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White Washed Walls


By Caroline JanePublished 2 months ago Updated 2 months ago 8 min read
Runner-Up in Broken Mirror Challenge
White Washed Walls
Photo by Cory Mogk on Unsplash

The mirror showed a reflection that wasn't my own.

The mirror showed a reflection that wasn't my own.

The mirror showed a reflection that wasn't my own.

Source: A Transcript from a recording taken at 6.45 am. Patient Y. 28.3.23

Normally I am efficient at cleansing my mind of a patient’s delusional rambles. One does not become a successful experimental psychiatrist without developing a cast iron stomach for emotional sludge. Yet today, I am struggling to draw the necessary line to allow myself to retire for the evening.

I am a man who believes in empiricism. Usually, I would take the lab test results, run the numbers and log the resultant standard deviation. This would tell me, concisely, if the administered therapy had succeeded, i.e. if the gap between the perceived independent and collective identity of the patient had reduced.

An example of how I usually document my day:

Patient X is responding well to the treatment. Measures of the independent self, observed using the AIQ-IV (Aspects of Identity Test), demonstrate that the patient's identity is now within 0.4 standard deviations from the mean.

Source: Laboratory Diary Excerpt. 23.3.23

This is an exemplary professional record of that day’s events because it says everything required of it. No more, no less. It says that medical intervention has enabled Patient X to narrow the gap between their perceived independent perception of self and that which the general populous holds about them. It says what it needs to without any unwanted fug. Like a breath of fresh air. Clean and crisp.

If only I could write up today's lab report with the same practical succinctness. If today had been the 23rd, there would have been no need to have cancelled the golf club dinner or drunk four fingers of scotch after supper.

As I say, I am an empirical man. Faith in numbers truly can keep a person on an even keel. All scientists will tell you, follow the numbers and you will get to the truth. It is my sincere belief that numbers hold the keys to the universe. One day, I have no doubt, humanity will formulate an equation to allow humankind to distil the essence of life into a single digit. In this, mathematics has my unequivocal faith.

Still, as my dear departed mother would have said, oddness begets oddness, Charles. Indeed. So, it is not beyond the realms of comprehension that, given the oddness of Patient Y, I, in turn, find myself at odds with having to take the unusual step to indulge in introspection. It would seem that despite my wealth of experience and robust tutoring in professional resilience, I am not entirely safe from the fetters of sensibility. To be honest, it has come as a surprise. However, I must applaud myself because I have already travelled a fair way along the thoroughfare of reconciliation and begun to conclude that every modern professional is allowed at least one day of sentimentality.

This preliminary conclusion was expediated earlier before I took pen to paper. With the fire rolling in the grate to the side of me, I stole a moment of repose to consider the value of indulging in this type of qualitative data production. Reclining in my Father's old wing-backed chair I considered the content of all the richly hued leather bound books that lined the walls in my study, volume after volume of academic rumination lined up like soldiers, edge to edge. As I gazed around I realised, if the practice of excising one’s innermost sanctuary onto paper was good enough for all my academic forefathers, then tonight it shall be good enough for me.

So here we are, and as I write, I believe I can extrapolate and take this grain of thought further. Academia’s modern existence, it's manifested evolution, has spawned from humankind transferring their thoughts onto paper, to books, and into library collections. Humanity’s decision to document their thoughts enabled its original thinkers to free up the capacity of their minds to make further original thoughts. In doing so they also made their thoughts both transparent and preserved for future original thinkers to connect with. One could very well say, in light of this context, it is my academic duty to unbridle my mind from the emotional goblins that have taken to stalking it today.

Ironically, and I find I am chuckling a little as I write this now, the scotch has clearly helped to ease my mood; the conception of such human-connectedness of knowledge and communication plays a substantial role in my field of psychiatric experimentation and exploration. When humankind moved on from books stored in libraries to pdfs stored in clouds and conjecture organised into digital platforms, well, both disassociative collective identity disorders and independent identity disorders went through the roof. Nowadays, with the push of a single plastic button, one social media photograph can bring about a veritable downpour of opinions that can often conflict with an individual's concept or perception of their independent self.

It could be said that my whole field of study began primarily because of this proliferation of connectedness. It has become a societal scourge, a profitable one I grant you, but one to which none of us is immune. I have treated a multitude of society's celebrated great and good over the years. Many notable people have come to me to help them bridge the gap between perceived independent self and collective perception. I confess even I have had a few nips and tucks along the way to elevate my self-image to what is expected from a person of my professional standing. As I say, nobody is immune.

As I am indulging in this contemplative sojourn, I should take the opportunity to state that I am incredibly proud of how many people I have helped over the years. In fact, I have been so successful that I have recently had the opportunity to take quite extensive pro-bono work. Due to the financial freedoms my work has provided, I can now support a demographic of persons that could not typically afford my services.

One should always do what one can.

Anyway, I drift; the scotch has clearly sent my mind rambling. Back to Patient Y and what it is about this patient that has me rather needled.

I should clarify that I do not believe what Patient Y said per se caused my consternation. I have, after all, heard the exact words, or variations thereof, spoken by many patients over the years. Most, I have found, speak the words with delight. After my initial cosmetic alignment, I too found my first look in the mirror quite extraordinary. Our faces, after all, play a centrifugal role in how we humans identify ourselves and others. I remember thinking that I felt reborn in many ways. I had woken to find that I had the face I deserved. Not just that, I had the face that society expected me to have. I enjoyed a great sense of calm from it. It was a soothing experience to align my perception with that of others.

Also, much like Patient Y, I remember pawing at my face quite a lot, perpetually touching the new parts. This is indeed how most patients react, and it is perfectly understandable. It is symptomatic of self-awareness. When one wishes to establish if a child, for example, is aware of itself, one paints a mark on its face while it sleeps and then holds up a mirror to see if they try to remove the mark from their own face or from the one they see in the mirror. The self-aware always paw their own face. The difference is that here we had to deploy a straitjacket because Patient Y clawed rather than pawed when shown their reflection. Of course, using a straitjacket is not an unusual practice in a psychiatric facility, but it is one I feel worthy of noting, if only for the completeness of the record.

It is interesting that I chose the word “reborn” when describing how I felt when I had my initial round of surgery. Interesting because I have tried all day to recall and remember where I had heard a howl like the one that persists in rumbling out of Patient Y as they rock backwards and forwards, muttering in Lab C. Until now, I have not been able to place it, but, my goodness, finally, I recollect where I have heard it before. That noise, that constant, repetitive noise, reminds me of the vagital mewl the newborn babies of drug-addicted mothers made in the maternity wards of the community hospitals I interned at.

Yes. Such a relief! Thank heavens I made that connection.

Let me travel along that thought a little further. It is the sort of mewl that comes with a hunger that can never be satiated. The noise created by Patient Y is exactly like this. It rattles around the white-washed hallways of the laboratory as though it is crawling along them, trying to find a door to a reality that can save it. It is a noise of despair, of wretchedness. It is a noise that tells us that it does not want to be alive, that it wishes it were dead.

And there, before I fall foul of putting any more emotively laden adjectives into the mix and start a slow disintegration down to the happy-clappy day care centre, in socks and Birkenstocks searching for a job, I shall leave it. It is clear that I have experienced today nothing more than a form of emotional déjà vu. Mere ghostly memories from medical school seeping into the present day. Done. Thank goodness I have concluded that malingering business. Tomorrow I can continue with my charitable mental health work and carry on removing tramps off the streets to repurpose their faces so they look like what the public expects of a person with such diminished standing.


Now, if I hurry, there is still time to make it to the club for drinks!


About the Creator

Caroline Jane

Open hearted maverick.

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Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

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Comments (42)

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  • Stephen A. Roddewigabout a month ago

    Nice build throughout. It sounds more or less benign, and then you start to realize what’s really going on with his patients. Also, the subject and his reasoning for what he does remind me a lot of my greatest fear with AI-generated content, which is that the ability for machines to write, draw, speak in other’s voices will further erode our faith in the information we see. So that added a whole other layer of unease as I read, haha

  • A Top Story and A Challenge Place , congratulations

  • Ward Norcuttabout a month ago

    congratulations on your wonderful story being acknowledged!

  • JBazabout a month ago

    No wonder this was in the running. So well written and just a little creepy. Congratulations Caroline.

  • Donna Reneeabout a month ago

    Congratulations!! 👏👏❤️

  • Babs Iversonabout a month ago

    Congratulations on runner up WIN!!!💖💖💕

  • Stephanie J. Bradberryabout a month ago

    I love the use of exacting language to suit one's profession and professional life. It reminds me of why Cash Bundren from William Faulkner's "As I Lay Dying" is one of my all-time favorite characters, he is so intently focused on exact numbers because he is a carpenter. Congratulations on your Win!

  • J. R. Loweabout a month ago

    Ooooh spooky twist! Great voice and beautiful writing style as always. Congratulations on making Runner Up!! 🎉🎉

  • Christina Hunter2 months ago

    Incredible piece. Strong narrator voice comes through exactly as intended.

  • Denise E Lindquist2 months ago

    Very good! Thank you!😊💕

  • C. H. Richard2 months ago

    Also congratulations on your top story as well 👏

  • C. H. Richard2 months ago

    Creepy Dr Dread, methodical psychopath. So well written. I am reading while listening to a virtual conference where the speaker (also a psychiatrist) has a monotone voice. Added to the creepy feel of your story- lol. Well done ❤️

  • Gina C.2 months ago

    Masterfully written! This feels so realistic and I could not help but be pulled into the dark psychology of this 😅 I really enjoyed this approach; well done!

  • Muhammad Ali2 months ago

    It's interesting how the narrator's initial professional detachment and emphasis on empirical evidence gives way to a more introspective and personal reflection, revealing a vulnerability that is unexpected but relatable. It highlights the complex nature of the human mind and the challenges of treating mental health issues.

  • Jordan Twiss2 months ago

    A fantastic psychological approach to the challenge. Creepy, disturbing, if for no other reason than the fact that these attitudes have and still do exist. Well done!

  • Marilyn Glover2 months ago

    Superb writing in such a gripping story. Congratulations on top story. 🎉 👏 😃

  • Caroline Craven2 months ago

    That ending! Oof! Great story and superb writing!

  • Sofia Joy2 months ago

    Thank you really helpful.

  • If Sheldon Cooper had been a psychiatrist. The language was so crisp & professional, I could just see this person seated in their own personal chair where no one else was allowed to sit taking a very self-satisfied & congratulatory puff on their pipe. A combination of Dr. Frankenstein & eugenics with a sense of educational, racial, professional, class & probably even moral superiority. It's mind-boggling to me how you put together all of the professional & snooty jargon to create this. It flows so naturally from you it's as though this must be the way you speak everyday. I'm deeply impressed & humbled. Congratulations on your top story!

  • Kendall Defoe2 months ago

    Well done!

  • Melissa Ingoldsby2 months ago

    Ohh your first person perspective was riveting and very characteristic of a highly mentally unstable man, so good! Congratulations 🎈 on top story

  • Sonia Heidi Unruh2 months ago

    Congratulations on top story! The growing horror in the story is so delectably cultivated especially in contrast to the seeming reasonableness of the narrator. Well done!

  • KJ Aartila2 months ago

    Very well done! It was fascinating to follow his disturbing thought process, and I enjoyed the narrative voice - I could "hear" him well and picture the scene.

  • Jawad Zaman2 months ago

    Your story is so interesting

  • Jawad Zaman2 months ago

    Please support us

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