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Jeremiah Savant’s Adventures in Mental Health

NINE: Circling the Drain

the other parallel timeline extended

Simultaneously: …a neighbour came over for chat… there stood ‘Hetty’, with ‘Dolly’… Grand Plan to obtain a diagnosis…

Back when I was working in electrical retail, beset with financial difficulties not of my making and living on a handful of rice a day, I asked my father something.

“Why is my job seen as having so little value that I get such a low wage?” His answer enraged me.

“You should have gone to university and got a degree. You could have had a proper job then…” My choice of academic pursuit and potential career had not been good enough at sixteen, and now – at twice that age, and with nearly ten years experience – he was making it clear he looked down upon my subsequent career choice. Oh, it was alright for him to ask my expert opinion regarding TVs and home entertainment, computers and cookers and washing machines… but when it came to giving me respect for the years of training and learning and working out how these things were used in everyday life so I could help people make the best choices… that, obviously, was in short supply.

This lack of regard seemed to be reflected by society as a whole – my ex-wife’s words of, ‘you only work in a shop,’ still echoed in my mind and furthermore, the only examples of my occupation in popular culture were either as the jobsworth villains in consumer programmes or some sort of grotesque in a half-hour comedy show. To add insult to injury, the government had introduced a lower band of income tax for those on low pay, and all of my wages fell below that threshold. I no longer paid normal rate tax; the result was that I had just a couple of pounds more in my pocket at great expense to other taxpayers and I felt like I was no longer contributing my fair share to society. Like I was being told that I did not count and I was not worthy. A better way to put money in my pocket would have been a pay rise… if I had been paid a living wage back in those days, I would not have succumbed to the stresses of in-work poverty, I would not have had my breakdown and therefore stayed in work.

Things like this were rattling through my head all the time at that time – the same time as the ‘Hetty’ problem. I did not want any of the claggy mess my life had become. I wanted to be with slim, pretty people who had interesting things to say, and would value and welcome me as an equal; not yet another vampiric monstrosity, sucking on my screaming soul while smothering me with its own disgusting inadequacies – I have enough of those myself, thank you. I was drowning in empty days, and any other companions of any frequency were of the same general group as I: burnt-out charity cases. ‘User Groups’ were all the rage in those times, and at every jolly I went on, there were the usual stereotypical suspects.

The borderline junkie, the alcoholic and the meds-jumbled manic-depressive – all gleefully destroying their own lives, faculties frazzled by brain-fry and incoherence… until it came to leering over saucy pictures in daily tabloids or wittering uselessly about soccer, soap operas or talent shows. There was no fellowship for me there. They had built their own prisons and were unable to knock down their own walls, whereas I had been good. I had done what was expected of me. I had obeyed the rules… why were MY walls higher than theirs – and… who had built the damned things anyway? I was enveloped in mediocrity magnified, and it was turning my mind. When I saw a film about alien invasion, I would hope the aliens would win (though they never do); or there’s the one with the evil mastermind wiping mankind out and living on a space station until he could repopulate the planet with physically and mentally perfect people… instead of cheering the hero on, I thought the villain had the right idea.

My desocialisation was complete. I had lived in most kinds of places and never quite fitted in, and now, at the bottom of socioeconomic food chain for real, I was unique and alone. And in absolute agony, trapped in a limbo further away than the back of beyond. Finally, I went to the GP about a physical complaint, then during the follow-up I asked for another psych referral. Two months later, a letter came through with the appointment in four weeks’ time. I went. I was not hopeful of any outcome.

It was a Psychobod of EU nationality who saw me, and while his English was top-notch, it still was not quite natural to him. I could feel him translating my words – then his responses – to and from his mother tongue. I was stuck trying to break the Psychobod Barrier again: instead of having to deal with the, ‘it’s not about me, it’s about you,’ mantra, this barrier was one of language and culture. Although, being European, instead of prescribing me the latest chemical concoction from American pharma, he suggested I try a derivative of a more natural kind. I told him I already used it on an as-needed basis. He referred me back to the counsellor at the referring GP surgery… another two month wait. Then six sessions of teaching me ‘coping strategies’ supposed to help me live my daily life – dammit, I had been through all this already, people! Tell me what the blazes is wrong with me! Maybe my records held a clue. Counsellor checked. Most of my records were missing, just one enigmatic comment: ‘what an unhappy little boy…’ Brilliant. Now I felt paranoid as well – when the radiographer held up that x-ray of me and said, “I don’t believe it!” what had he been looking at? (that had been when I was hit by a car, and is another tale for another time).

A year after I went to the GP, I was sitting at the follow-up with the Psychobod, who muttered something about ‘a Borderline Personality Disorder’ with ‘mild depressive episodes’ and told me to keep on as I was keeping on. I was enraged as I left to wait for my bus; and desperate. What did I have to do to get this whole thing taken seriously, to get myself seen at the right time and quickly by people with whom I could communicate on my level? A dark fantasy projected itself onto the screen of the cinema in my mind. Using a large carving knife, I would casually walk up to strangers and… well, there was bloodshed and terror involved… it culminated with me being dragged away screaming and laughing and shouting that I told them there was something wrong with me, now did they believe me? HAHAHAHAHAHAH!

The ‘Hetty’ situation spanned this, and ended up resolved as the year turned. The news spouted that the government was going to crack down on the amount of people on welfare, and test everyone all over again… and I felt the terror of financial jeopardy and constant uncertainty beckon seductively with its ghastly bony fingers; fear of blind officialdom and the disjointed circular workings of government departments lurked, cackling in dark corners…

I moved, the government changed – as did the language used by politicians and the media about ‘my kind’ – and I felt even more afraid. My text messages expressing my fears and predictions of the propaganda and persecution to come were read out on radio phone-ins and politicians dismissed them as hysterical. The daily trip to the supermarket past the daily paper headlines all screaming, ‘They’re All Faking It Put Them To Death,’ was a horrifying ordeal. I knew that my turn under the new rules was coming, and I wanted to be prepared… familiar pre-crisis sensations and indicators began to surface and I immediately went to the GP – much easier now, as I could walk there – and lied. I did not tell him how I actually was at the time, but pretended that I was already in full-blown crisis. My Grand Plan was starting, and the timing should be spot on, I thought. Also, I thought that the system should work so well that I need not lie as I had, and I felt somewhat ashamed despite only bending the truth.

My timing was almost spot on: it took nearly three months to get the initial consult, and it was conducted by… Herr Doktor, who made no mention to our previous encounter despite having what looked like the briefing folder for some major secret project under his arm (this raised the question in my mind about how big the file WOULD have been if records had not been lost). Every time he asked a question, he would punctuate it with a move or gesture. As I answered, I made the same move or gesture back. I wanted him to know that I was playing games with him, and I was fully prepared to give him the full-on Hannibal Lecktor treatment – although it was more comical than I would have liked, as I had developed massive (and painfully violent) tics and intermittent stammering. He prescribed me a new drug. I told him I did not want it and why, but he insisted. Realising this was all part of the Game, I took it but had to stop within a week: it turned my mind off, but my eyes felt like they were twice the size and the pain of that was more than I could bear.

This was the final straw. I had finally had enough: up with this I would no longer put. I had been shunted around, pushed from pillar to post in slow motion by people whose wages I paid either by historical or present tax revenues – and I would tolerate no more. No more meekly worrying about any consequences. No more sideways shuffling. Firmly and with direction, I would take them all on: the bloody Psychobods and their babbling waffle, the know-nothing army of civil servants clearly gearing up to wage war against we unfortunates… all of them. They would no longer tell me, I would instruct them… and should they not like it, I would take the complaint to the highest of levels and rain pain upon them. I spent hours at the keyboard, typing and refining thoughts and ideas, concepts and considerations. My preparations would be the most extensive I had ever done…

When Herr Doktor called me back for the follow-up, I wore my own grey roll neck shirt, controlled my ticks and stammering and turned up the mirroring. Again, he made no mention of our previous encounter – which irked me somewhat, as I had been rather pleased with the snappy comeback, ‘I can’t blow my brains out with that lamp.’ However, I could see that he was increasingly eager to exit the room… yes… yes… I was getting to him. The only thing I did not do was imitate his Austrian accent. At the conclusion, he gave me the old line about, ‘vwe don’dt wvant to pudt labelss on thingss…’ and suggested that I had a weak personality. I nearly fell about laughing. ‘Weak personality!? No one can go through what I go through and survive if they have a weak personality!’ I thought. He merely referred me back to the counsellor at the GP’s surgery. The endless cycle of referral here, then back and further on through to some other department continued at its snail’s pace – then…

I was summoned to be assessed regarding fitness to work – after fifteen years of being casually left alone, of asking for help and not getting it, NOW they were taking an interest? A friend took me to the assessment centre and sat in on the session, where anger and fear fought for domination of my mind. Ticcing and stammering, I could barely utter a word; while I understood the questions, I had no idea what they meant. What could they want to know that I had not already told them in the last fifteen years? My inside leg measurement? The precise chemical composition of my stools?

“What do you do every day?” Oh. A bit personal, that…

“Try –fnick!– to avoid… c-c-c-causing injury or d-d-d-d-death to me or anyone – bluk!– else.”

“That’s not the answer.”

“No, it’s the t-t-t-t-truth.” Yeah, suck on that, sweetheart.

It was the early days of the new government regime, and the demonization of the jobless had not begun to plumb the depths it soon would: I was passed as unfit for work though I might be in the future… Eight weeks later, I was called for the first of my sessions with the job advisor (or whatever the non-job is) and again I was almost totally incapacitated by tics and stammering… so I wrote down on a piece of paper that I will communicate by letter, as this situation was so stressful that I can hardly speak. We parted in agreement that I would do so within the week. When I got home, I wrote a long polite version of:

‘If there were plenty of jobs paying a decent living wage, then fine: help me back into work (as if anyone would be interested in hiring me)… The situation, however, is very different…’ I even threw in some phrases like ‘synergistic mutually beneficial scenario aiming to create a positive outcome solution…’ (I was intensely amused at the follow-up interview, where such phrases seemed to be meeting with approval) and at least one reference to the years of being ignored by the civil servants intent on… ‘helping’ me and that I regarded this as actionable systemic neglect. My mind gives me a hard enough time, the last thing I needed was to have these jokers pushing me through a Kafkaesque maze of indifferent incompetence.

At around that time, the appointment for the practice counsellor came through. It was for my birthday. My 50th birthday. This was it. Time to get this resolved once and for all. There will be no psychobabble. There will be no quarter given. It had been a full year since I had embarked upon this Grand Plan. I had learned so much about myself, and so much about the system… Time to pull it together, and all I had to do was to be aware and to plan ahead. Time for that final push to obtain a diagnosis…

TEN: Endgame, Part One

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