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Jeremiah Savant’s Adventures in Mental Health

FOUR: Disagreements in Absurdum

The story so far: utter frustration (‘…and this tells me what, exactly..?’ ‘Why aren’t you listening?’ …fighting the Demon…); brutal confessions (‘…zthe herr doktorr vwill see you now, ja..?’ ‘…I’m not afraid of death…’ ‘…consider the amount of paperwork…’); grasping for the truth (‘…life’s what you make it…’ …shove it… ‘…I’m one of the nutters…’)

When the year 2000 came and went, I decided to try to put the past behind me – after all, it was not just in a different year or century, but a whole different millennium. I wanted to make sense of some deeply troubling things. One of them was to try to work out exactly why people want children. While I can do the caring and nurturing thing for small animals, and treat younglings not entirely unkindly, I simply do not understand the desire to reproduce… people would tell me that I did not understand because I had not had children. My reply was that I had not had children because I did not understand (going on to explain that I would prefer not to mess up another human’s head so they end up all anguished and confused like I am). My rampant heterosexuality is… unwanted. After my marriage and a subsequent short relationship, I came to the conclusion that love and pain and the whole damned thing was a problem for me; I kept getting to a point where I would just think, ‘now what?’.

It seemed that no matter what I did from that point, somehow I would fail at it mysteriously and miserably. As working at a now-closed electrical superstore consumed most of my time and effort to escape my emptiness, I had little time to socialise, and therefore ‘met’ no one. By the mid-1990s, I decided that I was probably unattractive to women for some reason, and mostly left it at that. To this day, I endure a constant smouldering ashy ache of longing for the flickering flames of excitement and romance – flames which usually have burned too brightly for too short a time. Little did I know what a can of worms I was storing up for myself, as the Psychobods tried to take my confusion with the propose of my sexuality and turn it into confusion about the nature of it, especially when at The Unit…

Another week ‘inside,’ and more disagreements. Both in and out of sessions, I talked about babies and sex and pair-bonding and… they tried to get me to consider that it was not heterosexuality I was feeling, and I had a dickens of a time trying to convince them I am only attracted to women. Needless to say, they thought I was protesting too much. The Psychobods all concluded that I was suffering with low self-esteem because my marriage failed and I had escaped a grim situation… but that is the tale for another time. A couple of them kept trying to tell me that any number of women (or men) my age might be single and relish my company, to which I would counter that it was my observation that it was not enough. I had nothing to offer anyone, being a mental patient on social security and unable to work… However, they persisted in their opinion that I ‘just needed to meet the right woman (or man)…’ Even allowing for them ‘attempting to work out what they think I’m trying to tell them,’ I still could not work out where the obvious breakdown in communication was happening.

We all had missed something, though – something that I did not realise until a few years later. I was describing to a friend the long and vicious arguments that seemed to blow out of nowhere during the dying days of my marriage – all with the same theme: that my opinions did not matter, that I was wrong and stupid. Day in, day out for months… coupled with a complete withdrawal of all physical and emotional affection. The friend introduced me to the term Gaslighting, a recognised type of mental abuse which completely undermines the victim. It is a reference to the play and film, Gas Light, where a man sets about convincing his wife (and everyone else) that she is going out of her mind, and does so by denying events occurred or that she had any valid memory or opinion about anything.

And the Psychobods’ refusal to LISTEN TO WHAT I WAS SAYING was basically the same thing.

I knew I had to try a different approach – and fast, because I was coming to rather an unpleasant realisation: that everything I had experienced since the Breakdown was a set of reactions and symptoms. There was something big, something dark and menacing, underpinning it all with foul foundations running down deep into my soul. I needed to know what it was – but I could only find out if the Psychobods would let me… being clever would be good, getting frantic would be useless. Yet again, I noticed that odd little disconnect – I put it down to my planning my communication strategy as if for a stage show, yet… somehow… something tickled somewhere. I was not sure what it was. For that entire week, I was trapped and meandering through their mistaken musings about how they could ‘rebuild my self-esteem,’ etc.

What the Psychobods were failing to consider was that I had been shunned by many peer groups for most of my life – first in primary school, then senior… I was clearly only tolerated in my amateur dramatics days, despite being involved in every production. Always, the director’s friends would get main character roles; once, I said I would go to the pub to save a table or two for them for after rehearsal drinks… when they arrived, they made a point of noticing me, then going into the other bar room. Such events were spread life-wide, and after so many years of being made to feel unwelcome in any social group, I gave up on that, too. If such people did not want my company, I shall deprive them of it.

I told the Psychobods all this, only to be told that I was wrong; I should not be concerned about ‘what other people think,’ and that old chestnut, ‘you need to believe in yourself…’ This was despite my own life experience showing me many times that my success or failure has been down to precisely that: other people and what they think. I had lived my life the way other people had wanted – or needed – me to, and all I had got for all my hard work was broke, broken and hated by society as whole. Even now they were denying me the right to have my view on it… which they could not see was proving my point. The medications had not been effective, I had found no new friends or companions within the ‘Fraternity of Patients’ or whatever the term is, and the Psychobods were actively attempting to debunk what I had experienced and observed over many years. Believe in myself? I do: totally… I know, not only because I survived, but by how I destroyed their arguments completely.

We were in their office, being informal and having a lively philosophical debate around the subject of weight of opinion and how it can be damaging. Mostly, they agreed that I had paid too much attention to what others had thought of me in the past…

“Look,” I said. “Truth is less important than Opinion, and my opinion is that you’re all wrong -especially if I take any of your arguments against my point seriously. I mean, you all thought I was a bit of a diva when I arrived -” A comment along the lines of, ‘but we’ve got to know you…’ “– yes,” I continued. “But what if you hadn’t? What if all you knew about me was my first arrival and the way our sessions keep ending up? It doesn’t change the Truth about me, only your opinion. You treat me the way your opinion indicates, not the way the Truth should… and besides, you all might actually be wrong about me, and I could in fact be the most unpleasant person you’ve ever met.” They scoffed that it could not possibly be so… until I pointed out that I have certain skills, and use them as required; that unless I wanted them to see it, I could hide the Truth from them and they would not suspect a thing (‘or I could choose to play them like the fools I consider them to be,’ was an opinion I managed to avoid voicing).

That unspoken codicil was another of my unwelcome and worrying little internal occurrences. Something akin to a little voice, cackling in a cartoony evilish way somewhere in the background. Visions of people with puppet strings attaching them to my fingers, and me looming over them, making them twitch and jerk, ominously crying out, ‘Dance, my pretties!’ Worrying enough, one might say, but the way in which I dismissed it as impossible was even more disturbing and made me very watchful of myself… however, I pressed on, and finally boiled it all down to something like, ‘Even if you’re the nicest person in the world, should enough people around you decide to treat you as if you’re not, then the truth – YOUR truth -doesn’t matter. You are outnumbered, and popular opinion will force you into accepting your position, because that is how people will treat you… and you are powerless to do anything about it.’ One by one – over a few days, in fact – they began to see my point. They did not like having their minds changed.

After I left The Unit that time, they discharged me. I was no longer in the care of Mental Health Services… it also meant I had no access to something I needed (and still do), which is an Advocacy Service between The Powers That Be and me. They had considered that because I could talk about these things so clearly and so intellectually – so eloquently – I had no need for them.

They were wrong.

I had no use for them and I still don’t. Their nonsensical jibber-jabber and self-important questionnaires made up entirely of incorrect assumptions and irrelevant enquiries is of no use to anyone. Need is something else, especially when so many things just do not make sense, and the gut feeling is that they should… and one seeks to be normal, but is not. They had decided their group clinical opinion of me, and when I ‘collapsed’ again within eighteen months, I reached out for help to which I was no longer entitled, but desperately needed… I was rebuffed, and ended up in a cold, dark wilderness; but that was not the worst part of it. They did not even write to me to tell me that I had been discharged.

I had fallen through the net again.

FIVE: Gaslighting in the Dark

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