“Alice began to remember that she was a Pawn, and that it would soon be time for her to move.” Lewis Carroll Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There
Last week, I was hypomanic. I knew it, I felt it building, and by Thursday I was high enough that I went out to buy a tube of toothpaste and a USB stick, and came back with a £100 coat, 12 pairs of winter tights, and a dress. The trip took a long time due to all the lovely chats I had with people serving me, another indication I was overly social and I’d already noted disturbed sleep. At that stage I was somewhat amused at what a textbook case I was, to the extent that I made a frivolous “Are you hypomanic?” chart and posted it on Twitter. Lots of people seemed to relate to it, and someone asked me if they could use it to show medical students. The flurry of activity around it made me a bit higher, but it was all rather jolly.
The first hint of something more sinister came during that evening’s choir practice. We rehearse in a church that is extremely cold, so most members sing in their coats. I thought I’d wear my lovely new purchase. Right in the middle of rehearsing Beethoven’s 9th I was struck by the thought that I had bought a coat in a dangerous colour. How could I not have noticed this? How could I have been so stupid? Fabrics being dangerous because of their colour/pattern goes back to some time ago when I ended having to get rid of some garments to be safe. Once I’d had the thought about the coat I knew it was true, and now I’d taken the tags off there was no way I was going to be able to take it back and get rid of it. My stomach churned and I felt sick. I thought I might have a panic attack, right there in the middle of the choir stalls, but I just managed to retain control.
What my self-management plan says to do in this situation is pull right back. Do nothing, as far as possible, unless it’s relaxing. Do some yoga. Have aromatherapy baths. Pay for a massage if affordable. Listening to “spa” music. Downtime is essential. Only for the first time since drafting the plan, there was no scope for downtime. On Friday I had a presentation to do, an absolutely essential pitch for substantial work that I really need. The presentation went really well, and I came out buzzing which of course fed the hypo. Then the weekend was busy too. My dad (Mr PartialInsight) had a small stroke recently and lost a significant portion of his vision, so my partner and I have been working to try and make his house safer and more orderly. It’s not a chore; I’ve enjoyed spending a lot of extra time with my dad, and it’s satisfying to see things getting in shape. But between shopping for things for his house, a nice meal out on Saturday night, sleeping at a hotel and the actual work there was no downtime – in fact everything was quite overstimulating and I knew my sleep was suffering.
On the way back to London on Sunday night I opened the Twitter app on my phone and ran my eye across my timeline. One tweet immediately caught my eye, because it was supposedly posted by me, just a few seconds ago – only it was like nothing I’d ever tweeted. It was short and rather bizarre and it went like this:
The moment I saw it I was terrified. It was the same kind of instant, visceral horror I’ve felt in the past when feeling convinced that malevolent Dark Forces were out to get me, using the internet. I went to my profile immediately and was very relieved to be able to delete the tweet, as I’d half expected not to be able to, yet the minute it vanished from my profile, I began to doubt what I had seen. Thankfully my good friend @EhOhSaysYes had just glimpsed it before it went and assured me that yes, a tweet about sausages had been there.
My mind immediately began working overtime. Supposing someone had hacked my account, wouldn’t they do so to try and sell something or get my followers to click on a link? Only there was no sales pitch, and no link. The bizarre nature of the tweet’s content brought out all the old feelings of knowing THEY were messing with my mind via what should be my safe support network. Then a second realisation hit me: at dinner the previous evening my partner, my dad and I had had a conversation about sausages (English sausage versus bratwurst and chorizo and those north African ones we couldn’t remember the name of) but we were talking about sausages – the 1/2/3 of us. By the time we got in, I was sobbing. My distress was double-edged; not only was I terrified because I knew that THEY had been watching us and wanted me to know it, but I was reluctant to explain because another part of me knew it was ridiculous. Yet to me it seemed the only possible explanation for something so bizarre to have appeared on my timeline under my name.
On Monday morning I woke to find myself in the flat alone; as usual, everyone else had left for school or work some time ago. I felt strangely devoid of the ability to make decisions, the first of which was whether to get up or not. I wasn’t sure if it was safe. I went into the living room and read through the night’s tweets and emails, but as I made my way down to the kitchen in search of breakfast, I tensed: there was sound coming from the kitchen, and light. All at once I felt like a woman (because it’s always a girl or a woman) in a horror film who tiptoes through her own home because she knows that something is there, something that wants to get her. It was almost as if I saw myself from above, like a film, as well as being in my own body. I crept to the door and found that somebody (probably teen son) had left both sets of lights on and left the radio playing Radio 4. I felt no sense of relief. Did he really leave them on? If so, then why today of all days – THEY had to be involved. Or did they come back on again, under the control of THEM? I pointed a finger at the on/off switch on the radio and had to force myself to touch it in case it– who knew what it would do? But it was dangerous. I pressed it very quickly and jumped back.
Next I had to decide what to do with the rest of my day. I was scheduled to go to central London to a Mind/Rethink event but I was very frightened that whatever I did would be the wrong decision. If I stayed at home, would I be easier for THEM to get at? If I went to the event, could I stand the tube journey and what would happen on my journey? In the end I let Mind know I was too ill to attend.
From there, my day began to feel as if I were a pawn on a game board, trying to make my way to the finish. Only THEY – from somewhere outside or above me – were trying to stop me by placing obstacles in my path, obstacles to prevent me from getting help and support. It was a cosmic joke to them, changing things, manipulating me, watching me shake, watching me cry. I’d changed my Twitter password after THEY got into my account but I still had repeated problems logging in. I went onto Facebook and had a notification of a ”new” message from my daughter that turned out to be from months ago. THEY were tricking me into thinking my daughter needed me; THEY have previous form for this.
By early afternoon I was in a real state and decided I would ring the GP for an emergency appointment, something I have never done before. I knew there was a time you were supposed to call by, so I went to the practice website to check when that was. Only their website was down, something I had never known to occur in eight years at the practice. There could only be one explanation: THEY were messing with me and did not want me to get help. So I phoned anyway, and was told by an impatient receptionist I should’ve phoned earlier. I explained, crying, that I was heading towards a mental health crisis and really needed to speak to a doctor and she said she would ask the duty doctor, Dr C, to call me before 17.00. I kept checking the phone for missed calls and felt as if my heart had stopped when a couple of hours later I picked up my phone to see it had “no service.” I went into the front room, the best spot for picking up a signal but my phone was still showing “no service” something I have never known to happen. What if the doctor had called and I’d missed him? “Oh, no,” I whispered, “Oh, no, no,” and found myself crying and rocking on the sofa. I knew anyone else would say these were a series of coincidences, but to me the only logical explanation was that whatever I did, THEY would be one step ahead of me because they could see the whole board, and I couldn’t. I was beginning to feel defeated. It didn’t matter that I was able to resolve the signal problem via the time-honoured method of “turning it off and turning it back on again.” THEY wanted me to know that they would fuck with me at every turn, that THEY were laughing at me wherever they watched me from.
Just when I was giving up hope Dr C phoned at 16.55. I choked out a few words about THEM and how I knew they were not real, yet believed they were. Dr C was reluctant to suggest any increase to my meds, not being a specialist, but made me an appointment to see a Dr M at 10.00 the following morning to talk about onward referral. He felt it would be a good idea if I made contact with the CMHT before I attended the surgery and let them know what was happening. In the meantime, my partner had come home and was really worried about me. It’s not best practice, but in the absence of any concrete help he phoned a psychiatrist friend for help and she made some sensible and practical suggestions for using PRN meds to cope.
When I was discharged from psychiatric care back in May my Consultant told me that I could contact him at any time if I needed specialist help again. I decided to take him at his word and email him at around 20:00 (since email, unlike Google and social media seemed surprisingly safe) on the off-chance he might see it in the morning before I went to the surgery. He was better than that; he emailed back more or less straight away saying how sorry he was that I was unwell, recommending upping my antipsychotic (as my partner’s friend had done), and encouraging me to ask for an urgent referral back to him. Once that had happened, he would make space in my diary to see me.
I’d never met Dr M before, but she seemed very nice. I was ashamed of the content of my beliefs and explained how even though I knew they weren’t true, I believed they were. She was very understanding and said that my experience sounded scary. She took some bloods for my overdue lithium serum test and checked whether I was taking my meds. She asked if I had any thoughts of harming myself, but – unusually for me – the answer was no, in fact I was all about survival in the face of these Dark Forces. The only thing I was a little shocked by was when she asked whether I had thoughts of harming anyone else. I have never been asked this in 20 years of psychiatric assessments, but I guess you are placed in a different mental category when you are clearly paranoid. She also praised me for my “tremendous insight” but I was unsure how much of a gift it was to be frightened and completely aware that I was being a fool.
I don’t blame THEM for what happened next – I blame an inability to think outside the box. I did tell Dr M that I’m not treated by the local mental health Trust, and that this is because my partner works there. I did tell her the name of my Consultant, and point to the letter on her computer from my Trust. Yet when the call from the emergency duty team came, it was from my local area. I had to explain myself all over again and ask that the referral be passed onwards to the right Trust.
Yesterday, THEY were not able to get at me so much – the diazepam and the extra quetipaine helped somewhat, as well as getting me some more sleep. I was still wary of Facebook. I was still very anxious about touching the on/off button on the radio (listening to the radio over lunch is a big part of my daily routine). I still had problems logging into Twitter and switching accounts, but I could just about do it. THEIR power was diminishing. If I took some diazepam and sat in bed (the safest feeling place) I was almost OK, but with no call back from services I was beginning to feel a bit abandoned. What would have happened to me if two psychiatrists hadn’t supported me through somewhat unorthodox routes?
When after 24 hours the right CMHT called and offered me an appointment with my own Consultant – for tomorrow, no less! – the relief was such that I cried and cried. I need support again, I need monitoring, and I need to address the deficiencies in my plan for when I have obligations that mean I cannot pull back and get some quiet time. And above all I need more weapons to help me fight back at THEM.