Before I turned 23, I had been to see a doctor only a handful of times – and they were mostly to do with eczema. I spent a lot of time in doctor’s surgeries and hospitals but only because my grandparents weren’t well and I had to chaperone them. I never went for myself. I didn’t really get ill, and my family were very much of a ‘just walk it off’ mindset unless you were dying of something (which of course you’re not, you’re just milking it now, you’re fine, stop worrying). Going to the doctor for mental health problems wasn’t even an option. In fact, I don’t think I even realised until I was in my twenties that the doctor is the place you have to go for that kind of thing. I just thought people hired therapists when they needed help. I think I watched too much US television as a child.
Five days after my grandad died, I turned 23. I moved to Norfolk a few weeks later and tried very hard to keep it together. I managed to cope for maybe four or five months before I started to break. I don’t remember it happening. I have vague recollections of awful behaviour on my part; I was so fucking angry at the world. Who cares what happens to me? I’ve got nobody left. I began to self-destruct and try to take out as many people as I possibly could. And also trash their stuff.
I’m not ready to talk about that yet. It would be very easy for me to say ‘oh, I was crazy, it wasn’t my fault’ but no – I might not have been in the right frame of mind to make anything but the most questionable of decisions but on some level I knew what I was doing. I just couldn’t control it. I had so much pain and rage inside me that it was just leaking out all over the place, splashing people as though I had just puked on their shoes.
I have never puked on anyone’s shoes. One of my ex-boyfriends did – 18yr old me had just fallen off a bed and somehow cushioned my fall by landing knee-first on to a glass lamp. While other people at the party were trying to stop me screaming and tie a tea-towel around my leg, my boyfriend puked on their feet. Terrible scenes. Never, ever mix lots of weed with SangThip whisky. In fact, just never drink that stuff. It’s bad shit.
Let’s get back to 2007. I went to see Dr. Grey* for the first time, and I can’t actually remember what I said. I can’t remember if I told him about my grandad or just whatever my symptoms were at the time, but he gave me some antidepressants (citalopram) and told me to come back if they didn’t work. I took them and nothing much happened. I upped my dose after a few days and still nothing. I went back and got some fluoxetine instead.
I used to mess with my doses a lot. If I didn’t think something was working very well or if I didn’t think I was on the correct dose, then I would take more. If I thought something wasn’t working at all or if it was going to make me fat or something then I just stopped taking it. Nine times out of ten, I’d be fine. I’d go to the doctor, tell them what I’d done and make them change my prescription. On the rare occasion when I fucked up, I just went back to what they told me to take and never mentioned it to them. I just want to clarify all of this just in case you think I had an unfortunate run of terrible doctors when in fact I’m actually just a terrible patient.
While I was there collecting the fluoxetine, Dr. Grey gave me a pamphlet for a counselling service. I glanced at the front and noticed it was a Catholic-run service. ‘I’m not a Catholic,’ I said. He frowned at me. ‘Well, I am,’ he said. I frowned back. What did that have to do with anything?
I felt really bad afterwards. I didn’t mean to offend him. I was confused because I wasn’t sure if you had to be Catholic to go to one of the sessions – as I said, I had no fucking clue about counselling or therapy or anything like that. I wasn’t throwing it back in his face. I was just being a bit dim. I never went to the counselling service, but I stopped seeing that doctor. I saw him only once more when I went in for a review or something and while I was there he offered to do my contraceptive injection. Normally when the nurse does it, she’ll get you to bend over a the back of a chair a little bit and get the top of one arse cheek out. She’ll say ‘sharp scratch’, but just a fraction of a second too late so by the time you’re ready to brace yourself, she’s already stabbed you and you’ve already jumped and tensed up. She’ll tell you to relax, it’s all done. Dr. Grey, on the other hand, made me lie on the examination table with both bum cheeks out. He put his glasses on, put the exam light on, pulled the instructions out of the box and then started to mutter to himself as he read them. I watched him do the injection; some of the medication dribbled out as he pushed the plunger down. I crossed my fingers and pulled my pants back up.
When he retired I left a message in his goodbye book. I don’t remember what I wrote, but I still felt as though I needed to make amends for offending his beliefs so I think I said something vaguely religious. I hope I did, anyway. If it was during one of my manic phases then I probably wrote something even more offensive. A bad pun, something like that.
I saw another doctor briefly, Dr. Long. I don’t remember seeing him for anything to do with my mental health though. I remember asking him for a BCG injection, because I had dropped out of school before I was due to receive mine. Even though my job at the animal sanctuary was ‘just’ meant to be running the office, I’d already had to jump into a ditch to save a concussed pigeon (it bit me), rugby tackle a really angry goose (it bit me), fight a feral cat who thought my office belonged to her (she bit me repeatedly and scratched me between the eyes) and chase a chicken across a dual-carriageway (it got hit by a lorry before it had the chance to bite me). I was worried that one day I was going to be cornered by a badger and catch TB when it inevitably bit me so I thought I’d better get inoculated. Dr. Long asked if we had badgers at the sanctuary.
‘Well, no,’ I said. ‘But if someone rings up and says they’ve found an injured badger then my boss will be like: [puts on excited squeaky voice] ‘oh my god, I love badgers, let’s go!’ and I’ll be wrestling it before I’ve even had a chance to put some kind of gauntlets on.’
‘Oh,’ he said. ‘Well, we only really offer it to people who are at high risk, and that doesn’t quite qualify. It’s not like you’re
[He paused, and turned the volume of his voice down to barely above a whisper]
I frowned at him.
I didn’t want to see him again. Unfortunately, I had to see him twice more because my new doctor kept neglecting me by going on holiday and seeing other patients. Once was for some Tamiflu because I thought I had swine flu (my new doctor rang me in a panic, telling me not to take it because he knew someone who took it and now they were dead and he was a lovely bloke and Tamiflu is awful, just throw it in the bin) and once because I fell down one stair when I was drunk one night in stupid high heels and broke a bone in my foot. My boss gave me some arnica to put on it (it had a picture of a horse on the top of the tin which was a bit off-putting but my boss assured me it was fine) and the next day my entire foot was purple. I can’t even remember what he said. I think he told me to go to hospital but I didn’t want to so I just went home and put some peas on it.
I think there may have been one or two other doctors at this surgery but I can’t remember seeing them. I’m sure I did, I just don’t remember. Shortly after Dr. Grey had retired, a new doctor took his place – Dr. Biscuit. Dr. Biscuit became my new doctor. I liked him, because I could ask him for drugs and he would give them to me.
One thing I should mention about this particular surgery is that it was on the edge of a very small village that branched out to several peculiar little hamlets and, in England at least, if a surgery has patients who live more than a mile away from a pharmacy then the surgery itself has to have a pharmacy on site. I imagine it’s pretty awkward being a pharmacist in a doctor’s surgery – perhaps they’d be less likely to question what the doctor had prescribed if they had to work with (under?) said doctor every day. Either way, no one questioned the combinations of drugs I took, nor the frequency in which I requested more. Nor the fact that I was ringing at least once a week for more benzos, which Dr. Biscuit willingly prescribed.
I’m getting ahead of myself.
The fluoxetine had not worked. I’d fucked around with the doses, but nothing. I’d even tried opening a capsule and snorting the contents, which was a fucking terrible idea – 0/10, would not recommend. The fact that I had done something so incredibly stupid indicates, in hindsight, that the fluoxetine was making me manic. So maybe it’s for the best I stopped taking it. Unfortunately, I started taking venlafaxine instead. I will come back to that. I was also having trouble sleeping, so he gave me a couple of different types of sleeping pill. Neither of them worked, so I gave up sleeping instead. I asked him for something that would help me lose weight; I think he gave me sibutramine, which was promptly taken off the market because people kept dying. I’d go in, say I’d heard of a drug, he’d either google it or look it up in the big book of drugs and then agree to let me try it.
I’ve mentioned elsewhere that I was turned down every time I was referred to see a proper mental health professional – always for bullshit reasons. I was currently self-harming (a good indication that I need some fucking help), I’d seen the ‘crisis team’ at the hospital when I overdosed (grumpy Saturday morning doctor who essentially just told me to go home and stop being a dick) and I was suitably anxious but not quite depressed enough, so they kept sending the referral back. Dr. Biscuit didn’t really know what to do. One day he came out to find me, wild-eyed, hyperventilating and rocking back and forth on a chair in the waiting room. At a later appointment he told me I’d scared him a bit that day. I don’t even really remember it. All I remember is someone – another patient – asking me if I was okay, did I want them to get someone? I shook my head, still staring straight-ahead, still rocking.
He diagnosed me with generalised anxiety disorder and gave me pregabalin, beta-blockers, venlafaxine and my beloved lorazepam. I got addicted to the lorazepam immediately. It worked so well. It really took the edge off the venlafaxine that I really should not have been taking in the first place and the ephedrine that nobody else know I was taking. I didn’t take the beta-blockers. The pregabalin didn’t seem to do much.
I wonder what would have happened had I not gone to see a doctor in the first place. Or if I’d lied on the test and ticked a couple of extra ‘depression’ boxes. Or if Dr. Biscuit had agreed to section me when I begged him to.
These aren’t particularly useful wonderings.
*all names have been changed