CW: descriptions of BPD, psychiatric hospitalization, self-harm; mentions of sexual assault, childhood abuse and neglect
At What Age Does My Body Belong to Me?
The shouting had become almost normal by this point.
She had disowned me enough times. The most vivid being when I refused to visit the farm. She told me I wasn’t her daughter. I was only trying to avoid the man who had touched me as a kid.
Not the ex-boyfriend, or the relative. A worker from the farm, whose hands would wander a little bit too much every time we would visit. I remember feeling his touch and the way it made me feel cold even on the days that the fire was burning. I wanted to tell, but I could always remember my cousin's words as she told me that I wasn’t unique. This happened to everyone and I just needed to get over myself.
But I couldn’t stand being there anymore.
My mom couldn’t stand me.
On this particular night, she told me to go back to where I came from.
I was tired and so I did. That’s where I met a girl. She had dreadlocks and a twisted smile.
I had taken some sleeping pills and a whole lot of alcohol so I was barely awake. Passing out on the table, waiting on my best friend to finish his show.
I was too out of it to remember much about the actual conversation, but soon, my best friend was done and we were all headed to her house. She was a stranger, but that night, she was also an angel sent from above.
For the second time in my life, I found solace in a stranger's bed. She wasn't looking for sex or a favour. She just let me have the bed, food, and a much-needed hug.
The next morning, I headed back home which was just a short distance away, and again my mom told me she didn’t want me there. So, for two weeks, this stranger's bed became home.
About a week in, my mom was calling again and again.
“In my day when a parent told you to leave, you would come back and apologize, not go off to God knows where.”
She was mad but for the first time, I didn’t care. I felt safe among these strangers. I had friends and new people constantly surrounding me. It was like a never-ending party and for the first time, I didn’t feel completely hopeless.
All was going well until she found out this friend I was staying with was lesbian.
I ignored all the calls and so she used my uncle.
He wanted me to come to see him with my mom and naive me went along. The ride was super long and I remember wondering why it was taking longer than usual. My face was stuck on the glass window, playing music from my phone and just counting down the minutes until I could get away again.
I was surprised as the taxi headed to A Psychiatric Hospital.
“He now works here,” she said.
It was a long ride up to the actual place we were headed, and I sighed with relief as we parked, glad the car ride was over. When we arrived, she suggested I talk to the psychiatrist while we waited, get some more sleeping pills if I needed them.
The lady was pretty young, with a friendly face. The kind you think you can trust. Until you can’t.
She asked me some general questions about how I was, putting a lot of emphasis on whether or not I was suicidal. I wasn’t anymore but I made the mistake of being honest about my history. Just a few minutes later, my mum was inside the room with me, too.
“Are you feeling suicidal?” she asked.
“No,” I replied, beginning to get annoyed with the question now, with hearing the mistrust in their voices.
“She’s been exhibiting dangerous behaviour,” my mom chimed in. “Running away from home, drugs and now she’s been staying with a lesbian and who knows what that girl will teach her. I’ve tried praying but she needs help.”
“Excuse—” I stopped mid-sentence, now naturally getting pissed. “I’m not doing any drugs and what the fuck do you mean will teach me?”
“Can you see, even hear, her anger towards me?”
The lady was nodding, writing on a paper.
“I’m fine, I just don’t like being at home cause you’re constantly shouting at me!”
“Is that why you’ve decided to stay with a lesbian? So that you can catch her demonic behaviour.”
“Fuck this shit,” I said, standing up, just tired of the whole conversation.
“Do you believe she’s a danger to herself and others?” the lady asked.
“I’m fine,” I shouted.
“She tried to kill herself before,” my mom said.
“To be safe, we should keep her here for a 48-hour hold, then we can evaluate,” the lady answered. “Can you wait with her outside while we process everything?”
I didn’t understand what was happening.
I walked outside and suddenly noticed how everything was sort of set up like a jail. There were fences all around and security guards by each gate. It was created to keep people in, not out.
“I wanna go home,” I said, trying to plead with my mom.
“The doctor said that you need to be here and I’m sure it will help you with your problems.”
“I don’t have any problems. I just needed a break from you.”
“Is that why you were living with a lesbian? Are you trying to be gay now? Don’t you want to get into Heaven?”
Before I could answer, I was being dragged into a room with two psychologists, psychiatrists, and a therapist.
They were all sitting across from me but talking about me as if I wasn’t there.
“I think she’s bipolar,” one said.
"Look at how her mood changed so quickly, and she’s so angry."
I’m angry 'cause I’m being held here against my own will, I wanted to shout, but I decided maybe calming down would be the better strategy.
“What drugs are you taking?” one of the psychiatrists asked.
“I’m not taking any drugs,” I calmly answered, tightly squeezing my knuckles under the table, fighting to stay calm.
“But you look so sick and I hear you’ve been sneezing since you got here.”
“It’s the fuck...” Breathe. “...it’s the jacarandas and trees around here. I’m allergic,” I mumbled again, reminding myself to stay calm.
“So, we are going to put you on some tablets to stabilize your mood swings. You probably have bipolar but will need more time to tell.”
“I have Borderline Personality Disorder,” I said, and he laughed.
Not the kind of soft laugh you would imagine but the type of laugh that lets you know that you know nothing.
“I don’t think so, sweetheart. But anyway, your mom is going to have to fill in some forms and this nurse will take you in and get you settled.”
“Can’t I just go home?”
“No, we are here to help you, and in this state, you might be a danger to yourself, and we just want to make sure that you’re okay, that’s all.”
With that, the nurse was leading me out of the room.
We walked up to a building that was towards the end of the place.
They were talking to themselves, and I was still trying to make sense of what was happening around me.
We walked into a room that was full of people. They all stopped what they were doing and stared at me with curious eyes. Maybe it was because I was the new girl or maybe it was the blue hair. It was usually the blue hair.
“This is where everyone gets their pills in the afternoon and the evenings. You’ll be taking yours two times a day, so the nurses will bring them up to the room in the mornings and the sleeping pills during the night.”
The was a TV attached to the wall on the top, held up by a cage.
I kind of felt like I was that TV right now. Everything else was a bland mix of beige and white. I could see beds behind me, and I was wondering if this was where we would be sleeping, too.
“This is where the boys stay. The girls are upstairs,” she said, answering my unasked question.
There were a lot of men in that room, so I was more than happy to be leaving. As we walked out, we took a short turn to the left and started walking up the wide staircase. At the top, there were three doors, and the one directly in front of us was soon to become my new home.
I stopped listening for a while as I took in everything. Not that there was much to take in.
It was a long-winded room separated into sections with three or four beds each.
There wasn’t much around, but some beds had slops and bath towels near them indicating some sign of life.
“You need to take off your clothes,” my mom shouted, indicating she must have said it before.
I turned back to them and I saw the nurse holding a light blue hospital gown.
“You change your uniforms every day. You’ll get the beige or the blue depending on which one is clean. You aren’t allowed to take anything in except your underwear.”
My mom stretched out her hands, taking my phone and earphones.
They both looked at me indicating they were waiting for me to strip and I was fighting the urge to start crying. I took off my jeans and top, pulling on the longish dressing gown, not wanting to stand there naked for too long.
“You have to take off your bra as well.” the nurse said, in a matter-of-fact tone.
I flinched a little, feeling more than naked as they kept on waiting on me to move. I rushed to take off my bra without taking off the dressing gown.
“You can keep your sweater and jacket,” she said. She handed my mom some forms and told her to fill them out with my ID while I kind of just stood there, trying not to cry.
Once all the forms were signed, she instructed me to pick a bed.
I walked to the back by instinct. I was overly aware of how close the men’s room was and how little barriers there were between us and them. All the beds in the last section were taken, so I settled for the one in the second-to-last section situated nearest to the window.
“You need to bring her some toiletries: a towel, soap, toothpaste, toothbrush, and some slops.”
She led us toward the bathrooms. The first thing that greeted you was that smell that toilets get if they haven’t been flushed for too long.
“We've been facing water problems, so they each use a bucket to bathe every morning. They share the buckets, but you can also bring your own. They can get water from outside or in one of the tanks and barrels around.”
We stared at the state of the bathroom and the buckets lined on the floor. One thing I could trust was my mom was already planning on which bucket she would bring.
“I’ll leave you so you can get settled in,” the nurse said as she walked back out, “and then I will call you so you can have your first session with the psych on duty before he leaves.”
I didn’t have anything to settle in with as I listened to my mom inspect the rest of the room.
“I’ll call your sister and have her bring all the toiletries that you need and a bucket to use as well. This will be good for you. Do you need anything else? We will also bring you something to eat for supper once you’re done with the doctor.”
I sat down on my bed and just looked outside the window.
There wasn’t anything resembling a view. All that greeted me was the graphically bare brick wall. I found myself begging it to have a window so it could open up its secrets to me, but there was nothing but bare brick and dust mixed with cement and misery.
If I looked up, I could see the sky a little. I wondered if the sky could feel my pain. It looked like it was about to rain. My soul was waiting for it to spill open.
Before long, the nurse was back. I had missed half of my mother’s instructions, but I knew one thing that I did want.
“Can you bring me a book and somewhere to write. I’m allowed to have a book, right?”
“Sure,” the nurse nodded.
“Okay,” my mom said, since this was the first thing I had said in a while.
We walked out and I was introduced to one of the doctors who had sat opposite me, earlier.
He smiled at me and I forced myself to smile back.
He talked for a while with my mom and it was obvious they knew each other from somewhere else.
After they were done, my mom said bye and walked away as he ushered me into one the dark rooms that looked a lot more like a classroom than a hospital.
There were no lights in the room and very little windows for natural light to enter from.
I was uncomfortable being alone with him and I was fighting every urge within my body to either flee or start screaming. I pulled at the sleeves of my hoodie as he sat down and told me to sit on a chair that was opposite from him.
He pulled out some papers and I could see my name on top of the list, coupled with the questionnaire that the first doctor or nurse had made me fill in.
Tell me what you're here for,” he said.
“Funny question, since you’re the one who's keeping me here,” I retorted, sneering at him.
He laughed a little as he scribbled something down.
“You don’t believe you need to be here?”
“No,” I replied, “when can I leave?”
“When your doctors decide you are ready to go back into the world.”
I crossed my arms, unconsciously getting ready to fight him if I had to.
“I’ve prescribed some pills for you. One is a sleeping pill that you’ll take before you sleep. One of them is a mood stabilizer to treat your mood swings, as well as one pill to help you with your appetite that you’ll be taking twice a day. It may cause you to gain some weight but it should help you to feel better. We also gave your mom the prescription for an allergy tablet to help with the hay fever.”
“Aren’t there any tablets that won’t make me gain weight?”
“We will monitor you first, then see what we can do,” he answered.
I couldn’t bear the thought of gaining weight again after I had worked so hard to lose it all.
“You can keep me here but please don’t make me take those,” I pleaded, and he nodded again, but I couldn’t tell whether he heard me or not.
“Is there anything else you would like for me to know?” he asked.
“I’m not bipolar. I have Borderline Personality Disorder.”
“You think you know better than the doctors?”
“I think I know myself better.”
He laughed again but didn’t write anything down this time.
“Let’s make a deal, okay? if you take your pills and we see an improvement then the next time we do patient assessments, you can go home.”
“When will that be?”
“Just two days.” He paused to gauge my reaction. “That okay?”
“Okay,” I said.
We walked out of the room and there was a nurse waiting for me. “You’re going to go see your psychologist now, she’s the one who's going to be seeing you during your stay here.”
She led me back towards the building our rooms were and up into one of the rooms.
She stood as I entered. The first thing I noticed was her top. It was bright red, the type that serious businesswomen in the movies wear.
She extended her hand towards me and I took it.
“Please sit, Miss.”
I sat down and I couldn’t help but notice the contrast between my first meeting and this one.
This room was full of light and it seemed like so was she.
She took a moment explaining how each day would work and how many meetings I would have per week. In my head, I was thinking about how I wouldn’t last the week.
There were different activities every morning. Like cooking, gardening, and cleaning. There was also music played during some afternoons but that wasn’t compulsory.
I had to see her three times a week for the first week and then once a week after that.
“How are you feeling?” she asked.
“I don’t know.” I replied.
“You must be feeling something…”
The thing is sometimes I could feel everything. It was like constantly dealing with one thousand voltages of pure and unriddled emotions, and other times, I didn’t feel anything at all.
The result: I was exhausted.
She kept looking at me waiting for an answer, and so I smiled and said, “I’m fine.”
“Can you tell me about yourself?”
I hated that question.
I gave her the cookie-cutter answer, just waiting on her to ask what she really wanted to know.
“Are you feeling suicidal?”
I put my arms across the table, stared her straight in the face, and smiled again.
“Have you ever tried to kill yourself.”
“A few times.”
“What did you do?”
“Drank some pills with some vodka.”
“Do you still think about killing yourself?” she asked.
That was a loaded question because I did. Not in any logical way I can explain to anyone. My brain sort of just plays it like a never-ending song. You're late to an event, you deserve to die. No one loves you and you deserve to die. I make a mistake and then the loop starts. You're not good enough and you deserve to die. My mind races, and suddenly, it's a constant thought.
I wasn't going to take pills the next time; instead, I imagined a knife.
The knife I would use to end it all.
I'd imagine myself on the kitchen floor, bleeding to death. The finality of it all gave me comfort.
But I could never say it to anyone because I was aware that I was crazy. I was also aware that I no longer intended to die. That is until I was put in this cage. Now, the voice was insistent again.
I was a burden to my mother and I deserved to die.
“Mia?” she said, bringing me out of my loop.
“Sometimes...” I replied.
“Why, do you want to die?”
I hated that question even more. Because what was the real answer? Hell, what was the accepted answer that wouldn't make me seem selfish?
I had no education and therefore no future? I was abused as a kid so now I felt insecure and full of shame? My dad didn't want me and my mom hates me?
Or was the real reason that I was a burden to everyone. No one wanted me, so for a while, I had no place to go and so they made my sister take me in, except even she didn't want to. Now my family kept telling me how much my existence made my sister sick. I'm not talking about being emotionally sick. I'm talking physically and end-up-in-the-hospital sick. Literally, having me around was putting my sister in the hospital.
Would you want to live after that?
Or maybe it was simply that my brain was wired wrong so every single little thing played in my head like a song. Over and over and over again. Until my only solace was seeing my own blood on paper.
What was the correct answer? That I had nothing to live for?
God, I don't know. I just wanted to die.
So, I did something that I had never done before. I said all the above.
She asked me if I had a plan and I said no.
I knew the correct answer would only buy me more time inside this prison.
“Do you do drugs?”
“No, and I'm willing to do a drug test so everyone can stop asking. I've tried drugs and I didn't like them.”
“You didn't like them? Can I ask why?”
“I hated the feeling of being out of control. Same reason I couldn't stand antidepressants. I wanna be in control.”
“So, you've seen a psychiatrist before?”
“What pills were you given?”
“I don't remember the name.”
“What about the feeling didn't you like.”
“The numbness, the emptiness.”
“Do you often feel numb?”
“All the time. Sometimes I feel like I'm not there at all, it’s like existing but not existing, you know. Like you’re viewing your whole life through a screen.”
“What about drugs, what kind of drugs did you take?”
The answer to this one was a little bit more complicated. At some point, I tried it all, or at least I really wanted to. I fidgeted a little in my chair. It was just a normal classroom chair. Nothing particularly comfortable about it. Definitely different from my Christian counsellor who kept telling me to pray. That place was created to make you talk. With the long relaxing chairs that you could lie down on and a garden to take walks in.
I would often sit in the garden before my sessions and pretend just for that moment that I was normal and everything was okay.
In the end, I started to like her. We would spend hours talking about Christian philosophies and I explained to her everything I had a problem with. It came down to one thing. Organized religion hated women—but then again, it wasn’t just religion, it really was just society.
I even took my friend there once. He hated it more than I did.
In the end, she stopped making me pray and we would just talk. She was like a friend that I paid money for.
It sort of became an escape from my daily life. Having to take the two Kombies (our equivalent of a bus system) it took to get there and the long walk from the Bus Stop gave me some time to think. Away from the people and the noise.
I can never say it actually helped. I knew what was wrong could never be fixed by talking and I needed real help.
Eventually, the money ran out before I could find help, and so I started to help myself.
I learned all I could about psychology, even took it up at school, and found a college professor who could teach me. I wanted to find out what was wrong with me and one day I finally did and it all clicked.
Borderline Personality Disorder. I found the first psychiatrist I could and she instantly put me on antidepressants and then mood stabilizers.
That’s the benefit of psychiatrists versus psychologists. They don’t try to talk you back to health. They talk to you for a while and then they give you pills.
But the one thing I learned fairly quickly was I hated pills. I couldn’t stand the numbness. She never said whether or not I had BPD, but she did agree that I needed help and that was a start, but she insisted that I needed to be on meds, so then I stopped going.
This place was different from all the places that I had been to before. This place was a low-budget version of a school that was turned into a convenient prison.
I looked back at her, unsure of how much time I had taken to answer. “A bunch of stuff, mostly weed, it’s the only one that ever actually helped.”
I pulled at the edge of my sweater again. Was I saying too much?
“Weed does help,” she replied, and I was shocked for a second. “Some patients now get weed prescriptions for depression, but of course, not in this country.”
I looked at her face for the first time and there was sadness in there. She shook her head a little as if she was shaking away a memory, and then she went on. “Why did you start and why did you stop?”
I laughed a little. It was a painful but fond memory. Kind of a story of love.
I gave her the P.C. answer, “My friend thought it would be a better idea than hurting myself. When I was high, I wasn’t trying to hurt myself.”
What’s the true version that would definitely have me locked up?
When I was 14, I was going through a bit of a weird phase. Said phase was dating Mr. ‘No one wants to marry you but me.’
So, I used to hurt myself. It’s about the first time I realized that I wasn’t wired right.
I was in boarding school and I couldn’t cut without the risk of getting caught so I’d take my protractor from my maths set and I’d use it to scratch myself. Just enough to cause some pain and leave a scar, but never enough to leave a permanent, noticeable mark, ‘cause ain’t nobody doing long sleeves in the Chinhoyi heat.
I was in pain and I needed a physical representation of that pain.
Enter my friend. She was the first person to ever see me. She saw all my little quirks and so she started to hide all the sharp stuff.
Instead, she offered me a different solace.
It started with drinking. I’ll never forget the day we had our first sips. I remember being by the lakeside, and dancing, feeling free for the first time. After a while, her sister introduced us to cough syrup. Aka Lean, aka Bronco.
After her sister died that's all we ever took, every single day, and it was like this constant feeling of being stuck and not moving.
She needed it and I couldn’t stand it. I love escaping but I crave control.
I need it.
“So why did you stop?’’ The psych asked, interrupting my line of thought.
“I don’t want to be an addict.”
“Have you ever had every version of control taken from you?”
“In what way?”
“Like someone dictates that your body is now theirs, so they take it.
Someone else decides what you’re allowed to say, how you can say it, and how much you can say.
What you will study, what you’re going to do with your life.
Where you stay. Who your friends are.
Your father doesn't want you but you’re still forced to beg him for love.
You find love only for it to steal the right to your body again.
You can’t choose anything.
Your mind isn’t your own, you can’t control how you feel because sometimes your mind makes you feel like you’re drowning.
You start to feel better only for the pills to take that control away from you, so you stop.
I don’t want to need drugs.
I don’t want to need anything or anyone.
I don’t want any other thing that can take my control away.”
She paused a little as she wrote something down.
“It must be really hard for you to be in here, isn’t it.”
I chuckled. “You have no idea.”
The rest of the meeting went by fast as she asked about my family history and background. When we were done with the meeting, she said thank you and I was unsure of what to do with myself next.
I walked out of the room and made my way back to the girl's room.
As I got closer to the door, I could hear screams and a nurse ran past me holding an injection. When I walked into the room, I was greeted by something I didn’t expect. There were four male nurses fighting down a screaming girl, and she was fighting them off.
She was dressed in a black tee that read, fuck you. Her dreadlocks flew around as she screamed.
She kicked at one of the nurses as they finally managed to tie her hands.
As two of them grabbed her legs, they pushed her down onto the bed.
They tied her legs together as the female nurse injected her with something.
Soon after the injection, the screaming stopped.
“You get used to it,” a voice said from behind me. I jumped. “The injection is just to calm her down and make her sleep. She’s usually calmer after they inject her.”
She passed me by as I stayed rooted in place.
I walked back out the door and headed down the steps.
I bumped into my mom, holding my stuff, and I started crying.
“Please let me go home, please.”
“It's not my decision anymore. The doctors decide if you can leave.”
“Please mom, don’t do this to me.”
“It will be good for you.”
“There was a girl and she was screaming and they injected her and I don’t want that. I won’t be able to handle that.”
“This will be good for you,” she said, walking past me on the way back up.
I wiped the tears from my eyes as I stared at the fence and the security guard standing across from it.
I followed her back to the room.
“I brought you a book as you requested, and here is a bucket, slops, and a towel. Keep them under your bed. The nurses warned me about small robberies that have been happening so keep your stuff hidden.”
As she talked and hid stuff I went into her bag to look for my phone.
I quickly wrote a text with visiting hours and my location and sent it to all my friends, then put it back and started looking at the books that she had brought.
The first one was Firestarter by Stephen King and the second one was a kid’s book I instantly knew I wouldn’t read.
As I sat down, a nurse walked up to us.
“It’s time for supper.”
“Go,” my mom said. “I’m waiting for your sister to come on her way from work.”
I walked back down with the nurse in silence.
As we walked, I started to really notice people for the first time.
There were people of different ages, old to fairly young.
The youngest was a young boy of about 13 or 14 years old. He was energetic and apparently full of anger because, at that present moment, he was screaming at one of the nurses.
(I learned later that he had killed his parents.)
I walked up to one of the girls and awkwardly stood behind her. Sometimes I was shy, sometimes I wasn’t. Today I didn’t know quite the right words to say, so I said nothing.
We all stood in line and washed our hands, one by one, as we headed into the Dining Hall.
It was a medium-size room, crammed to the hilt, with two long tables and chairs on each side.
I sat down as the room erupted with noise.
“What's your name?” the girl next to me asked.
“Mia.” I replied.
“I’m Tina and that's Jane,” she said, pointing to the girl sitting next to her.
Plates started coming down and it was cabbage and sadza (thick mealie meal porridge). I stared down at my plate, not sure about what to do.
I was allergic to cabbage, but Lord knew these people already thought I was boujie enough.
“What's wrong? You don't wanna eat?” the boy who was sitting across from me asked.
I nodded and he quickly grabbed the sadza off my plate together with the cabbage.
“Don’t let them see you skip a meal or else they'll give you more pills.”
I smiled at him and then I stood up.
“You already done?” one of the nurses on duty asked, walking towards me.
“Yes,” I replied, showing her the plate and then walking back out.
I had a weird relationship with food and that was the last time I ever entered the dining hall.
When I told my mom about the cabbage, she made sure to bring me food every day, including some cereal that the nurses could keep for me.
I hear you. Awww, right?
Well, she still put me in here. Making my jail feel comfortable doesn’t make it any less of a jail.
My sister arrived just as it was time to go get our medicine.
“Please tell her to get me out of here,” I whispered as the nurse led me back to the boys' room.
I knew she wouldn’t do anything. She never went against my mom or tried to fight for me, but I guess it was worth a try.
The boy's room was just as packed as the dining hall. I could see the line was leading from the benches to the nurse who had a tray of medicine.
There was loud noise around the room, punctuated by the nurse calling out names one by one.
I sat quietly, listening out for my name, and the line moved slowly. Eventually, it was my turn. As soon as I took the pills it was time to head upstairs. It was 6 p.m. and all I wanted to do was curl into my bed and cry.
As we headed upstairs, it was like the noise followed suit. I wondered if there was ever a moment of silence in this place.
As soon as I sat down there were three girls in front of me, asking me questions.
“What’s your name?”
“Why are you here?”
“You seem normal,” the third said, and I wanted to laugh at that.
Ironically, you seem normal would punctuate the rest of my stay here.
Girl number 2 started to tell me everyone's stories.
There was a grandma, everyone just called her Gogo. She spent her time collecting paper bags and putting stones in them.
Sometimes, she would pick up people's stuff, but she was harmless.
Then there was the screamer. She had a hard time sleeping so she spent most nights walking around.
On two different occasions, I woke up to her staring down at me in the middle of the night.
Some nights, if things were really bad, she would start singing church songs or screaming until the nurses came to silence her.
Tererai was the scariest. It was rumoured that she used to breastfeed her cats and she thought of herself as their mother.
Sometimes, she could be found in the toilet playing with her own shit.
Quite literally playing with shit.
There was another girl who apparently set her house on fire and then another who just hated everyone.
Girl number 2 herself had a drug problem. You know, a real one.
She didn't have parents so she came in here from the streets once in a while.
She laughed when I told her they said I was a druggie, too, as she showed me all the injection marks on her skin.
“I love drugs ‘cause they beat being present in the real world,” she would say.
I asked her if being locked up in here helped and she laughed once again.
“I come in here every few months. They treat us like trash but it beats being in an abusive home and I have some cigarettes hidden under the bed if you ever want one.”
We played cards to pass the time until the nurses came with our sleeping meds.
Unlike during the day, they came with them to the room and would once again call out our names one by one.
Sleeping pills are something that I cherished but never wanted to take for too long 'cause I didn't want to get addicted.
I think no one in my family understood just how much I never wanted to be dependent on anything or anyone.
The first morning, I was looking forward to visiting hours so I could see my friends.
In the morning we all had to do some chores. This involved cooking and cleaning which I didn't mind so much.
The nurses were nice and everyone was less weird when they were busy.
After that, everyone headed to breakfast, and I sat outside watching the gate. It was a habit of mine. Watching the gate. It started when I would dream that my dad would one day show up.
I would play out the scenario in my head. How he would take me out and we would share a meal and everything would be better.
He did come twice, but he always decided to disappear right after.
No warning, no goodbye. He just ceased to reply to any birthday or Merry Christmas messages.
This obsession turned into watching and waiting on my friends and boyfriends to appear.
It's one thing I can own up to. Severe abandonment issues. Every little change in behaviour or tone feels like immense and great rejection.
I know, I know, sometimes it's not about me, but my brain has a hard time understanding that and then it starts this loop where it plays scenes of everyone who has left and Lord knows everyone eventually leaves.
As I waited, the only person who appeared was my mom. I could tell she was happy about that. I knew she would congratulate herself for being there for me, even though it was in a jail she had put me in.
I ate the food she brought me silently as I went onto my phone.
I made my mom ask so that I could use my laptop for work. I was still running my online magazine and desperately wanted to turn it into a business.
I hid in one of the classrooms, but for the first time in a very long time, I no longer felt the drive to.
How could I help anyone if I couldn't even help myself?
I stared at my laptop for a long time and eventually opted to go on my phone instead. I Whatsapped two of my best friends; meanwhile, the groups had the running joke of me being put in rehab. They were laughing but I was in pain and I didn't know the right words to use to explain my pain.
I asked if they would come to visit and they said they were on their way.
I decided to try to read to pass the time and I became engrossed in Stephen King's world.
Hours passed as I read the book. Dreaming of a world in which I too had the power to create fire.
The fire was something that fascinated me. Starting from a young age. One of my earliest memories was lighting my bed on fire when I was three years old.
I remember looking through the window to check if my mom was still in the garden, and then lighting the matches, one by one. I couldn't stop watching the flames. The internet said that it was an early sign of being a psychopath. The therapist said it was a sign of trauma.
Before I knew it, it was time for pills again and we were heading to our room.
Today I didn't feel like talking or playing games. No one had come to see me and I felt really alone.
I curled into bed reading my book, and as soon as the sleeping pills kicked in, I was fast asleep.
At around 2 a.m., I could hear shouting and commotion.
There was a boy in our room.
One of the girls was screaming on top of her lungs and I could hear shuffling as the nurses fought with someone else.
I sat up and watched the scene as it unfolded in front of me.
The boy was running as two of the nurses chased him, while the two other nurses were holding down the same screaming girl from before.
She was kicking and screaming and I saw as two more nurses entered holding syringes.
“No! No! No!” the girl was screaming. The boy, on the other hand, had run back out of the room.
Once they managed to inject her everything turned eerily silent.
No one said a word or even made a sound as the nurses walked out of the room and turned off the lights.
And as I closed my eyes the thought crept in.
What if he had raped me?
The next day started relatively the same, except I was hopeful at the prospect of leaving.
After the morning work and eating some cereal, I headed to the waiting room to face the panel once again. My mom and sister showed up a few hours later and we sat and waited as, one by one, names were called. It seemed like there were more people during this session than those I had seen around during the two days, and with every second, it seemed like the line was growing longer and not shorter.
After another hour of waiting, I was starting to feel less and less optimistic.
I really wanted to go home.
I needed to go home.
A nurse walked out to us, “The doctor has had to go home and will see everyone else next week.”
“What do you mean next week?” I was shouting. I didn't mean to be shouting.
“The doctor only visits on Tuesday and Thursday. So, the next visit is next week.”
“But he said I could go home today!”
“Look, we are extremely understaffed and the doctors donate their time to the hospital, so they can only come here for a couple of hours every week. There's nothing special about you that requires you to get special treatment.”
I picked up my book and walked out with my mother in tow. I walked around the compound looking for an empty classroom and then walked into one.
“Get me out of here,” I shouted at my mom.
“I can't,” she replied.
“You put me in here, so you can get me out!” I was growing more and more aggressive and I checked around to see if anyone was in close proximity.
“They are now in charge of you legally, so only the doctor can decide to discharge you.”
“So sue them! I don't fucking care. There was a guy in our room. A guy just happened to walk up the stairs and walk into our room and you're gonna keep me here?”
“The nurses are there to protect you, and besides, the court would take longer than just staying here until they release you.”
“So move me! Put me in another psych ward. Just please mom please don't leave me in here.”
I was crying now, visibly getting weaker, and she just stood there, looking at me. I sank down to the floor as I looked at my sister who had been quietly watching the exchange between us.
“This isn't helping me. I need to go home. Why would you sign away my rights? Why would you do this to me?”
She was quiet this time and my sister answered instead.
“I've searched for other institutions in the country and they are too expensive. Some charge up to $100 a week and we just can't afford that right now,” she said.
“We wouldn't have needed to if your mom didn't always decide she knew what was right all the fucking time. Fuck!”
I screamed as I walked out of the room. I was crying and I didn't want her to watch me cry. I found another room to sit in and I pulled out my book.
I needed to escape.
After some time, my mom entered the room to tell me that the nurses had been searching for me and it was time for therapy again. I didn't know how much time had passed but I was grateful for the escape.
When I walked in, the first thing I noticed was she was dressed almost exactly the same way she was the time before, with the exception of a jacket this time.
She motioned for me to sit down and I took a seat.
“How do you feel today?”
I let out a low laugh at the irony of it all.
They take away your rights and colonize your body but expect you to give them a positive answer. They expect you to open up and tell them how much you've learned from your experiences.
They don't like the real answer.
The not so pretty answer.
The I feel trapped answer.
The I want to die because I can never belong to myself answer.
I have no free will answer. Caught in between capitalism, sexism, and racism.
“I'm fine,” I answered.
I knew what she wanted; she wanted me to open up so she could feel I was progressing.
That's how you game the system, ladies and gentlemen.
When you talk about your pain, they call you strong. Just as long as you don't admit that it keeps you up at night.
That you are always fleeing from dark corners and badly lit spaces.
That you never feel safe and every touch makes you flinch.
You never know if you've felt love, real love.
That after that second time, you're not sure if you've ever really stopped being a victim.
Not after you said no and he told you that you could refuse him once you were married, but not now. Yet what he meant was not ever. So, he took what he wanted and left you with even more broken pieces to fix.
So, I talked. I told her everything. I told her how much it made me stronger, made me want to help people.
It wasn't a lie, but I hid all the dark parts within me to deal with once I had convinced them I was healed. That's how the rest of my time went.
I would talk to everyone, be nice to the nurses, never speak too loudly, be on time, and read my book. Eventually, the book finished but my charade didn't. I continued to smile and relate and, at each turn, be greeted with the notion that I was normal and didn't belong in here.
My friends never visited and so at night, I would curl up in a lonely ball and cry.
Cry for all the people who only knew how to love and claim my body. Cry for all the people that never bothered to get to know me beyond my smile.
On the outside, there were parties and drinks, but here, there was no friendship.
Eventually, Tuesday rolled around and it was time to go.
After hours in the waiting room, I was finally summoned to the panel.
“Everyone agrees that you've been doing better,” the psychiatrist said. “Doesn't it feel better to be free from the drugs now?”
“Yes,” I replied, making sure to smile.
“You've been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder and you can continue to come for treatment as an outpatient.”
“Okay,” I replied.
“And would you be willing to do a drug test for your mom to make sure you stay sober?”
“Sure, and if I pass, she can get me a new phone for my effort.”
They all laughed and I could tell he was really proud of himself. They signed my release papers and my life was officially my own again.
As I dressed in my clothes, I found myself wanting to cry again.
It was a crazy notion that your freedom could be taken and handed back to you like it was nothing. My mom was proud too, going on about how this would be the new change I needed in my life.
I, on the other hand, had one intention in mind.
I wanted to take the drugs that I had been punished for.
AMANDA TAYTE-TAIT MARUFU (aka Amanda Marufu) is a Feminist, Tech-Entrepreneur, TV Producer, Blogger & Author of At What Age Does My Body Belong To Me?, Co-Founder and CEO of Award-Winning Media Company Visual Sensation, & Feminist Content Creation Platform, It’s A Feminist Thing. She is dedicated to using media and tech to spread awareness and change lives.
This is an excerpt of a larger work, the memoir, 'At What Age Does My Body Belong to Me?' You can purchase Marufu's full book at the following links: