September 13, 2004

Ghost story

It's four years to the day since I last saw my mother. I can remember the day, but I can't remember the sight: it didn't register, and I wasn't expecting it to be my last sight of her anyway. And at the other time I had other things on my disturbed mind - I was busy trying to make life as hard as difficult for the policemen who were carrying me to the ambulance, as I didn't think, personally, that being locked up was in my best interests.

She, however, did. Differences of opinion like that do have the potential to terminate family relationships. As do decisions to have the house cleared of your possessions while you're safely out of the way. It's awkward to talk to people after stuff like that.

I suppose I've forgiven her, really, sort of. To a degree. A little. A bit. Or learned to understand what she did. But it can't be forgotten, and as it can't be forgotten it can't be avoided. Lock people up and there will always be a wall between you. My sister, though, who defended it and connived in it - she will never be forgiven. She must never come near me or communicate with me or speak a syllable to me again. Not one. Never. Never even once again.

The place itself, the experience of being there - I've not forgotten that either. Actually, it's hard to imagine a less forgettable experience. But I don't think of it often. By virtue of its very strangeness it's hard to recall it clearly. I almost have to put my memories together out of all the known facts, like a reconstruction. I know these things happened, but almost in an abstract way, like I know that Harold was defeated in 1066 or that Cortez saw the Pacific. I know it happened. I don't ask myself whether it really happened. But everything that happened is infused with unreality.

I couldn't tell you exactly where it was. I couldn't get there without a map and I wouldn't recognise the exterior when I got there. That was part of the unreality in the first place. It would be glib to make a comparison to Cuban prison camps, for all sorts of reasons, the least destructive of which is that I had access to a telephone and thus to the outside world. But the feeling of having suddenly been scooped up and deposited in a strange place, which you do not know and from which you cannot escape, that I do understand a little. I understand some of the fear and some of the distress of that.

I understand a little of Franz Kafka's madness, of inverted reality, of causes becoming effects. You need to be here, I was told, because you are distressed. You walk to and fro in the corridors, you get angry, you have crying fits. I know, I said. I do all these things. I do them because you have locked me up in here, and that is the nature of my distress. But you do not believe me, and that causes me further distress, and because of that, you keep me locked up. It is a trap. And when I say that it's a trap, that proves that I am paranoid, and being paranoid, I need to be locked up.

One evening when I was there, Terminator II was on telly, in which Linda Hamilton is locked up in a psychiatric hospital, because when she talks about her experiences these are treated as delusions. If she tells the truth, she is delusional, and has to be locked up - but if (as she eventually tries) she decides to 'admit' that she was making it up, then she is admitting that she was delusional, and she has to be locked up. I wasn't so sick, or so sane, that I didn't laugh. It was exactly like that. We believe you want to kill yourself. When you tell us that you don't want to kill yourself, it is with the intention of getting out of here so that you can try to kill yourself. If you keep denying it, we will keep you locked up. If you admit it, then, because you admit you want to kill yourself, we will keep you locked up. And that causes me further distress, and because of that, you keep me locked up.

Pure Franz Kafka. Or pure Catch-22. You can never get used to the idea that that really happened.

Oh, there are things I half-remember, things that I remember happened but which I cannot picture. Being assaulted in my room by the staff. They called it restraint, but as they had no reason for it, assault is what I called it. Watching them assault another patient, and when I wouldn't walk away, the nurse shouting "that man needs medicating!". I do remember that that nurse was a thug called Jim Chalmers. I assume that he is still there today, policing his patients by medicating them.

I can half-remember the food, and the wait for the phone, and the visits, and the lack of privacy - you couldn't even shave alone. I vaguely recall the idle seriousness with which I thought about how I would try to escape if my appeal was turned down. I can just about recall the contempt with which they couldn't be bothered even to tell me directly, when they couldn't arrange my appeal within the legally constituted time, and the shock with which I found out I had no rights at all, because I'd assumed that they would have to release me, like having to release a prisoner who is not charged within a certain time. I had fewer rights that an arrested prisoner. I didn't even have the right to be informed directly. (At least they can't do that any more. The Human Rights Act means you must have a hearing within the prescribed time. It became law in October 2004, about ten days too late for it to apply to me.)

I know I went on hunger strike after that, and I know I got out at the Tribunal, and I know that the weasels who had written reports to keep me in there never admitted they had done anything wrong, and I know that nobody even said a simple sorry. I know I will always be grateful to the lawyer who fought my corner and to the friends who sustained me.

And I think I know that - strangest and most unreal of all in that world of mirrors - the experience was, in some ways, good for me. Had I accepted what they were doing, it would have been because I had lost the will to live. But I fought to get out, really fought, because - without having realised it - I really wanted to live. My life depended on rejecting the assistance of the people who claimed to want to save my life. And in rejecting them, in fighting them off, I wrenched myself free and began, in, however bewildered and truncated a manner, to live again. I was forced to choose between fighting for life and slowly subsiding into something else. I was forced to choose the first.

That's one side of the story. Nietzsche says that whatever does not kill us, makes us strong. Perhaps, perhaps. I have sometimes thought about that "something else" - what would have happened to me, had I given in to them. I have now, and, I think, had at the time, a picture of myself sitting sadly by a window, looking at the wall outside, half-conscious of the wall, the window and myself because of the medication they would have put me on. A medication always either changing or increasing, and never changing anything. And people sometimes talking to the consultants, who thought they saw encouraging signs and hoped for progress very soon, and everybody agreeing on how sad it all was. I think that would have been what would have happened to me. I think it would have killed me. I think it was that future that I was fighting against. I think that fighting against it made me stronger.

Perhaps, perhaps. At the same time, I remember - I remember this, at least, quite vividly - I remember when I was first in my room, or my cell, looking at the wall and wishing, wishing this unequivocally for the only time in my life, that I were dead. And I do not think you go through that, without leaving something of yourself behind. This is what I think. I think that you can cross a line, that experiences that cause you great trauma inevitably involve crossing that line. And if you come back, in some senses, stronger, you also come back incomplete.

Not all of you belongs to you. There's part of you, part of your past, which lives only in the memories of other people, and passes with the passing of those memories. And in a different way, part of you, part of your being, is torn away from you in the struggle to survive. And that part of you remains there, within the experiences and in the places from which you have had to escape.

Perhaps you only escape by discarding those parts of you, like ballast, or like a fleeing refugee. Perhaps. I think some part of me remains in the Orchard Unit at the Luton and Dunstable Hospital. But I don't know how much. I don't know whether there is some shadow, some fraction of me, that I slipped away from when they let me out. Or more than that. Sometimes I think that I left the bulk of me behind, and what got away was no more than a ghost.


At November 10, 2011 7:25 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That was truly an amazing piece of writing.


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