Jeremiah Savant’s Adventures in Mental Health
ONE: Intro and Starting Points
In the mid-80s, Richard Dreyfuss and Nick Nolte starred in a kinda comedy, ‘Down and Out In Beverly Hills’. Dreyfuss’ character ‘rescues’ Nolte’s from a life on the streets in a My Fair Lady-ish experiment. There is a scene towards the end where Nolte’s character has a speech about how these wealthy and comfortable people seem to have devoured his tales of living rough as if hungry vampires… and how to their tastes, the harshness of his life was too mundane and undramatic; something like, ‘real pain just isn’t tidy or convenient.’ Along those lines, anyway. Nolte’s character had to keep embellishing his stories with lurid exaggerations each time as the vultures around him were getting bored with the truth. By the time of The Speech, he has had enough and is heading for back to the streets. Tucked away in the tail-end of a very so-so film, that scene – for me, without research and having seen it only once, many years ago – resonates still. Why?
It’s because those whom I call ‘Psychobods’ – the whole range of ‘Mental Health Professionals’ – are, in my opinion, very much like the mawkish, gawkish and smugly financially cushioned parasites in the aforementioned kinda comedy. It reminds me of the times I would seek reassurance and just a plain old different opinion, asking them something along the lines of, “How would you feel?” or “What do you think?” In answer, all I ever had was, “It’s not about me, it’s about you – and you are the expert in being you…” (I had a comeback to that, “actually, not right at the moment I’m not, which is why I need your help…”) Finally, what it brings to mind is how I felt forced to show what I was going through rather than discuss it as rationally and calmly as possible – which is something I would have thought preferable in every case.
My first flirtation with Psychobods as an adult was just after The Total Lifestyle Failure of 1989. I arrived home from work one evening, to find that my then-wife was sitting, all prim and serious, in the living room. I could tell something was up, and was filled with dreadful relief, a strange hope… She looked gravely at me and said,
“We have to talk.”
Those four words said it all, and my first crazy thought was that the fighting and nonsense was all over. Within a couple of hours, I had moved out per her request, and within eighteen hours I was basically fired – although legally speaking, I tendered my resignation effective immediately. That is how quickly someone can lose everything: marriage, home, job. Grief-stricken and bewildered, I sought ‘professional help,’ only to find it was not particularly forthcoming, and the pills they gave me did more harm than good. I managed to find a job to throw myself into, hoping to earn enough points to progress up the Ladder of Opportunity… only to find that my arms were not long enough to reach the next rung. I suppose returning to a previous employer, where my skills and knowledge were well-known had not been such a good move, after all. It seemed that my boss appreciated what I did so much, my reward was to be kept exactly where I was.
A month after I left that job for another, I had a phone call from that store manager, wanting to (and I quote), ‘slot you back in…’ I asked him what pay and perks were on offer and he told me that I knew what it paid. I had the satisfaction of telling him he knew where he could stick it. A year later, I met a former colleague – quite by chance – and he told me that they never managed to replace me as no new recruit lasted in the job. They kept walking out because the pay and conditions were so poor. So, time had proven what I was worth to the company after all.
This was at the end of the 1990s, and I was very broken. Low pay and job insecurity can do that to you, and… well, I had a heart full of anguish and a head full of questions, plus I still had not come to terms with that Total Lifestyle Failure. I needed a fresh start, and with a lot of help from some friends, I moved town. My new doctor managed to fast track me to get some ‘Talking Therapy’. One Monday morning, shortly after nine o’clock, I was in a therapy room and beginning my latest session with Ms K, who noted that I certainly seemed to be cheerful and coping well that morning. I fixed her with my eye, and said…
“No, actually, I’m not. You see, when I was in customer service, I had to deal mostly with angry shouty people. It was difficult and really unpleasant – let’s face it – who wants to deal with angry shouty people? I want to show you I’m being brave about this and I’m determined – with your help – to sort out the mess in my head. So I feel that if I do the weeping and wailing thing, you’ll think, ‘oh no, not him next.’ It’s better to have a bit of a laugh if we can, isn’t it? Plus, we really don’t want me to show how I am, in fact, feeling at the moment.” Of course, she asked me why. So I told her. I leaned forward…
“Your first mistake is that you are sitting more than arm’s length away from the panic buttons. Your second is that I am between you and the door. Your third and final mistake is the presumption that I am not dangerous.” I paused a drawn breath for a second or two, and saw Ms K’s demeanour change into a horrid melty realisation. I continued, matter-of-factly. “Now, you’re lucky that I am who I am and that there’s no way I would intentionally cause you harm. But right now, I’m so hurt and angry and let down by life the universe and everything… I honestly believe I could wreck this room very quickly – but where would that get me? Barred. Possibly arrested. Most likely sectioned. I value my freedom too much; besides, I’d feel too guilty about it later.”
I was referred on to another Psychobod very quickly. Meanwhile, I cried myself to sleep every night – that’s when I could sleep – and endured what seemed like endless days of pure ghastliness. During this time, I attempted to begin to describe very clearly what I was going through mentally. I came up with something like this:
“In case you’ve never suffered with… this… I would say that most people have a few things in common. Being very much in love with someone and have that relationship end – possibly bitterly – is one. Another is the death of someone close – usually a grandparent or something, it has to be when you are young and needs it explained in gentle terms… a pet – a dog, cat, whatever. Hold on to that grief, that heartache. Then think back to your childhood, and the first really bad cold that can remember… how you would wait for sleep, feverish and snotling everywhere, thinking that at least an hour had passed since you last looked at the clock… only to find it had just been five minutes. Now, take those two basic memories and mix them together, and condense them so they’re stronger than you can imagine… Then throw away the reason, so all that exists is the feelings.”
It became my standard answer to that old chestnut, “How have you been since last session?” There was a very unfortunate consequence to my eloquence. I had worked so hard to be able to communicate my distress so very clearly and calmly, that the Psychobods thought I was able to cope with it. They could not understand that by being calm and detached, just for the session, I was getting easy relief. It did not fit into their view of people with my troubles that I could say and do the things I said and did – or that I needed to preserve my dignity in front of them… not to hide behind it, but to just to feel vaguely human for a while.
Then, in a tale for another time, I had to move on and I started the whole process yet again when I settled. Tedious in the extreme, but I was fast tracked again with the co-operation of my old and new doctors. However, they wanted to re-assess me… At this assessment, the Psychobod was running late and phoned the reception to tell me personally. A courteous gesture? Not as far as I was concerned. He was stamping his authority, his control on our session way before it started… I took to watching the car park, and guessed correctly that the large, upper midrange silver Mercedes that drew up a while later was his. Just enough to make a statement of doing well, discrete enough not to be too showy. He bustled in, and we went straight into the consulting room, his apologies leading the way.
“It’s okay,” I said, aiming for slightly jokey reassurance. “I’ve never had a medical appointment on time so I’m used to it –” BAM! He pounced before I could finish the sentiment, asking me why I thought it was only me. “What? Sorry, no, I know it happens to just about everyone all the time – I mean, hey, if I’m late, then people after me are too… right?” POW! He leapt on that, insisting that I thought it was only me. I sighed. “I didn’t say that –” BLAP!
“But it is what you are thinking, yes?” a third time he asked/told me what was on my mind. I decided to be ultra-patient and explain in words of one syllable or less my final thoughts on the matter.
“I am not other people,” I began. “The only way their late appointments impact on me is when they are in front of me. Because I have never – NE-VER – had an appointment on time, I consider that it always happens. I don’t care about other people’s experiences, I was meaning to reassure you that it happens to me all the time.”
“But why only you..?” and so on. For the entire session.
As is said on Twitter, *FACEPALM*.
This merely showed me the kind of thing I was going to be up against, how I would be misunderstood by so many for so long, and how Psychobods would prove to be the biggest obstacle to any kind of recovery I could have made.
If you would like to speak with Jeremiah Savant, or have any questions about this series, feel free to get in touch.