Stigma

“She held me back, grabbing hard onto the fabric of my jacket,” Wini told me in one of our many conversations, “No one ever restrained me like that before. And in public too.”

I don’t rightly remember when she told me this, but it was definitely within the first week or two after the incident. She had overdosed on Panadol the night all our year eleven exams finished. Which was also the night right after the German exam; the night of that day that I chose to ignore those blaring warning signs. They’d taken her to hospital as soon as it happened, and she had remained there since. Not in the same ward, of course, but her only move in that first week was to the youth centre adjacent to the hospital.

From the way she described the centre, I pictured a prison way too small for a claustrophobic person like me. It was not a place I’d like to find myself in, much less so after something as terrible as this. Yet she was stuck in there for an indefinite time, and I found myself wanting to break her free. I knew that it was all for her own good, the monitoring and the nosiness of the nurses on duty, but I also knew that this wasn’t really helping Wini at all. I didn’t say anything on that topic though, until that one phone call where Wini told me of an incident.

“We were allowed out in a group,” she told me, her voice already seeping with anger, “Me and my roommate, and people from a couple of other rooms. There were two nurses supervising, of course. They told us we were going to the local shopping centre to watch a movie. I think it was Breaking Dawn. I don’t really like that kind of Twilight stuff, but I was glad to be able to see the real world.

We were going just like normal, walking as a group into the shopping centre. And you know how the cinema’s on the second floor? We went on the escalators to get there. You know me, I hate to stand on the left and wait for the thing to inch up. So I walked up on the right side, like I always do. And then there was this sudden grip on my arm and the back of my jacket.”

It turned out that the nurse thought she was running away, and so she grabbed Wini to make sure that didn’t happen. Fair enough, she was paid to keep them all safe, but what happened next angered me hugely. Apparently she didn’t let go when Wini told her that she was merely being active, and so they both had a little struggle on the escalator. And when the security guard came to ask them what was wrong (and really, everything was wrong), the damn woman said the worst thing possible.

“Oh, she’s a mental patient,” she justified loudly to the crowd around them.

Wini told me she never felt such embarrassment and anger in her life. Being referred to as a mental patient had its incredibly negative stigma, because the majority of people just didn’t know better. She said she didn’t want to be known as that, she just wanted to be treated normally for once. And I wanted to wrap my arms so tightly around her that no hurt would be able to get in.

“I just want to go home,” she said to me randomly, her voice tainted for the first time with desperate longing, “Please let me go home.”

I wanted to cry, because I couldn’t do a thing about it. I told her that I love her, that we all love her so much, and I asked if she was free that Saturday. I knew that the hospital was ages away from where I lived, and that I would take me more than an hour to get there, but I seriously didn’t care. If I couldn’t take her home, then I’ll bring her some homemade food and a friendly face. And hopefully that’ll seem like home enough to her.

The End

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