This post is continued from here. What follows will not make a great deal of sense unless you’ve read that first; however, it mostly likely won’t make a great deal of sense if you have. I disclaim any culpability for the boredom, confusion and irritation at the mammoth self-indulgence that you will find in the forthcoming. If you want to ruin 20 minutes of your day by continuing to tolerate this complete and utter nonsense, then you do so at YOUR OWN RISK. Now, rather than bother with this bullshit, why don’t you have yourself a nice pint instead?
After a contemplative silence, Paul moved back to discussing my writing projects; he wanted to know what they were about. I was forced to admit that everything I have been doing in this sphere has been about mentalism. Even my proposed novel is going to be about mental health issues.
I defended the piece for Rethink on the grounds that it is about my recovery from borderline personality disorder. As I stated to Paul, there is a false perception that BPD is incurable and that, furthermore, there are a billion myths out there about how people with the disorder can’t have loving relationships, or that they’re abusive, etc etc, ad infinitum (Zarathustra noted that I’d debunked some of this bullwank in my writing of this blog, which I hope is true). In that way, I think that article was a very important one to write, because these fallacies need to be corrected, and people afflicted with BPD deserve to have some genuine hope of recovery.
However, as I’m sure many of you will agree, living a life narrative entirely dictated by one’s mental illness is a potentially dangerous idea. I should, at least sometimes, write about normal stuff (insofar as anything is ‘normal’). I told him that I was considering resurrecting the Not as Smart as Pandora Braithwaite blog, which had once been my haven to bang on about telly, the arseholery of Facebook, gaming – normal things in which I take an interest, rather than being devoted to the exclusive domain of mental health or the lack thereof.
Indeed, at about the time of this session, when I was feeling so much better, my prolific posting here on Confessions went notably down. This was because I was living in that fabled place called real life and, y’know…doing stuff.
“Well,” he said, looking piercingly over his glasses at me, “I take what you’re saying, and mostly agree. But you don’t want to be too sane in your writing. That would see you suppressing that pained part of yourself yet again.”
Ha. Would it really. I don’t often use this blog to ‘let loose’ with feeling and emotion, and I am certainly not going to do that with any published pieces. That is just not me.
Rather than labour the point, though, I returned to my old favourite Freudian dictum about the transition from “hysteria” to “ordinary unhappiness.”
To my considerable consternation, Paul started quoting that arsehole R.D. Laing whose tolchock, were he still alive, I would take pleasure in punching. Paul claims that, as per Laing’s advice, he suspends his concept of normality when working with clients. At some point or another, he also alluded to Adam Philips and his book Going Sane. In short, he was blathering about how we are all mad in our own way. Laing-hatred notwithstanding, I did have to concede that point to him.
“The problem I face,” I sighed, “is that I have been out of work for so long now that all I know is mentalness and the pertinent issues surrounding it. It has entirely become my life, yet people in the real world don’t care. They don’t spend their days talking about psychosis or manic depression or borderline personality disorder. They talk about the weather, last night’s shit TV, politics and salary cuts. They don’t care.” I briefly (and anonymously) alluded to a post that Seaneen had written on this subject (a second excellent article she wrote on the issue for One in Four can be found here).
Seaneen is still highly involved with organisations like Rethink, but her own mental health is not the sole kaleidoscope through which she sees life these days; her life is about her boyfriend, her family and friends, and her mental health nursing course, which is an amazing thing, and something to which to aspire. Could it ever be that way for me, though? I have no idea, but one thing I do know is that I have a right gob on me, and whether normals care or not, I will end up talking about mentalism. I mean, I just won’t walk into a room and go, “hi, my name’s Pandora. Yours? … Nice name, I like that. Anyway, I’m mental. … No, I mean really mental. I had borderline personality disorder and still have manic depression and complex PTSD with psychotic and dissociative features. … Hey! Where are you going? … What did I say?!” No, obviously not like that. But if someone says, “where did you get that scar from?” or “so, what were you doing before I met you?” I am going to tell them the truth (see my posts on speaking up here and here).
Having babbled all that out, I concluded my monologue to Paul by saying that although I’m not sure about the accuracy of the perennial ‘one in four’ statistic, that at least it serves as a sort of motif to highlight the prevalence of mental health difficulties in society. “So why not speak up?” I pondered. “Fuck stigma. Fighting it is my cause célèbre.”
He said, “I work five days a week, and I’m off for two – so I get a break from the intensity that inevitably comes with my job. You, however, never get a break from your mind.”
I nodded pointlessly.
He went on, “so wouldn’t it be nice if you could not be mental for, say, two days a week?”
I nodded pointlessly again.
“So…could you take a break from your cause célèbre for a couple of days a week?”
Of course I can. I already do. I don’t spend every single sodding day trying to play some sort of omnipotent mental health
warrior advocate. However, that does not mean that I can somehow turn off my mind during those non-advocacy periods, as his penultimate comment had insinuated. If it were that simple, I would have no mental health problems at all, would I?!
Nevertheless, he asked me in what activities I could engage that did not pertain to madness. I monotoned out the usual list you might expect to see on the ‘what are your interests’ section of a social network or dating profile. For some reason, that led to a short discussion around my frequent disconnections from the world at large – how I push this laptop away, religiously ignore my phone, and hide alone in my living room, pretending that no one else exists.
I shrugged. “That’s not healthy, is it?”
“There’s a fine line there,” Paul replied, cocking his head in muse. “Overall I think that whether or not it’s healthy, it’s more normal than not – but I suppose it depends on the extent of it.”
“You see, I struggle with this a lot,” I complained. “If you will permit my use of psychiatric parlance for once, where does pathology end and idiosyncrasy begin? Or, indeed, vice versa.”
As you know, most darling readers, I’ve been grateful for my diagnoses, and have found having a name for the various aspects of my insanity to be helpful in several ways. However, I still think this issue is a very valid criticism of the practice and more general discipline of psychiatry. I suppose the line is where the ‘idiosyncrasy’ becomes distressing to the ‘idiosyncrasist’ (indeed, for this reason, there is an ongoing debate about the validity of schizoid personality disorder as a discrete condition), but even that line can be blurred.
“My wife has a great-uncle that the family frequently describe as ‘eccentric’,” Paul told me. “When they mentioned it in front of me, I responded by saying that that simply meant that he was mad, but with money.”
I laughed. A fair enough assessment – most people I’ve heard described as ‘eccentric’ would broadly fit within that bracket.
Anyway, he had reminded me of a conversation I’d once had with Mike, my erstwhile teacher. For some reason Mike and I had been talking about how well (or indeed badly) we fitted in with social norms, and I characterised myself as, indeed, “eccentric.”
“No, Pandora,” he’d responded. “Not ‘eccentric’. You’re individual.”
Paul liked this little anecdote. Apparently Mike’s “eloquent” distinction had touched upon Paul’s perceived truth that psychiatry involves a certain amount of repression of one’s individuality. He banged on that sanity and insanity are concepts created by times and places.
He’s right – to a point. Psychiatry is an imperfect science, if indeed it can be said to be a science at all, and if we consider the inclusion of homosexuality as a mental illness as recently as the DSM-III, I can agree that some supposed diagnoses are societally constructed. Despite my general support for this field, I do accept those criticisms of it, and have never denied them. But, as I said, there’s a point, surely, when that can no longer be true. I’m told, reliably so, that hallucinating gnomes and being so severely depressed that all you can think about is killing yourself on a chronic basis are not normal states in which to exist…and I would believe that that, at least, transcends times and places.
Not that I had the balls to say any of that to Paul. I sat there, nodding pathetically compliantly. What the fuck, Pandora? Am I afraid of him unwitting me or something? Of looking less intelligent than him (which, frankly, I probably am)? Why can I debate my points intelligently and coherently online or even in the fucking pub, but not do it with Paul? What a stupid bitch.
As I allowed his anti-psychiatry rhetoric to progress, I found myself becoming vaguely irritated with him again. Not because of his opposition to that field per se, but because of how he related it back to me. One thing that had apparently been “big” in his engagement with me had been “peeling back the layers” that were “enforced upon” me: diagnoses, medical examinations, medication.
“It’s like it’s been forgotten,” he intoned with an infuriating earnestness, “that somewhere in there is an abused little girl.” [Emphasis mine. I am SO unutterably fucking sick of that fucking fucking fucking term. Jesus hot jumping Christ sliding down a shit-stick. Just. Fucking. Stop. Fucking. Calling. Her. Fucking. That. GAH!]
(Hypocritical) Ranting about terminology aside, this assessment of my situation was not fair. NewVCB has been really good about the abuse bullshit; she usually asks me at some point during each appointment how things are in my head in relation to that subject. She doesn’t just wank endlessly on about my current symptoms, blindly throwing medication at me as a result. OK, so she doesn’t go into intimate, cringe-worthy detail about the whole sordid mess when I’m with her – but guess what, Paul? She isn’t fucking meant to. That’s your job. You’re the therapist, she’s the the psychiatrist. Simple.
More irritably than I’d intended, I retorted that I had not been a “nice little girl,” as he appeared to opine. As I said, “I was precocious, and because of that I was haughty and arrogant at times. In that way my current predilections toward so-called intellectualising are entirely in keeping with my child self.” My point in saying so had been to infer to him that this constant bollocking on about me v my repressed self was not as clear-cut as he might like to think.
He hammered on for a bit with a story he’d told me before. Little boy falls in the playground, maintains a stiff upper lip all day long, eventually sees his mother and then bursts into tears. Containment, blah de blah, yadda yadda.
“It’s a harsh judgement to describe yourself as precocious. You had to be precocious to survive,” he declared.
Oh really? I mean, seriously?
- This particular elucidation implicitly suggests that being precocious is an inherently bad thing. Why the fuck should that be the case? Surely being an intelligent child is something to be welcomed, something that both that child and those around it should find gratifying?
- I can’t prove anything, but I’d be stunned if precociousness and abuse are directly correlated. I’m all but certain that not every smart child has been/is being abused, and I’m equally sure that not every abused child is demonstrably highly intelligent.
- On a related note, why does everything have to come back to abuse and spurious psychodynamic interpretation? Can’t some things just fucking be?
Palpably uncomfortable with the direction in which this conversation was headed, I tried to shift the subject – but I did it subtly, so that it was still ostensibly related to what he’d said. I said that, in a non-literal sense, from what I could remember I had been a Jekyll and Hyde type of kid. The weird, insular one that despite her then-popularity couldn’t relate to her peers – and then the ordinary, outgoing person that most of the world saw.
“I don’t recall having any distressing examples of mental illness until at least my late childhood,” I told him, though now that I think about it, that can’t be true. I tried to strangle myself when I was nine, and I had that constant, horrid somatic feature of itchy feet with such sickening frequency – so evidently some shit was definitely hitting some fans there. But then, I have so many anamnestic gaps when it comes to my brathood that I can’t easily tell you what the conditions generally were.
“In retrospect,” I continued, “obviously I was a bit barmy – I mean, I lived nightly with pseudo-hallucinations and a delusion that a terrorist was right outside my door, every single night. But I don’t recall being chronically unhappy.”
Paul jumped on the terrorist comment with a force that could turn this metaphor literal. He said, “‘terrorised’ is a pretty good word to describe what you must have felt about the abuse, isn’t it?”
It depends whether you subscribe to the etymological or legal definition of the word ‘terrorism’, I suppose. Me, I tend to view terrorism as a macro phenomenon, ostensibly carried out for political or religious reasons (but really carried out simply because you’re a fucking cunt). It’s all very well for Paul to draw parallels between Paedo and my horrified dread each night that I was about to be murdered, but perhaps he forgets my age and my origin. I grew up in Northern Ireland in the ’80s and early ’90s. Terrorism was a very real issue here and then. Could there not be some connection to that, rather than everything always being about being a paedophile’s plaything?
“I’m reminded of a client I used to work with,” he said, as I sat there wondering silently when he might realise that not everything should be narrowed down to Freudian analysis. “When he first properly started communicating with me, he said, ‘I’ve put a bomb under your car’.”
I regarded Paul with an expression of complete revulsion. What a vile thing to say – especially to someone who’s meant to be helping you!
“It was his way of saying, ‘how would you feel if your life were threatened?’” Paul explained. “He had to find some way of expressing how his deepest fears affected him, and that was it.”
Maybe so; I can understand the context of the remark, I suppose, but it feels re-abusive to me – and much as I sympathise and empathise with any abuse victim, re-enacting what happened to you by abusing another is not on in my book (there’s a lot I could say on that, but this post ((and its predecessor)) is ((are)) already stupidly long and way too introspective vis a vis what it’s ((they’re)) meant to actually be discussing).
“In the same way, your most buried terror was expressed – perfectly appropriately – as fear of a terrorist,” Paul was continuing. “Do you remember when we first commenced this therapy that I told you that all clients are geniuses? Well, there’s a perfect example of it. That was a genius thing to do.”
Whilst there can be no doubt that the human mind is capable of great things, I’ve always been slightly uncomfortable with the assertion that it simply doing its unconscious job is something worthy of being considered ‘genius’. Surely genius involves intellect, which involves thinking, which surely involves conscious consideration? Still, I’m not a psychologist. A widely-read layperson, maybe, but by no means an expert.
“I firmly believe,” Paul continued, “that all delusional stuff is based in reason.”
I can see what he’s saying, to be fair, and I acknowledged that. The connection he was making in my case is at least arguable. However, what about the cases where a person believes that he or she is Jesus Christ or something? That’s not me rejecting Paul’s claims outright, by the way. It’s a genuine query; in all seriousness, where does that come from, and in what way would it be functional?
In any case, I went on to tell him that I’d gone through very little psychotic experiences in the couple of months that had led up to this session – a few whispers from fringe facets of the odious ‘They‘, but nothing more than that. Rather than simply be glad of it, though, he irked me a little by stating that he was sure that NewVCB would “chalk that up to the wonders of Seroquel.”
Again, this was unfair. As she had openly stated to me once, she only cares about ‘what works’ – and for me, that seems to have been a combination of therapy and psychopharmacology. Moreover, I would chalk my lack of psychosis up to Seroquel myself in many ways – but I’m willing to acknowledge that therapy has also played its part. What’s so terrible about a dual approach?!
He ranted a bit about how Seroquel in particular was being “handed out like sweeties” these days (first I’ve heard of it), but when I actually went to defend both it and psychiatric diagnoses – as useful adjuncts and guidance in the treatment of mentalness respectively – he curiously backed down.
And this is why he’s not a dick. We may disagree, and I may rant here about issues over which there could have been minor conflicts, but he’s not a dick. Ultimately, despite some of his more sarky reactions to my defence of psychiatry in the past, he is willing to respect me as an individual, with individual views. And while, in another time and place, the disagreements we have may have merited longer discussion, that was not possible here, and it was of the upmost importance to him – and me – that we parted on a convivial note.
And suddenly, that note of departure was finally realised. Paul said, his voice deep with regret,”we’ve come to the end.”
As I stood, he told me that it had “really been a pleasure” working with me, and that he would “truly miss” our sessions. I advised him that the feeling was entirely mutual, and went on to tell him that I intended to re-refer myself to the organisation come September or October (as I now have done). I asked if that was too soon, but he said that it wasn’t – as long as I was comfortable with that timeframe, then he was too.
“I look forward to working with you again,” he assured me, as he opened and held the door for me for the final time.
The last bits of these things are always the most awkward. How do you say ‘goodbye’ in a professional but affectionate manner? Rarely have I felt so horribly exposed as the socially awkward knob that I am. After handing him his pound of flesh, I suddenly grabbed his hand, shook it and said that it had “been a pleasure” working with him. Almost before he could respond, I smiled idiotically at him and told him to take care.
“You too,” he said unsurely, but with palpable warmth.
We said our goodbyes, and I left hurriedly. My car was close, and as I had done when things ended with C, I sat in the driver’s seat for quite a while ruminating on the ramifications of the (thankfully temporary) cessation of the relationship. Rather than bawl my eyes out though, I allowed myself to shed one single tear of mourning, then wiped my eyes, shot myself a reassuring grin in the rear-view mirror, and drove away.