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Strange nights spent away from where you normally sleep (usually no beds involved)

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    2001: I was working several jobs, trying to raise money for my trip to South America, so I had an unusual daily routine.

    Get up around 4am, then my dad would drive me to the post office sorting office where I was working sorting pre-Christmas post from 5am to 1pm. This varied between mind-numbing standing by the conveyor belts sorting letters into first class and second class (the only occasional distraction was a postcard which everyone passed round to read. The best one was a woman complaining that her daughter dropped their parrot down the toilet.) and actual manual labour lugging huge bales of junk mail magazines off the lorries and onto metal trollies. Sometimes you'd get the light relief of hurling parcels across the package room. Even if they said 'fragile' or 'warning chemical substances' and were leaking, that still got thrown around. At least the canteen did a decent and cheap breakfast when we had our break at 10am. The warehouse radio mainly played Kylie Minogue's 'can't get you out of my head' on loop very loudly.

    After that shift, I would get the bus into town, go to Sainsbury's and complete my daily challenge of buying myself lunch for under £1 (favourite combo was a banana for 10p and a tin of kiddy cartoon shape spaghetti hoops for 25p. I was semi-anorexic, tiny and skint). Then, I went to the local branch of Waterstones, up to the second floor where there was a sofa in the kids area, lay down under my coat, set the alarm on my phone for one hour's time and fell asleep. I did this every weekday for about six months and I was only woken up once by a member of staff who asked if I was ok, and I just said 'I'm fine thanks' and went back to sleep.

    After the alarm went off, I got another bus to my second job, which was working at an after-school playscheme between 3 and 6pm. There was a little five year old boy who arrived every day, threw down his school bag, ran straight to the dressing up area, put on a skirt, a straw hat and a red handbag, and then gave me lectures about the origins of black holes. I often had to be responsible for another little boy who wore a safety helmet the whole time because he fitted most days. I had to put him in the recovery position when he did, mop up his blood, comfort him when he woke up disorientated. I was in no way adequately trained for this (I was 19).

    Once all the kids had been collected by their parents, I cleaned up, did the washing up, then got another bus to my third job. This was door-to-door marketing for a water charity. I drove a big blue van around the villages, filled with water bottles and knocked on every door in a specified street, 7-9pm. I handed out free bottles of water and got people to complete a questionnaire about their water drinking habits. It was all nonsense, the only purpose was to get people's phone numbers so the real salespeople could phone them later. It amazed me how many people didn't slam the door in my face. Old people would answer the door saying 'my children tell me not to answer the door to strangers, but you look sweet' and I felt like telling them they should really listen to their children. I gave that job up after a few months because it started getting dark in the evenings and I didn't feel so safe knocking on strangers' doors.

    I would get the bus home, arrive around 10pm, pass out often fully clothed, rinse and repeat.


      Later in 2015: we realised it would be too crowded in our two-bed flat for another baby, and we couldn't afford anything bigger in London. So, like everyone else in our situation, we joined the exodus to the home counties. The aim was to move in the middle trimester; I've generally stopped vomiting around the fifth month, but I'm not yet as big as a house. But predictably, these things always take longer than they should and we ended up moving when I was eight months pregnant.

      Our old landlords were money-grabbing soulless vampires, so I went back to London with my daughter one day to oversee the final inspection that would determine if we got our deposit back (as it turned out, we lucked out because the letting agent lost the original copy of the inventory so they couldn't prove what condition the flat was in when we rented it, and we got everything back, but I didn't know that was going to happen). I think my husband was away with work. My daughter had one last session in her nursery that day and then at night I slept next to her on a bare mattress in an entirely empty flat. The next day I travelled through the London tube network with a pushchair, a rucksack, a suitcase and a toddler, remember while eight months pregnant. I would not recommend this.

      The house we moved into had no furniture and, having previously been in a furnished flat, we also had no furniture, other than our daughter's cot and the rocking chair that I used for breastfeeding. For the next month we slept alternately on an old mattress, or an inflatable mattress that we got from Argos which deflated in the middle of the night. Again, not recommended for the last months of pregnancy when it's a struggle even to stand up from a full-size bed. My parents-in-law tried to help us out by buying a second-hand bed that looked beautiful on the box, but when it arrived it turned out to be box two of two and only contained the headboard.

      These uncomfortable conditions contributed to my next story.


        2015: a few days after the heavily-laden trip through the underground, I woke up in the middle of the night on our inflated mattress having contractions. I was only 35 weeks pregnant. 5 weeks before due date. 2 weeks before you're considered 'full-term'. I thought they were maybe Braxton Hicks contractions, but they started getting more intense and more frequent. After a couple of hours in a warm bath, with paracetamol not taking the edge off them at all, we started using an app to time the contractions and realised they were close enough together that I'd need to go into hospital. My parents-in-law came round to look after the kids. They are hypochondriacs so I found myself bouncing up and down on a yoga ball, in extreme pain, vomiting politely into a Tupperware pot and reassuring them that I was sure it was probably nothing to worry about.

        My father-in-law drove us into hospital where there was mild alarm because my records hadn't yet arrived from the previous hospital I was registered with. Once we jumped that particular hurdle, they admitted me and confirmed that yes, I appeared to be in labour. However, because I was at 35 not 37 weeks, the doctors did everything possible to bring me out of early onset labour. I was put on a drip and given various medications. We realised it was possible that I'd been triggered by eating reheated Chinese food the day before (as we'd just moved house we didn't know where any of the cooking stuff was yet and were living off takeaway). I was an inpatient for three days while they gradually brought my contractions down. It was the most rest and relaxation I'd had for years.

        Over the following week, there were a couple of false starts, and then it seemed that my son gave up on all attempts to make an entrance. He was eventually born by caesarian almost seven weeks later when I was 12 days overdue.

        After that caesarian, one of the midwives suggested discharging me after less than two days. We'd done the requisite 24 hours on the post-natal ward, where this time my husband was allowed to stay by my bedside on a reclining chair, but he wasn't allowed to snore, which meant he wasn't allowed to sleep, and then booked the private room. Being out of London meant it was only £250 a night, which we considered money well-spent. When the midwife suggested I left, I laughed at her and said, no thanks, I still want access to oral morphine and my IKEA bed isn't being delivered until tomorrow.

        The day we came home I sat on the newly arrived second-hand sofa with my son for 12 hours, while my husband and my dad built me a bed.


          1999-2001: my boyfriend used to throw lots of all-night / two day house parties. His parents were often away for the weekend and there was an unspoken agreement that we could do what we like as long as the house looked the same when they got back on Sunday evening. Snippets from this period:

          - the house party where we had all the Russian exchanges staying, including one who was genuinely called Igor. He got bored and wandered off to a nearby pub, was returned by police around 3am. The police officer was essentially carrying him and greeted us with 'Is this yours?'

          - the one where my friend took an electric kettle, filled it with water and put it on the gas hob to boil. Several stoned people watched the resulting pretty fire before anyone realised to dump it in the sink. Spent most of Sunday driving round trying to find an identical replacement kettle, and scraping molten plastic off the kitchen floor.

          - watching sunrise from the sofa in the garden, or the treehouse, while drunken teenage boys dared each other to jump off the extension roof. Amazing that no-one broke an ankle.

          - the party where people got a bit artsy and we had to spend all of Sunday repainting the walls in the back hallway.

          - the one where my boyfriend had a major nose bleed all down the carpeted stairs, and we had to try every trick in the book to get the stains out ('try white wine', 'no, salt', 'no, bicarbonate of soda')

          - the party that ended the parties. We had a big bonfire going in the back garden and were making fireballs out of half beer cans filled with vegetable oil, with a lit piece of string as a wick, and throwing water at the flaming oil. We accidentally burned / blew a hole in the back lawn and didn't have the expertise to returf it before my boyfriend's dad returned. He really liked his lawn.


            Those are some indulgent parents that your boyfriend had!


              Yep, academics who believed that whatever we were getting up to, they'd rather we were doing it on their own premises. There were a few sets of parents like that. One of them had converted the basement into a party room, complete with a large one-armed bandit that they'd managed to remove from the pub. It still needed pound coins to operate it, but we treated it as communal cash. When we got hungry, we raided the back and ordered pizza.


                Spring 2016: we had a potty-training two and a half year old daughter, and a four month old son, and were completely deliriously sleep-deprived, but we still decided to go away for our third wedding anniversary. Ambitions had been dampened down somewhat, so we went to a hotel in the same county that had a swimming pool, just for one night. My wedding ring had been a bit tight, so I'd been wearing it on my little finger, but I knew it would fall off in the pool so I put it back on my ring finger while we 'swam' (translation, we walked up and down the pool holding one or other of our children and being splashed in the face repeatedly). I forgot to swap the ring back afterwards, probably because I was breastfeeding naked in the changing room.

                That evening, we were too tired to go to the restaurant so we ordered room service. As we were waiting for the food to arrive, I realised my finger had swollen and I could no longer take my wedding ring off. We tried soap to no avail. We were considering phoning the fire brigade as my finger swelled further, until my husband remembered the minibar. So it was that I ate dinner one-handed, with my left hand frozen to the inside of the minibar freezer compartment while my husband wrangled the two kids and we laughingly wished each other a 'happy anniversary'. The fire brigade were, fortunately, not needed.

                A few further notes on strategies we have used for trying to sleep in hotel rooms with young children:
                - ideally you want two rooms, one that you can shut the kids in, another that you can watch TV in or at least where you can keep a light on to talk to each other if they ever go to sleep. Often hotel configurations and finances do not allow for this.
                - second option: create 'two rooms' by any means possible. Put the cot in the bathroom. Drape the heavy curtains round the cot(s). Sit in the bath together watching TV on a tablet. Utilise the hallway space and shunt a wardrobe to one side to block it off. Escape to the balcony if it exists.
                - if two rooms are not possible, you have the joy of sitting silently in the dark, praying for the kids to go to sleep so you can watch something under the duvet with headphones on.
                - if all else fails, just go to sleep when the kids do.

                I feel like hotels could and should do much better with the type of family rooms provided.


                  I'm avoiding the big story of 2016, so for now, here is the saga of the Polish entomologist.

                  2006: I needed to fly home from Beijing, but wanted to meet a friend for a holiday on the way back. I discovered that a new route had just opened up where the plane would stop in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and you could stay there for a couple of weeks for no extra cost to your flight home. I arranged with my friend to meet her in Colombo. As I was getting on the plane in Beijing, I realised that I hadn't sent any more detailed instructions, so I borrowed a stranger's laptop, rifled through my guide book, picked a hostel at random and sent a hurried email to my friend suggesting we meet at that hostel.

                  Miraculously, we managed to meet. The hostel was run by a very friendly old lady who was possibly suffering from dementia. She let us wash all our clothes and then hang them out in the lounge to dry, before we started travelling.

                  We went a fairly standard route, visiting tea plantations, Kandy and Sigiriya. Every place we went, we kept bumping into the same Spanish woman and Polish guy, so we ended up drinking arak with them in the evenings. One night, we drank rather too much and the Spanish woman decided to retire to her hostel. It was late and dark, and she was tottering around, so I offered to see her safely back to her hostel. The Polish guy declared that he'd walk us both there safely. I think the Spanish woman had been secretly hoping that just the Polish guy would walk her back and I somewhat cramped her style. Anyway, we left her at her hostel and wandered back. Somewhere along the way we started kissing and fell in a ditch (the Polish guy made sure he was the one who hit the ground first and really scraped up his arm). I made it back to my hostel, but not back to my own room.

                  The next morning, my friend was furious because she'd been worrying where I was all night. 'What if you'd fallen in a ditch?' she yelled. To be fair, I had. I was too hungover to be reasonable about it though. We were supposed to be leaving the town that day and going to an elephant sanctuary, but we delayed by a day because I was too ill to travel. The next day I swapped emails with the Polish guy and waved goodbye.

                  At the next town we did some more touristy stuff and fended off the advances of a lecherous chef who liked to sit in the hostel restaurant and masturbate. Then, the next day, the Polish guy appeared at our room window. He'd cancelled the plans he had to return to India, and decided to follow me. We'd only told him which town we were going to, so he'd gone around all the hostels with our description until he found us. I was a bit surprised, but pleased to see him, and the three of us travelled together for another few days.

                  Now, back in Colombo, I had applied for a job that was emailed round to all the language assistants who were leaving China. I had worked out that the email address we were given was incorrect, and found the correct one to send my application to. Probably that thinned out the field, but either way, I was offered a phone interview. I found myself in a tiny telephone booth, in rural Sri Lanka, on a Friday evening, wildly exaggerating my skills and promising that I could start a job in London on Tuesday morning, no problem. I got the job.

                  I trudged back to the hostel and told my friend and my now sort-of Polish boyfriend that I'd have to go back to Colombo to try and get a flight in time. They took it as well as could be expected and Saturday morning we went our separate ways. I got myself a Sri Lankan phone card, got on a train and spent eight rickety hours on the train on the phone to the airline company trying to rearrange my flight. My friend and the Polish guy travelled together to the beaches I'd been planning on visiting.

                  ​​​​​​Back in Colombo, I had just enough time to go to the airline office to get my new ticket, pick up all my laundry and bags from the friendly dementia lady, and flew home. I arrived in the UK seven hours before my new job started.

                  As I'd started the job so hurriedly, I hadn't had time to arrange accommodation, so for the first few weeks I stayed at my parents' house in Suffolk and my dad drove me to the edge of the tube network early each morning. Then, a friend put me in touch with a family who were renting a room in New Cross Gate. It was only £300 a month and the low-cost and lack of fixed contract outweighed any downsides. They were a friendly family, black dad, white mum, two teenage daughters. I had use of the family kitchen for cooking and eating and used to help the girls with their Spanish homework on the kitchen table. The lounge was off limits though, family only, so I would retreat to my lonely little single-bed room and watch crap on my laptop (I think I was watching a lot of Dexter and Heroes around this time).

                  I'd also read a lot of emails. My friend and the Polish guy emailed about their continued travels on the beaches of Sri Lanka. My friend said the Polish guy drank lots of vodka and wrote terrible poetry about missing me. The Polish guy then continued with his planned travels to Asia. He had a varied career. Degrees in law and social anthropology. A keen interest in nature and travel photography. But his main source of income was entomology. Finding, capturing, buying and trading insects.

                  My friend came back to London and moved in with her Colombian boyfriend / husband-just-for-the-visa. The Polish guy finished his travels and planned to visit me in London. I described him to the family I was lodging with as my long-term boyfriend who had just been away travelling, so they wouldn't find it strange when he came to stay. I don't remember a huge amount about his visit, except that we visited the science museum, and went to a party at my friend's flat where we drank too much arak and Polish vodka, I drunkenly blocked my friend's toilet with loo roll, I headbutted some tiles off the bathroom wall, and we ended up very hungover on a bus in South London on a very hot morning, not enjoyable.

                  Polish guy went back to Poland, I carried on with my job, and arranged to have ten days off to go and visit him in Poland later in the year. We went to Krakow and Katowice, then went to visit his Catholic, non-English-speaking family in his small home-town. They were kind, but were obviously baffled by the appearance of a foreign vegetarian, and quite suspicious about my intentions with their son. The Polish guy showed me his terrifying entomology room with cases and cases filled with beetles, butterflies and cockroaches. Two days into my stay with the family, the Polish guy decided to split up with me.

                  I was more shocked than anything else. For our whole 'relationship', I had been saying, let's play it by ear, we live in different places, there's no real point treating it as anything but fun, while he had been professing undying love, and making plans for how we could end up in the same country together long-term. Perhaps the juxtaposition of me with his family had jolted him out of the fantasy.

                  Whatever provoked it, I still had six days to spend in Poland. We went to his family cabin in the mountains, hiked, ate smoked cheese and played Scrabble awkwardly.

                  I came home confused and threw myself into my job, where the next thing I had to do was take eleven teenagers on a prize-winning tour of Beijing.

                  Last edited by Balderdasha; 02-08-2019, 19:31.


                    Ok, I just tried to post the 2016 story and I have exceeded the maximum character limit by more than double! Will have to break it up. This is the first time I've sat down and written the whole story. Whether anyone reads it or not, it's already been cathartic for me.


                      2016: a first-person account of the descent into psychosis.

                      Warning: shit tonnes of triggering stuff for anyone who's had mental health difficulties, or known anyone who has.

                      The week before: I was already getting very little sleep. Our four month old son needed breastfeeding and comforting throughout the night. I alternated between rocking him over my shoulder, breastfeeding him, or co-sleeping as best I could, I'd created a 'safe space' between me and the cot, with no duvets or pillows that could suffocate him. My husband was commuting full-time to London, so I was trying to take the bulk of the night shift off him. I'd started to believe I could survive with very little sleep.

                      Then, I found inappropriate messages on my husband's phone from him to his ex. We had a massive row, and lots of heart to heart talking that ate into our already minuscule sleep quota. We asked my mum to babysit one night while we went to a relate session where I laid into my husband with great gusto. During the day, looking after the kids, I took my anger out by buying loads of coloured chalks and staging my own version of the festival of holi in the back garden. Me and my daughter took turns to jump up and down on the chalks, crushing them into the patio.

                      My husband went to a friend's wedding while I stayed at home looking after the kids. I became paranoid that he would have a car crash and I'd lose him which would be even worse than what we were already going through, so I stayed up all night waiting for him. Day one of zero sleep.

                      The next day was hot and we set up a barbecue in the back garden. My mum came to stay. I was phasing out, sitting in an abandoned arm chair in the back garden, not speaking, not engaging with anything. My daughter had an accident (she was potty training) and was running around the garden bare-bottomed. All the halloumi kebabs burnt because I wasn't watching them. I began to obsess that I had broken my relationship with my daughter by getting angry when she had accidents and then thought I had discovered the way to 'heal our daughter'. I had a very weird conversation with her, then realised I wasn't talking clearly and switched to worrying that my husband had let me carry out 'an experiment' on our daughter that had harmed her. My mum was concerned by my behaviour but everyone thought I was just overtired.

                      The kids went to bed. For some reason, we decided it would be a good idea for me, my husband and my mum to play 'cards against humanity'. For future reference, if there is any chance you're heading into a manic or psychotic episode, don't play this game, it's just too weird. My mum and husband then insisted I went to bed. I put on my pyjamas and lay in bed, but there was no chance of sleeping. I became convinced that I had found the type of truth that backpackers go looking for when they want to 'find themselves'. This progressed to thinking I had achieved Buddhist enlightenment. I became very excited and wanted to share my discoveries, it would be selfish to keep this joy and insight to myself.

                      I went downstairs in my red spotted pyjamas and gave my mum and my husband a long, incoherent, preachy speech, the type of thing you see evangelists spouting outside Brixton tube. I felt that I had finally revealed my true self to my mother. She looked horrified. I had recently watched the episode of Game of Thrones where the red lady takes off her golden choker and transforms into an ancient crone. That's roughly the transformation that my mum's face went through in my part-hallucination.

                      My husband chivvied me back to bed and tried to encourage me to sleep. He and my mum discussed whether I needed medical help. They decided to see whether a good night's sleep would help first. I didn't sleep that night either though. I thought I heard my mum sobbing in the night, but didn't go to check on her and felt terribly guilty about that. I kept my husband awake all night with spurious theories. I thought I was receiving direct revelations about my personal history. I understood, at last, that my mother had had a psychotic episode when I was a baby, and had told everyone that I was the reincarnation of Jesus Christ. I believed that she had been sectioned, and that maybe that was why my dad and sister walked on eggshells trying not to trigger extreme emotions in her. It was a family conspiracy that they had hidden from me as the youngest child. Day two with zero sleep.

                      By the third morning I believed that I had been sent on a mission to rid the world of paedophilia and that I needed to summon every single human in the world to my house, possibly to have sex with them in order to cleanse the world. I rang my sister to summon her first. She came with her second eldest daughter, who was fourteen at the time. I was horrified that she had brought my niece because it threw out my calculations of trying to have more adults in the house to balance out and protect the children. By this point I was clearly not safe to look after the children so my niece took the kids out in the garden, playing football with my daughter and rocking the baby in the buggy.

                      I kept panicking where the children were. I was repeatedly taken to an upstairs window to look out and see the children were safe in the garden. This triggered ideas about the garden of Eden. I had also been reading about 'Johari windows', a psychological theory which looks at how much you understand yourself and others, through the windows you can and can't see. I thought the physical window was a Johari window and was revealing new information about my family that had previously been hidden from me.

                      My sister had previously had severe postnatal depression after her third child, which nearly tipped into psychosis. She decided it was imperative to get me to sleep through any means necessary and tried to get me to take antihistamines. Unfortunately, as a child, I had a severe phobia of swallowing tablets, and this triggered an unpleasant memory of being on an exchange trip to Germany, having terrible earache and being prescribed weird homeopathic green tablets that my mum spent hours trying to force me to swallow.

                      At some point, my family had called for medical assistance and a GP came to the house. I was pleased that more people were arriving at the house as this fit with my plan. I had a conversation with the GP, but I don't remember much of it. The GP said that I was having an episode, but didn't think I needed immediate sectioning, agreed that they should encourage me to sleep, and said to phone for further assistance if I became violent, then left.

                      My son needed feeding and I was in no state to do this. My sister went to the shop to buy formula milk and bottles. I was confused about why the number of people in the house kept going up and down, when I thought it only needed to go up. When my sister came back with the formula milk, I was lying on the bed. She lay down next to me with a bottle of formula milk to ask my permission to feed it to my son.

                      Opinions differ on what happened next. What I remember is that I thought she intended to bottle feed me like a baby and that was all wrong, because I was supposed to be the most adult person in the house, saving all the children. My sister says that I attempted to throttle her and threw her to the floor. My husband downstairs heard a thud, rushed upstairs and by the time he got there, me and my sister were standing on opposite sides of the room, staring each other down. My sister had phoned 999 and reported that she had been violently attacked.

                      Here, personal experiences colour actions and expectations. My sister is a white British woman who implicitly trusts the police. My husband is a male, immigrant, brown-skinned Palestinian, with personal and family experience of police brutality. My sister's intention with phoning the police was to accelerate my access to medical care. My husband feared that they would cause me physical harm. Because the call had been logged as domestic violence, without the gender of the perpetrator being specified, the police sent their hardcore squad. Two very large, beefy officers, one male, one female, arrived, wearing stab vests, prepared to fight. At this point, I had got very fighty, I'd been screaming at my husband and threatening to push him down the stairs and break his neck. At some point I briefly accused my husband of raping me. When the police arrived, my husband was holding me in a jiu-jitsu disabling hold, attempting to stop me causing damage either to myself or to anyone else.

                      The police didn't know who was the violent person in the room. I was alternating between struggling to break free and then going completely floppy in a bizarre attempt to demonstrate to the police that I trusted my husband. My husband was just pleading 'please don't hurt her, please don't hurt my wife'. It was a very charged atmosphere, but again, it fit with my aim to have everyone in the world come to my house. Gradually, the situation was explained, and everyone lowered their guard a little. An ambulance arrived and my husband dressed me to go to hospital (previously I was still dishevelled and in pyjamas, sometimes with my large boobs flying free of clothing). This was easier said than done as in my mania phase a week or two earlier, I had gone all Marie Kondo and donated virtually all my clothes to charity shops. The few that remained were in the dirty laundry pile.


                        I was led out to the ambulance and strapped down in the bed in the back. My husband rode in the front of the ambulance though I didn't realise this. My mum and sister took my daughter and son home to calm them and feed them. I have no idea how my sister managed to transition a baby, that she didn't know all that well, from breastfeeding to bottle feeding cold turkey. No matter what has happened between us since, I will always remain grateful for that.

                        My experience of the ambulance journey was bizarre. I believed that my husband had hired a cast of amateur thespians to play the roles of police and ambulance technicians and that the ambulance was simply parked outside my house with other bit-players outside rocking the vehicle to simulate movement. I had no theory as to why he would have done this. I was convinced that when this charade stopped I would be led back to my house. I babbled incoherently. I sang loudly. I thrashed against the bonds. I screamed sometimes.

                        Eventually, we arrived at the hospital and were triaged into a waiting room. At this point, my husband didn't know whether what was happening to me was mental or physical, permanent or reversible. I had stopped making much sense verbally, so he sat by my bedside trying to google as much information as he could about my state. I remember at one point lying on a single bed staring at him, willing him to look up from the phone but he didn't.

                        Other, increasingly incoherent memories from this room. I watched my husband gradually age all the way to a decrepit old man, then, when he got up to go to the en suite toilet, I believed he was shielding me from his transformation into a skeleton slumped on the bathroom floor. He was then reborn in the toilet and came back to me as the age I remembered him. It genuinely felt like I had watched that whole passage of time.

                        I had been watching lots of Unbreakable Kimmi Schmidt prior to my episode. There was a duality in my mind between the optimistic world of Kimmi and the bleakness of Game of Thrones. I kept remembering the hand crank and that if I could survive the next ten seconds, I would make it through.

                        At one point, I decided that if I launched myself flat onto the bed, smacking my head and then immediately leapt up shouting hallelujah, I could reset reality to the point where I was sane. So I did this repeatedly, trying to get the sequence fast enough, so it would be just right. I think this took us through to Day Three with zero sleep.

                        Day four, I was transferred to a mental health ward. This room had a door out to a garden. I was having an obsession with binaries and trying to find the middle somehow. I kept singing really high and then really low, or really loud and then really quiet. This had something something to do with my aunt who is actually an opera singer. I thought that the garden was the garden of Eden, or the entrance to death and heaven. I kept dancing on the threshold between the room and the garden, trying to outwit death. The garden had three types of bin or drain, maybe one was a recycling bin, one was a waste bin and one was a drain in reality. In my head, they were different choices after death, cremation, burial, etc, and I was trying to avoid them all because I didn't want to die yet.

                        A couple of weeks before my episode, I had taken my son with me to an evening baby and toddler first aid course. Something was obviously not right then. The instructor had demonstrated CPR on a dummy, and then asked the delegates to practice in turns on a couple of other dummies. As there were not many dummies available, I had taken my son out of his buggy to see whether I could practice on a live baby. I only stopped when I saw the scared looks on the other parents' faces. While I was in the garden at the mental hospital, I remembered answering a question that the midwife instructor had posed, and became convinced that I had actually carried on practicing CPR on my infant son and had accidentally killed him. Everything I remembered since that point had been the fevered imaginings of my grief-stricken mind and I was now in an asylum for insane mothers who had killed their babies. I had an imagined conversation with the midwife instructor and it suddenly became very important to know how many grandmothers everyone had had alive at the time of their birth. I was waiting for both of my grandmothers to appear in the Eden/death garden and I was particularly fearing being reacquainted with my mother's mother who was extremely formidable, and having to confess to killing my son.

                        By this point, I was not speaking in any intelligible language, even though I was singing / speaking continuously and very fast. The doctors had a theory that maybe I had reverted to a childhood first language, either real or invented, so they called my sister in to see if she could translate. My sister says that I was speaking in a combination of words from kids' TV programmes like the Teletubbies and In the Night Garden and Waybuloo and words from real languages that I know (I studied Latin at school, I have French and German GCSEs, I learnt enough Spanish to travel independently round South and Central America, I achieved partial fluency in Mandarin Chinese in my twenties, my husband speaks Arabic, his parents are also fluent in Italian. Through my travels I've learnt snippets of Polish, Vietnamese, Russian, etc. I know a lot of weird words), but she wasn't able to translate. I remember having an intention to absorb / understand / speak all the languages in the world in order to save everyone. My sister says I said my ex-boyfriend's name at this point. If I did I suspect it was because I wanted to include Cantonese (which he spoke but I don't). My sister decided that this was evidence that I was secretly in love with my ex, not my husband.

                        My sister is trained as a nursery nurse, so she tried to use the techniques she uses with toddlers with me. She tried giving me binary options, e.g. do you want to drink water or tea (by this point I had not eaten or drunk anything, or slept, or stopped dancing, singing or talking for over four days), but as I was already having a binary obsession this reinforced my weird world view and backfired. I threw tea all over her at one point. She also tried repeating the words I was saying back to me to build rapport. However, in my mind at this point, my sister and I were in a room filled with infinite, invisible babies, all the babies that had ever and would ever live, and we had joint responsibility for deciding which ones should die. I would suggest the name of a baby to die, saying something like 'Hamlamliboo?' and she would repeat 'yes, Hamlamliboo' back to me and I would get distraught because how could she agree with me that Hamlamliboo should die, when Hamlamliboo was such a lovely baby and had never done anything to hurt anyone!

                        The tights and shoes my sister was wearing on this day also confused me because they were the same ones she wore on the day I was taken from my house and I kept getting my timelines muddled. I had no idea how much time had passed, whether we were going forward or backwards in time, if it was day or night or anything.

                        I was taken to my first ward round / meeting with a psychiatrist this day. I didn't know that was what it was. All I knew was that we went to a different room where there was a woman on a computer. I was pleased by this because I'd also been having a binary imaginary fight between the childhood influences of my mother (positive / light / good) and my father (negative / dark / bad), and between the forces of male and female, and my mother was the one who first bought us a computer at home and taught us how to use it. I thought the meeting was proof that the feminine forces of good were succeeding.

                        Somewhere around day four/five, the doctors must have managed to inject me with enough sedative to finally knock me out.


                          I don't know the order of the next memories but I remember:

                          Waking up in one room with white walls and a high up window where I could just about see people walking past in the corridor outside. I thought they were aliens and I had been abducted.

                          Being in a room with walls the same colour green that all the bedding is in youth hostels. There were lots of shelves and nooks and crannies that I thought were representations of different letters and I kept trying to read the wall.

                          Going into an en suite shower and finding another drain like the drain in the garden and trying to see if I could crawl out of it.

                          Going outside my room to a corridor, sitting on a stool and having an in depth conversation with someone who must have been another mental patient.

                          Believing at one point that one of my best friends from university was in the room next door giving birth, and I was simultaneously giving birth and we were telepathically giving each other strength while screaming through our contractions.

                          A ham sandwich being placed next to my bed (I'm vegetarian. My family say this did happen and they objected strongly to the staff about it) and wondering whether I was secretly a cannibal and that was why I was incarcerated.

                          My husband appearing one evening with a big rucksack filled with supplies (he did bring real things for me, photos, colouring books, snacks, drinks, etc) and believing that he was packing for a big expedition, perhaps for us to stage a daring escape together and head off to survive in the wilderness.

                          Having conversations in my head with everyone I knew who was part of a couple and asking them to all name three important things they had in common (a bit like the scene in Malcolm in the Middle where they're struggling and out in the rain and Lois demands that they find five reasons right there and then to keep going). At one point I saw a shadow over the bed, and knew that it was death, specifically death as depicted by Terry Pratchett and I realised that one of the things that me and my husband had in common was enjoyment of Terry Pratchett and I laughed and cackled myself silly at the fact that I'd forgotten that. My mum must have heard me say Terry Pratchett because the next day she brought me a book of Terry Pratchett quotes.

                          At one point I realised I was the only person in the world who had made the connection between Heston Blumenthal and chocolate, and I was going to be a millionaire because of it.

                          This took us to about day six. As I still hadn't eaten or drunk anything, I was severely dehydrated and I was transferred to a general ward so I could be put on an IV drip. Things I remember from this period are:

                          There was a ceiling fan spinning slowly like in the famous scene from Apocalypse Now, and maybe I was a Vietnamese war veteran, hallucinating the whole second half of the twentieth century.

                          Another time I realised I was actually in the midst of the ebola epidemic, that was why everyone was in scrubs and there were curtains round my bed and again, I had hallucinated my whole life in the West.

                          A friendly smiley nurse sat by my bed and I thought she was a clown.

                          One time I woke up and my mum was by my bed crying and she said "I'll be an izzy whizzy busy Lizzie if you want" and I went back to sleep.

                          One time there was a tray in front of me with egg and chips on a plate and I seemed to actually be eating, but at the same time the chips were like the hands of a clock and they kept going round and round faster and faster.

                          Once I went and sat next to an elderly lady who was hooked up to an oxygen tank and had a really nice chat to her for an hour. I confided in her that I thought I might be mad and she said I shouldn't worry about it, that she'd had the nicest conversation she'd had for days with me. That made me feel a little better.

                          I was still stuck on binaries and trying to get back to the middle. I'd tried escaping lots of ways, back / forwards, in / out, left / right. I was staring at some angel shaped light fixtures on the ceiling and I realised I hadn't tried up / down. Maybe I could escape this nightmare if I went high enough up. So I tried physically climbing the bed frame. I still had my IV drip attached and I nearly ripped it out before nurses came and sedated me again.

                          One morning, around day seven, I woke up suddenly a bit clearer in the head, found my phone and called my husband at 5am. "What's going on?" I demanded. "Why am I in hospital?" My husband was deliriously happy at the sound of my voice. I even used his name. It was the first ray of light he had that I might one day come back.

                          Day nine, I was moved to a mother and baby unit, and they brought my baby son to come and stay with me. It was the first concrete proof I had that I hadn't killed him. It was the start of a long, slow, painful recovery.


                            I'm not sure what to say Balders, thanks for sharing this and I really hope it was helpful for you.

                            You've really got a talent for narrative writing which needs to be read by a larger audience. Look after yourself and your family.


                              A mini-story from 2014 for a bit of light relief. We booked last minute and got a good deal to stay two nights in Brighton at the start of the new year. We arrived quite late, it was dark, wet and windy, but we know Brighton quite well so we decided to walk to the hotel to save money. Also, our daughter was asleep in the pushchair and at this point we were terrified of the consequences of ever waking her (she had a mighty set of lungs on her).

                              As we got closer to the seafront, the wind and rain picked up. We tried to fit the rain cover over the pushchair, but it just acted as a sail and made it a real struggle to keep the pushchair on the ground. I began to wonder what on earth we were doing out in a storm, in the dark, with a baby. We had to go right to the seafront for the entrance to the hotel and when we got there, it was shut. We'd had a bit of trouble confirming our booking and for a moment I thought that the whole hotel had gone into administration and we were stranded.

                              Fortunately, all that had happened was they closed the seafront entrance due to the storms and we made it safely in the side door.

                              The next day, the weather was a little calmer. We made cheese sandwiches from the breakfast buffet, walked onto Brighton pier and sat in deckchairs watching the raging seas. My daughter was temporarily asleep in her pushchair and I distinctly remember that being one of the most relaxing moments I'd had in months.

                              For context on the storm, see this article:


                                2016: Tales from the mother and baby unit

                                It was very confusing at first. I was still semi-psychotic and didn't really understand what had happened. I had to learn how to bottle feed a baby (when they first brought my son to me I kept trying to breastfeed him on reflex and couldn't understand why they wouldn't let me. Because of the drugs I was on, I was never able to breastfeed him again. For me, that was one of the biggest losses of the whole situation, that my choice on how to feed my baby was ripped away from me).

                                Nothing made any sense. I wasn't wearing my own clothes (my mum and sister had donated some). My sister had braided my hair in a style that she usually did her daughters' hair in, but I never did mine like that. I was in a single bed in a university dorm style room. The bed had rubber sheets and was very uncomfortable. Everything in my room had been labelled with my first name with Sharpies, which also seemed weird. The nurses had objected that I didn't have many toiletries in my room so my sister brought loads of travel-size creams and make up things, which was weird because in my normal life the only 'toiletries' I use are: toothpaste, soap, shampoo, conditioner, one all-purpose moisturiser. I would marvel at these tiny tubes and bottles all labelled with my name. Why were they mine? How did they get there? What were they for?

                                I was given lots of literature to read about post-partum psychosis but I couldn't really take it in. I had scheduled meetings with psychologists and psychiatrists who tried to explain what had happened / was still happening.

                                There were about six other mums and babies in the unit who had various mental health conditions. We each had our own room with space for our babies to sleep with us in a cot, but to start with my son was sleeping in the nearby nursery so his cries didn't disturb my sleep. I also worried that I was going to harm my son and didn't want to be left alone with him.

                                There were lots of nurses, who rotated on 8-12 hour shifts, so the constant changing cast was quite confusing.

                                For a while I found sitting on a chair very triggering, because it reminded me of being zoned out in the armchair in the back garden the day before I was sectioned, and also once sitting in a chair in the corridor of one of the mental hospitals and stroking the striped, textured side of the chair and having a weird hallucination about the chair being alive. So I would pace the corridors or lie on my bed, but I didn't like sitting down.

                                I hid behind chairs in an office having a babbling, psychotic episode and a very kind and friendly nurse, who had the name of an angel, gradually calmed me down. I recently phoned the ward to talk to them about something, and I could hear him shouting in the background asking how my son is.

                                I slept a lot. I kept thinking that if I went to sleep, maybe I just wouldn't wake up and the whole nightmare would be over. But I kept waking up.

                                I woke at strange times. I would roam the ward at night, bumping into other residents in the kitchen or the lounge, frequently asking them how many grandmothers they had alive when they were born. Sometimes the nurses had to chase me back to my room and sedate me.

                                One day I locked myself in the toilet and tried to stay there long enough to die, but the nurses broke the door down after ten minutes.

                                Sometimes I cuddled my son and bottle fed him, but I felt quite distanced from him.

                                I lay in bed, planning how to die.

                                My husband came to visit me every day after work and helped me feed our son, bathe him, dress him in his pyjamas and try to rock him to sleep. Often I would go to sleep exhausted at 7 or 8pm, and my husband would stay looking after our son for another three hours, before starting the long journey home (we have no car, he was doing a two-three hour round trip via buses, trains and taxis). He did several very thoughtful things during this time. I never knew what day or time it was and I was constantly asking questions about time. So my husband bought me a very simple, waterproof, Casio digital watch in my favourite colour. I still wear it to this day. It was very quiet in my room, so he bought me a radio, tuned it to a music station and all I had to do was press one button to operate it. He brought photos of the kids and put them in frames on my window shelf. He brought our daughter to visit me at the weekends and brought favourite story books for me to read to her (even when at my most out of it, I could cuddle my daughter and read her a story).

                                My mum, my sister and my dad also came to visit me and would stay for hours, helping to entertain my son. My husband arranged for a couple of my friends to visit.

                                About six days into my stay, I noticed two spots on the back of my son's neck that I thought was chicken pox. One of the nurses came to check him and said it was probably nothing to worry about. I went ape shit, screaming at her that she wasn't a proper medical professional and that I demanded a proper doctor came and looked at my son now. They eventually brought a doctor in just to calm me down. My son did have chicken pox.

                                This meant that me and my son were put in isolation to protect the other babies. Where previously I had been able to walk around the ward, including two lounges, a kitchen, a dining room, a bottle preparation room, a nursery, and a garden, now I had to just stay in my room with my son. The nurses stepped up their help, but it was still brutal. My son also had eczema so wanted to scratch continuously. All the photos of him from this time have his hands covered in socks to stop the scratching. The days were taken up in an endless cycle of washing my son, covering him in calamine lotion, dressing him, covering his hands in socks, feeding him, changing his nappy, etc.

                                Despite our best efforts, my son got chicken pox under his nails and bit his fingers to try and stop the itching. His fingernails went black. My husband had to take my son to A&E. My mum drove him there, but then just left him on his own with one bottle of milk and a cranky baby for a four hour wait. At one point, my husband overheard the doctors discussing whether it was gangrene and that maybe our son's fingers would need to be amputated. Thankfully, it didn't come to that. My husband and son were released with a course of antibiotics and came back to the ward. It was 5am and my husband had to go to work. He asked the angel nurse if he could use the shower, but due to an incident involving a previous partner, he couldn't allow him to. So my husband washed his face and his armpits as best he could, then went and delivered a training course on zero sleep (we're self-employed, there is no sick leave).

                                Gradually though, despite the horror, I was starting to get more of a grip on reality.


                                  Originally posted by Antepli Ejderha View Post
                                  I'm not sure what to say Balders, thanks for sharing this and I really hope it was helpful for you.

                                  You've really got a talent for narrative writing which needs to be read by a larger audience. Look after yourself and your family.
                                  Seconded. Phenomenal, powerful writing.


                                    2016: who else was in the mother and baby unit.

                                    As some of the drugs kicked in and the psychosis subsided, I started to become more aware of the people around me.

                                    There was a mother who had had psychosis like me, but her hallucinations had manifested as seeing people's pets leaping out of trees in front of her car as she was driving along the road, and spiders crawling all over her skin, and believing her baby daughter had been sent or possessed by the devil. We did baby massage classes together.

                                    Another woman was there because of severe anxiety and depression, coupled with the fact that she had neglected her own health when her son was born, to the extreme of mismanaging her diabetes, so she was admitted to stabilise both her mental and physical health. She was kind and quite protective towards me.

                                    Two of the women were trained healthcare professionals, one even a mental health nurse, who couldn't believe they'd found themselves on this side of the clinical experience.

                                    The average stay was only a month or two, but as I stayed over four months in total, I saw more patients than most.

                                    One mother was a teacher and gave impassioned speeches about how we had to fight this illness together. She came on walks with me, but didn't stay long.

                                    One mother of eight was so skinny, malnourished and hunched over, that she looked like the survivor of some sort of terrible apocalypse. Her husband came and prepared an identical meal for her every night until the nurses realised that non-residents were not allowed to use the kitchen. She left very soon after. I only heard her speak once to clarify the number of children she had.

                                    There was a young, teenage mother, I'd guess no more than 16, who brought tubes of sherbet and tried to get us to have midnight feasts.

                                    One mother came all the way from Cornwall (the unit was on the outskirts of London) as it was the closest available space. She talked openly of her many suicide attempts and her arms bore the scars. We played badminton together in the garden.

                                    There was a mum who spent most of her time making home-made baby food for her daughter. She was warm and sweet and you would never have been able to tell from the outside that she was suffering.

                                    Another lady wore full-face war paint make-up, but dissolved into tears every time her husband came to visit her bringing flowers. I think she had physical injuries from a traumatic birth, as well as mental difficulties, and had to go to hospital regularly.

                                    One woman had a son who had experienced some sort of brain trauma (a bleed or water on the brain, I wasn't quite sure) and a health visitor had written in his official notes that it was caused by her being an inexperienced mother. This accusation had caused her to question her instincts and become gradually more unwell. She was very sweet and very insecure.

                                    One woman came in for a week only as a precaution. She had post-partum psychosis with a previous pregnancy, and if you've had it once your chance of having it with a subsequent pregnancy is 50% so they watch you like a hawk. She was so vibrant and cheerful and clearly sane in comparison to the rest of us that she felt like an alien visitor. She made jokes and had a really hearty laugh. I couldn't imagine ever being that happy again.

                                    There were a few other mums who came for a few days or a week, but these are the main ones I remember.

                                    There was a woman at the beginning who I don't really remember because I was so out of it. She was close to being released and doing lots of arts and crafts, knitting and colouring and so on. My family say she was very kind to me and gave me a tour of the unit. We're friends on Facebook now, as I am with several of the other mothers who were in the unit at the same time.

                                    Since being released, I've met up with one of the mothers in real life. She came to a children's festival in my town and then came round to ours for tea later. She's had another child since our stay in the unit. She had a very different experience from me, in that she went into hospital because of experiencing extreme stress and everyone around her telling her that she needed help, but she didn't think she needed to be in there. I, on the other hand, once I came round from the psychosis, thought I was very very clearly mad, and should probably never be released to general society again. I genuinely thought I was going to spend the rest of my life in a mental institution. If I'd lived fifty or a hundred or two hundred years ago, I would have done. Fifty to a hundred years ago I would have been diagnosed with schizophrenia. Two hundred years ago I'd have been the mad woman in the attic in Jane Eyre.


                                      Thank you for sharing. The writing is stunning.


                                        2016: summer in the mother and baby unit.

                                        At the start, all I could handle was the bare minimum of looking after my son, eating and sleeping, but gradually I became aware of more activities on the ward.

                                        As well as the previously mentioned baby massage classes, there was a sensory room and a lady came in once a week to run a music session for the babies. She was young, very smiley, with auburn hair and played the guitar. I think my son had a bit of a crush on her. The room had LED lights, colorful bean bags and crinkly materials, and was generally just more interesting that anywhere else on the ward.

                                        I had a meeting with a psychologist and a group therapy session once a week. An occupational therapist came in to do baking with us and sometimes walked us to the nearby mental health ward to use the outdoor gym.

                                        Once I started to venture outside the immediate unit, I realised what a strange location we were in. It was a huge site, previously all mental health hospitals, but most of them had shut down when care switched to 'care in the community'. The mother and baby unit was still operating, as was a large general mental health ward (which I learned I had been in for a couple of days during my psychosis), but between them were loads of eerie boarded up buildings and overgrown forests.

                                        I was taken off my section after a few weeks and remained as a voluntary patient. Even though I took part in all the available activities, the days were still long.

                                        My husband read that exercise helps particularly with recovery after these episodes. He asked the staff why we weren't doing more exercise as part of our therapy and bought a badminton set for the ward. He also bought me a Fitbit and I would pace around the garden trying to do X thousand steps. Later on, with my consent, he downloaded a 'couch to 5k' app for me. One of the office staff agreed to come out of the ward with me while I ran the requisite intervals. I found a nearby field ringed with blackberry bushes and did most of my running there. My family found it very weird that I'd taken up running and thought this was evidence of my husband controlling me. It's true that I loathe running. But I don't loathe it as much as being incarcerated and suicidal.

                                        When my daughter came to visit, we would all go on family walks up to the mental ward, where there were some wooden statues and a café where I could buy my daughter hula hoops and orange juice. We went blackberry picking together (this seems to be my daughter's only memory of my hospital stay), and made blackberry crumble back at the unit.

                                        The nurses tried to provide stimulating activities for the babies. I have a scrapbook they made with photos and evidence of my son doing some painting, or playing with coloured spaghetti, or splashing in a paddling pool outside.

                                        I took up knitting again. I can only knit in a straight line. I previously knitted myself a scarf as a teenager, took me about three years' worth of long bus journeys, and I wore it until I lost it last year. This time I knitted a scarf for my daughter.

                                        My mum brought a 'make your own bird feeder' kit and we sat in the garden and painted it together.

                                        We were supposed to plan evening meals together and help cook, but not many of the women were well enough to do this. One of them rebelled and ordered Domino's pizza to the ward five nights in a row. Often no-one had any clue what the plan was for dinner. An Iranian nurse would rustle up lovely vegetarian dishes from whatever vegetables were in the fridge. As I became better I would help write lists of ingredients, go shopping with the nurses and help cook. I remember the first time I helped make a lasagne and was let loose with a knife. It felt very weird to be trusted with a sharp weapon and I had to go sit in a room by myself for a while afterwards.

                                        My son was weaned on the ward. We would have sessions to make sweet potato and red pepper purees. But mostly he was weaned on mashed banana and avocado or I made lots of eggy bread. One week, I was supposed to have a meeting with my psychologist, and my family had arranged to come en masse (my mum, my dad, my sister) because they wanted to use it as an opportunity to harangue my husband. It was far too many people in the room, one of the nurses later described it as a 'circus'. I lasted five minutes, then said to my husband 'I'm sorry, I can't handle this' and left the room. I went and collected my son and my daughter from the nurses, put my son in a bouncy chair and made eggy bread for both my children for dinner, teaching my daughter how to crack the eggs and whisk them. That was one of the first instances where I started to think 'you know what, I'm not actually that crazy compared to some of the people around me' and that maybe in the end I'd be ok looking after my kids on my own.

                                        My son learnt to walk there too. They had a couple of baby walkers, one shaped like a lion and he would roar up and down the corridors in them, sometimes bumping into the other babies. You can only go in a mother and baby ward if your child is under one year old. I worried that I wouldn't be released before then, and then what would happen?

                                        Eventually, I started to go on home leave. At first, all I wanted to do was sleep in my own, wonderfully comfortable, spacious bed, the IKEA one that my dad and husband built, which I hadn't yet had a chance to sleep in on my own. Weirdly, I found it easier to do mental tasks instead of childcare or housework, so I would come home from the hospital and spend hours catching up on our accounts and invoices for our business.

                                        The early visits were a mixed bag. One day my son mildly burned his hand on the water jug that was heating up a bottle for him and the stress/guilt caused me to start to drift off. My mum then arrived and starting hysterically predicting that I was going to have another episode. We agreed I should go back to the ward and my mum drove me there. After a car journey with my mum, I was nearly psychotic again, having weird memories of a phrase my dad used to say to me all the time as a child 'brain the size of a planet, common sense the size of a pea'. I pretty much threw myself back in the doors of the mother and baby unit, and the welcoming arms of the always calm angel nurse.


                                          Once while walking around the grounds I bumped into two startled tweenage boys, who had found themselves there by playing 'Pokemon Go'.


                                            Taking a break from the mother and baby unit, here is 1994-1995 and the German choir exchanges.

                                            I sang in a local choir with my mum. When I was 12, we took part in an organised exchange trip with a German choir in a small town just outside Hamburg. Each family, or a group of three people, was placed with a local family. Me, my mum and my friend were placed with one family. My friend's mum, younger sister and brother were with another family. The family we stayed with were friendly, but a little quirky, probably as any family would seem to outsiders. There was a mum, an older dad, and an only daughter around the same age as me.

                                            The family were quite health conscious and would give lectures on the health benefits of everything laid out for the evening meal (it usually resembled something that I would consider more of a lunch buffet, sliced cheeses and meats, black bread, various vegetables). The father delighted in stopping his car by the road on the way home, next to fields of fresh maize, and nipping in to steal just enough corn on the cobs for everyone for dinner. They cooked new potatoes in their skins, still with mud clinging to them, and then everyone was issued a little knife to peel the hot potatoes at the table.

                                            They lived in a lovely, spacious house, but the strangest aspect was that they had a basement converted into a swimming pool, steam room and sauna that we weren't allowed to use. The daughter snuck me down once to look at it, it was amazingly luxurious and I loved swimming, but the daughter explained that her parents only allowed immediate family members to use it, for fear of germ contamination. That is the closest I have ever got to how it must have felt for people excluded from segregated swimming pools.

                                            Me and my friend slept on mattresses on the floor of a play room. My friend frequently talked in her sleep much to my amusement. You could have semi-coherent conversations with her which she would remember none of in the morning.

                                            We sang in concerts in churches and in halls. We went on a ride on a horse and cart through the forest. We went to a theme park and saw performers spinning diabolos in the squares in Hamburg. We met several other exchange families, including a boy who was a year and a half older than me. He was very tall and taught me the German word for 'arsehole'.

                                            We had left my dad and my older sister at home to fend for themselves. We had also left them the task of looking after two six-foot iguanas that we were pet-sitting for a friend. After travelling back home by ferry, we discovered that my sister had tried to do the laundry, but mixed the wrong colours and accidentally dyed all her underwear and my dad's work shirts a horrible shade of purpley-grey. They had given up on the concept of washing up or operating the dishwasher and had just bought a stack of paper plates and plastic cutlery so they could throw them away after every meal. They had mostly been eating takeaway.

                                            The next summer, the German choir were due to visit us. In the intervening period, puberty had hit me hard. I now had boobs, periods, contact lenses and a burgeoning libido. I don't remember why, but instead of hosting the same family, we were due to host the daughter we stayed with, the tall boy and another, older teenage boy. My imagination went into overdrive. The tall boy had transformed in my mind into an object of great desire since I last saw him, and I spent weeks imagining how attractive he would find me now I had boobs and contact lenses and some new clothes. I played out several scenarios of us sneaking off for romantic walks and having chaste kisses in the moonlight.

                                            The Germans arrived and I was shocked by several things. Firstly, my imagination had scrubbed out the tall boy's severe acne (this must be dreadful for anyone who experiences it, I really wasn't a judgement teenager and I still found it hard to look beyond it). Secondly, it became immediately obvious that yes, he did fancy me. Faced with the presence of a live human testosterone-fuelled teenage boy who fancied me, living in my house, I had no idea what to do. He would come into my bedroom in the evenings and sit on my bed to talk. He would speak fluent English up until I tried to tell him to leave my room because I needed to go to sleep, at which point he declared "ich verstehe nicht". He would very gently stroke my arms and legs with a single finger which I found tantalising and confusing. He would try to kiss me on the sofa while my dad was lying on the lounge floor watching the TV. I claimed to be concerned that my dad would be able to see us in the mirror tiles by the fireplace, but really I found the acne too scary, and I was still actually too young to want to be kissed. One day we went on a punting trip and I ended up sitting in the tall boy's lap, facing my parents, with a pile of coats on top of my legs, while the tall boy stroked my thighs and I tried to keep a straight face. The tall boy and the older boy once went for a walk in the evening and got stopped by the police because they didn't look like 'locals' (gives you an idea how diverse my home town is).

                                            Eventually, the Germans went home. The tall boy bought me some crumpets and some chocolate from the supermarket, we swapped addresses and promised to write to each other.

                                            A couple of days later, I was on the bus to school and I got chatting to another girl who was in the same choir as me, but a year older and she went to a different school (the Catholic one down the road where the girls all wore much shorter skirts). She knew the tall German boy was staying with me and asked for his address because they'd been secretly snogging in the church gardens after choir practice. I was appalled and betrayed. I gave her his address, said nothing, and launched a campaign of revenge.

                                            For the next month, I wrote multiple hate mails to the tall boy, always starting with a full page of bubble writing saying "arschloch". I never said who they were from, and deliberately sent them from multiple different locations so they'd get different post marks. Sometimes I wrote in my left hand so the writing was different. I wanted him to not know whether they were from me or the Catholic girl. I have no idea if he ever received these red letters, or what he thought of them if he did. I made a promise to myself that I was allowed to do this for one month only and then I must get over him, so that's what I did.


                                              Originally posted by ursus arctos View Post
                                              I can think of four occasions in which one member of a couple sought refuge with me/us after a row/breakup. To the best of my knowledge, none of the pairs lasted more than another six months.
                                              About thirty years ago some very good friends of ours had a huge row and she stayed with us for about five nights. They are still together and went on to have two daughters, now in their twenties. Exceptions which prove rules etc.


                                                1997-1998: brushes with evangelism.

                                                So, I was raised Church of England. I went to Sunday school every week. I sang in the church choir, including performing solos of 'O Little Town if Bethlehem' on Christmas Day. My mum played the church organ. We went carolling around the village during advent and sang at 'the big house' where the richest lady in the village threw a party every year. After we sang, we weren't allowed to join the main guests; we got relegated to the kitchen where there was a measly spread of crisps and lemonade.

                                                Despite this, I went to a Catholic primary school, where they put itchy ash crosses on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday, and I was deeply disappointed not to have a first communion (I wanted a pretty white silk dress too!).

                                                As I got older, I became aware of other Christian sects. I went to a youth group at a Methodist church where we played table tennis listlessly. Once, they brought out a gymnastics mat and I tried to show off my one skill of doing front flips, but I was older than I realised and only managed it once before landing painfully on my back and deciding never to repeat it.

                                                Some friends were Baptists and we watched them being born again in the local swimming pool. I got caught up in the atmosphere and wanted to wade into the waters fully clothed too, but my mum wouldn't let me. Talking about it afterwards she said I was perfectly welcome to be rebaptised if I have it careful consideration, but she didn't want me to do it on a whim.

                                                I started going to Christian summer camps or retreats, first with my mum, and then alone. The first camp with my mum, I remember chatting with a teenage boy who used to wake up early and go for runs. I asked him about his motivation because it seemed very strange to me. He said he liked running because he could do it anywhere, any time, and all he needed was a cheap pair of trainers, otherwise it was free. I thought of him again, much later on, when I was running in the grounds of the mother and baby unit. The next camp that I went to on my own, I mainly remember a team building exercise where we had to make a kite out of a pack of unusual building materials we were given, which included sticks, black bin bags and flumps.

                                                The summer of 1997 I went to Minehead Pontin's for a Christian summer camp called Spring Harvest. I went with my friend and her adoptive parents and we all stayed in one of the little cabins. My 14-year-old friend was trying to give up smoking (her parents didn't even know she'd started). She gave me her packet of cigarettes, told me to hide them in the cabin and not tell her where they were whatever she said. Five hours later she called me all manner of names under the sun and tore our accommodation apart unsuccessfully looking for her cigarettes (I had put them in a plastic bag in the top of the toilet cistern). She then stomped off to the nearest pub and bought another packet from the vending machine. That was an early and very effective lesson in never agreeing to police anyone's addictions for them.

                                                At one of the Christan workshops I got chatting to a 15-year-old boy, and we spent most of the rest of the week hanging out together, talking, singing songs, mooching around the limited attractions. Much later, I asked him what had first made him want to talk to me, and he said it was my penchant for wearing low-cut crop tops and push-up bras. And there I was thinking it was my sparkling personality. At the end of the camp we swapped addresses and phone numbers.

                                                The boy lived quite far away from me in the North of England so we chatted on the phone regularly and wrote letters. At one point we were sending each other letters every day and got quite creative with the format. I discovered that the UK post system will send anything that's got a stamp and an address on so I sent letters written in a spiral on paper plates, a letter that could only be read by magnifying glass attached to a plastic spoon, letters on labels stuck to crisp packets, etc. The boy invited me to visit. My parents were quite rightly wary of his intentions, but didn't want to thwart my friendship, so they arranged for us to do a family holiday to his hometown and all visit his house together. He lived in an enormous rented farmhouse with his parents, two younger brothers and an elderly, huge sheepdog.

                                                After that, the boy came to visit me. We adopted all the accoutrements of a relationship, going on country walks holding hands, curling up on the sofa together watching films, but stopped just short of actually kissing or declaring ourselves boyfriend and girlfriend.

                                                The next summer the boy invited me to accompany him to another Christian summer camp, Soul Survivor. This one was pitched more as a festival. I don't remember why I thought this was a good idea, but the festival was in Somerset and instead of my parents driving me there, they drove me to the Northern farm house where a three-car convoy of teenage boys were going to drive my friend and all of his friends down to Somerset. By this point, I was 15 going on 16 (and yes I was naive), and the boy and all his friends were 17 and had just passed their tests. I went on the first car with the boy, there was a relatively experience driver at the back, and the driver in the middle had only passed his test the week before and had never been on a motorway.

                                                It was a joyful journey. We stopped every hour or two for snacks or petrol or to stretch our legs, or just to check that the boy in the middle wasn't having a total breakdown. We sang along to the radio lots. The boys were particularly fond of REM and Space.

                                                At Soul Survivor we all pitched our tents and camped, one huge scout tent where we could chat in the evenings and smaller ones all around it. I remember:
                                                • It must have been the year David Beckham wore a sarong, because loads of teenage boys were wandering around with towels or sarongs tied in immigration
                                                • A group of Christians were Eddie Izzard fans and were roaming the site shouting 'cake or death' randomly.
                                                • There was a strict no alcohol, no drugs policy, and bags were searched on the way in, so it was a strange atmosphere, charged, excitable but completely sober.
                                                • There were loads of Christian rock bands holding gigs. We queued to get to the front / mosh pit area of one. I'm too small to usually survive well in a mosh pit, but the boy and his friends formed a cage around me with their arms so I didn't get squashed.
                                                • There were seminars on various topics. One was on relationships and the speaker glued two pieces of tissue paper together,one pink, one blue, then ripped them apart to show that pieces got stuck to each other. I think the moral of the story was 'no relationships until you're ready to get married and never divorce'. In one seminar a woman talked openly about her experiences with anorexia. I went and found her afterwards; she was the first person I'd ever spoken to about my anorexia.
                                                • There were also congregational / worship events. These scared me. There were thousands of people in the circus style tents, doing Mexican waves. The guys on stage had microphones and guitars and hyped everyone up more and more, until people started collapsing on the floor and speaking in tongues. As far as I was concerned, I was witnessing multiple epileptic fits (my friend's mum had epilepsy, I'd seen it before) and I was the only person seeing this as a medical problem and trying to get help. My friend fell to the floor speaking in tongues. I tried to put him in the recovery position while everyone around me screamed and praised hallelujah.
                                                • The boys would play silly tricks on each other while they were asleep. One boy had his leg hair waxed off. I didn't think that was very Christian of them.

                                                This was the last Christian camp I attended. The evangelism had got too extreme for me. There's a few further stories with the boy, but I'll park this one here for now.


                                                  1998 onwards: Some time after Soul Survivor, in my letters to and from the boy, it became clear that he was referring to me as his girlfriend. I had a long chat with him about how I wasn't ready for that label, and we carried on being in close contact.

                                                  I had to do work experience for school, and at the time, I wanted to be an interior designer. I managed to get a placement at an interior design shop near my grandpa's house, so went to live with him for a while. My grandpa lived in a bungalow that he had designed with my grandmother after they retired, on three quarters of an acre of land planted with rhododendrons, fire pokers, antirrhinums, daffodils and rose bushes. As a younger child I loved wandering the gardens, picking petals and making 'perfume' by mixing them with water. While in my interior design phase, my grandpa had let me decorate one of the bedrooms with very amateur scenes of sunflowers and trees, and this was the room I slept in.

                                                  My grandpa did his absolute best to accommodate me. He made me breakfast, tea and supper every day (which was slightly odd as I usually only ate one meal in the evening) and drove me to and from my work experience. It was still a strange atmosphere for a teenage girl though. My grandpa watched cricket and golf in the evenings which I found very dull, and he served unexpected foods like prunes for breakfast, which I didn't quite know what to make of. But, we did crosswords together and chatted and I'm very glad we had that time together.

                                                  At the interior design shop I had a rude awakening as I was basically shop floor labour. I wasn't designing rooms in palatial mansions, I was unboxing trinkets and labelling them with a price gun. I was given a chance to create a display window, but the manager didn't like my efforts and I was demoted again. I was wearing very impractical 'smart' clothing that I had borrowed from my sister who was working in an insurance company at the time (long, black pencil skirts and high heels that meant I could barely move and certainly couldn't clamber around a stock room comfortably). The one highlight was that I got to design the cushions for Martin Brundle's lounge.

                                                  I had no idea who Martin Brundle was, but I was still having regular phone conversations with the Christian boy, and he was beside himself with jealousy when I told him. He was quite the petrol head. The yard outside his farmhouse was filled with half-built cars, either from kits, or models rescued from the scrapyard that he was in the process of restoring. I learnt to drive in that yard, and his grandparents fields, driving a custom-built TVR.

                                                  During these phone conversations, the boy was determined to find out if I was a born again Christian. He didn't like it when I questioned the veracity of various parts of the Bible (the bits with unlikely miracles), and when I refused to believe that Jesus was literally the son of God. The more he pressed me to believe, the more I resisted.

                                                  That summer, it was the boy's 18th birthday and I went to stay, along with a childhood friend of mine who had started dating one of the boy's friends via long heartfelt e-mails (a very early example of internet dating, hardly anyone had email at the time). The farm house lounge had been turned into a set for a band that his friends played in. The lead singer wrote lyrics about wanting to be a high school drop out, while simultaneously accepting an offer to study architecture at Cambridge university. It was loud and noisy and fun, with far too much alcohol for the number of teenagers present.

                                                  Late in the evening, one of the boy's friends started chatting to me about how nice it was to meet the boy's girlfriend and how he hadn't realised until that evening that we were dating. I stormed off to confront the boy about how I thought I'd made it clear that we weren't boyfriend and girlfriend and why did his friends think that we were? Half an hour later, the architect friend came to find me in a state of great distress. He took me to the upstairs corridor where the Christian boy had a box full of Stanley knives and was trying to throw them at his wrists, but was mostly missing and embedding them into the hardwood floor. I talked him down and we went to his bedroom to chat. The boy was also studying art A-level. His bedroom was painted dark purple and was cluttered with massive portraits of himself done in a David Hockney style. We talked for several hours, and agreed again to just be good friends.


                                                    This is the best thread I ever started here, and the reason is mainly your wonderful anecdotes.