Sunday, November 05, 2006

Odd John*

You know that Thoreau quote? I went to the woods because..?

Here it is.

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately,
to front only the essential facts of life,
and see if I could not learn what it had to teach,
and not,
when I came to die,
discover that I had not lived.

Well, I went to Clearwater for a number of reasons, maybe none of them as good as that.

I went to Clearwater because the clinical signs suggested it. I think if I had been my patient I would have sent myself to hospital. I would have done as my doctor did, which is reassuring, in a weird way. I think I would have asked the same questions, elicited a list of symptoms, assessed the details of any plans, judged them in terms of feasibility and lethality, and acted accordingly.

I went to Clearwater because it is better to jump than to be pushed, and better to be a coddled resident of Clearwater among the worried wealthy well than to be a shackled bedlamite in what passes for the public psychiatric system.

And I went to Clearwater for self-preservation. Because for a few days there, things got very bad.

There is a lot more detail that I could put in here, but won’t. What happened is difficult to write about (partly because of the subject, partly because of the symptoms, partly, doubtless, because of the medications I am now on). But even if I could write about it with comfort, I could not imagine everyone reading about it with comfort. There is a tendency to self-disclosure here that I am wary of, a primitive, childish reflex: a pattern of thought that says “If I show how much I have been hurt then I will be loved.” I enrage myself when I hear myself doing it.

Anyway. In summary: I am unwell. A week ago I was very unwell, sort of a five or six year record low. Looking back now – and I’m not better yet – I can see what was going on. The disturbed sleep, the gorging on carbohydrates, the constant churning thoughts of death and disease, the poor concentration – I reckon I got nine out of nine symptoms for close on a week.

In retrospect, the most frightening thing is that in the few days before the admission – and there’s a word with a number of meanings: admission of guilt, admission to hospital, opening the fortress door and admitting the enemy – in the few days before the admission I had begun feeling… better. My symptoms appeared to have improved. The sleep, the mood, the concentration – things seemed quieter, less anxious.

Looking back now I can see that was a false dawn. Like Mrs Cesious with the silent chest, this kind of silence is often – and I should have known this, for Christ’s sake – deceptively reassuring. It takes a few seconds to realize that this silence of the emotions, this calm, is actually premorbid, a danger sign. It suggests an end to an interior struggle not because some kind of harmony or resolution has been reached, but because one side has been defeated and the other has claimed victory.

That’s around about the time that Sarah drove me to the psychiatrist’s office and I described what part of my brain was planning to do, carefully calculated milligrams per kilogram and the other stuff that had started to happen – the mishearing things, misreading things, the things at the edge of sight, and the preparations I had already made. And I told my psychiatrist all that stuff and then Sarah packed me some clothes and I packed some books and she drove me to Clearwater –

and now I am here.

In a private psychiatric hospital, in an attractive building, set back from the river and the road, discreetly veiled with eucalypts and casuarinas in blossom. If there is some kind of Michelin guide for psychiatric institutions, this would get at least two stars (or straightjackets, or whatever).

And I’m a voluntary patient rather than a detained one, which is good.

And I’m in the private system, which means my notes are anonymised and kept in the psychiatrist’s office, and my blood test results are accessible only via a code (which I don’t even know), whereas in the public system any of the many, many doctors and nurses whom I know can look up my history, my drug doses, my clinical reports, everything, giggle at my diminutive renal function and make disparaging comments about the shape of my ECG.

So, here among the wealthy healthy. I am reassured that I am not the first doctor to come through here (apparently this is the place for general practitioners withdrawing from alcohol and surgeons on morphine), and I’m not even the first lefty doctor in Mordor to go private when the wheels fell off.

Anyway. What am I doing now? I am typing on Sarah’s laptop – no internet access, I am six days behind on the cricket. Outside the sky is dull and heavy, the colour of beaten lead, and no birds sing. I spend a lot of time in my room – I am trying to unlearn stuff, to learn not to fuss, not to worry, not to take things on.

There is, my psychiatrist says, a frightened, lonely child inside all of us. That takes some getting used to.

Occasionally, when the rest of the bedlamites** are sequestered basket-painting or finger-weaving, I go downstairs and make myself some coffee. It’s coffee the way I like it, hot and black and bitter and cheap. Times like this the ward is almost silent. There is nothing I must do because I must do nothing. By preventing me doing anything my psychiatrist hopes to force me to do nothing, for the first time in years and years. That takes some getting used to, too.

You get the coffee out of one of those hissing dispensers, press a button and it burbles and foams out of the plastic tap. It warms your hands when you carry it upstairs and set it beside the computer. When you look at the surface there are miniscule island galaxies slowly rotating on the surface. They coalesce and separate over the space of a few minutes, as if I am watching billions of years of stellar evolution in minutes.

And I am alive, and inexpressibly grateful. Tomorrow will be sunlight and a clear sky. In a few weeks I will be able to go outside and look up at the sky and it will be a beautiful night. A week ago I held Sarah’s hand and cried in my psychiatrist’s office because I could not imagine being alive in three days time, and already that state of misery seems ancient, distant, almost unrecognizable to me.

I am alive today and I will be alive tomorrow. All will be well, all manner of things will be well.

And I’m going to get better.

More news as it comes to hand.

Thanks for listening,

*The title, as those fluent in geeklish will know, is that of a novel by Olaf Stapledon, a man whose imagination was too damn big for any media but the printed page. Read it in junior high school and it’s stayed with me ever since.

** Too damn good a word not to use twice



Blogger Niamh Sage said...

Dear gods, I am SO glad to hear from you. I've been thinking about you nearly constantly since your last post. It's chilling to read how close to the edge you came, especially the false dawn part. I am enormously relieved to hear that you're getting the help you need and in a good environment too.

You don't need to do or be anything to know you're loved, not in my book anyway (and I'm sure it goes the same for everyone else who posts here too) *HOG HOG HOG*

lots of love to you both,

ps I do the same thing with my hot chocolate. Whole galaxies are formed and spin away in chocolate foam spirals. And then they leave pretty lacework on the side of the mug.

6:31 PM  
Blogger Juanita J. Sanchez said...

John, I'm so glad. More than you know.

2:54 AM  

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