Abuse Without Abuse

Dorset Ward 98Many years ago I went through a period in which my anxiety, fuelled by the toxic side effects of Effexor,  shuddered out of control and led me to collapse in a full blown hyperventilating panic attack upon my psychiatrists floor.  He admitted me to a psych ward – a luxury that would not be available today now that successive governments have starved the service of beds and this latest wrecking crew have pretty much finished things off.  But back then we had a thing called a Mental Health Service.  We had 24 hour drop ins at the hospital and more or less meaningful support to keep us stable. If things went truly wrong, we had the ward.

I lived on the ward for a month, maybe six weeks, and I have a guilty secret.  The time on that ward was the happiest of my life.  The doctors were rarely seen.  The nurses were a mixture of dedicated, inept and substandard.  But the patients… oh my fellow patients were divine, the most spectacular human beings that ever were.  I met every colour, every gender, I met paranoics and schizophrenics, depressives and phobics and every one, every single one, offered a level of acceptance and understanding that I have yet to encounter anywhere in the ‘sane’ world.  We were raw, we were exposed and we were united in that vulnerability.  Even the drug dealer whose pill fuelled paranoid psychosis had led him to believe I was an assassin sent to make him pay for his misdeeds had my love and trust.  I treasure those days when we raised our voices in song as the radio once again spewed the Verves ‘The Drugs Don’t Work’ and we danced frantically together – young with old, educated with unschooled and not a care or colour between us.  And when we cried, and oh how we cried, we were there for each other.  When an elderly dancer had a fall and the nurses refused to help her (‘she does it for attention’) we picked her up and treated her injuries outselves.  We were a family, and we were in agony, and we were children once again.

During those days we’d see a psychiatrist once a day amongst art therapy and anger management and walking round and around and around the corridors to burn off our restrained and imprisoned energies.  The psych’s would pour over our pasts and hear our supplications for drugs or special privileges (I can go out to the shop, alone, I am a good boy! I need sugar and fags! – the ward was fuelled by fags, bonding staff and patient alike). Those psychiatrists meetings were meant to be our treatment, along with the drugs, but they offered so much less than my family of fools.  So much less, but still something, something valuable.

It was said that my responses to the psychiatrists questioning and tests were textbook. I was a textbook case of the adult response to childhood abuse.  They could read it in the Rorschach and the talking and the test whereby you see a picture and make up stories – ‘The boy looks sad, perhaps he’s angry at being alone’.  My mannerisms were classic, rarely were things so clear cut, except that I hadn’t been abused.  Was I sure?  I’m certain, I would remember it.  ‘Sometimes these things are suppressed you know?’ I do, I read psychology and neurology textbooks, but I’m sure I wasn’t abused, I was bullied a little at school if that helps? ‘Are you certain.’  Yes.  Certain. ‘Oh, one last thing, did you ever change handedness spontaneously as a child?’ What? That’s a ridiculous question! Although actually yes, yes I did.

It is only recently that I have even begun to followup on these ideas.  I was never abused as a child but if my case seemed textbook then perhaps there are possible treatment parallels. Maybe I can learn something by looking at the symptoms of those who were abused? Maybe.

‘Inability to regulate emotions such as rage and terror’ – God, that’s me.  The terror, not the rage.  I’m all or nothing – calm or crumbling inside – and when that terror takes hold there’s no shaking it.  It sinks its nails into my shoulders and rides my palpitating heart until I can find a pill or a ritual to rip it free.

‘Intense suicidal feelings’ – I rarely talk about such feelings for fear of alarming the ones I love but I feel the drive to self annihilation every minute of every day.  On a train platform I think of leaping in front of a train, on a precipice – jumping, on a pavement attempting to stop a car with my head.  This ideation is so entrenched that it isn’t even distressing to me any more (it was when I was younger, terribly so).  Now it’s background and I have no intention of committing the act.  No intention, but its always there.

‘Negative self perception’ – in the past perhaps but not so much now.  If anything my self perception’s grandiose.  I can do anything, I can separate the sky and earth and stand like Atlas – greater than any man.  And yet, like Atlas, I will suffer as I do so.

‘Somatic Disorder’ – Why can’t these people say ‘bad sleep’?  Well who knows how my somatic disorder is – I have pills for it.  Zolpi’s and dazzles to chill me and put me under.  But back then the sleep was bad anyhow – the apnoea wasn’t known about whereas now its packaged and treated.  Who knows?

‘Chronic feelings of isolation, despair and hopelessness’ – why yes, don’t we all?  I can never discuss my pain, not face to face with the ones I love.  To do so would be a weakness and I find that one macho aspect of modern patriarchal society I cannot shed.  I cannot talk to the ones I love about who I am and how I feel.  I can write it, I can tell it to a machine and hope they read and understand but in person there is a wall between us so tall, so dense, that sounds or sight cannot penetrate its surface.  I live in a cage of my own construction and I have forgotten the sequence required to open its lock.  I have built myself an unbreachable fortress and now I name it penitentiary .  I will always be alone, I will always feel that despair within me and perhaps, perhaps if I could shake the hope that one day Princess Charming might break her way in and pull me free… Perhaps then I might at least have the peace of resignation to my fate.

‘Dissociation’ – Not for so many years, well maybe a few episodes but nothing sustained like the past.  I’d spend days, weeks, at university feeling that I sat in an invisible cockpit above and behind my head.  That my body was a machine driven from this higher vantage and that it was not, never had been, a part of me.  It was a vessel and the world was something I saw through sensors and protective walls.  The world was something ‘not me’ that I did not need to be part of.  I do not feel this now, not often, but if anger comes my way sometimes I will climb up into that old fashioned cockpit – like Kirk in his 1970’s enterprise – and take the helm again.

‘Amnesia’ – Is my forgetfulness retrograde amnesia?  Does this loss of working memory count?  This line of thought leads to madness and so I will let it be.

‘Self-Harming Behaviour’ – In the day I would plough scarlet roses whenever the world got too close.  Whenever the anxiety blossomed I would run another furrow releasing the endorphins that kept me together.  Whenever dissociation imprisoned me in its airy cockpit I’d slit another vein and follow that vivid pathway back into my body.  I’d play the crossing game: ‘the next three roads I will cross without hesitation regardless of traffic or danger’ and I’d smoke and drink until my nights were blurry blackness in the recesses of my imagination.  But, at the end of the day dont we all play these games? It’s just a matter of extent.

A classic case, a textbook case of abuse without abuse.  There was only little old me with a messed up mind and a symptom set that nicely fit their needs. Their preconceived desperate yearning to find me a label.  Do I know what it feels like to be a survivor of abuse? I doubt it.  I’ve stolen their syndrome, appropriated their pain – I am the abuseless abused – except I am not.  I don’t know their pain and they don’t know mine, and if we share a path for a time I wish them well for they are fellow travellers and I call them sibling – but I am not one of them.

I am no more than me.  Mighty Atlas, holding up the sky, quaking when faced with anger.


One Comment on “Abuse Without Abuse”

  1. Pam says:

    We love you so much and I am very sad that you are facing these awful thoughts everyday. If you ever want to talk you know our number, all we can do is listen we have no other skills.

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