Jeremiah Savant’s Adventures in Mental Health
TWO: It’s My Life and You’re Welcome To It
The story so far: Total Lifestyle Failure of 1989 (‘We have to talk…’ ‘…slot you back in…’ ‘…shove it…); first round of ‘talking therapy’ (…cheerful and coping… ‘I’m between you and the door…’ ‘…oh no, not him next…’); another assessment (‘…I am not other people…’ ‘…why only you..?’ …Psychobods…)
With the odd grunting interjection of, ‘gerroff!’ and ‘I’m only trying to help,’ I wrestled desperately with my 70-something father to stop him lifting my backpack out of the car. I was 40, and it was embarrassing – but there was far more to it than that. We shoved, we grappled, we struggled – I suddenly let go and backed off briefly, only to lunge quickly the moment the pack was clear of the tailgate… and we had an amused audience: the Psychobod staff and patients at the open respite unit I was going to stay in for a week. They were lined up at the windows, pointing and grinning. I twirled and swung the pack onto my shoulder and glared at my father, barked an explanation at him. Others saw this:
The overgrown stroppy diva was being helped by his dad with a heavy pack and then shouted ungratefully at him. Then they all hugged anyway and we were stuck with the brat.
I waved the parents goodbye as they drove away, then turned to look at the former large family home converted into The Unit and went to sign in. Shortly afterwards, I was shown to my room and a comment was passed about the ‘little display’ outside. I gently put the pack on the bed and started to open it.
“My father was trying to lift it by this strap,” I said, “which does this…” I tugged it and the popper undid, “…when any weight’s put on it.” As I unpacked, I continued. “He didn’t know that. Or that I had this in here.” I lifted out a towel, and unwrapped the glass plunger coffee pot hidden within. “If that strap had given way, the pack would have fallen, this would have broken and I would have had glass in my clothes.” The truth did not matter. They thought I was a spoilt bratty diva. Unpacking done, I went to meet my co-patients.
One of them. ‘Florence’, was an older woman whose son had walked into the sea one day and not walked out again. She sat rocking back and forth in the corner, moaning and tugging at her face and hair… Although she was clearly trapped in a tormented world of her own, and I felt compassionate towards her, I found I could not muster any actual sympathy. I mentioned ‘Florence’ in a session with one of the Psychobods.
“She’s prevented me from committing suicide,” I said, and was asked to elaborate. I said that I could see my mother would respond to my own self-death in the same way. I also wanted to go on and discuss my… interesting… reaction to her.
“Well, that’s good then, isn’t it? How positive!” she trilled. “You have something to live for…”
“Actually, no I don’t,” I told her. “It’s bad enough feeling like I do, but now… well, I can’t do… IT… because I’m not going to put my mother through that. You don’t get it, do you?” The back and forth began: she told me I had a reason to live, I countered with several why not to die… compassion and love (her) versus refusal to cause anguish (me). On and on for nearly an hour, and clearly any questions about my reaction to ‘Florence’ were to be unasked, let alone unanswered. The row ended up with me throwing a very teenagerish hissy fit, screaming, “Why aren’t you listening?” and storming from the room in floods of tears. This – after my ridiculous arrival – cemented my reputation for being a bit of a diva…
Despite the sessions following that stormy pattern, even my Dedicated Psychobod confessed something which others on the staff confirmed: under different circumstances, we all might probably have been friends. None of them could work out exactly what to do with me, as I clearly had very little in common with the regular patients. I was unmedicated, whereas everyone else was highly dosed – usually they were admitted because they left off the meds for a few days. While many of my co-patients were obviously not stupid, none of them were what could be described as intellectual. Visitors usually mistook me for a member of staff, and I took delight in telling them that, ‘no, I’m one of the nutters.’ For me, maintaining my dignity was the most important thing – which is why those emotional displays were so… counterproductive.
At one session, we discussed another of my symptoms: strange fugue-ish fits. Long, slow, muscle-wrenching affairs which seemed to barrel out of the blue like a reversed echo, leaving me unable to do anything but writhe on the nearest flat surface for indeterminate periods of time. I describe them thus:
‘Think about the sensations you get when you are about to yawn and stretch. Consider this at a microsecond-by-microsecond pace, in ultra-slow motion. There’s a vague tickling sensation way down deep in your muscles, but when you become aware of it, you are already so far along the process that you know you cannot stop it. Then, surprising suddenly – despite being expected – you spasm slowly and for the tiniest, most brief measure of time, you have no control over your body. It’s doing what it wants to do, and you have no say in the matter, you’re just along for the ride. Then, precisely as you become aware of the stretching and yawning and how out-of-control the whole thing is, it starts to diminish and fade, and you have control back… but think of that slightest of seconds when you have no control. THAT is what it feels like, and it can go on for hours.’ The response: “And this tells me what, exactly?” As is said on Twitter, *FACEPALM*.
My week at The Unit was over, and I put together a compilation of my writings which included poetry, prose, fiction and diary entries. Into the envelope they all went with a covering letter explaining that I was sending a clear and hopefully entertaining insight into me, my mind and soul in the most effective way I could work out how. The next time I was there:
“And what was I supposed to do with this lot?” *FACEPALM*
The sessions were filled with tears and tantrums. I would start to develop a theme to stream my descriptions and comparisons of what and how I was suffering. Perhaps I was too long-winded, but each time, I would be interrupted with some comment along the lines of, ‘Why do you describe it like that?’ All I was trying to do was to describe the build-up of pressure from these terrible, silently screaming emotions trapping me inside my mind. I did not regard them as waste, but I needed the kind of release from them like… well, going to the toilet. The metaphor was based of ‘relieving oneself…’
However hard I tried, I could not seem to get past these Psychobods’ personal filters, and became increasingly aware that they were coming from one angle, and I another. For me, what I was saying was important. For their part, they were attempting to work out what they thought I was trying to tell them… also, I noticed that the style at the time was to open each session with a few fairly standard questions:
‘How have you been?’ then, ‘how do feel about that?’ and ‘Why do you think you did/felt (etc) that way?’ then, ‘…and what do you think you can do/learn about it?’
Asking around, I discovered my fellow patients and I had some things in common after all: we hated these questions because of what they seemed to mean. Mostly, we felt shackled and trapped by the whims of our minds and emotions and yearned for freedom from the storms within. A lot of the time it seemed the Psychobods thought we had free will about how we could or should feel… and – of course – disapproved of our ‘choice’.
Such chaotic storms of overwhelming and conflicting emotions have been referred to in many ways, but I decided to personify my own as one Demon. A Demon I decided to dance with. Needless to say, It sank Its claws into my back and started to chew on my neck… but at least I knew where the damned thing was. No hiding behind a pleasant memory or experience; It was there, in my arms and feasting on me while we danced… but It did not realise that I had chosen the tunes to dance to.
At times, I chewed and clawed back at It; at others, I simply hung on grimly and danced… yet sometimes… sometimes, the embrace I gave It was tender and loving, holding It in the way I would wish to held. Gradually I came to accept It. With that acceptance, I realised that I felt certain ways at certain times and there was nothing I could do about it. Then, realising that I was powerless to stop these bouts of Chaos, I took power away from this Dear Demon of mine.
I taught myself to surrender to how I felt at any given time. I gave up the whole thing of, ‘I always say/do something like that,’ when feeling a certain way, and considering myself stupid because I should know better. I watched for such times, and stopped having the ‘how do you feel about that?’ reaction. I rejected the ‘what do you think caused it?’ notion, because my life was so empty there could be no cause. Purely and simply to accept that whatever I go through, I go through… and the more I do that, the easier to bear it becomes.
I stopped fighting the Demon using their methods, and began to teach myself to live only in the moment – right in the middle of Now. It does not stop it happening, but then, being hurt and angry that it is raining outside does nothing to prevent that either…
If you would like to speak with Jeremiah Savant, or have any questions about this series, feel free to get in touch.