First performed at Worcestershire LitFest and Fringe 2016 as part of their mental health awareness day event.
This story is about my journey with psychosis. An often misunderstood and actually quite common mental health condition. Many people have a single or reoccurring episodes of psychosis throughout their lives, and most make a complete recovery.
She was woken in the middle of the night to the sound of muffled crying. She rubbed her eyes and clumsily pushed her feet in to teddy-bear slippers. She was nine, nearly ten, years old.
The clock said 3-47 am. Even as an adult she can recall the time. She staggered down the hall, and peeked in to her parents' and sister's bedrooms. They were all fast asleep, and the crying had stopped.
She went back to bed. As soon as her head touched the pillow, the crying started again. Louder now, more insistent. A shadow passed behind the door, and she felt it: the presence of another person. She pulled the duvet over her head and didn’t get back to sleep that night.
That was the first of many years chasing ghosts. Sometimes it was the chatter of many people, sometimes singing, sometimes weeping. As soon as she heard them, she would run around the house, hoping to find them. She was always too late; there were only shadows. But she could always feel them there: a chill down her spine, raised hairs on the back of her neck, the feeling that someone was watching her.
Her house was haunted. Every evening she would search online, drag up old news stories, looking for any clue of who might have lived in the house before; if anyone had died mysteriously, horribly, near the house and might be clinging on, trying to tell their story.
She searched the garden. The bottom half of it was a sunken pit, an untamed jungle, a mess of nettles, sharp-sticked beginnings of trees and fern: a picture of neglect. The ground was lumpy in places, swollen enough to possibly be hiding a body. Was that where they unhappily rested: the ghosts?
Armed with a torch and a little shovel, she tried to dig for clues in the dark. The ghosts whispered more often when the sun went down; she had thought they could guide her. But she only found dirt under dirt. Shivering in the cold, she would brush clumps of mud off her jeans with numbed fingers and sigh with frustration. They weren’t here, or buried so deep that she’d never be able to reach them.
She made the mistake of telling her class mates about the ghosts. They called her a freak and a weirdo. Her parents didn't grant her much attention. She was often alone, apart from the ghosts. She became afraid of the dark, and of being alone in the house. The ghosts were becoming bolder; now they seemed to be following her around the house, seeking her out, watching and whispering behind doors, lurking just out of sight. Now they were hunting her.
She went off to university at eighteen, and was relieved to finally leave the ghosts behind. When she was younger they had been interesting. Now they frightened her. The ghosts would move things, laugh at her from a distance, whisper between themselves as if they were plotting against her. The light had to be on at all times, even through the night.
The first night in her new house she turned the light out. She woke to an odd feeling: the room was cold, her skin was prickling. The clock said 3-47am. There was someone beside her in the bed. She rolled over and came face to face with a woman, a frozen smile, and eyes that didn’t blink.
The ghosts had followed her; it was her that was haunted, not her parent's house.
She began to see death everywhere she went: bent and broken corpses crawling down the stairs, headless people with jagged, ripped necks stumbling along blindly. Once she saw a house on fire, smelt the smoke, heard the roar of the flames, and when she looked back it was gone. She could feel disturbances between the real world and the spiritual world, could identify the places where people had died violently. She began to notice acutely when they were around, and learnt that if she stayed still and silent then they would just pass her by and not try to interact with her. They would sometimes move their mouths as if attempting to speak but no sound would come out. Once she woke up to a girl with a smashed in head; red-crusted hair matted to her face and neck, sitting on the edge of her bed, moving her mouth as if she was speaking. That scared her more than anything ever had, that the ghosts would be trying to connect, that they didn't just simply exist, that they wanted something from her. She screamed and screamed, and for the next few days her throat was raw.
After her first year of university she got miserably used to the opaque shadows lurking in corners, and grotesque corpses dragging themselves across the room. While studying for her exams, corpses moaned and writhed on the floor. People pulled themselves out of photographs and her reflection moved and grinned at her in the mirror. She just blanked it all, letting the whirlwind happen around her, it had become just another part of life. She coped well; she was good at pretending there was nothing wrong.
Then they started to speak. A prickling niggle in the back of her mind, a whisper. Can't you see what's going on? She glanced up. She was at a party, and the voice had come from right beside her, right next to her ear, but nobody stood there. They're all bastards, said the man next to her ear, loud and clear over the music and people shouting. She nodded, knowing that these people weren't her real friends. She hadn’t made the mistake of telling anybody about the ghosts again but, somehow, they all knew she was different and kept their distance. They had invited her as a courtesy, but nobody had spoken to her for over an hour. Have you never thought you were the problem? The voice suggested, suddenly changing tack and jolting her out of her stupor. She shook her head, but couldn't shake the thought from her mind. Feeling like crying, she left the party. She didn't say goodbye to anyone and nobody noticed her leave.
She walked home in a depressed daze, numb to the chill winter air. Ten minutes in to the walk she realised she had forgotten her jacket, and couldn’t muster the motivation to go back for it, to walk back in to a room full of people that hated her and probably mocked her whenever she was out of earshot.
She was walking over the bridge, footsteps echoing hollowly on the metal slabs, felt that familiar sensation of something crawling over her skin and realised she wasn’t alone. Five opaque shadows stood on the bridge; absolutely still, their backs to her, looking out over the river, as if they were frozen in time there.
One by one, in awful slow motion, they jumped off the bridge, flailing as they tumbled towards the water, dissipating into smoke as they hit the surface. She found herself frozen, muscles locked in iron shackles, and she was helpless to watch them, even as tears slid down her cheeks and stung her skin. As the last tendril of smoke curled into the air and floated away, the chill on her body lifted, her muscles were released from their shackles; she could finally move and she ran.
She ran past hung corpses, swinging from branches, pushed by opaque shadows like children on swings. The shadows called to her, held out perfectly formed shadow-nooses, the coils pulsing and twisting. Come over here. It would be easy.
She fell through her front door, and when it was slammed and locked and bolted, finally burst into tears. Collapsing into a shaking, shivering mess, she yelled for her housemates, now willing to destroy the image of normality she had worked so hard to maintain. She still had that feeling of dread and panic, an ice-cold fist squeezing her heart.
Movement outside of the room caught her eye, and she looked up. A woman in a fluffy white dressing gown sauntered past. She had dark hair and looked strangely familiar. She didn't live with a woman.
Not knowing whether it was a burglar, or another ghost, she selected the longest, sharpest knife from the kitchen draw. She padded over to the room, holding her breath, placing her feet carefully. She stopped just outside the door, pressed herself against the wall, slowly inched her way around the door. The woman stood facing away from her, then turned. She felt herself clench, bracing for something grotesque, and found herself staring at her own face. She didn't feel afraid; a sense of calm flooded her and she thought: At least I'm not haunted.
If you are interested in learning more about psychosis and my experiences of the condition, check out my
article for Freedom Of Mind blog.
Georgie Bull is a freelance writer and published author living in Worcester, England.
Author: Georgie Bull
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