Jeremiah Savant’s Adventures in Mental Health
TEN: Endgame, Part One
The day had dawned bright and warm. I had bathed; trimmed and tidied all visible hair –tied it up and stuck it down. After coffee, I had dressed up a little in a jacket and jeans combo (with white roll-neck shirt) which seemed to scream ‘mid-life crisis!’ yet… my 20-year-old-self would have taken one look and exclaimed in awe at the ultimate coolness of daring to wear it at my age. I was, of course, under no illusions and realised I probably looked a bit silly, but hey, I did not care. How I felt about it was important, and that would carry the look. Diffused thoughts and memories of the same day ten years previously, when I had been wandering around college with ‘Dirk’ making jokes about being an old fart and how I could say certain things now that I was forty… and the evening which included a bottle of tequila and a certain gorgeous Argentinian young lady…
Forty years prior to this day, the media was filling my child’s mind with the ideas that we all would have personal helicopters, wall-sized 3D TVs and food would be in pill form (this appealed to me a lot, as I was told at every mealtime that the starving children in Africa would be glad of my leftovers, so I must eat up and be grateful). There would be massive amounts of leisure time due to robots making the stuff we needed and even being servants and companions – saving mankind from the drudgery of work and leaving us to lives of social, intellectual and scientific advancement. Hovercars and jetboots, holidays on the moon… sub-orbital hypersonic superjets spanning the globe in half an hour… the Sahara Desert planted for foodcrops and efficient solar, wind and wave farms would harvest electricity at a cost too cheap to measure… huge clean cities which incorporated humane and cleanly efficient farms… communicator watches and…
I stepped into the street, which looked exactly the same as it had forty years prior to this day – down to the errant pieces of litter blowing half-heartedly in the unseasonally warm breeze. The cars were basically the same. The Starving Children of Africa were still starving in Africa – hellfire and buckets of blood, more and more were going hungry in this country, too – and all of the promises had been unfulfilled. Even my juvenile thoughts of, ‘Fifty! That’s ANCIENT!’ had been denied me as Fifty was the New Forty – and even that was only worth something like 27 and a half in seasonally adjusted terms… The nearest thing to getting anything remotely right was that a lot of homes had computers and that we had growing ubiquity of smartphones.
Today was The Day. Today, I begin to take on the system and bend it to my will. Today, the preparations of the last year to eighteen months begin to come to fruition.
At the surgery, I checked in at the desk, and paced, hands behind my back – which I held straight – and my head high. A dawdle at the table of leaflets here, a wander to the posters of something else… then, at about the appointed time – on time, for once! – the Psychobod Counsellor emerged and called my name. I turned my head, nodded to indicate myself and she led the way to her allotted consulting room, leaving the door open. I blazed in quietly, turning and closing the door after me, looking around then sitting in the appropriate chair. A moment spun out between us, then Ms C apologised for the delay and I held up my hand. This was it. The Time had come.
“You should know that I’m extremely angry,” I told her. “Not with you, but with the system in general. I mean, I visit here, get referred to Herr Doktor who sees me in his own sweet time then sends me back to see you, and the whole thing takes a year..! There’s got to be a better way.” She made another apology, which trailed off somewhat. I continued.
“Look,” I said, “I have three basic states: In Remission, where I’m kinda coping; In Transition, and that’s when I feel I’m starting to slide downwards to being In Crisis, when I’m barely functional. Every time I’ve been between the Second and Third States and attempted to get the help I need, it’s taken so long to get a consult that I’ve either passed through the entire situation or adapted to it. Whichever it is doesn’t matter, because I have never managed to time it so that I get caught at the right time. Either you Psychobods see the echoes or remnants of it, or you see the adapted version.
“Today is my 50th birthday, and this state of affairs is now completely unacceptable to me. I end up In Crisis, I wait – in vain – for help, I adapt. Any help I get is rendered meaningless because of the long wait because I’ve adapted – than got used to it – or just because I’m sort of In Remission, between episodes. Either way, all I get is, ‘keep taking the tablets,’ which never work and poison the hell out of me, and to my knowledge, no one has ever actually told me what the hell it is that’s wrong with me. All I really want is a diagnosis so that I can go from there… Something is wrong with me and I do not know what it is. My enemy is nameless and so I do not know how to fight it. I want you to explore my situation with me as I describe it, and give me a cast-iron, once-and-for-all diagnosis or direct me to someone who will. I mean you no disrespect, but please realise I just can’t go on like this.”
My tics and stammering had been lurking underneath, and as I finished, I allowed a little fnuk-bik! to accompany a single head-nod. It was good punctuation. My anger and determination had taken me through that difficult opening, and now I looked her in the eye, my own eyes blazing… yet pleading also. I needed her to see the anger, the anguish and because of the way I was ‘presenting’ how I kept falling through the net.
“Wow,” she said. “You really ARE angry, aren’t you?” It was not patronising, the way she said it: it reminded me of my Drama Tutor whispering her amazement that day on the train. I had her where I wanted her – where I needed her… and I had piqued her interest. My internal third party observer sat back and stroked his beard, murmuring, ‘Good… good… now play it cool and just answer her questions, then say the whole thing again in ten minutes’ time…’
We talked: it was refreshing. I felt like I had made headway for once and that I was being taken seriously. With no attempt to talk down to me, she set out her remit – the six sessions or less of how to cope with life (she commented that it would not be useful to me in this situation) – and expressed a desire on more than one occasion that she wished she could take me on in a different context and to learn a lot more. The third time she muttered it, I said,
“So let’s do it. Study me. Write a paper on me… who knows, we could change the way this whole bloody nonsense is done. Get famous and rich…” She laughed, almost – but not quite – considering it. As the time ticked by, she asked about various aspects of my opening speech, and I supplied the answers. By the time our time was up, she had made a decision: she was not going to accept me as a patient, but to refer me back to the Community Mental Health Team for assessment for diagnosis… she just wanted to check up on few aspects of me in a follow up session the next week. I reaffirmed that there was only one outcome acceptable, and that I would have to take… other… advice should the result be unsatisfactory. Too quickly to be anything other than genuine, she demurred and said that she would try to speak to people to get my case pushed through as a priority – not necessarily for speed, but for a definite outcome. Then, with just a minute or two remaining, I let my own façade drop; let my head bow forward, eyes close and demeanour change from Ultra-performance Mode.
Raising my head, a tiny smile dancing on my lips and a tear or two hovering near my eyes, I gently put my hand on hers and thanked her. Then we made the appointment for the following week, and I left. It seemed the perfect hot Indian Summer day to sit on the beach with a friend and open a bottle of bubbly. Therefore, I went round the supermarket, then round to a friend’s house where we had coffee, spoke of this and that and I reminded him of what day it was although he had already asked how my appointment had been. A short time later, we arrived at a particular spot we favoured, popped the cork, made a toast to my success of the day and dared to have hope for the future.
The following week, the session was much more relaxed as I had got the point across, and to be fair, Ms C had in fact begun to reach out to prepare the way. And yes, it would be taking time… I assured her that now I knew this was in motion, all would be much easier. A couple of weeks after that, I was called into the employment place again for a follow-up consultation – I passed another letter to my advisor, bidding her to read it. The contents were merely a repetition of my condemnations of a system that could leave someone dangling for fifteen years then think it can bully them into a non-existent job… and that everything needed to be put ‘on hold’ until I had my diagnosis.
Christmas came and went, as did the New Year, and finally, three months after Ms C had sent me a copy of her referral letter, an envelope came through the door announcing my assessment appointment in three weeks’ time. More time. Time to re-prepare. Time to plot and plan, to write the hour-long improv I would be doing to get through this process and into their micro-system to get the diagnosis.
Something I had to concentrate on was a comment made on the beach by my friend, that birthday just gone: that I had an unusually clear insight into my own conditions and how they affected me. That I could describe them in interesting and engaging ways, so that anyone could grasp what it felt like, even if not understand fully. This next phase of The Grand Plan was not about anger; it was about promoting this aspect of me. The time came, and my friend drove me to my appointment – though at my insistence, I went in alone.
In a familiar consulting room where I had shed so many tears, felt so much anger and frustration and endured so much misunderstanding, I met with a pleasant womanly Psychobod, and for some reason, I went straight into ‘flirty-funny mode’. I entertained. Who and how I was at any time became a matey ‘just-between-the-two-of-us’ anecdote… I included a full-on impersonation of Herr Doktor in the Story of the Gun-Lamp (and yes, I was wearing my grey roll-neck shirt) – this elicited stifled and conspiratorial giggles – followed up with the story about the ‘weak personality’ crack. I charmed, yet… underneath it all, there was a grim hot steely determination. I was treating this session like an audition, a pitch for funding for a film or some other kind of artistic project, and it definitely felt like my approach was working. My final gambit was a hacked-about version of a half-remembered speech from a film.
“Look,” I said, bringing the tone round to completely serious. “The thing is that I’ve never really been caught at the right time to be observed, so I don’t think I’ve ever truly been believed. I find myself In Crisis… then adapt or simply pass through before I get seen, which means I have a new – a slightly different – normality than before. But after a while, I slip and slide, end up In Crisis again – and adapt… again. Another new reality. In Crisis again –”
“– and adapt,” Ms. Psychobod finished and nodded, smiling to herself and unconsciously showing me that she understood completely and I had got my point across.
“Exactly,” I said with a small flourish and leaned forward, serious and earnest, firm yet non-threatening. “Well, I’m past fifty, and the line is drawn here. Enough is enough.” Our eyes met. Without breaking the gaze, without losing the moment, she told me that she would be referring me to the clinical psychologist – a whole new type of Psychobod to me – with the aim of getting me that diagnosis.
The Endgame Part One had been played, and everyone – so far – was winning…
If you would like to speak with Jeremiah Savant, or have any questions about this series, feel free to get in touch.