Jeremiah Savant’s Adventures in Mental Health
THREE: Circulations and Repetition
(content warning: self-death and hurting)
The story so far: ‘Total Lifestyle Failure of 1989’ (‘…we have to talk…’ ‘…slot you back in…’ ‘…shove it…’); first time at ‘The Unit’ (‘…gerroff…!’ ‘…I’m only trying to help…’ ‘…I’m one of the nutters…’); ‘utter frustration’ (‘…and this tells me what, exactly…?’ ‘Why aren’t you listening?’ …fighting the Demon…).
A phrase that people frequently throw at me is, “life’s what you make it,” to which my grumpy reply is, “yeah, and I’m no good at arts and craft”. My life was not of my making. Either by brute biology or by the way they raised and educated me, I lay the credit and blame at my parents’ door. However, I was still in primary school when I began to notice that I thought differently from other people. My growing frustration with being alive and its complications led to a general internal malcontent which would not shift, and my thoughts started to turn grave.
During my early teens and at odd periods since, I indulged myself in a habit. I would stand for hours, holding a large, sharp and substantial knife at a certain angle just below my breastbone and wonder how hard I would have to push, and how many times I would feel my heart beat around the blade before… after a while, I would put the knife back where I got it and carry on with something else. The only reason I did not push on the handle was because I considered how traumatic it would be for the family member who found me and for my parents to clear up the mess. These thoughts were matter-of-fact and somewhat disconnected… the Standard View is that such a scenario is all deeply whirling emotions and franticness. For me, it was – still is – somewhere between the utter boredom of the last ten minutes of a long journey and the frustration of having half a million TV channels and not being able to find anything entertaining enough to watch.
Mostly. All else I could say about it was summed up in ‘that’ speech from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, ‘To be or not to be…’. Sometimes, the desire to fly to the beyond, beyond this is like the moments before… the kind of physical relief connected to one’s naughty bits. A lot of the time, though, I content myself with the knowledge that as each moment passes, I am closer to a natural death anyway. It is all both incredibly simple and immensely complicated, and after many years, I have fully integrated it into my personality matrix as matter of necessity.
For example, that strange, exhilarating evening of the Total Lifestyle Failure. After a bit of fairly lame self-justification, she to whom I had pledged my life and loyalty left our home for a while so I could pack up my things alone. It was what she wanted – I just wanted the agonies of the past year over. I seriously considered a hot bath; it would soften my skin and raise my blood pressure… then, I was going to open my wrists and write, ‘Till death do us part,’ in my own blood on the wall. The thought that her daughter might return home first and find me was one of two reasons to stop me. The other was that the ex could claim sympathy and victim status – which I considered to be unjust, since she was the one who had been having an affair for about six months (she did not know I knew). My commitment to the marriage was total, and I saw it as a condemnation and a brutal joke… but I knew that She would use that act as proof of my instabilities – which she had created. A part of me still wishes I had done it, though.
As is said on Twitter, *sigh*.
One day at The Unit, I had a session with the Chief Psychobod of the region, and I experienced the joy of a genuine WTF moment. He moderately meekly strode into the Day Room, where I was smoking and drinking a coffee while I was just trying to fill in the empty time. He stayed near the door, quickly surveying the room, and was wearing expensive black moccasin type loafers, dark socks and expensive slacks… Under the slightly paler grey, well-tailored jacket with tiny subtle flecks of colour discretely tucked into the weave, he wore… a grey roll-neck shirt. I remember thinking something along the lines of, ‘zthe herr doktorr vwill see you now, ja?’ in a German-ish accent…
“Ah, Jeremiah,” he intoned upon spotting me, rolling the ‘r’ at the back of his throat, “you wvill komme width me, plise?”
For a split second, I could not believe my ears… AN AUSTRIAN ACCENT! Yes, heavily overlaid with very cultured English tones denoting a high level of education, but here he was. He sounded a little bit more German-ish than Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber – the villain in the first Die Hard. I nodded and followed as we went into the more formal main living room which was used for such sessions, and after a few preliminary questions, reading from his cheat sheet, he said,
“You have no history of deliberate self-harm…” he trailed off and I decided to answer the unasked question.
“Can’t see the point,” I said. “After all, if I was going to start cutting, I might just as well go the whole way. I wouldn’t stop.” I let him consider this as he read further into the notes.
“Hmm, yes,” he purred – as if he had been studying a handbook on how not to react to this sort of statement. “It does say that you would wish to commit suicide.” He paused and I left him hanging there. I could see in his mind that something did not quite add up for him. “How serious are you about this, hein?” I had talked about this ‘til I was blue in the face and fed up with this particular dance, so my reply came quick as flash.
“Put a gun on the table and find out.”
“Interesting. Why a gun?”
“I can’t blow my brains out with that lamp.”
“Yes, but why a gun?”
“Quick, simple, no going back,” I replied.
“You also say you have made no attempt to commit suicide,” purred Herr Doktor. “Can you tell me why this is?” He was still nose-deep in the notes, and had not even glanced at me once – I knew this, as my gaze towards him was almost laser-like and nearly unblinking.
“Because I will not attempt,” I almost-growled. “I will succeed. I’m not afraid of death – I want it, more than anything else. But I know the devastating effect it’ll have on my mother – possibly my father, too – and I can’t tolerate having that on my conscience. So I just have to accept it and try to get through each day, because each day brings my parents closer to their deaths, and gets me closer to being free to make the choice of my own living or dying.”
“On your conscience…’ hmm… So you believe in life after death…”
“Not really,” I replied. “I believe that parents shouldn’t live longer than their children. I’m angry that my parents are in such good overall health that I’ll have to wait years before I’m free to make my choice. And I am so sick and tired of living in this…” I paused, gestured and looked around me. “This thing we call our world… I can’t even put my disgust into words.” Seemingly satisfied, Herr Doktor hummed another little hum and began to put the papers back into the folder. And that was that. I don’t think he believed me. However, during a hot spell while I was The Unit that summer, I finally did get taken seriously about it. Someone suggested we all go to the ice cream parlour in town, and there was buzz of excitement which reminded me of my primary school class just as we were leaving the village on any given outing. The combination of medication and boredom can turn people into bimbling excited children. I declined to go, and ‘Wilf’, one of the nurses, almost implored me to come.
“I don’t trust myself not to jump out of the van,” I told him. He laughed, and began to cajole me again. So I explained to him how my choice of seat would be limited as most of the more child-like inmates had their ‘places’, which would leave me by one of the big sliding centre doors. “…wait till you get up to about 45 or so… pop the seat belt, slide open the door and…” I traced a small downward arc in the air between us with my hand and made the farting sound of a splat on the road.
“You’re not seri –” ‘Wilf’ giggled and I let my desperation be seen in my eyes. Only there. It was too big and angry to be allowed anywhere else. He made eye contact and got the lot, full-beam, as it were. “– ious,” he finished. His face was twitching like it wanted to crawl over the back his head and hide there. “You are. Oh my God,” he whispered, aghast. “You really mean it.” He was the first one to see my torment up close and acknowledge it.
“Yes,” I replied firmly. “Now, apart from all the other stuff that you can read in my case notes, consider the amount of paperwork and recriminations and upset I’m saving everyone by staying right here, right now. Now please… get this lot out of here before I lose my cool.”
“Yes, right, yes,” he said, pulling himself together and marshalling everyone towards the van, making sure no one bothered me. I sat, smoking and wanting to go with them, but not trusting myself to get back alive… And no, there was no turmoil. I had taken steps to avoid everyone else going through unpleasantness – and that dispassionate attitude to such a fundamental thing as survival was one more thing becoming a little troubling.
If you would like to speak with Jeremiah Savant, or have any questions about this series, feel free to get in touch.