Memories have been bothering me this weekend. Some are of the more obvious variety, though perhaps not in the way you might think – not in the sense of constant rumination of the minutiae of sexual abuse – but I’ll get to that.
My First Flirtations with Mental Health Problems
My best friend as a child and early adolescent was a girl named Louise. She led me astray in terms of rules laid down by my mother (and grandfather) more than once, not that I required much persuasion on the majority of such occasions. Her mother let her do essentially as she pleased and her father appeared uninterested in his family. So freedom was by and large her’s – and, for those fleeting periods that I was granted time with her, it was by extension mine.
We had immense fun together. We would talk and laugh for hours on end. We’d make up ridiculous lyrics to established songs, record them, then fall about laughing at the results. We would talk about boys (or, more usually, men) as girls of that age are of course wont to do, and we’d piss about with hair dye (a tradition that stayed with me; I get bored easily. It’s presently blue/purple).
I don’t remember when things changed, or even if they did – perhaps I simply didn’t notice before, or remember a lot of our relationship through rose-tinted glasses. Even if a shift did take place, it was insidious and spread-out. I didn’t just wake up one morning and see a difference.
Her first diagnosis was the same as my first, but at that point in-the-future, illness was said to be. Clinical depression. Apparently with somatic symptoms in Louise’s case, though I don’t remember that term being used the time; I merely remember that she had a zillion physical illnesses that would keep her off school for weeks. Perhaps they were her cover story for episodes of depression, rather than being ‘real’ per se – who knows. It doesn’t matter. The point is, Louise’s illness was my first proper awareness of and exposure to a mental health problem. Hindsight dictates that I was probably quite doolally myself well before this, but because my childhood hallucinations and inherent weirdness hadn’t bothered me unduly, or at least hadn’t seemed abnormal, I hadn’t taken much notice of them.
I don’t remember much of how I reacted to her diagnosis, which I think she received when she was about 12. I do recall her telling me when she’d be back at school after a lengthy absence, and of my waiting eagerly at the window of the Music department, which overlooked the main pupil’s entrance, in order that as soon as she arrived I could rush down to greet her and welcome her back. My peers were very unkind; they sneered and spat about her absence(s). I didn’t care; she was my friend, and in whatever way it was, whether it was obvious and visible or not, she had been unwell.
However, what I’ve been struggling with today was a later memory. It must have been in the summer before I was 15, because my ill-fated relationship with my hideous ex forms part of it. I don’t remember what I – or she, as they’d met – had told him about her depression, but he must have been aware of it, because I remember using the word ‘another’ in conversation with him about it.
Louise’s mother and grandmother had taken us on ‘holiday’ for a week to a wee apartment in Portrush, a seaside town in the North-West of Northern Ireland that falsely and rather grandiosely believes itself to be the province’s answer to Blackpool (not, I’m sure, that Blackpool is anything particularly extraordinary either). It had started off extremely well; we sat up half the night chain-smoking, listening to music and pissing ourselves laughing at God-knows-what. We went skinny-dipping at about 3.30am one of those first nights. Ridiculous, ill-advised and probably frankly stupid – but it was fun.
The week went on, and with it came a change in her demeanour. I remember distinctly that she was point-blank refusing to take her Fluoxetine; her mother tried to insist that she swallow it over but Louise literally threw it out the window in an rage. Her mother asked me, a medication-compliant individual, if I could persuade Louise to at least try them. Reluctantly, I did – but as you might imagine, it didn’t go down well. To be fair, I think she eventually apologised to me, but in the immediate aftermath of her scornful outburst, I told her mother that I was going out for a walk to clear my own head.
As someone herself suffering from depression, I understood the extreme depth of feeling and indescribable desolation that it brought, but the thing was that I never took it out on my friends, and even then I was very, very skilled at acting and pretending that everything was OK. So things about Louise’s condition that at the time I didn’t understand included (but weren’t limited to) her vicious outbursts and abject refusal to take her medication.
Off I went on my walk. This was in the day before mobile phones were widespread (God, I’m old…) and also in the day before the worst of the development of my phone phobia, so I stopped at a phone box on the main street and called Hideous Ex.
I’m finally getting to my point (900 words later. Why don’t I have this ability when I’m trying to write stuff that pays me?!). After a desultory conversation about the weather in Portrush, the subject finally eased its way into being about Louise, and I finally said to Hideous Ex, “she’s had another mood swing.”
She’s had another mood swing. What an awful thing to say. What a truly horrible, stigmatic, ‘victim’-blaming way to describe the situation. No “Louise is depressed,” or “she’s having a shit time of it.” She’s had – yep, her fault. Well done, Pandora. Another – yep, yet again. Sure that’s all that happens in her sorry life, isn’t it? Mood swing - yep, spot on. Her life is defined by mood swings, isn’t it? Except that it wasn’t of course – she was funny and interesting and charismatic, and was not defined by having depression.
Besides, I used the term ‘mood swing’ to mean depressed, or distressed, or however else you might have described her mood. The phrase ultimately means nothing, and is furthermore so often used by ignorant or discriminatory members of Joe Public to demonise people with mood disorders – they’re not sick, don’t be stupid. They’re just a moody fucker.
I was young and naive to matters pertaining to mental health issues, despite my familiarity with Louise and my having recently been slapped with a diagnosis all of my own. It was a throwaway remark, one that probably seems innocuous to many people reading this. Nevertheless, in the last year or so I’ve been on such a crusade to attempt to eradicate the stigma of and raise awareness on mental illness that to recall that I was once so horribly dismissive of my best mate’s distress makes me feel tremendously guilty. I’m a hypocrite. I find myself furious about the average person in the street’s lack of knowledge or lack of sympathy, or of their downright disdain – and yet in one small statement I exemplified all those things and more myself.
For those interested, Louise and I eventually drifted apart as we progressed through school. She left the hovel after completing her GCSEs; I stayed and did my A Levels. We lost touch altogether. I ran into her one day in the early days of my relationship with A – about seven years ago – and she seemed genuinely pleased to see me. She told me that she was studying to be a hairdresser and was off to see a rock band that night. I was pleased that her life seemed to be on track.
Another few years passed. I was maybe 23 or 24 when my mother ran into Louise’s mother outside the corner shop, and it transpired that her life was anything but on track. She had never wanted to leave home (and hadn’t). She had never had a job, nor completed any education beyond her GCSEs. Her days were spent sitting alone in her room, staring at the wall – perhaps with a bit of musical accompaniment if she was in a ‘good’ mood.
So things were worse than ever. And she’d recently received a new diagnosis: that of schizophrenia. Manageable, in most cases, yes – but nevertheless chronic, pervasive and incurable.
I’ve experienced psychosis. It isn’t pleasant. I just hope that she is having a better experience with the health service than I have had, and that she is getting the treatment she needs.
Ah Yes…My Psychoses
Yes indeed. Remember the craic with hallucinating Paedo and all that cal? Well, it’s not back – thankfully. Nor are the flashbacks any more intrusive or frequent than normal – thankfully. However, something has seduced me back into obsessive thinking about what happened with Paedo – or, rather, what didn’t, as my mind would have me believe. A opines that the fact that I am intending to see Nexus, an organisation specifically in existence to deal with the consequences of sexual abuse, has brought on this current bout of self-doubting nihilism. I don’t know what I think.
When I was in the process of recovering my ‘memories’ of these experiences, I wrote a post here about False Memory Syndrome. My mind echoes the concerns I expressed therein. If memory serves me correctly, I eventually concluded in the post that I couldn’t be imagining things or engaging in a particularly cruel and twisted fantasy.
But I’m not so sure. How can it be true? How? It’s just fucking inconceivable. Why did I remember parts of it and not others, at least until more recently? Why are parts still hazy and pixellated? Why do I apparently ‘know’ some things, but not actually remember them clearly (if at all)?
How can I accuse such a pathetic, pointless, boringly innocuous human being of such acts? I mean, they’re disgusting, to be sure, but they’re…I don’t know, they’re something. Paedo isn’t. He’s a vacuum of characterless nothing. One is only ever peripherally aware of his existence, because to any meaningful intents and purposes he doesn’t fucking exist. He doesn’t only not live, he also doesn’t exist properly. He just sort of is, like I imagine a ghost might be. He is a half-being. He can’t be responsible for something that requires effort and, let’s face it, a certain amount of skill (which prevented his ever getting caught).
I still can’t fully grasp the notion of dissociation, which seems ridiculous given that it’s so much a part of my life. I understand it from an objective perspective – the textbook discussions of it, the technicalities. But it just feels so…I don’t know, wrong? Inappropriate? Untrue? Whatever the correct adjective, I can’t work out how it fits for me. Traditionally, I have a good memory. It’s a large part how I got successfully through school and university with minimal effort – I simply remembered everything I’d been taught. So how can I have amnesiac bubbles like this? I know I do have them, thanks to all the times I’ve ‘woken up’ in random places with no idea at all of how I got there. But it doesn’t make sense regardless.
How do people lose time? What happens? I understand the psychological reasons underpinning the phenomenon, but how does it actually physically happen?
Fucking sex abuse. I can’t remember all of it, so it can’t have happened. What I do ‘remember’ has been created by my own twisted mind: it’s the only answer. What a despicable human being I am to create such evil…and from such banality too!
Of course, Rational Me jumps in at this point and cites 7,392 reasons as to why it fucking did happen, but I cannot really convince myself of it despite the ample evidence to the contrary. Yes, I remember this, I remember that – but I don’t remember everything, and I didn’t even remember a majority of it until recently. We can bandy about terms such as ‘dissociation’ or ‘fugue’ or ‘amnesia’ or whatever other medical terminology is deemed appropriate, but the key point of this issue is that I forgot. I forgot something as massive as this. Children live in strange realms of consciousness, but still. How can you simply forget a major, formative, immense part of your life like that?
Paedo is a nobody and I forgot. So how can it be?