The Body Blow

Posted in Blogging, books, journals and diaries, mental health with tags , , on October 22, 2014 by leovineknight

he following day, I sat slumped in ‘my’ chair in the day room, thoughts neutralizing one another, clouds gathering, nerves jangling and…..

“Hello, Steve.”
It was Kate, and my heart jumped into my loins.
“Hi, there” I murmured. “Fancy seeing you in a place like this.”
“Well, I told you I was starting the training. I’ve got my first placement on the elderly ward, downstairs.
“Oh…. Still, it was nice of you to look in.”
“Well, I saw your wife at the theatre and she…. she explained that things weren’t exactly…”
“Brilliant?”
“Er…yes.”
“Was she alone at the theatre, by the way?”
“Well…no.”
“So you probably wondered if she’d traded me in for a new model?”
“Well yes, but she explained how she was getting a bit depressed about it all. Apparently, she was trying to cheer herself up on a works outing, but only one other person turned up…… He was a cocky bloke with a very long nose. I didn’t like him much”
“Yeah, I get the picture.”
“I feel really sorry for you Steve. You look dreadful.”
“Well….. never mind about me. What have you been up to?”
“Oh, apart from really enjoying the training I’ve……er…..I’ve got myself engaged.”
(silence)
“Say something Steve.”
“Congratulations, Kate.”
“There’s something else Steve.”
“What, even more wonderful news?”
“Yes…..I …..I don’t really know how to say this. You may have heard about it already. But the night you had your breakdown….you were saying all sorts of horrible things in your sleep. It sounded like you were really angry and you wanted to kill somebody. Then you talked about Cecilia, and how you’d “fixed” her once and for all…..It was awful Steve…..I had to tell somebody.”
“Ah….I wondered what Richard meant in his letter.”
“So you know about it?”
“I can’t remember a thing about that day Kate, apart from seeing you. But Richard wrote to say I was going to be interviewed about Cecilia when I’m better. Now I know why”
“I’m sorry.”
“You’re certainly an idealist, Kate. The book comes before everything else doesn’t it?. ”
(silence)
We prolonged the meeting for another ten or fifteen minutes, exchanging platitudes and slightly uncomfortable looks, before she bid me an unlikely farewell. I looked at her departing hour-glass figure like the man with X-ray eyes, imagining myself taking chances rather than leaving them, seeing my tongue flicking down her spine to the coccyx, feeling the nylon over her knees, drowning gladly in the flesh and blood.
“Hello, Lawrence” she said to the tweedy young doctor wedged in the doorway.
“Hi” he said, waving his hand (although it was still in his pocket), then strutting away, his impression left on the woodwork, his plans in the toilet.
Gazing through the grimy, cracked window which overlooked the car park, I saw Kate and Brad Pitt getting into a nice red and white Mini Cooper (with pepper pack, no doubt). At least she had the grace to look a bit sad.
But only a bit.

Exit

Posted in Biographies and Inside Stories, Blogging, mental health with tags , on October 7, 2014 by leovineknight

I resisted a gut reaction to rip the letter into shreds or burn it in my crested ashtray, knowing that this would then prevent me from subjecting it to endless dissection and reinterpretation. I was aware from previous experience that short term anger would probably give way to longer term wishful thinking, and that until further information arrived I would paw over every piece of existing evidence with a detective’s eye. Did the letter really mean what it looked like at first sight? Was there any hope between the lines? Did the description of my competitor reveal any weaknesses? The self-flagellation could go on for weeks and months, right down to the bone.
I felt trashed.
Certainly, this wasn’t the best preparation for my weekly meeting with the multidisciplinary team, and when the time came to walk down to the meeting room, I felt more like hitching a horizontal ride in a hearse. But I must have looked better than I felt because the first thing the consultant said was:
“Well Steven, the medication seems to have suited you. The nurses say you haven’t reported any ‘unusual’ sights and sounds for over two weeks. No voices in your head, no radio broadcasts meant just for you, and no feelings that the world was against you. You must be feeling a lot better?”
“Well, I’ve given up the fight against vastly superior odds, if that’s what you mean.”
“Yes, that sounds pretty rational to me.”
“How long do you think it will be before I’m fit for work?”
“Er…well looking at your occupation, it could be quite a while yet, but I’m certainly pleased with your progress.”
“So, what happens now?”
“Well the next step is to reduce your medication towards a maintenance dose. Then the nursing staff will arrange some home leave for you, to see how you get on outside the ward. I’m sure your family are looking forward to having you back.”
“Absolutely” I stupidly said.
“Excellent.”
” Have you heard of C——- Village?” I hedged.
“Christ! You don’t want to go there do you?” he laughed. “It’s all mumbo jumbo and ‘let’s worship the divine leader’.”
“No different to here then.” I remarked.
“Very good, Steven” the consultant chuckled. “Now. Are you absolutely sure we’ve dealt with all the issues that were troubling you.”
“I think so” came my unconvincing reply.
The consultant had a backlog of ill and ‘ill’ people waiting to be admitted, so in the following days he chose to overlook my increasingly sardonic remarks and my growing interest in religious communities, keeping instead to the agreed discharge care plan. I had received nothing further from Carol, but a preliminary letter had arrived from her solicitor advising me that divorce proceedings were about to begin and that I might want to appoint a ‘legal advisor’ of my own. The day of my home leave was getting nearer, and I was finding it difficult to explain my wife’s ongoing ‘incommunicado’ status to the nurses. Sleep was difficult, and the headaches were returning.

Dear John

Posted in Biographies and Inside Stories, Blogging, books, journals and diaries, mental health with tags , on September 2, 2014 by leovineknight

The next day I woke up with the larks (two patients were making love in the bathroom, and another was absconding down the alarmed fire escape), and after an early breakfast I set to work writing the most important letter of my life.

Dear Carol,
I don’t want to revisit the problems we’ve had over the last few years, and I certainly don’t want to apportion blame. I remember the good times as well as the bad, and underneath it all, I still love you.
There may be a way out of these problems, and I want you to think carefully about what I’m going to say, for all our sakes. One of the people here has told me about a place not too far away, where families can live and work together in a farming type of community. He says it brings people closer together and restores their sense of value.
Please tell me that you would like to hear more about it. It could make all the difference to our lives. It could be what we really need.
Tell the children I’m thinking about them.
Love
Steve

Putting this in the post, I picked up my incoming mail, dodged the tweedy doctor who seemed to be stuck in the doorway, and returned to my room. I went through the usual invitations that mentally ill people receive from credit card companies, and at the bottom of the pile I found a letter from Carol which must have been have been posted the previous day.

Dear Steve,
Sorry I’ve got to break the news to you this way, but I didn’t have the heart to tell you yesterday. Things have been very difficult between us for years now, and your illness was the last straw. I can’t go on like this and I would like us to spend some time apart. We’ve talked about divorce before, and when you’re better I think we ought to go through with it. I won’t even ask why you were in that girl’s flat that night.
I’ve met a man (Bill) who really cares for me, and who has shown me the things I’ve been missing. He’s been very kind bringing around toys and sweets for the kids while you’ve been away, and they both seem to like him. He’s so honest and open, I just can’t throw the chance away.
You may think I’m being insensitive doing this while you’re in hospital, but Bill says a clean break will probably do you the world of good. He’s so thoughtful, he even asked me if it would be okay for him to send you a ‘get well’ card – you can see why I want him to move in with me. Please say you understand.
Love
Carol
P.S. Don’t worry about the garden. Bill has brought over his new cylinder mower which cuts the lawn in stripes.

Alternative Therapy

Posted in Biographies and Inside Stories, Blogging, jobs, careers and work, mental health, social work and social policy with tags , on August 12, 2014 by leovineknight

“You’re going through a tough time Steven” somebody commented.
“It could be better” I agreed, not really in the mood for talking.
My interlocutor was Stan, a man of about my age who had been admitted to the ward three weeks ago with an acute relapse of psychosis. He was stable again now, and I had been impressed with his articulate understanding of mental illness, society and the ward. He seemed curiously at peace, even though his family rarely visited and his early promise at university had been annihilated by schizophrenia and lengthy periods of hospitalization. His ‘romantic life’ had disappeared at roughly the same time as his success, and no doubt this had made him sensitive to my current plight.
“I’m afraid they don’t really understand places like this” he said. “It’s embarrassing and frightening to them.”
“I suppose you can’t blame them for wanting to be somewhere else” I said.
“Yeah. Love and morals only take people so far. Then it’s ‘what about the children’, and ‘I deserve a life too’. “
“You don’t think she’ll be back then?”
“Who can say? I’m only glad I don’t rely on things like that any more.”
“So what will you be doing when you leave?”
“I’ll go back to the village.”
“Where’s that?”
“C——- Village. It’s one of the religious communities up on the H—— hills.”
“Oh, one of the therapeutic communities?”
“I suppose you could call it that, but it’s really a way of life rather than therapy. About half the people who live there have never had a mental disorder, they just like the idea of working as part of a large family. It’s back to basics, of course, and ‘close to nature’ in a way which sounds cheesy, but really isn’t. You ought to come out and see for yourself.”
The tea trolley trundled around the day room, interrupting our conversation, and my mind began to tick. I was in the mood for radical changes, as people always are when a crisis breaks the mould of routine and complacency. Could C—— Village provide a solution for me? I knew that these places sometimes took whole families, and my imagination began to soar in a wildly evangelical direction. Could I persuade Carol…..?

Vows

Posted in Biographies and Inside Stories, Blogging, life and modern times, mental health with tags , on July 14, 2014 by leovineknight

“Hello, there.”
I swivelled 90 degrees and observed the svelte figure of Carol weaving through the coffee tables towards me. She had clearly spent the morning in the bathroom as usual, with freshly tinted hair, sparkling teeth and the intermingling aromas of shampoo, anti-perspirant and patchouli oil intoxicating all in her wake. But as momentary eye contact was lost, my visceral admiration wavered, and I detected that her bonhomie was far too extravagant for the circumstances. She always performed for new audiences like Betty Grable at a big break audition, effortlessly switching her binary personality from 0 to 1 for maximum effect, but this time something was different. As she sat in front of me ignoring everything I said and beaming sideways at perfect strangers, I noticed an extra special esprit in her manner which I hadn’t seen for many years. After 15 minutes of unreal politeness, awkward vacillation and routine fencing, I looked at the right ear which was turned towards me, and enquired:
“Where are the kids today?”
“Sorry?” she said, pulling her attention away from the pink-shirted charge nurse at the end of the room.
“Where are the kids today” I repeated.
“Oh, one of my friends from work has taken them to see Star Wars XXIV at the Ritz.”
“I see. Is it Andrea?”
“Sorry?” she said, abandoning her non-verbal rapport with a tweedy young doctor in the doorway.
“Has Andrea taken them to the cinema?”
“Oh no. It’s one of the others – nobody you know.”
“It would have been nice to see the kids.”
(Silence).
“It would have been nice to see the kids!” I insisted.
“For goodness sake, there’s no need to shout!” she shouted. “I just thought it would be better if they enjoyed themselves for once. It’s no fun for them in here.”
“I didn’t choose to be in here.”
“Didn’t you?” she sneered. “ Quite a few of your work-mates seem to have been in and out of places like this, just so they could cop out. Why not you?”
“For God’s sake, I had a genuine breakdown! It was because I was having to cope with all that low grade corruption and filth and endless stupidity that I couldn’t take any more.”
“Well, in the end it doesn’t make any difference whether it’s genuine or not. You’re still here.”
“It doesn’t make any difference?”
“No not really. “
“But I was fighting for something that was right and fair. Something less wasteful and less rotten…..”
“If the world’s as mad as you say it is” she interrupted “the only sane thing to do is to adapt to it, otherwise you’ll be driven mad yourself.”
(Silence).
“You’ve always been anti-social Steven. That’s your big problem.”
“Well……. if society means a collection of performing narcissists, mindless bureaucrats, animalistic thugs and shameless freeloaders dancing together over the cliff – yes, I’m very much against it.”
(silence).
“Anyway” she said “I’ve got to meet Bil ….er…my friend at 4 0’clock to pick up the kids.”
“Bill who?” I enquired.
“Look, I can’t explain now” she said “I’ll write soon, but I’m going away for a few days break.”
“Whereabouts?”
“I’ll write soon.”
“Take care then” I said, no longer wanting to hear the truth. “And have a nice time.”
For a few moments she looked shaken and contrite, her eyes shining like mine, shared memories holding us in our seats, but then she was gone. And gone for good (or bad), I could no longer tell the difference. Only the perfume, and the image of her catwalk back remained.

Review

Posted in Biographies and Inside Stories, Blogging, mental health with tags , on June 14, 2014 by leovineknight

My ‘aberration’ had certainly superimposed a liberating fantasy on the world, but the reality itself stood unchanged, leaving me balanced between the anaesthesia of collapse, and the alienation of recovery. I sat in limbo, sensing society waiting outside the ward, and fearing its incursion. I hid within the hospital, far away from my hometown and the embarrassments contained there, waiting for the past to heal and the future to happen. The unit, of course, remained gloriously untouched by my pyrotechnic delusions; its armour-plated system destined to kill the patients with disabling kindness, long after my nightmare was over.
So, time passed in the nondescript day room while people with parallel scars on their arms dived for broken crockery, others returned from the E.C.T. suite with glazed looks and cups of tea, and new admissions combined their paranoid delusions and hypo-manic flights of ideas into a bedlam of noise and threat. Staff chased fleeing patients, and sometimes patients chased fleeing staff, while opportunist anorexics made for the nearest toilet to regurgitate pellets of food under cover of mayhem. Snooker balls went through windows, and a 1950’s drug trolley squeaked around the ward four times a day, dispensing manna from neuroleptic heaven. Hours of boredom were punctuated with flashes of bloody violence, and intra-muscular injections peppered supine buttocks with daily regularity. Then I began to receive my first visits.
“Good morning, Dr. J—–” said a voice at my elbow.
“Morning” I replied, wondering who the pin-striped stranger might be.
“I’m Dennis G——. I represent Legal, Accident and Slow Recovery Ltd., a firm specialising in employer’s liability.
“Really?”
“Yes. Forgive the intrusion, but I think you may be entitled to substantial compensation for the stress which led to your recent…hem…difficulties, and I would like to offer our firm’s services.”
“So, you’re an ambulance chaser?”
“That’s not a term we would use ourselves Mr. J—–. We see our job more as defending the rights of the little man against large, negligent organisations.”
“Very noble” I commented “but I’m afraid it goes against my principles to suck money out of a system which is already riddled with users and charlatans, so I’ll have to pass on it.”
“Surely your family…..”
“No, sorry, please don’t wheel out your manual on persuasion techniques. I’m certain.”
“Well, if you’re absolutely sure you’re certain, I’d better call back another day” he said “Perhaps when your wife, or doctor, is present?”
“Look, the fact that I don’t want to pursue the easy money of litigation doesn’t make me mad. Maybe I don’t want the stress, or need the greed. Maybe I just don’t want any part of a society which is turning into an anarchic shambles.“
“Of course. Very well” he said, in a manner and tone usually reserved for unreasonable children. ‘Bye for now Dr. J—-.”
“Goodbye indeed.”
I watched his blue and white chalk striped suit disappear down the corridor, and wondered if ‘tosser’ ran all the way through his body, like ‘Brighton’ in Brighton rock. I also wondered where he’d got his information from, and why people seemed so determined to destroy their social organisations with individual avarice. It was like bees eating their own hive. A few days later, a ‘Legal, Accident and Slow Recovery Ltd.’ standard letter arrived:

Dear Dr. J—-,
Further to the interest you have shown in pursuing a compensation claim against your employers, we would be very pleased to act for you in the matter, and look forward to receiving your advices in due course. We hope you don’t recover too quickly from your injuries, and assure you of our best attentions at all times.
Sincerely,
D. G —–.

Changing Sides

Posted in Biographies and Inside Stories, Blogging, books, journals and diaries, mental health with tags , on June 2, 2014 by leovineknight

When I did wake up, I was still disorientated, and the room hung around me like a pointillist painting, with dots of colour forming half-familiar images on a dazzling white canvass, forcing my eyes firmly closed again.
“Dad”
The word brought the room vaguely into focus, and now I could make out three people looking down on me, in my white sheets in a white room with white light.
I was back.
Almost.

For a while I felt bewildered and numb, with my memory mercifully dim, selective and distant. I was drained rather than refreshed, and my mind seemed to stall whenever it met the past, and the problems preserved there. Drugs had obviously put out the fireworks, but when I tried to refocus my mind, uncover the causes of my collapse and get things back in perspective, I struggled. It was difficult enough for the therapist to help me revisit past events, but it was impossible for him to change the world which had created those events, and would create them again – if it got the chance. Therapy could only help me ‘adjust’ to things I thought were wrong. In a sense, it could only help me fail.

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