Reunion

Posted in Blogging, books, journals and diaries, jobs, careers and work, mental health with tags , on December 2, 2014 by leovineknight

The next day, one of the nurses told me I had some more visitors and I craned my neck with anticipation as the clattering footsteps echoed down the corridor. The hammer came down and my emotions hit the bell, but on seeing three familiar faces from the unit turn the corner, those same emotions crashed to ground with a sickening thud (and kept on going).
“Christ” I said involuntarily.
“Well, that’s a nice greeting” said one of the nursing assistants, cheerfully.
“What brings you here?” I asked knowingly.
“Oh, we felt like a long run out in the car, and this was a good excuse” he answered with disarming honesty.
“We had a dump on the way here” said Sidney.
“Pardon?” I said.
“We had a bump in the car, but no damage done.”
“Oh, good.”
”How are you, Steven?”
“Well, I’m due to go on home leave soon, but my wife’s decided to divorce me so it’s looking a bit awkward.”
“Bloody Hell Steve” he chuckled. “Never mind though, there’s always a bed for you at the unit.”
“That’s reassuring.”
“I thought he looked as shite as a sheet” said Sidney.
“Still, you’re a dark horse really Steve. I never thought you’d screw the system like this.”
“What do you mean?”
“A nice few months on the sick, most of it recuperating in the pub.”
“But this is real sickness.”
“Ha! Ha! That’ll be the day. God, you’re a droll bugger. How do you keep a straight face?”
“Change the subject will you?” I said, feeling a strange anxiety creeping up on me.
“Oh, well, things are pretty much the same at the unit, with plenty of new initiatives, zero movement, lots of sickness and….”
“Are you still doing the charity walks?” I said, noticing for the first time that all the staff were wearing Telly Tubby costumes, beautifully co-ordinated with Pearly King top hats and antique red noses, dating back to the early din period of charity mindlessness.
“Oh, no Steve. Charity walking is so yesterday. We’re into charity hawking now.”
“Hawking?”
“Yes. It’s dead simple. We all dress up and stand around spitting at each other’s boots for an hour while people queue up to watch. It’s an absolute riot of 21st century fun.”
“Ha ha ha ha” we chuckled.
“Well, as long as you’re having fun, that’s the main thing” I said. “And it’s all for charity, of course.”
“Oh… er…..yes…..naturally.”
“Have you heard about Cecilia, by the way?” interrupted the other assistant.
“No?”
“She died in hospital last week.”
“Oh.”
“Yes, she was in a coma you know.”
“No, I didn’t know.”
“There’s one hell of a stink going on about it. But at least you’re well out of it.”
“Yes” said Sid “There’s a big noise coming down from hindquarters…er….headquarters, to sort it out……”
“I need a cigarette now” cut in a familiar voice.

It was indeed a familiar voice with a familiar question, but for some reason it sent a seismic shock wave running up my back. The tribulations of the last few months seemed to hurtle back into full view, and my numbness vanished. The future opened up nightmarishly around me and a sickly phlegm filled my throat. The air crackled and hissed, and an old enemy returned; refreshed.
“I need a cigarette now! Now! Now! Now” Hettie suddenly howled.
“We’d better be off Steve. See you soon. Sorry it’s all a rush.”
“Wanks very much” said Sidney, pointing at me.
“’Bye Sid.”
“We’re buying a new house you know – I can’t wait to put down a deposit.”
(silence).
“Home is where the fart is….”
(silence).
I wasn’t really aware of the squad departing, and after a while I wandered down to my room and sought the refuge of bed. My head hammered, but sleep seemed to arrive instantly, and I twisted away into a dreamscape of schoolyards, fruit machines, sickly sweet smells, and sadness. I saw my mother’s white face accusing me from the shadows, and the sagging shell of our old house with its cluttered rooms and grates with ashes. I ran through endless streets of rain and sorrow, panting and terrified, until at last a yellow light appeared above a varnished door, and I saw my children looking silently down. I shook the bolts, and circled the house, finding a narrow view inside – where familiar thighs gripped a half-known man, and convulsions merged with spider blackness.
Then all around a pink sea span with hypnotic swirls of crimson, and a bright red sunset appeared before me.

A Flat and the OCD Chord Progression

Posted in Uncategorized on November 8, 2014 by leovineknight

There are two ladies who upstairs hide,

They have little interest in the world outside.

Each day is built around the washing,

An endless cycle of soap suds sloshing.

Rarely do they venture through the door,

Dattime telly being the law.

They pass the windows with chalk white faces.

If the truth be known, they’re OCD cases.

The world beyond is all but forgotten,

Though most of it is stinking rotten.

Country broke, people lost,

No idea what the future will cost.

A host on which the feckless feed,

Licking their cherries, while the taxpayers bleed.

If only people looked out, not in,

Perhaps there’d be a little less sin.

But when, one day, this was pointed out,

The ladies upstairs gave a lusty shout,

Uncomprehending to the last,

They closed the door; very fast,

Like two huge gerbils in a tread-mill,

They were perfect strangers to good old free will.

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.

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