking while sitting in the crappy courtyard with my inhaler.

  2. I loved the way you captured the details of the characters and put some humor into a story that could have been sad. A year ago in rehab I watched as even those who had quit smoking or never smoked started, for something to do, because they wanted to be part of the crowd ( only a handful of patients were non-smokers). I also did a short stay in a hospital where “fresh air” aka smoke break time was the only way to escape the hospital walls & see the light of day! Anyway, I just loved all the detail you put into this from the characters around you, to the pills, the hopeless feeling of having everything taken away from you & not having the things you need there with you! Thank you for this blog & for your honesty, being brave enough to write about what so many of us have gone through & are still struggling with every day!!

  3. They don’t allow smoking near hospitals now either. But during my one hospitalization to correct the medical mess the doctor left me in, people were still allowed to go up to the roof to smoke. At the time, I just wanted the air and stood away from the smokers. Did not even like the smell. Well, crazy…….by the end of this little sojourn and for a couple of years after, I craved cigarettes. Bizarre! I can only assume that adjusting meds, twisting little neurons in the brain released the pleasure center to adjust its taste buds and desires. Suddenly, cigarettes were craved in midlife! Crazy, but true. There is something about the illicit, but also the group therapy and collective that takes place among the smokers desperate to light up a fresh one. It took years but now I have a plastic one with a nicotine filter for when I feel stretched and need a “hit.” Brain chemistry at work!

    • That’s really fascinating, weird how brains work. There’s something so silly-feeling about starting to smoke/ crave it- for me it all felt a bit teenage! What’s the plastic one like?

      Thanks for commenting.

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