Flip the Notebook Upside Down Because If I Don’t Scribble I’ll Get Brain Damage

I don’t want to scribble on the pages of my Life School book. That’s what Louise calls the day patient program. She is in her thirties and has been in and out of hospital since she was thirteen. We’re off the ward and in day program together today. It’s rare but not unprecedented for inpatients to do the program.

I need to scribble so that I can stop jiggling my knee, because I worry that it is making the other people around the table anxious. If I can’t jiggle my knee then I can’t tap my fingernails on the laminate tabletop because I know that is obnoxious. I can’t hum here and now. I can’t sing my made-up songs. I need to find a way to scribble to disperse the clouds I feel swirling and growing darker in my chest.

If I take out the notebook I keep in my jacket pocket and turn it upside down it’s like a whole new book. From back to front I can add poetry, symbols, things to tweet—when I get the chance, draw spirals, cubes, and cats. Then I won’t do it in the margins of the day-patient book.

From front to back it’s a journal of my mood that Georgia, the head psychiatrist of the inpatients side of eating disorders, told me to keep. She told me to start doing it after I had told her again in ward round that I had a very low mood and high levels of anxiety.

Ward round happens every Monday morning in a conference room on the other side of the ward security doors. Inside are chairs arranged in a circle and they seat Georgia, Tara the registrar, Sarah the ward physician, Anita the dietician, Etta the art therapist, Nina the social worker and Linh the student social worker. There seems to be a different psychologist in there each time too and she says ‘we haven’t met’ and we never do. She has a student next to her too.

Always to my left is the nurse that has brought me in. I often forget they’re there because I seldom avert my gaze from Georgia. I’m hungry for answers, insights, anything.

On recent Mondays I’ve had a funeral, an x-ray, and a colonoscopy and have been missed. So I fretted Tuesday through Thursday thinking I wouldn’t see a doctor in the hospital for another whole week.

Thursday is chart round day where decisions are still made about your treatment, your allowances and your requests for leave but it is done by a fraction of the team. You’re only seen if you were missed on Monday or you stand a chance of discharge. Or maybe something else like there’s bad news you need to hear in person, such as the addition of a nocturnal nasogastric drip because you’re losing weight so fast it’s not funny.

Though I worry I will be forgotten I always do get seen after I’ve been missed. Almost everyone in the ward wants to get seen twice a week. Marie, says, I have some things to say to them but they won’t see me, and Renee paces the halls, and Matilda stands on the balls of her feet in the doorway of the lounge, where we rest all day, until Margaret, a nurse who’s from England tells her to park her bum on the settee.

You can ask the nurses if you’ll be seen during chart round but they might not know and if they were any good they wouldn’t tell you.

I don’t know why since I’ve been in here I’m treating cheap books like holy parchment. Still trying to convince myself I don’t need to whip myself for the times I’ve misused my Mood Journal. Not that I self-flagellate much any more, maybe I did it once last year, I can’t remember. Now I just slap myself in the face, or bang my head on the wall, or hit the right side of my skull with my stronger and more accurate right fist. Have it shaped like how you’re not supposed to throw a punch or handball a footy (with the thumb in), so it hits where the pain radiates and lasts. Then I feel stupid and let myself fall down onto my bed. It’s more about release than punishment lately.

I allowed myself to break up the updating of feelings and thoughts with questions I would ask in the next ward round. Then in the family therapy group with Clara last Tuesday I recorded details of a dream in it that I had the night before.

In the dream I planted a green papier mâché dinosaur full of compost into an open plan shed where great saffron milk cap mushrooms (the orange edible ones I’ve picked in pine forests) soon started growing and hundreds of insects of different types like flies, beetles and ants as well as spiders crawled or flew out of the form as it decayed in front of my eyes. Following the bugs was a fresh stream of fast-flowing water fertile with fish, crabs, crocodiles, hydroponic vegetables and chameleons. I picked a chameleon up and it evolved in shape and form in my hands. It changed colour and grew extra horns from its inchoate skull.

I knew it was worth recording it, even in the wrong place, even while Clara was talking. I knew I had to remember it. Afterwards we had art therapy and I illustrated it in oil pastels on a panel cut from a cardboard box and I told the other consumers it was the most wondrous dream of my life.

I flip the notebook upside down and write: ‘upside down, backwards book, I need to scribble, or else I’ll get (more) brain damage’ then I draw a box around the words which all fit in the top-right corner of the little page and look up.



Jackie is a writer from Apollo Bay living in Yarraville. They study professional writing and editing at RMIT. Jackie is currently working on their first novel. They tweet @jackiejoeheelo.

Artwork reproduced courtesy of the author.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.