This piece was written as a submission for “Dwell Time” blogs paper magazine. Their site is concerned with mental health issue. The work was to be about 750 words and as I can blather on indefinitely, given half a chance, it was a very good exercise in sticking to a word count…. ish.
“Hello, how are you today?”
Another Friday, I don’t quite like them, I have to leave my house to attend a counselling session at 11.30am. I panic leaving home on Fridays, well, any day really. I’ve suffered from agoraphobia with panic attacks for 40 years.
Duayne, my nice N.H.S. counsellor has recently diagnosed that my mental health conditions are due to PTSD, predominantly caused by my childhood sexual abuse and repeated trauma. “40 years for a diagnosis”, I could have paid off a mortgage quicker. No two-week rule for mental health diagnoses.
On arrival, I have a questionnaire to complete each week, it’s only to find out if I’m planning a more permanent solution to end my maladies, no one wants to get sued. During this routine, I have a mental flash back. I’m about 5 years old lying in bed at my parents’ house.
Good, my parents had finally gone to sleep. My bedroom faced the old goods yard in Eccles. I stayed awake for hours listening to the whistles, hoots and bangs, the sound of the engines straining to pull away with their full complement of heavily ladened trucks. The engines chugging noise started fast and loud. Then suddenly as the huge iron wheels gained traction on the shiny steel track, a loud snapping noise, followed by a loud bang, as all the trucks couplings strained under tension. Gradually the chug became a deep boom and the wheels squealed as the engine slowly began to move off.
“Hello Martin, how have you been this week?” Duayne asks. “OK” I reply.
Lying or as I now think of it, a verbal economy of remembered truth, has become a normal part of everyday life. It’s not because avoiding telling the truth gratifies me with pleasure, in fact, the complete opposite is true. “How are you, Martin?”, people ask, I want to reply, “I’m tormented by demons from my past, my head is spinning, I can’t think straight, I can’t stop shaking, my heart thinks I am running a marathon, I want to run away and hide, help me stop this, please!!!”. Of course, I don’t say that.
I’ve learned, along with a vast proportion of mental illness sufferers, that publicly, honesty and truth are virtues better kept to ourselves. Neither honesty or truth are expected by the inquirer, and if we persist with these virtues, it would undoubtably equate to a loss of friends.
The fallacy that the virtual perfectly sparkling worlds of Facebook etc are new modern alternate realities, is unfortunately a wrong premise. This alternate presentation of reality has been the domain (sorry, no pun intended) of mental health sufferers’ years before the internet was even a twinkle in D.A.R.P.A.’s eye.
Unfortunately, the perfect life style presented by social media and sense of failure, inadequacy and personal imperfection they create for us mere mortals is experienced by a mental health sufferer every time someone asks, “How are you?”.
My fellow sufferers and I, have by necessity, had to learn to self-regulate negative responses to this question. As with the internet, posts or chats filled with seeming negative, self-indulgent and self-pitying speeches, get very few “likes”, even if true. Socially we have been forced into a world of sanitised whitewashed speech. I used to say, “I’ve been better, I’ve been worse”, but even this non comital reply will make the inquirer’s smile curl down at the edges.
Please don’t misunderstand me, I don’t want pity, sympathy or a well-meaning platitude, but if you ask me the question “How are you Martin?”, at the precise moment when my couplings have taken up as much strain as they can, the metaphoric wheels of my brain are struggling to grip on the tracks of reality and the squeal of anxiety starts to grow lounder and louder in my brain, be thankful that I have spared you from the truth, accept my lie with a grateful heart, because the truth isn’t really the response you wanted when you asked.
Duayne gives me a sideward glance, a knowing smile appears across his tilted head, he raises one eye brow. My head droops… Duayne asks again, “Hello Martin, how have you been this week?” …. “Not good I reply “, a tear falls to the floor. “Why don’t you tell me about it, we can spare ten minutes out of the session”. “Thanks, Duayne”, I reply, “You’re a pal”.
This is dedicated to all N.H.S. staff, who even though they are paid to listen, listen from their hearts and not just their wallets. Please actively support our free health service.