Sufflimandus Sum

Phillip and I recently unearthed a grinning skull from this soil of mulched down past experiences, clods of half-digested emotional shite still clinging to it. It was the time I tried to see a therapist and was sent packing by a junior doctor. You remember, I wrote about this a couple of months ago?

When I told him, Phillip just shrugged, noncommittedly. Far from being hurt, I found this liberating. It’s not that he seems uncaring or uninterested, it’s just that he’s got other priorities. It isn’t a big deal, at this distance, but I’ve been allowing it to poison my thinking, in secret, for years.

This particular event plays out so ceaselessly in the back of my mind that I forgot I’d already told you about it. It’s like the looped back-projection in a driving scene from an old movie, only made of blurry inkblots of feeling: you ignore the repetition and concentrate on the conversation in the foreground, yet it still casts its light over the scene. I assumed my memories were just part of my constant semi-awareness of the incident, but, in fact, it was what I’d recently written.

I’d rewritten the whole thing before I realised this, so here it is, again. Hopefully, restating it will give a sense of how ideas and memories keep replaying in my head. Maybe the discrepancies will be interesting, too:

I went to a university some distance from my home town. I saw this as an opportunity to re-invent myself, make myself seem more interesting. I’m wondering, now, what that says about my self-image. What was wrong with the self I already had? Abi says all teenagers use this time to invent themselves, but I remain disconsolate.

I had what I considered an ace up my sleeve, when it came to seeking attention and appearing more interesting – something that had happened to me when I was younger. It wasn’t much, but in the realm of the self-obsessed, in its extreme forms, it had a certain amount of cachet. I thought I could use it to impress my women friends, those infinitely forgiving philanthropists, and I managed to get myself referred for some sort of psychological screening by an NHS psycho-therapist.

My memories start to become hazy, from this point, probably in self-defence. In a recent episode of Fry’s English Delight, on Radio 4, Stephen Fry was discussing human memory. It turns out that memories are nebulous clouds of vague sense impressions until you start to describe them in words. Then your mind abandons the sense impressions and only remembers the words. Presumably they’re easier to store, long term, and you can recreate an approximate version by retelling the tale. They may also be less, or only latently, disturbing, in this format.

My visions of these events upset me so much that I avoided examining them, and never talked to anyone about them. I never, therefore, coded and stored them as words. I left the progressively degraded sense impressions lying, unprocessed, right there on the floor of my memory bank. Maybe that’s why, now that I’m trying to sort out my head, I want to work through them again.

The first person I saw was an attractive young woman. Neutral to begin with, she perked up, gratifyingly, when I trotted out my secret, my party piece. She said that she thought I would benefit from therapy, but she didn’t think I should see her. This was a good call: she was lovely and I was intending to fall in love with her. Instead, she passed me on to her superior, a consultant who ran some sort of clinic, and she got me an appointment.

The day of my appointment seems very hazy, so much so that I remember it as literally taking place in a mist. In my memory’s reconstruction, I find my way through this mist to a hospital-style building. I materialise at the bottom of a staircase, wondering where to go (why do I not recall a reception desk? Had I come in the wrong way?), when down the stairs a young male doctor in a white coat (as I remember him) comes skipping. Does he stop abruptly and ask me what I’m doing? Probably something like that, and I say I’ve come to see Mr X. (I don’t now remember the consultant’s name). Presumably I say “I have an appointment to see Mr X”, don’t I? But maybe I say “I want to see Mr X” and he thinks I’ve just got the name from a directory and come wandering in. Maybe. Perhaps.

The junior doctor says, “Mr X is very busy, at the moment, perhaps I can help”, or some such. And perhaps I don’t say, “But I’ve got an appointment”, but perhaps I do but he still takes me into a run-down side room – a couple of tatty fabric covered chairs, unevenly plastered walls, and clearly not used for psychological consultations – where I reluctantly spill my guts.

He Looks at me with a sort of alert impatience while I tell him my big thing. I try to elaborate, to make my experiences more significant, my mental state more real; he seems to be waiting for his turn, which comes when I’ve trailed to an anxious halt. Then he says, “Look, you seem to have got yourself into a bit of a state. Why don’t you go home, take some time out, and try to relax. Try to get to bed early, eat well and don’t drink or smoke too much and if you have any further problems, don’t hesitate to contact your GP.”

And that was it. I was horrified. I’d humiliated myself, admitted to something terribly shameful and this was the response! What was worse, I’d betrayed the other person involved in my history for a little bit of attention, my 30 pieces of silver. This was someone who I cared about and who cared about me, though they were a few years older and, clearly, similarly mixed up. I owed them loyalty, yet I’d named and exposed them to this bastard to whom I owed nothing because he didn’t care about me at all.

But he was right. He was right! No one should have to entertain my trivial, self-regarding bullshit. I wasn’t messed up. I was pretending, to give myself some borrowed glamour. Even then the NHS was overstretched and under-funded. I was taking time and resources away from someone who genuinely needed them. So I thanked him profusely, galling though it was, and stumbled out, a sort of shock insulating me, singing in my ears. It muffled voices on the bus; I marked, dispassionately, condensation on the windows, shouts from the park.

And I’d been so proud of my appointment, my official designation as “Fucked Up” and justifying therapy! I never mentioned this meeting to a soul. When Lulu asked me how it had gone, I grunted non-committedly. I never contacted mental health services again, and they never contacted me, but I kept all these things, and pondered them in my heart.

Perhaps there had been some confusion. Or had the exasperated consultant sent the junior doctor down to get rid of me? Was the young therapist condemned for not dismissing me out of hand? Perhaps my medical notes were utterly damning.

I now realise that, for years, I’ve laboured under the idea that I was a charlatan who got my come-uppance, here. Whereas, surely an 18 year old manifesting any sort of distress deserves more attention than that. They may have been right, but how were they so sure I was faking?

This probably helps to explain all the agitation, over-excitedness, paranoia and shame when I think I’m over-contributing in group therapy sessions. I have a desire to be useful, to help keep the discussion going, to compensate for my crapness, but I feel my contributions lack value. I am just ego-centrically pleasing myself, indulging my desire to contribute, to gain attention. I want to be noticed, but why should it be ME who keeps the conversation going? A good team player would coax other people to contribute so they would feel good.

Incidentally, my “designated carer” cornered me for a Ketchup after one of these sessions. I’d promised to always engage with the process and never reject any therapeutic offer, so although reluctant, I told her of my anxieties about over-contribution. She said, “well, you do have a lot to say…”! I hope she just meant I was an asset to the discussion, but I suspect not. Mind you, I’m an overly sensitive idiot…

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