In my writing folder, this piece is titled Rough Cut Moonstone. This is because I have a beautiful sea foam green moonstone ring in its relatively raw and unpolished state. I love its contours and the way it catches the light. This piece I have a similar attachment to… It is by no means flawless or polished… I wrote it the first day choking back tears, the next choking back anger… But finally, I found my space of calm resolve… And I am proud of it in spite of its imperfections. I hope, if you care at all about the issue of mental health, you might share its message. A message that reads, I hope, that it is not okay. Plainly and simply, not okay. That said, a wonderful Monday to all! Love Joce
My year got off, let’s say, to a pretty rough start. Happy 2016.
But that is a personal matter. That is between me and My Life. From here on out, it’s beginning to look up, I’m relieved to say the least.
All you need to know is that the start of New Year’s Resolutions brought with them a sudden onslaught of total appetite loss and sleep deprivation. Anxiety’s predictable Lucky Packet, I’m afraid to say. Not a good combo for someone diagnosed with bipolar disorder, however. Or anyone for that matter.
So needless to say the family were worried.
Once you’ve been a ward of the state in a mental hospital, it’s kinda hard for all parties included to forget. Least of all, well, you, yourself and you.
So an appointment was made with my favourite psychiatrist during my stay at the state mental hospital. He’s a great guy. I have to say. He taught my family a valuable lesson the day of that Hail-Mary-Pass session. Firstly, the best advice is received from someone you (namely, in this case, I!) trust. And two, don’t judge someone by their youthful appearance; they may surprise you.
I relayed the last three years – as succinctly as possible – since leaving the state hospital for the big ol’ world out there awaiting me. A brief history of me and my three years since diagnosis. He said, if anything, I’d had some hardcore things happen as it was. My family and I should have a little more faith in me. I hadn’t relapsed.
But for safety sake, let’s put the seat belts on and monitor my behaviour and increase my anti-psychotic a smidge for the time being, combined with a mild relaxant to help me fall asleep according to my natural circadian rhythm.
This doctor of mine, a man I hold in the highest regard, visits the clinic I attend for my medication once a month, as part of an outreach programme. A man the epitome of calm in a storm. He told me to come at 9 o’clock and wait to see him the following Thursday morning when he would be consulting at my clinic, for a follow-up, just to see how I was doing and if his recommendation had been helping. And where-to from there. A strategy plan.
Now know this. Once bitten, twice shy.
What people tend to forget… Most of us are survivors. Mental health issues or not. The fight is stronger in the mentally ill especially, I feel, more than many realise… In spite of, even defiant of, our gross stigmatization as ‘weak’, ‘pathetic’, ‘over-emotional’, or unable to — love it! – ‘pull ourselves together’. (Think what you will, but most days I’m not battling my so-called ‘struggle with mental health’; I’m resisting what someone thinks of me. As someone diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Behaviour aside. A matter that should in fact be none of my business to begin with.)
But I digress. Survival first, right?
Myself, personally, I will do my homework, do my research, follow doc’s orders, whatever is necessary, whatever is best for me, to make sure I am never under state control EVER AGAIN. Period.
But again. Once bitten, twice shy. And my clinic taught me the hard way that early birds catching worms is sometimes the biggest lie public health care facilities (term used loosely!) can promise us little birdies.
My gran always recited to me… If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. It has its context. But a wiser me has learnt… There are times when the injustice is too glaringly obvious; and the meek put on mute.
So now, more than ever, raise the voice a decibel, Jocelyn. Your gran’s Scottish bloodline also bestowed upon you just the right amount of tenaciousness in times like these. Now is not the time to play victim and mutter to yourself. Now is not the time to apologise. Speak truth to power. And, dearest reader, hear me when I speak in uncertain terms.
The roar of inadequacy, of incompetency, of bureaucracy, become so deafening, even I, the loudest of the lot at times, can barely hear myself think anymore! But I have my books. I have a skillset. I have 10 gigs of data a month. I have (to stop beating around the bush!) perhaps not much money in the bank sometimes, but regardless, a blatant semblance of privilege on my side. To put it plainly, I have the power of language on my side. A relatively universal one, no thanks to the world we’ve inherited. Might as well use it I guess.
Anyway, a disclaimer: Excuse me if this gets real for a minute.
As my doc instructed, I’m at my clinic at 9 o’clock, give or take ten minutes. My mom has come with me this time. For moral support. I am too soul-weary and tired to read today. My book is usually my blocker for this place. Keeps me centred. Together. Separate. It distracts me from the broken windows. The art-less, peeling white walls. The stuffiness. And mostly, the people. Women with crying babies on their hips. The elderly with their walkers.
This is why I have learnt to usually only come just before they stop admitting patients, at 2p.m. Except on Wednesdays when they close in the afternoons, or Fridays when they are shut for business altogether.
Often the mothers with their newborn babies or toddlers are still there. I look at the single basin with one dirty cup and wonder if they’ve had anything to eat or drink. Sometimes I hear them mutter to other patients, as I press my nose further into my book, that they’ve been there since 9a.m. By now, it’s usually going on around 3p.m. All of us waiting for our meds or to see the nurse.
I was always a very sensitive child. Sensitive to others. Sensitive to noise. Sensitive to my environment. As an adult I am no different. So this day, this Thursday morning, I am desperately trying to prepare myself for the onslaught, the misery this place inspires in me.
I tentatively approach the counter, hoping to be met with the nicer receptionist, the one with the open face.
She greets me and asks for my surname. Okay, so far so good. My mother at my side.
“I have an appointment with Dr. X,” I tell the nice receptionist.
The one I don’t like reaches for the appointment book. Oh dear.
“You do not have an appointment.”
“And you are late for your meds. You will have to wait and see a nurse. Now take a seat.”
Does she know they gave me two months’ worth last time? Sure, I occasionally forget the odd evening dose if I fall asleep on the couch, exhausted from the day. Oh well, such is life.
Her tone, as usual, is stern and abrupt. Perhaps she doesn’t like my face either. Perhaps she doesn’t like people, full stop. Perhaps she hates her job. I like to think she’s doing it all for the greater good…. That as someone diagnosed with bipolar, I am childlike and need to be spoken to in the most direct, no-nonsense fashion possible. Old school style. Personally I’m more a Mary Popping kinda gal. All songs and dancing, animated penguins. But that’s me I guess.
“But Dr. X said he would see me this morning.”
“Well, he’s not here yet. Now take a seat.”
She like this line. She’s used it on me many times.
Once I was scolded for arriving five minutes after two (strict admission cut-off time as I’ve said). I tried to explain, to apologise for my tardiness. I’d been in a car accident, a write-off, a woman jumping a stop, and my mom had forgotten she’d said she could take me… So I had not started my usual half-hour pre-emptory walk to the clinic that day on time. No matter. I was interrupted half-way in by that conversation slammer. Take a seat.
I figured, once, maybe she’s just tired when I get there at two. But this morning, the working day has barely begun. And her face is the same.
Maybe it’s not me, it’s you, I wish I could tell her.
But I don’t. I do feel like child in that place. So I slink away. I ask my mom to take a seat and listen out for my name while I go off to cry and roll a ciggie outside.
Dr X. arrives, fifteen minutes late.
“Hiya, Jocelyn, I’ll see you now now.” I don’t think he notices that the tears are streaming down my face. But he doesn’t comment on my smoking which is a relief. Someone in this place talking to me with warmth cheers me a little.
“Don’t worry,” my mom says when I get back from my smoke break and have wiped my eyes. “She yelled at him too.”
I wait until they close for lunch at twelve. The tattered You magazines from prehistoric times do not interest me. Sadly.
They pull the shutters down on the pharmacy, on the reception desk. So there is no way to ask anyone whether or not Dr. X can still squeeze you in. You’d think they ran a London tube station the way they keep time.
But I know Dr. X only visits for the morning.
I guess that day, that Thursday morning, the good doctor was overwhelmed with patients. And of course, others had appointments and I did not. What more can I say?
Picasso’s The Absinthe Drinker