I stood in the foyer. A woman sat at a desk behind me, cooped in by the glass partition that separated us. Her silver glasses hung on a cord around her neck, perched now on her sizable chest and she typed away at the computer with chipped red nails.
‘Can you stop doing that,’ I heard her snap behind me. I didn’t turn round. I’d been stepping from one flip flop clad foot to the other for five whole minutes and the automatic doors had joined in with my footsy sequence, opening and closing, opening and closing, letting cold air spill into the hot room.
When I left the house earlier, it had been warm, a soft caress of blue sky, the odd white, fluffy marshmallow cloud. Now the sky had turned to granite and huge drops of rain thrashed at the concrete. How would I get home, dressed in slippery paisley flip-flops. At least I would I have something to concentrate on I thought, trying to force the words out of my head. No matter how hard I tried, they kept reappearing, the dreaded two words, unfurling themselves like old scrolls foretelling bad news.
Counting to ten, I readied myself. Often, at home, I would hear the rain and if it was warm, leave the house, traipse the crummy streets for miles with my headphones in, and the rain pummelling my face until it hurt. Music and the rain were a golden combination, songs transporting you some place else and the rain against damp flesh making you feel alive. It wasn’t warm though and flip-flops in the rain were a lethal combination.
I stuck my headphones in, and scanned my music box for something appropriate to listen to. I decided on Crowded House, Don’t Dream It’s Over as I need something cliche to drag my spirits from the gutter. Then I walked through those dithering doors and out into the cold.
A man wearing a blue anorak and old grey trousers with a hole in the leg walked towards me, gesticulating wildly. He let out deep grunts and mumbled incoherently to himself, a smile playing on his thin lips. I stared at him and then dropped my gaze. I shouldn’t have minded, I don’t think he knew I was there. I wondered whether the voices always pleased him or whether today’s forecast was just a little more kinder.
My clothes stuck to me in just a few minutes, jeans now glued to my legs, t-shirt pointless, flip flops slipping back and forth on my bare feet.
The place I’d just left had been a part of my life for two years now. I remembered the first time I had to attend an appointment. No automatic doors back then, just a single door that led into a small grim waiting room, an old-fashioned partition to the right. Yellowy brown walls that heaved with depression, six chairs, and a large corkboard stuffed with leaflets.
I stopped and waited for the cars to pass, puddles thrown at me as if I need a bit more hosing. Anxious that I might slip and end up being tragically run over, I checked the road repeatedly, looking this way and that. Then I stepped out. Taking little, tentative steps that transported me eventually, safely, into the middle of the road next to the white and yellow bollards. Then I repeated the same thing on the other side. The joke of why did the chicken cross the road came into my head and I decided because he must have been insane.
My appointment, they mixed it up that very first day. My appointment said 2 pm, and their diary said 3 pm so I had to sit and wait, spend time with the aged leaflets. Fortunately, no one else was waiting, so I had my pick of the six hard chairs and access to the gurgling water cooler. Must have drank my body weight in liquid, read the entire corkboard eight times and then tried to see out through the thin strip of murky glass at the top of the wall, but you couldn’t see much.
I’m at the top of the hill now, just need to cross the main road and walk through the narrow gully. It’s taken me twenty minutes to do a ten minute walk. Taking tiny steps, stopping regularly to get my breath. I can breathe, normally, but I am scared of falling over and scared of falling into whatever confusion and tension is soaking through the soft spaghetti folds of my brain. I wait for the cars, nothing, decide to go; hope that if a car does come along, it will stop and wait for my wet slippery feet to grapple with the uneven, grey pavement.
That first appointment didn’t go well, sitting in what looked an art room: long cream tables, brown chairs stacked against the wall, shelves with different types of paper and plastic bottles of paint, drawers and boxes full of pencils, chalks, crayons, charcoal – with a mousey brown haired woman who wanted me to talk. This talking business is not for everyone and I am one of those people. Prefer to keep my myself to myself; once you share thoughts, someone else who has no business inside your head tries to reconfigure them. I’ve never understood how professionals take an almost binary perspective to thoughts, this one’s right, that one is wrong, let’s prune it and stick it on the scrap heap. Do you think there is an overloaded skip somewhere, full of helpless lost thoughts talking to one another, doing what Bowie did and fitting different sentences together to see what magic they can create?
I’m across the road and I can’t do it anymore. The thought of my bare feet on the filthy pavement makes me squirm, but I am nearly home and rather than carrying on, I pull off my now soaked flip-flops. The ground is cold and sopping wet, it feels rough and its blunt corners scratch at the soles of my feet. I have to watch out for dirty puddles, and there is rubbish everywhere. Empty crisps packets and empty cans, discarded sweet papers and the odd plastic bag whipping through the air. I spot a discarded condom that has probably known better times, a black nylon sock with shimmering silver threads lying on the grass, and there are so many cigarettes butts littering the angry gutters.
I walk across the muddy path, worn into the grass by the constant pressure of footsteps; still full of jagged stones, some big, some small and walk over on to the road that winds itself around the back of the garages. It’s stopped raining and I think about all of the people I have seen over the years in that small squat building with the bars on its windows and whiff of desperation. The middle-class professionals that arrive in shiny cars and expensive clothes to dish out diagnoses to those that fall through the doors. Maybe that’s what we all have – middle-class illnesses – labels attached to us that the superior feel glad to hand out to those they deem beneath them.
I try to push the thought from my mind and walk past some boys playing football in the rain. They look as wet as I do, but they seem to be enjoying themselves. I enjoyed myself once, or at least I think I did, before life got too complicated and my own mind decided that it wasn’t built for this life. After all, this is the problem surely, not so much a mental health crisis, as a mass existential one, people wondering what they signed up for as they fall down exhausted with their creased skin onto their creased sofas every night. The only reason we seem to be alive now is to play lifetime long games of monopoly except we aren’t buying Park lane, we don’t own any hotels and our get out of jail free card doesn’t work. You can’t break out of a jail, if that jail is your current reality and you can find no Matrix like door to jump ship.
The reason diagnosis is now a sexy thing is twofold. Big business now has a financial stake in human suffering, so getting you drugged up on a lifetime prescription of Seroqual, and a side order of Prozac is their preferred goal. Secondly, people are suffering. Humans beings forced to reside in a construct so divorced from their natural reality that we are all choking to death on depression and anxiety and some are losing their minds altogether, falling into psychotic states wondering when everything went so drastically wrong.
The path that will take me to my house is upon me. There is a gang of teenagers loitering on the corner, and a woman rushes past with a toddler screaming in its pushchair. The shop looms into sight, and I can hear shouting. It keeps changing its name, the shop that is, and every time it does, they change the sign too. It’s called Singh’s now. The sign looks new and fresh against the grubby windows and the old wooden glass door that has seen better days. The shopkeeper is outside brandishing a baseball bat; his wife is behind him with her handbag pulled up tight on her shoulder. A group of boys stand giving the shopkeeper the finger and running round and around in circles like a pack of hyenas laughing hysterically. The shopkeeper threatens to bash them, they threaten to bash him, and finally I can hear a siren and the boys make a break for it.
I skirt across the road and rush towards my door, wanting to shut myself inside. The old woman with the perm who lives next door is walking her tiny dog. She smirks when I notice the heap of hot shit her dog has just deposited on the bright green grass. I shake my head feeling sad for nature. I get my key out.
It’s the only safe place in the world, my only safe place in the world. My soft carpet that feels pleasant against my sore, cold feet, my walls lined with books, long lost friends getting ready to offer comfort and support as they wind their words like delicate lullabies around my shoulders. Notepads and pens in the drawer. My old laptop perched on the table. The kettle immediately put on.
I wash my dirty feet in the sink, pull on thick bed socks, and sink into my creased sofa with my creased skin. There is a an old copy of a psychiatry manual on the arm of the sofa. I’d been leafing through it this morning. Now I open it to the page holding the shiny, laminated cardboard bookmark. It has an illustration by Quentin Blake of the terrible Twits. Those scratchy, angular sketches, those pointy corners and deep lines, those loved, complex characters seem in a deep contrast to the now binary, mythology of the medical model.
That’s what they are calling it.
© Henrietta M Ross.
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© Copyright Henrietta M Ross.
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