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Part 5 of Heading for breakdown No. 2 chapter two

February 24th, 2013


My problem was how to launch my projectile without throwing it, because I felt that would have been far too easy.  I went through various combinations, finalising them down to three choices.  I could have tried to spit the coin from where I sat.  Then I thought how messy and inaccurate this might be. 

My second plan was to flick the penny off the back of my hand.  After some careful deliberation I realised that this idea would be less accurate than my first ploy.  The third option to my mind had the best chance of a successful strike rate.  In front of me at the bar was a large ashtray with a hollow interior. 

I placed the copper coin into it and pushed it around with my forefinger and thumb.  It glided from side to side quite freely, offering little resistance against the enamel surface.  The angle of the hollow was roughly 35 degrees from the centre of the ashtray up to the outer rim.  I had a missile, a launch pad and now the use of elevation. 

What I was still searching for was a means of propulsion.  This whim of probability was turning into a full-scale experiment.  I wrestled with the physics of what would seem too trivial for anybody else to be bothered with.

I over-lapped my forearms and placed them on the bar.  Resting my chin on the back of my left hand, I pondered on how I would complete this, to me at least, important test.  At this point the ashtray was right under my nose.  As I exhaled I heard the coin wobble against the shiny surface. 

I blew out of my mouth; to my surprise I made the penny rattle from one side of the launch pad to the other.  The problem now was with the coin laying flat I didn’t have much of a surface area to blow against.  I seemed to solve one problem, only to be faced with another.

As a true Gemini I get bored easily.  I was beginning to wonder whether using all of this brain power was worth the effort.  For something that was so futile, I had become totally obsessed with finding a solution.  I took a breather from my experiment and wished I hadn’t.  While I was occupied the craving for a cigarette had subsided.  All I could concentrate on now was getting hold of some nicotine. 

I scanned the bar like a laser, looking for new, unsuspecting customers.  No such luck, it was just me, the barman, two blokes leaning on the bar and the old man who gave me the roll-up.  Oh, and the little shit with the Benson and Hedges and I wasn’t about to ask him a second time.

I pushed the penny up onto the flat rim of the ashtray, and then knocked it in a few times to pass some idle moments.  I stared at the coin that was now perched over-hanging the hollow of the ashtray.  For know particular reason I blew into the ashtray causing an up-draft.  This in turn knocked my metal missile onto the bar.  I was chuffed to bits, silly sod!  All I had to do now was blow harder, concentrating my breath to a smaller area.

Digressing back to my childhood for a moment, I always liked to know the ‘ins and out’s’ of a ducks arse.  Never happy just playing with a toy, I wanted to find out how it worked, my Dad was the same.  I was given an Etch-a-Sketch on my eleventh birthday, I still have it today.  I did the usual squiggles that everybody did, but I couldn’t draw a perfect circle. 

So one afternoon I sat in my bedroom and painstakingly drew lines from one side of the screen to the other.  This process removed all of the graphite from the inside and left the internal workings visible.  You will have to forgive me.  I have now strayed into the areas of probabilities, percentages and an area called, what’s the chance of that happening first time round.  Bear with me; it is relevant to this passage. 

I dropped a tailor-made cigarette out of my mouth whilst at work.  I watched as it fell onto the floor and landed on its side.  It then bounced back up in an upright position standing on its filter.  I was amazed at what I had just witnessed.  Come to think of it, I have always liked the thought of long odds.  Mainly because of the possibility that it will come off, it must eventually. 

For example, if you spin a coin a given number of times, say 250,000 times, you must be guaranteed an even amount of heads and tails.  But my interest would lie with the probability that at some point the coin would land on its edge.  Back to my glass coconut shy.

I lined my launch pad up with the target area, which was three and a half feet up from the bar and approximately seven feet from where I was sitting.  I leaned over the ashtray and gave one almighty exhalation of breath.  The penny shot high into the air and hit one of the glasses.  It bounced off another, ricocheting off and hit the mirrored surface behind the stack of glasses.  It landed on the shelf with still a few spins left in its momentum before lying down flat. 

Blinding, I couldn’t find a fault with my project, except I failed to smash any of the glasses.  Yet again, I had impressed myself, but not the barman.  He heard the end result of my experiment but hadn’t a clue as to what had taken place.  So acting as causally as you can with two wet socks on, I squelched my way back to a seat near the fire, next to a half open window.

The sun had come out and I watched as the traffic ambled by the pub.  A man with tie-back hair and a goatee beard had begun to collect the empties off of the tables.  As he neared my table he asked me if I would mind leaving the pub.  I looked him up and down noticing on his sleeve was a Tai Chi club badge. 

I just had a gut feeling that he had probably been doing it longer than me.  I came to the conclusion that I had outstayed my welcome.  Picking up my still sodden moccasins, I beat a slow, calm retreat.  Presumably I went straight home, although my mother seems to think I did wonder off somewhere else.  Usual story I’m afraid, I can’t remember.

I suppose I must have lost two or three hours to my illness, and the side-effects of the medication, during that day.  At five o’clock in the evening Dr Gadhvi had come from Claybury to see how I was.  As I recall he was doing his best to persuade me to return to the hospital.  But I was having none of it. 

According to Mum I was so defiant that I ripped up all of my case notes, something I have no recollection of.  My alto ego was obviously taking no shit at this stage of the game.  Dr Gadhvi left saying he would ring at 7.00 p.m. to see if I had changed my mind.  In the meantime a social worker was called as back up, so my Mum wasn’t left stranded.

My next memory of that night was four hours later.  It was dark obviously, and I now had a flat full of people.  Seven o’clock had been and gone and it was now 11pm.  What had happened to the daylight hours, and who was the tall bloke with the leather satchel crammed full of paper-work?

 Final part next week…

Part 4 of Heading for breakdown No. 2 chapter two

February 17th, 2013


My calf muscles felt as though I had just got over a bad attack of pins and needles and were slow in response to my brain’s signal to move.  I took a second glance at my feet and noticed I was wearing my moccasin slippers instead of my usual trainers.  “Why did I put these on?”  I exclaimed to an invisible Mr McKenna.  “I told you to put them on,” he gleefully explained.  “Oh smart move,” I replied sarcastically.  “My feet are going to get soaked, it’s started raining.  What the hell is going on and why are you here?  Is this some sort of a test?”

“You could call it that,” he replied calmly, “and you know you’re up against the best don’t you.”  “So this is really happening is it?”  I asked indignantly.  “Very much so,” came the reply.  “Oh, and I forgot to mention, we’re being filmed by Channel 4.”  “So where’s the film crew then?” I asked.  “Invisible, but only to you,” came the retort.

By now I was well past the pissed off stage.  I said to Paul, “I think we had better call a halt to this right now.  I’m not doing anything or going anywhere I don’t want to.  This stops right now.  I feel bad enough about myself on a good day.  I don’t need to be made a fool of in public like this.”

After my speech of disapproval, the now not so smug, Mr McKenna could tell I wasn’t a happy bunny.  I had a double dose of nicotine while I listened to Paul apologise profusely.  Reluctantly, I agreed to carry on with the charade. 

“Three…two…one… you’re under,” he said.  “What now,” I asked.  “All you have to do is stop yourself from walking where I take you.”  I felt the weight of his hand on my shoulder and with that, both my legs from the knees downwards turned to lead.  “Still want to go and get your trainers?” Paul inquired.  “Yeah why not.”

It was as if he was turning up the intensity of the hypnosis.  I hated to admit it but I couldn’t move.  The leaden feeling crept up to my waist and was making a B-line for my chest.  “It’s a lot easier if you go with it,” Paul said.   We walked towards the main road and turned left at the traffic lights. 

The hill we were about to ascend towards was just under a mile in length, with a gradient of 1 in 3.  The climb was always worth it though.  At the top, stood a sight for sore eyes and a parched throat, the King’s Head.  With the rain still falling from the grey clouds, we began our ascent.  I can vividly recall talking, giggling and swapping jokes with Paul.  By the time we reached the pub, my clothes and footwear were sopping wet.

Once inside the lounge bar, I made myself at home placing my drenched moccasins in front of the open coal fire.  I sunk my left hand deep into my damp pocket, only to find a small amount of fluff and a solitary penny.  “Oh fine.” I muttered under my breath. 

Not only was I minus my packet of cigarettes, I didn’t have any beer vouchers either.  I then remembered the snout I had placed behind my ear.  I reached up to get it.  All that remained of my soggy cigarette was the filter, and a few strands of wet tobacco.  I felt the side of my neck, only to find the rest of my nicotine parcel had left a trail down to the neck of my T-shirt and beyond.  “Oh bollocks,” I mumbled to myself through gritted teeth.

As I sat down at a table near the fire I noticed a young bloke wearing a sharp, dark blue suit.  He was opening a packet of Benson and hedges, “Excuse me,” I said hopefully, “you couldn’t spare one of those could you?”  The Thatchers’ grandchild looked me up and down and said, “No I can’t.”  Jumped up little shit. I could have slapped him.  I wouldn’t have asked if I wasn’t desperate.  Perhaps I didn’t look desperate enough.

My eternal pub triangle or the reason for being there, what ever that was, now had no sides to it.  No cigarettes and no money equalled no beer.  This stage of the afternoon had just hit the boring zone.  There was no doubt in my mind that I had to re-evaluate my position.  For a start, the wonderful Mr McKenna had buggered off without a trace.  No hint of a kiss my arse, goodbye, nothing.

I couldn’t ask the barman if he could see an invisible film crew, he was giving me funny looks as it was.  Why was I here anyway?  This was beginning to feel like a bad joke at my expense.  I felt a floating sensation wash over me and things didn’t seem so bad.  I walk over to the fruit machine and put my penny in the slot.  Through my eyes at least it looked as though I had won the £20 jackpot.  Beer and cigarettes flashed from my brain’s memory department like a May Day call.

I pushed the collect button but something was missing.  It was the old familiar sound of clanky bits of loose change hitting the pay out tray.  I looked back up at the screen to see my winnings had vanished.  This was turning out to be, ‘one of those days.’ This is something that still happens to me today but thankfully not so frequently.  I have learnt to cope with the start of feeling high.

I run through a mental checklist:  Have I missed my medication?  Have I eaten?  When did I last have a beer?  When my mouth is working thirty six times faster than my brain, it’s time to sit down and eat something.  Half an hour later my blood’s sugar level has balanced out.  My smoking pattern slows down and my caffeine consumption is drastically reduced.  Then instead of doing seven things at once, I return to the tried and tested method of, one thing at a time.

I retrieved my coin from the reject slot and took a seat next to a bearded man who was parked on a bench seat near the fire.  I asked him if he could spare me some wedge for half a Guinness.  “I can’t do the drink,” he answered, “but your more than welcome to a roll-up.”  “Oh cheers mate; you’re a life-saver.” 

By now I was getting that uneasy feeling you get when you know people are starring at you.  So I walked to the end of the bar where there were no customers.  I sat on a bar stool wondering what to do next.  Oddly enough, the thought of going home didn’t enter my head.

As I looked behind the bar I noticed some long stemmed champagne glasses above the optics.  They had been arranged like a coconut shy but I didn’t have a ball, well not as such.  Although I was on an abnormal high I was still able to judge distance and height.  My grey matter was sifting information, albeit over a trivial task. I was too close to the glass target area to throw my intended missile.  Somehow for, reasons best known to myself, I was intent on making up a challenge.  My prize, a single shot at the glass coconut shy.

I placed my penny on the floor just behind the bar stool.  Then I hooked both of my feet under the foot rail that circled the bar.  Sitting in an upright position, I leant over backwards to see if I could pick up the coin. 

It was surprisingly easy, now for the real test of strength; could I pull myself back up?  I felt every muscle in my torso tense up and the blood was pounding around my head.  With my feet still anchored, I raised my body back up to the bar in one slow, meticulous movement.  I have to say I had impressed myself with my abdominal power.  Now it was time to pick up my prize.

Part 5 next week…

Part 3 of Heading for breakdown No.2 chapter two

February 11th, 2013


After Bill and Seron left my buzzed up mood took a dive.  Poor Mum, she had only been there five minutes and already I was asking her to give me some space.  Having the patience of a saint she went to visit and old friend of hers, knowing full well it would give her the opportunity to speak to my GP.  Doctor Gibbon’s advice to my mother was, “Go home Jeanne and give Neil the space he has asked for.” 

I did feel embarrassed when Mum told me later what she had said.  That after-noon Mum travelled back to Berkhamsted, saying she would be in touch.  My guardian angel, Bill, had said to Mum he would keep an eye on me, which put her mind at rest.

Later that day Bill popped into see how I was. It’s just as well he did.  I was on a downer and very confused. “Why don’t we go and see your doctor,” he asked.  “Would you come with me?”  “Yeah, no problem.” He replied.  I think because I heard the word doctor, I recall asking him if he could drive as slowly as he could.  I think it was because I was in no rush to go back in the ‘fun palace.’ 

Doctor Gibbon had opened the surgery on this Saturday afternoon to see me personally.  Now that’s what I call a National Heath Service.  I was in such a state of confusion, apparently, that when she asked a question I drifted off mentally.  I can vaguely remember mumbling away to myself as I sat cross-legged on the doctor’s couch.

She gave me a large red tablet to take.  This was to stop me getting any higher throughout the rest of the day.  She also gave Bill a second tablet in a brown envelope for me to take at 9.00 p.m. that evening.  Bill said he would make sure I took it.  The whole week-end felt surreal, even more so after taking the medication.  What a result, my doctor’s being open on a Saturday!  I really was a punnet short of a strawberry that day.  Doctor Gibbon asked me if there was anything else I needed or wanted.

I thought for a moment, this being the only question I actually understood, and said, “Well, I could do with, a good, hard, shag.”  In complete control and with only a hint of a smile she replied, “I’m afraid we don’t that on the N.H.S.”  At the time I was totally oblivious as to just how funny that must have sounded.  Months later Bill reminded me of what I had said and we fell about laughing.  It was nice to know that I still had the ability to make people laugh.

I lost the rest of Saturday and the majority of Sunday to the powerful medication I was given.  Bill contacted my Mum to explain what had happened at the surgery.  She was back on my door-step the very next day.  I had completely lost the plot this time.  For reasons best known to me I decided to put some of my tools in the washing machine and turn it on. 

Can you imagine the noise!  God knows how long they were in there clanking around before Mum switched it off.  I, of course, was totally oblivious to the row, thanks to the high I was on.  From what I can gather, the best way to describe how I acting was to watch a four year old child at play.

As usual I had lost all concept of time, and was totally reliant on other people.  It’s a wonder I didn’t start a fire, as I smoke.  I guess I had a taste of what some people would like to experience again, a second child-hood.  It’s a shame I can’t remember more of those seventy-two hours, perhaps its better I can’t.  I sometimes wish, when I hit a low spot, the whole twelve years of my illness had been like that lost weekend.  As it is, I will remain mentally scared for the rest of my life.

I awoke with a start early on Monday morning after having a nightmare.  I had dreamt that I saw my Mum was dying.  She looked surprised to see me presenting her with a cup of tea but I wasn’t to know it was half-past-five in the morning.  I gave a sigh of relief to see my little Mum was still breathing.  The next twelve hours were hectic to say the least. 

Prior to Mums’ arrival I had become obsessed with colour co-ordinating my clothes, all of which I separated to those of the armed forces, from khaki through to navy blue.  I put the trousers on hangers followed by the shirts and then their jackets.  Any other tops or T-shirts that were left over I rolled up as you would a flag and placed them on a work-top next to the kitchen sink.  At this point everything had to be spotlessly clean and tidy; I also polished all of my shoes and boots, putting clean socks in each pair.

I had stumbled into another fantasy, now believing that whatever colour top I had on in the morning was the service I had secretly been drafted into.  If I saw someone in the street with a similar colour scheme as mine they were also in the same force.  Because this would have been a hush-hush operation, I was left to guess as to what rank the other people held. 

On this one particular day I had put on a white T- shirt and a pair of navy blue jogging bottoms. I was convinced I was a Naval rating who had been granted shore leave.  So where would I go with my imaginary forty-eight hour pass?  That’s right, the nearest grog shop. 

Days earlier I had finger-knitted a wrist-band made from white string.  This was something my dad had taught me to do as a boy.  Basically, it was a means of shortening a length of rope. I just adapted it for my own purposes.  I tore off a segment from a matchbox and wrapped it around a solitary match.  Then I poked it through the plaited twine. 

As I pulled the wrist-band back into shape the string gripped my make-shift source of ignition.  With this in place I turned the band around so the match and its wrapping faced my wrist and just touched the palm of my hand.

My reason for this elaborate process was obvious, but of course only to me.  Although I was on shore-leave it occurred to me that I may be called upon to do a four-hour watch, well you would wouldn’t you?  Christ knows where of course, the nearest ship was bloody miles away.  Still you never know somebody might have gone down with scurvy on HMS Belfast! 

Anyway I wasn’t going out without a fag on me, so I tucked one behind my ear. I was in a world of my own, where it seemed my subconscious had overridden my conscious mind.  I can’t even remember where my Mum was before I went walk-about.  I do however recall my personality changing from a serious mood to a jovial one and back again, as if someone had flicked a light-switch on.

At this juncture my imaginary furlough began to merge with a new fantasy.  In my head, clear as a bell, I heard the voice of Paul McKenna the hypnotist.  I was now under his control, something that was to occur again.  Not only could I hear him, I could even feel the weight of his arm through mine as he led me into the car park of the flats where I lived. 

“Hold up,” I said, “where are we going?”  “Oh, just a little stroll,” he replied smugly.  “But I don’t want to go for a walk thanks.” I said in disbelief. “Well just try and stop yourself then,” he answered with a chortle.

So I tried to turn round, my upper body moved but my feet were firmly stuck to the pavement.  The fantasy hypnosis was incredibly powerful.  Try as I might I couldn’t break free from its grip.  I heard Paul say, “Okay, okay, I’ll give you a sporting chance.  After the count of three I’ll release your feet, ready, one… two… three…”

Part four next week…

Part two of Heading for breakdown No. 2 chapter two

February 3rd, 2013


I returned to my doctors and asked for my medication to be changed, as I felt too high most of the time.  But I think it was too late by then, the Prozac and drink had done its damage.  So it was back to a standard anti-depressant and its side-effects.  This was fine for a while, until I woke up one morning with the old familiar black cloud hanging over me again. 

As you’re probably aware there seems to be a vast difference in side-effects depending on which drugs you are prescribed.  If you are not happy with the drugs you are taking, go back to your doctor and ask for them to be changed.  Don’t stay on something if it’s making you feel odd. (This is the only way I can describe the ‘vague feeling of being unwell,’ printed on the paperwork in most anti-depressant packets.)  This can just as easily fuck up your life in the same way that a nervous breakdown does.

I was showing signs of cracking under pressure at work.  I was losing the ability to concentrate and I felt tired all of the time.  My confidence was fast diminishing also.  The timing couldn’t have been worse for me.  Five months into the job I was asked if I would go on a shift rota.  I was in a tenuous position financially and felt obliged to agree to my line manager’s demands.  I was still biting the bullet regarding spilling the beans about my first nervous break-down.

The shift required was a week of lates and a week of early’s.  Things were okay to begin with, but after a few months I found it harder and harder to cope.  Until one night I sat in front of a job, when everybody had gone home, for three hours not knowing where to start.  My work chum wasn’t best pleased the next day.

He wasn’t just angry, he was seething. I tried frantically to explain, but he had an answer for everything and I didn’t.  I’m sure you can imagine the atmosphere in the minuscule room.  I could feel waves of hate washing over me for most of the morning.  After that one incident I was scared stiff of making any other mistakes.  My work partner seemed fine as long as everything went his way.  I suppose there is something to be said for nepotism.  All the same I had never encountered such hostility over a poxy four colour job before.

It hadn’t occurred to me that a different shift would affect my mental state.  I had worked on day shifts for over seventeen years up until that point.  But the change in working nights affected my sleep pattern from week to week, which in turn affected my eating cycle.  Consequently I drifted into a series of high and low episodes.  Eventually after being a pain in the arse for months, I came down to earth with an almighty bang.

My boss gave me a month off to sort myself out, but I was too far gone by then.  In the end I asked to be made redundant.  The highs only got higher after that; I called this period, the ‘walking on water’ stage.  At some point during my well months, I stupidly reduced my medication, over a three-month period, without my doctors’ knowledge.  Don’t even contemplate trying this. 

Prior to all of my stays in hospital there was always an abundance of incidences leading up to admission.  This was largely due to the Mental Health Act of 1983, which roughly states, that unless a person is a danger to themselves or others, they can’t be picked up by the old bill and carted off to the nearest fun factory.  On this spree of events Mum, Bill and Seron helped to fill in the blank spaces of my second admission into Claybury Hospital.

Mum was coming over to see me knowing I wasn’t quite the whole nine yards again.  My sleep pattern was all over the shop, and I had stopped eating.  On this particular Saturday morning, I had phoned Bill begging him and his wife, Seron to come down to my flat.

The night before, I had painstakingly re-assembled my drum kit in my front room.  For some reason I had decided to do this in the pitch dark at about 3.00 a.m., don’t ask why, I haven’t a clue.  I was doing everything in slow motion at that point; I believed my patience was being tested in some way.

Normally it would take me forty minutes or so to put my kit together, but on this occasion the conditions were far from normal.  I had it in my head that my flat was bugged.  To add to my dilemma, I had to take each piece of equipment from a back bedroom, up the creaking hallway and into the front-room. 

Rhyme, reason and time-scale had abandoned me yet again, save the odd glance at the clock.  It took me over two and a half hours to put up my drum kit, which I managed to do in near silence.  Bill and Seron arrived about mid-day.  They were visibly taken aback by the sight that had met their eyes.  They were equally surprised to see that I had taken the mattresses off the bunk beds and was now using them as sound-proofing.

Bill and I had played together in a band for a number of years.  He was the guitarist.  One of our high-points was a Radio 1 session on the Janice Long show.  The creative buzz that I had all those years ago had returned and, three months prior to this, I had blown the dust off my sticks and begun to practise again.  Of all the music I listened to, one song held my attention, ‘Seven Days’, by Sting.  It’s a peach of a track in 7/8 time, and after weeks of warming up to 4/4 music it became the only song I would play.

Initially I sat for hours listening to the track as a whole, and then gradually broke the drum-patterns down into sections.  Once I had the bass and snare firmly fixed in my mind, I concentrated on the cymbal pushes and finally I worked on all of the drum-fills.  The only part I couldn’t perfect was a short section just before the song fades out; the drummer does too many fills for my little head to remember.  Now all I wanted to do was play it at the proper volume and see if I could still hack it as a drummer.

Bill and Seron sat and listened dutifully as I cranked up the stereo and put the tape on.  I played the song once, and once only, using my speakers as a make-shift fold back system.  One to the left of me standing on a stool and the other, to my right, angled up at forty-five degrees at the base of my Hi- hat stand.  When the track finished I said out loud, “Still got it.”  That single performance was all the gratification I needed or expected.  The next couple of hours were spent rifling through my record and tape collection reminiscing.

At 2.00 p.m. Mum arrived to find Bill, Seron and myself knee-deep in vinyl, cassettes and album covers.  “What’s all this then?”  She asked.  Seron assured her that there had only been one floor-show that afternoon. 

“Just as well really,” she replied starring at me in disbelief.  “What must have the neighbours thought?”  “Sod the neighbours,” I said.  Unfortunately my words opened up Mum’s entire book of stock phrases, volume one.  Starting with, “Well that’s all right for you to say,” and ending with, “And another thing, did you think about that?” 

By the time she had gone through her entire repertoire, I had made a sandwich, eaten it and poured her out a cup of coffee.  This was the only way to stop her drifting into her second volume of nagging for the Home Counties North, advanced level.

Part three next week…

Part 1 of Heading for Breakdown No.2 chapter two

January 28th, 2013


I don’t remember too much of what happened after I left Claybury to be honest with you.  I think Mum was in the process of selling the family home and moving to Berkhamsted.  I didn’t want her to move, but I didn’t want to stand in her way either. 

This was Mum and Dad’s retirement plan, had he lived. Mum had always lived a long way from her sister, Rene, since they both married.  After a lifetime of parenting and work she deserved to do what she wanted for a change.

When she went it was awful.  Mum, Dad and the family home had been in the same place for twenty-eight years.  I lived in that house from the age of four. I had moved out a few times, as did my sister, but I always had a secure base if anything went wrong.  I know Mum was racked with guilt for months after moving, and I did try to alleviate some of her worry, but all the same I felt as though I had lost an arm and a leg in the same day.

I carried on taking my medication, but after a while it didn’t seemed to be doing much good.  A new drug had just hit the market and my GP thought it might help my mood – it was called Prozac.  I can see now why it was called ‘the sunshine drug.’  I took one capsule and by the next morning I couldn’t stop smiling.  It worked as quickly as E.C.T., only without the storming headache that followed each session.  I felt so good I began drinking again, every night for six months.

By that time I thought I had escaped the clutches of my depression.  I was firing on all cylinders, with both oars in the water, head facing forwards at last, and it was legal!  However, this falsehood was to cause major problems in the coming months.  I was heading for a bout of powerful psychotic highs.  I wasn’t overly confident to begin with, but as the weeks passed I remember feeling pumped all of the time, and up for anything.  My razor sharp wit had returned and I was making people laugh.  Everybody around me thought I was back to my old self.

Prior to my redundancies, and on Bill’s advice, I had taken out an insurance policy that protected my mortgage against unemployment and illness.  More importantly it covered mental illness.  Bill acted on my behalf when the time came.  I didn’t think that the company would pay out such a vast sum of money per month without a fight, even though I fitted the policy’s requirement to the letter.  Bill made the call and I sat with bated breath waiting to hear their technical cop-out clause.

Call me pessimistic but I was right.  I checked the small print in the pamphlet and couldn’t spot it, neither could Bill.  He looked through the policy under a microscope and found the problem in the fine print, where else.  The clause stated that I had to have paid a minimum of six months’ subscriptions from a source in my profession before my claim could be validated.  This excluded benefit payments.  I had made four monthly payments when I was working and two payments from my benefits.

Seron said, “Don’t worry, he’ll think of something.”  Bill went quiet for a good ten minutes; lifting up his head he said with a smile, “Got it!”  It was true to say that I had only made four of the six payments.  All that was checkable from the date on my benefit claim form.  But not only was I receiving state benefits, I was also entitled to gratuity from my union’s unemployment fund.  Therefore I had been paid a sum of money from my trade of work six months in a row.  The policy didn’t state a specific amount, but I can bet it does now.  Bill got on the phone and relayed his findings. 

After a while the guy on the other end realised that he had been painted into a corner by the better man.  “You can relax now,” Bill said putting down the receiver “You’re covered for 12 months; the beers are on you I think.”  I planted a kiss on his forehead and told him what a star he was, mentioning that if he and Seron wanted another child, I would have it for them minus the conception part!

I went for a few interviews prior to the usual fight for my benefits and eventually I took a job in a family-run print firm near the Barbican.  After the spaciousness of D. S. Colour I was about to find out that size really does matter.  My new department was situated below ground level and right next door to the machine room.  I have never worked in a room that had it own weather system before!  It was hot, dusty and noisy in the summer and damp, dusty and noisy during the winter months.  More importantly there was no access for natural daylight, all of which didn’t affect me to begin with.

The room itself measured approximately 18’ x 12’ x 10’, which sounds a fair size until you put two people in it and all of the printing equipment.  We had a large camera that we used to copy base artworks from.  This had two powerful lamps on it and was situated in a 6 x 4 darkroom.  Just outside of the sweat box was a printing down frame.  This consisted of a 3 x 4 rubber backed base with a glass top.  Underneath was a vacuum; this held the films and plates in a fixed position. 

Over head was an artificial ark lamp; this exposed our film images to the printing plates.  Just to add a little extra warmth to the hamsters’ maze we had the bonus of the firms’ boiler pipes just above our heads.  On a good month we could grow cucumbers!  I had been used to working in a large open-plan room with at least eight people.  Here, if you didn’t get on with the person you were working with you were stuffed; there was nowhere else to go.  After ten months of working in the rat run, the non-conducive atmosphere was beginning to take its toll on my health. 

My new work chum didn’t have the same sense of humour as I did, which was a problem for me.  Soon after I started my new job he told me he was the boss’s son.  This news unfortunately reached me three days too late.  In the pub after my first day, a member of the office staff asked me what I thought of the place.  Having said what I had said I don’t think I had told them anything they didn’t already know. I replied, “It’s dingy, cramped and to fucking hot, and the wages are crap as well, but it beats signing on.”  Up the workers!  You can’t blame a bloke for telling it like it is!  Dad would have been proud of me.

Final part of chapter one

January 21st, 2013


“You will feel a cold sensation creeping up your arm.  That’s the anaesthetic going in.  In about ten seconds you will be under.”  Within two seconds the anaesthetic had already reached my elbow and had started to affect my vision.  It was a pleasant feeling I have to say.  I tried desperately to keep my eyes open, saying to the nurse, “I’m going to try and stay awa…”  I never finished the sentence – it was lights out.

When you come to your senses, you are in the recovery room wondering how the hell you got there.  Come to think of it, I couldn’t remember where I was before either.  And why did I take my shoes and socks off?  In the distance I could hear people talking and the chink of cups on saucers.  A nurse came to check on me.  I was still a bit woozy after the anaesthetic.  As I came round she warned me not to stand up to quickly, in case I fell over.  “When you come round a bit more you can join the others for a drink.”

My throat was as dry as a yak’s armpit.  All I wanted now was a gallon of tea and twenty cigarettes.  I sat up, looked around, found my trainers and socks and put them on as quickly as I could. 

I was gagging for something to drink.  In my haste I had forgotten what the nurse had said.  I stood up and promptly fell back towards the bed.  I panicked.  I couldn’t work out why my arms and legs wouldn’t function properly.  I sat back for a few minutes and tried hard to retrace my steps, but all I could remember was being knocked out – the rest was a total blank.

I got up, slower this time, and walked into the tea-room like an OAP who had just taken six Valium.  I was beaming from ear to ear.  The only drawback, it seemed was a skull-splitting headache.  Everybody was in the same state.  I saw faces I knew but couldn’t recall their names and like me, none of them could remember what had just happened.  Yet we all sat there grinning at each other like Cheshire cats.  My bloody cheeks were killing me afterwards.  The jolt of electricity had jump-started my brain into happy mode.  I couldn’t believe the change in myself.

We went back to the ward and started queuing for painkillers.  As the day wore on the headaches subsided and the enforced smiling stopped.  A few of us sat down and talked about what we had just been through.  We had all experienced some form of memory loss.  I couldn’t remember my date of birth for example. It was frightening to think that something like that could be erased from my memory.  I was glad I wasn’t the only one feeling like it, something to do with safety in numbers I suppose. 

Days after the treatment, I was still having trouble remembering things, but E.C.T. had definitely shifted my morose mood to a euphoric state at the flick of a switch.  I had six sessions of E.C.T. followed by what can only be described as intermittent amnesia.  I was discharged from Claybury Hospital after one month and was in a better frame of mind, though I was still suffering the side-effects of my medication and the E.C.T. memory block.  I will cover the side effects of medication in another chapter.

The side-effects of electro-convulsive therapy are headaches, initially followed by short-term memory loss.  In my case, this lasted three months.  On the positive side, it shifted my mood in conjunction with anti-depressants.  My only concern was that the doctors were unsure of its success in lifting depression.  Another possible draw back was that a maximum of sixteen sessions were allowed. 

If it failed to work after sixteen times then another solution would have to be found. Nobody has told me why or what happens if you have more?  Interestingly enough when E.C.T. was first used fifty years ago, no anaesthetic was used.  This makes me wonder, if it were to be invented today, would the British Medical Counsel allow its use in treating people suffering from clinical depression?  There is no evidence of any permanent side effects caused from E.C.T

Updated information from the Royal College of Psychiatrists website…

Q     What do those in favour of ECT say?

Many doctors and nurses will say that they have seen ECT relieve very severe depressive illnesses when other treatments have failed.  Bearing in mind that 15% of people with severe depression will kill themselves, they feel that ECT has saved patients’ lives, and therefore the overall benefits are greater than the risks.  Some people who have had ECT will agree and may even ask for it if they find themselves becoming depressed again. 

Q     What do those against ECT say?

There are many different views and many different reasons why people object to ECT.  Some say that ECT is an inhumane and degrading treatment, which belongs to the past.  They say that the side-effects are severe and that psychiatrists have either accidentally or deliberately ignored how severe they can be.  They say that ECT permanently damages both the brain and the mind, and if it does work at all, does so in a way that is ultimately harmful for the patient.  Many would want to see it banned.

I’m chuffed to say there’s been a good response to my first chapter, so I shall be adding chapter two as a follow up starting next week…

Part 4 of chapter one

January 14th, 2013


At 7.30 p.m. I was introduced to an agency nurse called Lenny.  He took me down to the tearoom and gave me a run down of the daily routine in the hospital.  It was difficult to make conversation with him, mainly because of the bloody row coming from some of the other patients.  Most of the guys involved looked like extras that had been rejected from the Michael Jackson video, Thriller.

It was a woeful sight this place, it really was, and a huge culture shock to me.  Unless you have ever visited a mental hospital you can’t fully appreciate just how terribly sad places like these are.  I had been plucked out of public life for my own health and safety, and voluntarily signed myself into this hellhole. 

At eight o’clock Lenny took me back to the ward. The door was locked behind us.  I asked him why it was locked.  He said, “It was a standard security procedure.”  I remember thinking at the time, whose security?  Who in their right mind would try breaking into this place?  I went back into the day room and sat down to survey my new surroundings.  I didn’t like what I saw. 

There was a bunch of what looked like child molester’s playing cards at one of the tables.  A nurse and a patient playing table tennis, and at the other end of this huge room, were a group of Charles Manson look-a-likes playing darts. What prat gave them a set of pointy sharp things!?! 

One of them piped up, “I’ve got implants in my head you know.  The Russians put them in there!”  Oh fuck, I could see it was going to be one of ‘those’ nights.  None of the people on the ward looked capable of offering up much in the way of stimulating conversation, except for the staff of course.

The toilets reeked of cheap pungent cleaning fluid, the bathroom was cold and uninviting, and my bedroom had no privacy whatsoever.  My bed was hard and the mattress was covered in plastic, in case of an incontinent patient.  The sheets were thick, starched and cold and the pillows were uncomfortably big. To round off this five star accommodation for the mentally challenged; my bed had a blanket on it that wouldn’t have kept a baby warm, let alone an adult.  I could see I wasn’t going to get much sleep on my first night in the slammer.

The staff on my ward did their best to help me settle into the daily routine of hospital life.  I had already been put on anti-depressants, but after four days I wanted to know why I didn’t feel any better?  I asked the nurse in charge of the medication why the tablets were not working.  He answered with a smile, “Don’t worry, they take two to four weeks to get in your system.” 

They’ve got me now, I thought, my fourteen-day sentence had just doubled in the time it took to swallow a tablet.  I’ve seen this scenario before somewhere; the only things missing were the men in white coats.  I wished I’d never asked the bloody question in the first place.  I couldn’t help feeling as though I had been ganged up on.  Now I was scared to ask any more questions in case my stay in the funny farm was extended any further.  I was thirty-three years of age but I felt like a frightened child who had just lost his mum in the high street. 

On day five I was informed I would soon begin a course of E.C.T.  “Oh great!”  I exclaimed, “I can hardly wait.”  Gingerly I asked what E.C.T. stood for.  I just knew it was going to be something I didn’t like the sound of.  “Electro-convulsive therapy,” the nurse replied.  See what I mean!  “Well, I’m okay with the therapy part,” I said, “but I’m not to chuffed with the words ‘convulsive’ or ‘electro.’”

It sounded too much like a Hammer House of Horror film.  Trisha, the head nurse on the day shift, did her best to reduce my doubts about this form of treatment.  She then proceeded to tell me one step at a time, how E.C.T. is administered to patients.  Trish took her time explaining the process, and answered all of my questions to settle my nerves.  Even so I still went away with a nagging fear in the back of my mind.  (Why do we say that? Is the cerebellum where all of my worrying starts?).

The fateful day arrived. A group of us assembled outside the ward office.  We were led down a maze of poorly lit corridors towards the E.C.T. room.  We looked like a bunch of P.O.W’s being taken down to the cells to be experimented on by the SS.  We were shown into a small blue painted waiting room, just big enough to seat all twelve of us.  A few silent moments had passed by, when a nurse came in with a small hot water bottle for each of us.

“That’s very nice of you,” I said “but I couldn’t eat another thing thanks!”  She smiled and explained that they were for us to keep our hands warm.  The heat makes your veins stand up which gives the anaesthetist something to aim at, before she puts you under.  Still smiling, she disappeared back into the E.C.T. room.  So there we sat, the lucky dozen crammed into a room the size of a rabbit hutch, all waiting with bated breath for a swift surge of the National Grid!

One member of the group piped up, “I wonder if we’ll get charged for this on our next electricity bill?”  Needless to say, we all had a bloody good laugh at this bloke’s sharp wit.  That was the first time I had cracked a smile in ten months.

To have lost my sense of humour was heartbreaking for me; I now know it’s one of my finest qualities.  Most of us in that room couldn’t boil an egg, let alone crack a joke (pun unintended.)  Yet faced with a largely unknown situation, we all did our best to make humorous small talk to pass the time.  I now know it’s the brain’s natural defence mechanism against blind fear.

Our names were being called out every ten minutes.  Now there were just five of us left, and the small-talk had all but diminished.  We all sat there starring vaguely into space waiting for our turn.  Then I heard my name called. “Oh shit,” I thought, “here we go,” and a nurse led me into the E.C.T. room.  It was large and brightly lit.  Inside five other nurses were laughing and talking to each other.  It wasn’t quite the Nazi torture chamber that I had envisaged. 

In fact it had a nice calming effect on me.  For the first time that day, I slowly began to relax.  The nurse that brought me in asked if I would like another run through of the treatment. I said, “Yes please.”  She was so understanding and kind, and could see that I was scared stiff.  The explanation of the treatment is a lot easier to take in with all of the equipment in front you.  “Are you ready?” She asked.  “Not really,” I replied nervously.  “It will be fine, honestly,” still trying to reassure me.  “Come on then,” I said, “let’s get it over with.” 

 “Okay, first take off your shoes and socks and then lay on the bed Neil.  I will take you through it one step at a time.”  At this point the other nurses gathered around the four corners of my bed.  They carried on talking away as if they were down the supermarket.  On reflection, it was this bedside manner that put me at ease with the situation I now found myself in.  There wasn’t a dull face in the room, except mine of course.

“You will feel a slight jab in your hand,” the nurse said, “that’s the needle going in for the anaesthetic.  You will be asleep for about ten minutes.  While you’re under, I will place some electrodes on each temple and give you a measured shock of electricity.  This throws your brain into an epileptic fit.” 

Oh, I could hardly contain myself.  “The nurses around you will prevent you from putting any joints out of place by holding down your limbs as your body convulses.”  Sounds like a wonderful experience doesn’t it!  “Here we go – ready?”  I winked at her and took a sharp intake of breath as the needle punctured the skin and vein on the back of my left hand.

Last part next week…

Part 3 of chapter one

January 8th, 2013

As you walk through the doors of the hospital, the full magnitude of the building hits you.  Streams of wide endless corridors with ceilings thirty feet high greet you.  Through the interior doors I could see some of the inmates shuffling around near the entrance.  There seemed to be an invisible force field keeping them inside because none of them tried to escape as you would imagine.  I suddenly felt deeply embarrassed and ashamed of my predicament.  In my eyes, at that point in my life, I was a total failure.

The light at the end of my tunnel had been snuffed out.  Did I have to come to such a place to re-ignite it?  I didn’t have a choice anymore.  Set in woodlands well off the beaten track, near Chigwell in Essex, the hospital had a stigma to match its size.  The grade II listed building lay at the heart of an estate which covered a massive one hundred and fifty square acres of land. 

Built in 1893, it had been a bombproof sanctuary for the mentally ill for over ten decades.  In its heyday, Claybury could care for over two thousand patients.  But due to government cutbacks, this figure had been dramatically reduced to just five hundred when I was first admitted in February 1993. 

The wards were marked alphabetically, A1/2 right through to Z1/2.  Fifty-two wards formed a huge circle in which all the departments extended.  To give a clearer idea of just how big this place was, here is a list of just some of the facilities. There was a benefits office, sub-post office, a church, laundry, path lab and a massive kitchen, a dental surgery, an E.C.T. room, a dispensary and even a hairdresser.

I followed Bill to the reception desk where he asked for directions to ward N2.  As we walked down a long gloomy corridor, I felt like a condemned man going to the gallows.  There was no turning back now.  I was entering this place of my own accord and at some point Bill was going to walk away and leave me there.  I wasn’t looking forward to that all.  We climbed a flight of stairs to find a large white door with a sign on it saying N2 in a bold typeface.

Bill pressed the doorbell and a few moments later somebody looked through the eyepiece and then unlocked the door.  This entrance led us into a large pastel blue painted hallway.  There were a few seats lined up against the wall, with a battered looking phone on it.  When some of the inmates spied two bits of fresh meat walking in, we became an immediate target for requests for cigarettes. 

A small group of patients were talking at the tops of their voices about things that made no sense at all.  The nurse didn’t bat an eyelid.  Obviously this was the ward norm, or abnormality as the case may be.  Was this the real twilight zone?

Bill told the nurse my name and he showed us to a table next to the ward office.  “Right,” he said.  “Your name is Neil Walton.”  “Yes,” I replied.  He asked for my home address then proceeded to ask me a number of questions relating to how I was feeling at that particular moment in time. I told him, “I felt tired, freezing cold and just a little scared to death.”  He asked me if I knew where I was.  “Yes,” I replied with a lump in my throat. “I’m in Claybury Hospital.” 

 “Do you know why you are here Neil?”  “I’m here to get better.” I answered pathetically.  He went on, “Some of these questions may seem a little strange but they will help us to determine your mental state at the present time.”  “Do you feel like harming yourself or anybody else?”  “No,” I replied.  “Have you tried to harm yourself in the past?”  “Yes.”

The next question took me by surprise.  The nurse asked me if I had heard voices in my head.  I thought about it momentarily, not wishing to give him the impression I had.  I then replied as nonchalantly as I could saying, “No.” 

I had of course listened to my Dad’s voice, which to me was quite normal, as he had not long passed over.  I have had a lot of psychic occurrences in my life that I would still like explained to me.  However, this all happened when I was mentally healthy, so I was buggered if I was going tell a complete stranger working in a psychiatric hospital that I had heard voices.  I would have never been discharged.  I felt as though I had used my last remaining marbles wisely.

I felt my Dad’s presence when I wrote the first draft of these pages.  It was 4.00 a.m. and the rain was pouring down the windows.  It was still dark, and the ticking clock in my room was the only thing that broke the silence.  Sometimes I can feel him with me, which gives me a great sense of well-being and strength. 

I thought the signing-in procedure was nearly over and Bill must have had enough of hanging around.  We had been in the hospital well over an hour by now.  Once the paperwork had been dealt with I was shown to my sleeping quarters. 

I wasn’t impressed with the thought of sharing my bed space in a dormitory with 26 inmates.  There were clothes strewn over a big radiator and two patients were already asleep.  One of them was snoring like a bull elephant.  The only privacy you had was a thin cotton curtain that hung between each bed from a rail.

We were shown into the day room.  At one end, near a huge bay window, was a table tennis table.  In the centre of the room there were thirty armchairs, with some small tables scattered around.  Most of them had dirty tin foil ashtrays on them, half of which were filled with hand rolled cigarette butts.  We sat down again and I now had to give the nurse a list of my clothing in case anything was stolen during my stay.  Bill was ever so patient while this was going on, I was so glad he was with me.

It was a terrible day for me; I couldn’t have coped without him.  Once my clothes had been accounted for the nurse said, “That’s almost it, you just have to be checked over by a duty doctor.”  Bill was about to leave.  He gave me a long hug and said, “Don’t forget, Seron and I will be thinking of you and we will come and visit you as soon as we are allowed to.” His final comment was, “Take good care of yourself, love ya,” and with that he left.

I fought hard to stop myself from crying.  I heard the heavy door shut behind him, and a few seconds after that the door was locked. I was now friendless and terrified of my first night in a psychiatric hospital and dreading the next full day.

The last hurdle I had to face was the visit from the duty doctor.  I sat down smoking cigarette after cigarette.  Half an hour must have past by when I saw a youngish man walk into the ward office.  I presumed he was the duty doctor.  A few minutes later the nurse introduced him to me and he asked me to follow him into a small side room.  He took my blood pressure and then checked my breathing.  Then he started to prod my liver about, asking me questions as he went about his examination.

“Do you smoke?”  “Yes,” I said.  “Drink?” He asked coldly.  “Yes,” I replied.  “Taken drugs?” He inquired harshly.  “I smoked cannabis about fifteen years ago if that counts.”  “Okay, that’s it,” he said. It was all over in five minutes.  I didn’t much care for his bedside manner.  I was glad when it was all over.  I felt as though I had ruined his evening.  By the way he was dressed it looked as if he had to break off a dinner date or a night at the opera.

Part four next week…