Four newly decorated walls and a grey floor. A bed with the headboard central to one wall upon which I sit. Next to me is a bedside cabinet with a book on it. To my left is a window. In the corner opposite me to my left is a wardrobe with a few of my clothes in and the holdall I brought them in. In the corner to my right is a desk and next to it are the en suite shower, toilet and washbasin. Turning my head further to my right I see the door that leads out onto the corridor where there are numerous other doors leading into similar if not identical rooms. It all seems perfectly ‘normal’; it could be any hotel in the country… but it isn’t. A closer inspection of the room and building in which I find myself tells a very different a story to what most people would accept as normal but what they would class as normal is simple adherence to societal norms and some of us either can’t or won’t do that so where does that leave ‘normal’? Firstly let’s go back to the room that I spent 3 months in and have a closer look.
Four bare walls and grey linoleum floor covering. All the furniture except a chair are bolted to the floor. The window only opens two inches and the door to the corridor opens both inwardly and outwardly. The door to the en suite is not a full door but a half door and the washbasin has no plug. The strap off my holdall has been taken away as have my belt and laces and all the door handles slope downwards. The reason, of course, for all these anomalies that you wouldn’t get in a hotel room is suicide or going on a Keith Moon rampage and wrecking the room. No pictures on the wall so that we had nothing sharp like a nail or nowhere to hang ourselves; there was no sink plug so that we couldn’t drown ourselves; no points of purchase for a ligature; nothing that could be used as a ligature; no razors unless supervised and a window that couldn’t be escaped through… although a few managed by prising it open with the chair. There was usually much rejoicing at this but it never took long before the police brought them back! The grey linoleum floor was preferred to carpet as it was easy to clean of blood or any other bodily fluids. The door to the en suite made sure you could be seen at all times – no such thing as dignity when you’re mental! Anyway, getting back to that weird phenomena called ‘normal’, that room and building constituted normal for me for 3 months but, more than that, the people I occupied the space with also constituted normal despite what wider society may say. Those of us who shared our lives in Airedale Mental Health unit were the greatest type of normal there is. No pretence, no masks, no trying to outdo each other in terms of what we own. None of it mattered in there. All that mattered was that we were in the same boat… we were sick men trying to get better and we were stripped back to who we really were. Nowhere to hide and nothing to hide; perfectly normal if normal is meant to be who you really are rather than the pretence of normality or the game of normality that society dictates we play. We talked with each other; we listened, we spoke and where we could we helped each other. Now that’s normal. Forget your sales, forget how many cars you have, forget the size of your house; in fact, forget all the trappings of capitalism because that’s not normal. The closest we get to normal is when we care for each other. Normal is sacrificing yourself for the sake of others and the place I’ve experienced the most was in my stay in the mental health unit. A place the typified the view that normal isn’t normal and full of people who had gone past what society though because for all us too, normal isn’t normal.
Such was the feeling amongst us that we often said, ‘We’re the normal ones in here. They’re the ones out there that are insane’. And you know, I still think we have a point!