The psych clicked his tongue and shuffled his paperwork. A frown of irritation flashed briefly across his brow as he sighed and rearranged his enormous bulk more comfortably in the creaking swivel chair.
‘You do need to make an effort Rebecca. I’m trying to help you, we’re ALL trying to help you, but if you won’t co-operate it makes it unnecessarily difficult. Now. How are you finding the new medication?’
I try to clear my throat but it’s so parched and scratchy that I can’t even manage to swallow. Nonetheless, I automatically bring my shaking hand up to the corner of my mouth to wipe away the string of drool that I know will inevitably be dangling there. My tongue rasps against the roof of my mouth as the blood in my head pumps a banging, merciless, violent rhythm. My lips are sticky, glued together with a white gum that appears regularly, no matter how often I brush my teeth.
I drag my eyes up to the psych’s earnest, fat face and attempt to formulate a sentence.
‘I can’t think properly. I AM trying but it’s very difficult. I don’t like these drugs. It feels like there’s a net curtain in front of my brain and everything is fuzzy’.
The psych looks pleased that I’ve managed to say something.
‘Well, these are just initial reactions to the new medication, everyone reacts differently, it’s very trial and error. We need to try different medications to find a good fit for you. It’s unfortunate that your problems have been so resistant to all the medications we’ve tried so far. The side effects will eventually pass’.
My eyes feel so unbearably heavy, my body as if all energy has been drained out of it, leaving me rooted in this hard plastic chair.
I wonder for the umpteenth time at his use of the first person plural. As far as I am aware, the only person experiencing this nightmare of drug side effects is myself. Although it’s difficult to hold my head up, I can see that his body is not violently shaking. His eyes look clear, his lips are not dry and cracked, his speech isn’t slurred. So why does he insist on speaking as if this is a joint venture, something we are undertaking together, when the cost is all mine?
He leans forward slightly. ‘Let’s talk about your symptoms. Have you been experiencing any visual disturbances?’
I answer as firmly as my tremulous voice will allow, ‘No, no I’m not hallucinating if that’s what you’re asking. And I never have. Isn’t that in my notes?’
He ignores my question. ‘And what about auditory disturbances, have you been hearing any voices, any voice other than your own?’
‘No, I have not. I have never heard any ‘voices’ other than my own, in my own head’.
‘And how do you feel currently?’ He pushes the top of his biro rapidly, clicking the nib in and out, in and out.
‘I feel exhausted. I don’t like these drugs, I don’t WANT any more drugs, they make it difficult to think. I feel like I’m wading through mental treacle’.
I try to gather my thoughts to express myself succinctly, the effort making my head swim and a familiar tide of bile rise in my gorge.
‘I feel very confused’, I say, as clearly as I can.
The psych nods a number of times in succession, as if I have just verbally confirmed something he already knew.
‘This is to be expected Rebecca. You’re unwell, you’ve really been quite unwell for some time. Your mother’s told us all about that. That’s why you’re here, that’s why we’re trying to help you’.
I glance down at the scrap of paper I am clutching, the scrap of paper on which I’ve written some key words of what I want to talk about, knowing that my tired, drugged and battered brain cannot be relied upon to produce the vocabulary I want when I need it.
‘No, I feel very confused about something, something in particular’.
He raises an eyebrow and nods encouragingly.
I look again at the piece of paper. ‘What if I told you that I used to have a friend, a dear, close friend that no-one else could see? A friend that I talked to every day, 2 or 3 times a day. A friend that still tries to tell me what to do, and what I mustn’t do’.
The psych looks concerned. He wheels his swivel chair to the side of the desk slightly, I can hear his feet tapping on the hospital tiles as he does so.
‘Did this friend talk back to you Rebecca?
I can hear the careful choice of words in his question.
‘No. No, never. I’ve told you I don’t hear voices’.
He pauses, searching for suitable phrasing. ‘Have you told anyone else about this friend?’
‘Yes, lots of people. He wants me to. I had to, in fact. It’s one of the conditions of being friends with him’.
‘Your friend is a man, a male?’ His concern grows more evident.
‘Well, he’s of masculine gender, yes’.
The psych scratches his chin with the blunt end of his biro. My brain feels like it is on fire, I am squeezing the words out of my mouth with physical pain, forcing my lips to move, to mouth the sounds.
‘Who else knows about your friend?’
‘My mum, my family, pretty much everyone I know’.
‘And what did they think about him, what have they said when you’ve talked about him?’
I lift my chin and force myself to look at the psych full-on.
‘They all talk to him too’.
The psych stares at me for a moment, then smiles slightly and says, ‘Are you sure about that Rebecca?’
I nod, slowly but surely. ‘Yes. Absolutely’.
He stares again. This time I am successful in clearing my throat.
‘I am confused because I can’t feel him with me anymore when I talk to him. And I don’t think I want to be his friend anymore. I’m sick of him telling me what to do’.
The psych swivels back behind his desk and looks at my medical notes thoughtfully, pushing the papers together. I can tell by his body language that he is bracing himself for a serious question.
‘Do you think your friend is real, Rebecca?’
My neck is aching, my heavy, heavy head pulling my chin down towards my chest. I feel terrified and guilty, but I want to say it. I want to say the words out loud. My voice drops to a whisper.
‘I don’t think he’s real. I don’t know if I’ve ever thought he’s real, actually. But if I don’t believe in him, then I’m going to die. My mum tells me every day that the only way I can get better is with his help, that I need him. I’m so confused, I’m not sure anymore. I think she’s wrong, but what if I’m wrong?’
Fat tears of desperation slide down my cheeks. I can’t even look at him, this corpulent, kindly doctor who’s discreetly jotting down notes in a rapid fashion.
He speaks now in a soothing tone, calmly, evenly. ‘You’re very unwell Rebecca. It’s not unusual for people here to be confused about things, you need time to let your brain rest, time to let it repair itself’.
He coughs, twice, short little barks of air puffing out his chin.
‘I’m going to increase your medication…’
I surprise myself even with the virulence of my response, the wave of sickness from so many drugs sloshing about my stomach that my system propels my body into a physical reaction.
‘No, no, no more drugs, please, I don’t want any more drugs’.
‘Medication’ he corrects me automatically.
‘Drugs’, I reply, petulantly. Legal or not, I prefer to call a spade a spade.
‘Just a little something to calm your thoughts. I’m concerned about you may be experiencing flights of fancy, that you’re having trouble differentiating between reality and the imaginary. This will help you’.
I’m crying openly now, overwhelmed with exhaustion and the realisation that I’ve inadvertently made my situation worse by being honest. I have no more words.
He smiles at me reassuringly. I give him my best vacant stare. This is pointless.
He stands, pats me on the shoulder and mumbles something about trying harder in art therapy classes as he ushers me out of the door.
My leaden legs find their way down the corridor and back to the day-room. I sink into one of the plastic-covered armchairs that smells least of piss, and study my hands. A trainee nurse brings around the trolley and places a cup of tea in front of me, squeezes my hand.
‘Your mum’ll be here in a minute, cheer up’.
I sip the lukewarm, overly-milky tea. Why is the tea never hot here? I look over to the table where Diana, the skeletal anorexic with a permanent tube in her nose, and Pete, the dreadlocked alcoholic who wears the same green jumper, day in, day out, sit listlessly piecing together a jigsaw puzzle of Kensington Castle.
I know it has 4 pieces missing. They were missing 2 weeks ago when I did it.
My mum bustles in, all energy and efficiency and smiles, her nurse’s uniform rustling and smelling of outside air and fabric conditioner.
She leans down and kisses me, gives me a hug, sits in the chair next to me.
And as she does, as she has done every single day since I was born 20 years ago, starts to talk to me about Jehovah God.