Thursday, 5 December 2013

When I was fifteen, I was depressed.

Waiting for the wind and rain and hail to die down, I began to type again.  Here it is - unedited.  It's the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  At least as far as I remember it, twenty-eight years later.  With the length of this it must at least be nearly the whole truth!

When I was fifteen, I was depressed.

I can't remember being depressed. There are many parts of my childhood that I cannot remember and this time of darkness was one of them. I know that I was depressed, very depressed and I've been told that I'd been talking of suicide. I can't remember. I have to trust what I've been told. I remember nothing of it or why my words and manner must have worried people as much as they did.

But I can remember the outcome. That's a week for which my blankness becomes a finely detailed portrait.

The week begins.

Monday. I was taken to see a child psychiatrist. I remember that. I remember her name and I remember seeing her, how it felt to be there, and her opinions regarding my immediate future. Perhaps I shouldn't have been there at all, but when your fifteen year old son talks of killing himself there are few options open to most parents.

I saw her alone. I remember the dread. I remember not talking. I remember the pain, the guilt, the confusion that I was even there. It wasn't the first time I'd had problems. Some years before a child psychologist had come to the house and written words like “Schizophrenia?” in his notes. I've always wondered how there could be no follow up when a psychologist thinks you may have schizophrenia. I'd spent time in the withdrawal unit for “maladjusted” children at school when I wasn't coping. And I recall my confusion and worry and fears when at the age of twelve I suddenly could not be the normal semi-sociable person I'd been at school and found it almost an impossibility to be involved in anything.

I saw her alone. She asked questions. I don't know what they were but obviously I gave the worrying answers, or more likely no answers. I don't remember doing a lot of talking, just sitting, bottled up, feeling like it was a punishment to be there rather than a plea for help.

I saw her alone. Forty-five minutes of the alone with the psychiatrist. And that was enough. Enough for her to make a certain, clear diagnosis and to formulate a certain, clear course of treatment. She knew, the expert, as much an expert in her eyes as any psychiatrist or doctor I later saw. She, trained, had her vision. A vision she imparted to my parents when we were together again.

I was to be treated to everything the health service could offer me. Immediate hospitalisation, for months, with a range of drugs to be my chemical salvation, and regular ECT to electro-zap my brain back to health. And she sold the treatment well. The pleasantness of the children's psychiatric hospital. How I'd have my own room. My own things. My own space. A TV in the room. A computer to play with. How wonderful and enjoyable the whole experience would be at this utopian settlement.

Wow! How exciting. Yippee! The promise of such great things. And I felt excitement. Who in my position wouldn't? That evening I must have felt good – but memories of that night fail me.

The following morning I felt worse than I had ever felt before. Much worse. The exciting hospital now seemed more like a nightmare gone bad. I didn't want to leave home for months and be stuck somewhere. I didn't want drugs that I didn't understand or electric shocks that I couldn't really even fathom. I cried. Cried. Cried some more. I don't want the only help available. And I won't have it.

That day, in a moment of “what the hell am I supposed to do now, with the only normal option being bad?” my mother did something right. Her actions that day turned my probable death into my life.

First she found out we had time – immediate hospitalisation wasn't normally possible as the children's hospital had a several month waiting list for all these medicalised unfortunates. Then she thought, and searched and found another answer, a fully-grown answer with seeds planted months before:

I'd seen an advert in the local newspaper for some Mind, Body, Spirit sort of fair in a nearby town. I pestered my mother and wanted to go. It was the sort of thing I was interested in. These were the books I read. But I was alone, knowing nobody so strange as me. And I pestered some more. She talked about how awful it would be but more pestering won the day and she drove me to it. When we got there we found there was an admission fee – it was no more than a pound. But that was too much. My mother seemed determined to tell me “I told you so”, that the whole fair was some rotten con by money grabbing frauds. She moaned.  Moaned about my stupid ideas.  I guess there were other stressful things going on that I knew nothing about - rattiness like that wasn't an everyday occurrence.

And the person taking admissions was kind. We were let in for nothing – after all it was late in the day.

I can't remember much of the fair, who was and wasn't there. Probably lots of shallow dross among the gems. I do know that there were quite a few free food samples – and how, because it was late in the day, some of the samples became almost “just have the rest of the pot” sized. And then there were some people into health – the Mid-Sussex Natural Health Centre. We got talking with them and took a card. And, thankfully, kept the card.

Some time later – I don't recall if this was before or after the psychiatrist's chair – we went to a natural health day at a member's house. It was a free event and I remember nothing of it except for receiving “music therapy”. Whether it was therapeutic or healing in any long-term way I don't know, but it was certainly relaxing.

The fair had been good. It had been free. There was lots to see and lots of free food. And we had met nice people. And my mother, who had been so negative on the way, changed her mind. On the journey home she said to me, “I knew that it would be good.” Why did she know it would be good? Because she had seen a train on Balcombe Viaduct on our journey. And that's lucky. Apparently.

So we had a card. And that card was very important. The day after I saw the psychiatrist, in panic, in stress and fear, my mother phoned the number on the card and asked, “What can we do? Where can we go? Is there any hope?” Or words like those. I didn't hear the call. I was in my room. Miserable. Weeping. Very, very scared.

The person she talked to had an idea. A good idea. She knew of a place that offered counsel. And it was a place that seemed to be perfect for someone as spiritually odd as myself.

I will write of that place sometime. I've thought a lot about it this year and many memories from visits there have returned to me. I've said hello again to someone I knew there. I've seen pictures that evoke joyful tears. I've read a few of the things I read there. I later ran, spiritually and physically from that place but that's another story, largely a tale of great regret now.

That's not this tale though. It's a tale that came out of a Christianity – a Christianity I was glad to embrace, but very different from the Christianity I currently follow. And that old Christianity was embraced so strongly from a self-dislike and despair, not from the self-love and hope I currently live.

For now I will say that the place offered hope. An alternative to the horrors of drugs and electric shocks. It would cost money, it wasn't the NHS freebie, but it might be much better. I am quite firmly of the opinion that the place probably saved my life. And that the phone call that day saved my life. And visiting that fair put in place what would save my life. For now, all I'll say is that two days later I went to that place, found out I was not alone, received useful counselling and had my eyes opened to possibilities.

It had been quite a week. Monday – see the eager doctor. Tuesday – despondent, seek solutions. Thursday – visit that solution.

Friday – return, the whole family, to see the eager doctor again, all of us together for the consultation.

Going back into her lair was awful. I returned to my closed-up, staring, watery eyes place for the whole time. I almost squashed fifteen years of all my fears and anxieties into that one hour. My mother and father said bluntly, plainly, that we didn't want all that she was offering to me. And so I was rescued thanks to them from that fate, a fate that ultimately may have equalled death. Curiously, the doctors did not follow anything up. Having seen me as worthy of extreme measures there were no check-ups to see if I was healthy or suicidal, alive or dead.

That was the week that was.

A week arising from a darkness I cannot recall.
A week of greater darkness and pain.
And a week leading to a greater hope and a rich light.
A week that could have led to my death but which led to new life.
A week, bookended by horror, but for which I will always be grateful.

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