Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Last night something amazing happened

I am beginning to feel that life is finally moving beyond the bomb. There is a certain sense of calm after the storm in the air. Everything built itself up into a crescendo last week, a bubbling storm of emotions. Today I am almost beginning to find some unoccupied space in my mind. There are small rumblings of ‘what was my life before all this’. I hope it means that some archiving has taken place, the frantic processing of my brain over the last months is beginning to succeed, some files have been put away and stored in my memory.

It may just be that the office is quiet today & I have had some space to breathe. Whatever it is I have not felt it for a long long time.

In order for you to comprehend the profundity of the words I heard last night I will need to paint you some context. I have a very dear friend who suffers from paranoid schitzophrenia. He has been sectioned in a secure psychiatric hospital for the last three and a half years. Prior to that he was in and out of hospital for a painful two years.

Well, it has all been painful, for everyone involved. It is a tragic waste of a wonderful life and I always well up when I really let myself thing about what he has been through. He has handled it all with such dignified patience, whilst never giving up and refusing to become institutionalized. I have done my best for him, although it is wearing at times. I call him every morning on my way to work to make sure he gets up, otherwise he would just sleep all day, anything to avoid the boredom and monotony of that place. I speak to him most evenings and tell him about my day, hear about his and try and make him feel that he still has a connection with the outside world. I used to go and visit him every Sunday, we had to sit in a small room together with hard uncomfortable seats. He would bring his little battery run radio in to try and make it feel more homely. Often I would be tired and hungover. I would turn up with Coke and junk food and try and eat my way through my alcohol poisoning.

Then they started letting him out on leave. At first he would have to be accompanied by a ‘nurse’. The two of them would come round to my flat for Sunday lunch. The nurse would sometimes join in but usually try and make himself inconspicuous, which is nigh impossible in a one bedroom flat. Now he is allowed out on his own. He alternates between mine and his mum’s on a Sunday. Sometimes I invite friends to help him find his feet in the social world, other days it is just the two of us. I always cook up a feast and he laughingly gives me marks out of ten for my efforts.

He seems well, he looks well, you would never know. But there has still been a deep barrier which he has refused to overcome. It is not on display for anyone to see but occasionally I catch a painful glimpse. When he is ill he suffers from paranoid delusions. He has always been in denial of his illness, always battled against it. He thinks the world is out to get him, that it is all a plot to get him put away, when he is at his worst he thinks he is a Judge, he tells me how he has spoken at the United Nations in New York, in medical terms they call it ‘an inflated sense of ego’ I never quite know how to react to these extraordinary claims.

The fascinating, but painful, part is that once he becomes well some of the delusions remain as a reality in his mind. Only the other day he was reminiscing about a shirt he used to own. ‘I loved that shirt’ he said, ‘but Dr Jones broke into my flat and stole it’. He has always been convinced that his doctor was hounding him, coming into his home at night, stealing his things, reporting him to the authorities and getting him sectioned. His doctor was useless, I can see why he disliked the man, but he truly wasn’t interested in his clothes! He somehow seems to know when he has gone too far and quietly adds ‘You don’t believe me do you?’. I have never worked out the right response to this. If I say ‘No’ we end up arguing, if I say ‘Yes’, surely I am encouraging him.

Last night he told me his doctor was really pleased with his progress. During his ward round he had told him that he had come on enormously over the last few months. Tentatively I asked him what the doctor thought had changed. He has a tendency to clam up on me when I start probing into his illness and his recovery, but sometimes I manage to coax him into opening up for a second. He said that the doctor was pleased with the work he has been doing with his psychologist. ‘Sometimes’, he said, ‘I have to realise that the things I remember from when I was ill may be slightly distorted, I may not remember them properly’.

I nearly fell off my sofa and tried to answer calmly. TWO hurdles in one hit! He has not only understood how his memory may have been affected, but he has spoken it out loud, to me, he has accepted it.

And now that secure denial from where all his problems stem has begun to wilt…..‘when I was ill’….’when I was ill’…I have to keep saying it over, I can’t believe he said it. How did she open that lock, what has happened to ‘there’s nothing wrong with me’?…’when I was ill’, I am crying with joy as I type, he said it, he knows, he is winning, we all are.