Perspectives from the Mentalist's Best Friend

Good afternoon, loveliest readers. Following the success of A’s series of guest posts for Confessions on daily life with a mental, my best friend Daniel asked if he could add some thoughts of his own. Clearly I jumped at the chance to have these insights, so I fired him off a couple of questions, which, along with his answers, now follow. Enjoy ūüôā ~ Pan

What was it like growing up with a mental friend? Did you know how mental she was? Did you ‘get’ some of her weird behaviour? What, if anything, did you feel you could do about it?

An interesting question, because as a teenager, rather than consider my friend to be mental, I considered her to be interesting; as such, I chose to emulate her behaviour.

I remember running up and down streets carrying a curtain pole. I recall parading around people’s living rooms with a cushion on my head, making stupid noises. I was there when we walked home, unable to afford our bus fares [Pan – having spent our money on alcopops, if I recall], from the near-ish-but-far-to-walk-from large town (approximately eight miles, if my memory serves me correctly) – all the while pretending to be German, talking to every person we met in broken English. They were helpful in offering us directions and admitted that they had forgiven us for “the war” when we insisted on apologising for it (and yes, I’m still laughing about it now, perhaps 15 years later). [Almost literally pissing myself at that one. Ah, memories…].

Oh, almost forgot: we phoned teachers in the middle of the night pretending to aroused horses, cats and vampire bats. Good times.

This seemed to me to be completely normal, acceptable behaviour – and if I am brutally honest, it still does [agreed]. This is how we chose to spend our time and was what made us laugh as children. Of course, society may judge young people behaving like this as being weird, unbalanced and perhaps even dangerous – but this is certainly not how it seemed to be at the time.

But, in saying all that…I was also there the night Pan took her first overdose (I think we were 16). I recall watching her take the pills and I helped her mum force her to spit them out. I was still there that night in the hospital, when Pan informed the staff that if she were allowed to go home, she would kill herself. A sanctimonious A&E doctor curtly replied, “no, you won’t. Manics don’t want to kill themselves”, to which Pan calmly (bearing in mind she’d been hysterical only moments before) explained, “oh that’s interesting, because I do”. [I don’t remember this bit; I hadn’t realised I’d talked back to the supercilious bitch. Good.]

And in a moment of what should have been horror for any young person, that wry smile – infectious when around Pan – spread across my lips; here we had this suicidal teenager who, despite her suffering, still had the audacity and quick-thinking to look a doctor in the eye and calmly tell her that she didn’t understand a word of what she was talking about (though Pan’s mum was naturally mortified).

Who doesn’t love a bit of black humour?

But in all seriousness. I just went with it. When Pan got out of the hospital, we did talk through the issue that had upset her. But we never psychoanalysed her decision to overdose (on ibuprofen? [yes. That makes me cringe now.]). It wasn’t the sort of friendship we had then – again, because it was just normal for me.

If you knew me, you’d know I judge everybody. I can’t help it. It’s a cold part of an unashamedly bitchy streak of mine. I judge people on their clothes, their hair, their reading habits, what music they like, their accents, and the things they say.

With that in mind, the following may be surprising. I think Pandora’s the only person in the world other than my partner that I love unconditionally. As such, she’s one of the few who’s been immune to this cult of judgement – back in school, throughout university, and still today. For her part, she has never formed an judgemental opinion of me, despite supporting/counselling my countless foolish decisions. Perhaps these acts have been made because of some undiagnosed mentally interesting characteristic in my head, I don’t know; as such, either way, I have never formed any judgement on the way she thinks and what she does. Ever. And I never will. I can’t understand the exact thoughts in her head – and again, I probably never will – but I ‘get’ why she has them.

So – growing up with a mental friend? Every day was an adventure. Most days were fabulous. On a daily basis, Pandora painted my dull life with beautiful colours. No one has ever made me laugh as much as her. She knows me inside out – in ways that, almost terrifyingly, I do not know her [you do, my dear. Believe me, you do].

Did I know how mental she was? Yes. Definitely yes.

What could I do about it? Not a lot. But I hope I was one of the things in her life that at least didn’t exacerbate the problem. Although thinking about it…curtain pole/teacher stalking/rollerblading late at night/”Shinobi”-wise – I totally did, didn’t I? [Indubitably. But in the most hilarious and uplifting way possible ūüôā]

To what extent has a physical separation impacted upon your friendship with the mental, if at all?

I don’t like it very much. But I know “the mental”, as she so eloquently puts it, very well in different ways. Her blog outlines in detail what she is up to, so on a very cosmetic level I know how she’s getting on [or did, until I took an unannounced hiatus. Explanations and more for that next week]. And I understand a lot better now what she’s thinking. So that’s nice.

Fundamentally Pandora has always behaved exactly the same with me, so when I see her, we click back in. Since I have been away she has developed her relationship with A, who is now also a good friend, so it’s been great to get to know them as a couple and have – to an extent – a more traditionally ‘civilised’ friendship.

Mental wise? Her condition certainly seems to be to be more complicated now – but then, I read about it on a screen. If she were to talk to me about it face to face – and we have done so, on some issues – it is/would be no different to how she communicated things to me when we were children/teenagers. Still, this blog certainly allows us to have a ‘conversation’ (about mental health) that is often made more difficult in person. But I imagine that’s because of the context, therapy, drugs, triggers etc etc – inevitably, analysis of such difficult issues is more easily tackled in the written word, no matter how close the relationship.

How do you reconcile the teenager you knew with the depths of the person you now do?

Right – I have touched on this a little bit. But she’s very, very similar. Pan has always been deep, though perhaps she is much more considered now in how she speaks. I don’t witness her highs or lows, since I see her maybe only three times a year, usually in a public setting – so she comes across to me as the same girl. And often we will reminisce, so we talk a lot about us as children.

But now, what’s interesting to me is how rather than reacting angrily to her mental health difficulties in the way she might have perhaps done as a teenager – she actually uses them for something constructive. It’s quite inspiring actually.

Perhaps some of the people who read this blog have a certain schadenfreude about the terrifying thoughts that go through Pan’s head and how she reacts to them…But she’s really not a dramatic person. She’s calm, caring, thoughtful, considerate and although she does like the occasional bit of recognition for a job well done, this blog doesn’t exist to win awards or amass some sort of international recognition, or whatever. Rather, it’s to help three groups of people.

  1. Pan – to keep a diary of her progression and an archive of how she is feeling after certain therapy session and/or drug cocktails
  2. To help people like me who are ignorant about mental ill health understand that sufferers are ordinary people leading extraordinary lives
  3. To provide information and a forum for people who are suffering – so they know they are not alone.

She wouldn’t have had the balls to do this as a teenager – no one I knew would have, and most wouldn’t now. To take something like mental illness – something that can be so powerful and destructive – and harness it into something that has been described by influential types in the mental health sector as “beautiful” is, in my mind, the mark of an exceptionally gifted woman.

This side to her, although I knew it was there in ways…well. I don’t think I could have ever imagined from knowing her as a teenager that she had all the facets and experiences that led to the persona we all now know as Pan…Does that make sense? [very much so. I didn’t know this…entity, I suppose, of Pandora existed until relatively recently either]. The Ang Sang Su Chi/Eva Peron/Catherine the Great of the Madosphere? We’ll see [don’t be so melodramatic!!!].

The mental is, of course, mental. As a writing professional yourself – knowing that the mental narcissictally proclaims herself a writer – do you that think she has any realistic occupational prospects in this arena (be honest)?

Ok – she has won more awards than most well-known or full-time writers, and turns in copy that is tidier and requring less editing that the majority of journalists I work with.

But writing is a big job description.

The issue here is in confidence. I can only speak for myself in my own job. I have to attend networking events in rooms with dozens of suits I don’t know, attend dinners and sit at tables with people I’ve never met – and talk to them. I have to interview executives in their offices, over the phone, speak to PRs and have hideous corporate lunches – daily.

Pan would hate all of this shit. [I would…most assuredly, I would].

I had to write a 3,000 word feature once on bio-degradable microwavable packing (I can send you it to read if you want [I cracked up at this. Please send it. It sounds incredible!]) as a freelance piece when I was looking for a job – and I can’t imagine her ever doing this.

But, and I really don’t want to sound patronising here, she has a hell of a lot of raw talent and will dedicate herself to something – but only if she’s passionate about it.

I would LOVE to see her have a regular column in a paper or magazine, edit a serious mental health journal, or – dare I say it – write a book.

This is probably where the future lies – but I know she’s already talking to editors, making strides and breaking into the wider arena. I think there is a lot to be hopeful about. It’s just about planning a strategy and working to it, and I’m learning that Pan doesn’t necessarily tend to let things she’s terrified of stop her from doing what she wants, if she really wants something (although she doubted herself…MIND awards anyone? She was petrified of attending the ceremony, yet she threw caution to the wind and just went). [Very true – I was genuinely terrified of attending the event (fucking anxiety), but knew it would be a travesty, both personally and professionally, not to. I’m so glad now that i forced myself to go, of course – but I managed to get through my agitation and enjoy the night, in part, with Daniel’s help ūüôā].

And that, boys and girls, is a rap.

Can I just add here that I am touched and flattered and have a warm fuzzy feeling inside after reading all that Dan has written here. I know he loves me, but it’s always nice to be reminded of it. I love him too ūüôā With a friend like Dan, and a partner like A (whom, obviously, I also love very much), I really have much to be thankful for. You two rock. ~ Pan

Memories

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 Рabout seven years ago Рand 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?