The Alibi

The Lost Thought

I felt a cleaving in my mind
As if my brain had split;
I tried to match it, seam by seam,
But could not make them fit.

The thought behind I strove to join
Unto the thought before,
But sequence ravelled out of reach
Like balls upon a floor.

Emily Dickinson

Twitter it seems is a place of many voices, most of them arguing. When I am feeling sad and angry and combatitive I join in. Recently, I read a repost of quite an old paper put up by a psychiatric ‘nurse’. This sentence caught my eye:

The standard professional response to voice hearing has been to label it as symptomatic of illness and to prescribe anti-psychotic medication (Leudar & Thomas 2000).

Followed by this one:

Mental health nurses, like other professionals (Leudar & Thomas, 2000) have traditionally been trained to reinforce reality with service users who hear voices and, more specifically, not to attend to these experiences (Martin 1987, Lyttle 1991).

It really got me thinking.

When I was between 8 years old and 12 years old, I was bullied pretty badly. Other people had people to play with at lunch and breaktime- no-one wanted to play with me or sit next to me. Some forms of bullying are really about denigration and the things which are said are so blatantly cruel, they are almost not believeable. I was lucky, because I had friends out of school, so I didn’t quite believe those bullies. One of these friends (let’s call her Milly) I was particularly close to, because my Mum had been friends with her Mum for a long time and they visited every weekend or so, sometimes staying over. I liked her Dad too, he made funny jokes that he made up himself (‘Why don’t nettles sting this month? Well you see months aren’t real so they can’t get stung.…’). We had other things in common like having younger siblings who were very ill and she was one person I could talk to about this. Even though she was a couple of years older than me, she was being bullied too and sometimes she showed me the pinch and bruise marks. It wasn’t all about that, we made creative things together like pressed flowers, a den in the garden and a bigger one in the field out back. I showed her my worm garden and where the blackbird’s nest was. Her house was amazing and she had a pet rat that she let me feed. Excitingly, when I visited we went swimming in a pool that had real waves in. When she stayed over we shared the big double bed in the spare room, shared a midnight feast and talked late into the night about books we liked. It was good to have someone to share things with.

One time I had something to tell her, because I had worked out that the mean girls at school chose to say the unkind things. One of them had said, ‘What shall we choose? Shall we play with her today- or leave her out?‘ I had had a moment of understanding that being rejected was not an inevitable reaction to me because I was so disgusting, but something the other person had control over and when they made that choice what they were getting out of it was power. On the way back from the shops, Milly and I lay in the field in the sun listening to the crickets. Today we could not be bothered to chase them so we talked about the bullies and choices and power. We were so late back home we got into trouble.

At some point Milly’s sibling died. Things were very quiet when she came over then. When we went to the shops there was a sad silence and when we were alone together things seemed foggy and slow, like swimming under water. On the way back, we lay on the grass and looked at the sun. At some point she said she heard her a voice calling her name, so we talked about that. I actually don’t remember it being a big deal. I remember asking who it was, what it said, what she felt about it.

I know that he called her name and wanted her to come and find him because he was lonely and missed her. I said I thought she missed him too. I had assumed it was her brother, so we talked about that possibility.

I know that he said that she didn’t have any friends and nobody wanted her, so she could come and be with him so he wasn’t so lonely. I said I would be lonely without her.

I wondered about how we could help him feel less lonely now he was dead. It was a puzzle.

I was a bit worried that Milly would find a way to join him, as she didn’t feel she had any friends most of the time and because she missed him. I didn’t know if you could just open the door to the place the voice was coming from and simply disappear through it. Or maybe her brother would be able to come and fetch her.

It never occurred to me either that her experience was strange or to tell an adult. I was a secretive child who read a lot of books.

This is another quote from the paper:

‘My training was definitely you don’t talk about the voices. But now I think it’s an idea that you should let clients talk about them. I don’t, some clients want to talk about it and I think it’s unfair if you say to them sorry no we don’t really talk about…things like that, for fear of it becoming worse’. Siobhan who had been a mental health nurse for 22 years said.

I look at that quote and think about courage. I am sure that nurse was frightened and lacked the clarity of thought to know how important it is to know who had taught her that fear and what power it gave them. If you don’t look at that you never even get to the point where you wonder whether what you are told is true. The nurse held on tightly to her worry, so it stayed hers. I don’t think I was courageous, I just think I saw the possibilities of the world differently. If powerful things like death could happen which were so painful and surprising, then why not hearing the voices of the dead?

We didn’t see Milly for a while and I couldn’t work out why. In spite of me pestering for her to come over my Mum was suddenly against it. Milly had been a friend in a world that was lonely and hostile. I missed her. A few weeks later there was a phone call from Milly’s Mum. I picked up the call as my Mum was in the bath. ‘They’ve taken her!’ (Who had taken her? Why? Where had they taken her?). I worked out it was Milly they had taken, decided the situation was serious and got my Mum, angry and complaining, out of the bath. After which I was decisively shut out of the room, the door closed with a firm, certain ‘click’.

Later, I was told that Milly was not very well and was in hospital. Then that was ‘it’. Further questioning went unanswered. Requests to visit went ignored, though I was allowed to write a letter. I kept writing but didn’t get a reply.

Even later, we met up again. I was very excited. Milly was very, very fat. She was very, very slow and lethargic. She was not how I remembered her. We played with her rat, which was definately a new rat. Later we babysat while the adults went out.

She talked about the hospital, which didn’t seem nice or likely to help someone get better and I said so. She didn’t seem better, but I didn’t say that. Milly stepped outside to have a cigarette. She seemed so much older than me and very different. She told me about annoying the adults, going into each others rooms when you were not meant to, smuggling in cigarrettes when you weren’t meant to, being searched for them under your clothes. Hiding behind the bins to get away from the nurses following or watching you (What they even went with you into the toilet?), of how angry the adults were when they caught you, of being rude or not following rules deliberately to get the adults to have to force you physically into your room, or out of the communal areas. Physical restraint, surveillance and control.

She talked about death a lot and how she wanted to be a forensic examainer. It seemed a bit gory to me. I asked her if they had helped her come up with a way to help her brother be less lonely now he was dead. She looked surprised and furtive. I wanted her to know that I remembered the conversation from before she went into hospital. I wanted to know if he still called her to join him, but she clearly did not want to talk about it this time. I felt sad about that- maybe we weren’t so close anymore- but what can you do? She changed the subject pretty firmly by offering me chewing gum. I took the chewing gum to show I could break the rules too.

Voice hearers universally responded that an increase in medication was the standard help offered. ‘Well I don’t get any, what she would do is that she would probably tell me to see Dr Q, to get an increase in medication or something perhaps go up to 40 mgs or whatever’.

I always wondered about that look. The quick look of concern, the curtain drawing down between us. At that age I wouldn’t have known about the effects of medication on weight or on energy levels. I wouldn’t have thought the adults would have been so unable to work out the problem either, or that their response would have been so intrusive, alienating and incomprehensible. I wouldn’t have known hearing voices wasn’t a safe thing for her to experience and that talking about it was pretty much banned. I wouldn’t have been able to allow myself to fully realise that trying to work out what was going on with the voices, perhaps finding ways for her to look after her brother even in death- if that was an accurate understanding- would have been beyond the adults problem-solving ability, or that even addressing bullying would be beyond them.

Voice hearers saw the care they received from CMHNs as limited in its range with a clear emphasis on a medical paradigm. They reported access to the doctor, adjustment of medication and sometimes talking and reassurance as responses offered by their CMHN.

Not so long after that Milly’s Mum wanted her to go back into hospital, but Milly killed herself first. My Mum went to the funeral and I had to write something nice about her. I can’t remember what I did write about her, but these were the parts I didn’t write. I didn’t write this story.

Some other parts of the paper have quotes about how many voice hearers value being able to talk about what going on for them, how it can take the confusion out of the experience and how it can bring clarity.

My take is that psychiatrists and mental health ‘nurses’, the adults who frightened her, and wouldn’t let her talk about what bothered her, who changed her into this foreigner that I barely remembered, were less help than a 12 year old. I also think they killed her. They took a problem that made sense: a child does not want to be in this world because they are being bullied out of feeling that they have a life worth living and they feel responsible for the death of their brother -a problem that seemed to have some possible solutions- and made it into one that had no meaning and was not resolvable. An illness called schizophrenia that could not be cured. One where the actual problem was irrelevant and could not be discussed.

So I think they killed her, but no-one sees it like that. They see it as a very mentally ill girl killing herself in spite of their best efforts. That’s what happens when society is prejudiced, it provides a watertight abili to a murder.