The pathway to sanity has been long and arduous. Here I was thinking I was normal. Tension and anxiety were simply a part of everyday life. Not so, it seems. There are expectations set by those around us we are obliged to note, admire, aspire towards, achieve and bequeath to those that we also surround. In its simplest form, these aspirations include good health, social contact and mental stability. As Kishan puts it: Physiology, Psychology, Sociology; the guides to good health. Those who advocate this persona usually have a strong jaw, lots of hair, have a connection with their god and drive a very expensive car. Oh, yes. They are more than likely from California, USA. Personally, I prefer the Moscow mafia.
How often have you greeted someone with “how are you?” Or simply put: ‘are you OK?’ A response in regard to the physical and physiological well being is expected, even if it will only be of consideration if the answer is: “I’ve been poorly” or some such refinement. Even the standard response of “I’m OK “ gets a peculiar look of disbelief and a questioning: “Really? You look like shit”.
No one is really OK.
And you haven’t even mentioned your mental state, which is probably considering murder at this point. That’s a no-go area in any conversation. Loonies, psychos, anyone suffering from any sort of -pathy, druggos, and the rest of the mental cases are not the sort of person others feel comfortable talking to.
This will lead to a warranted conversation relating to recent illnesses, operations, medication, healing and lingering. Some exchange and debate will follow, and often includes the comparative intensity of pain, possible cures, alternative medication and the name of a better doctor.
“I think you should see a psychiatrist, ” he added as he looked at his watch, fiddled with his pen and gave me that look he might give his teenage daughter when she asks for some cash or a sleepover with her boyfriend.
Finding a shrink in Darwin is akin to finding an extra finger on my left hand. Nevertheless, I did find one within walking distance of home. How convenient, I thought. Perhaps she does house calls.
I called the number.
“How much? That much? What about for an old pensioner? Fuck, lady. That’s more than I’d pay for a weekend away with the woman of choice. I’ll dwell on it,” and I hung up, as hard as one can on a mobile phone. I mumbled to myself for a few minutes, rang back, apologised for my manner and booked an hour somewhere into next month. Chances are I’ll have topped myself before then and will avoid the pain of the psychiatrist's bill, all $1500 of it.
She better be good or I’ll bleed all over her carpet or throw myself in front of her white Mercedes.
By the time the appointment came around, I was feeling ok. Should I cancel? Under advisement from Christine and Kishan (he’s Buddhist, Sinhalese, Type A, doctor/mate/confidant I pay to talk to) I appeared in the waiting room of doctor Caroline, carrying as intense a look as I could muster. Not much point turning up full of good spirit and positivity. She’d have nothing to do for all that cash I was parting with.
We passed the first 40 minutes establishing who I was and what I had done. I did think it might be worth spending more time since interest in myself exceeds that of anyone else. I was aware of the meter ticking. I talked quickly, refrained from elaborating, kept the jokes and sarcasm to a minimum, and declined from telling her how to do her job. She wrote frantically, only stopping to attain continuity with the story of my life. Try packing your entire existence into 40 minutes. I was beginning to realise that 71 years had passed without more than a ripple.
I was also beginning to realise where all this was heading. I could predict her next question. I knew answers well in advance of the question. I began to feel like the inquisitor of my own existence. How bored she must be, listening to this. No drama to speak of, no pitfalls, no abuse, no trauma. Just me and whatever I decided to tell her, became ‘me’. I could be whomever I want and she wouldn’t have known one way or the other, which is probably what I wanted. I was losing the plot and she was gaining one, albeit a false and misleading one.
But who are we beyond what we tell others we are? We have many personas. Each is chosen carefully for the audience. I am the child for my great-granddaughter, the understanding grandfather to my grandchildren, the philosopher to my blog readers, the antagonist to the ignorant, the carer to Christine, the dog hater to the neighbourhood, the man who talks to strangers. Yet I am none of these. I become what I need to be in the presence of others so I might survive. I live a lie.
I tell her this; the doctor with the white Mercedes. She looks me squarely in both eyes, smiles honestly and says the magic words: “We all do that.”
All of a sudden the cost of consultation seems worth it.
“Then who am I,” I ask.
“You are the person who does all these things.”
How simple. How profound. How natural. It fits. It always has. What I do, what we all do is what we are. There is nothing to search for. There’s no guiding light or script or road. We are on it already. What we chose to do is what we are. If we seek the truth and not see what we do as the truth then we miss the whole point of existence. Only humans trouble themselves so much over such things. The ant crossing my computer like a daredevil on a tight rope is not bothered by the thought of falling or the idea of being talked about. It is what it is: an ant. We are only marginally removed from the nature of the ant in as much as we have a few more chemicals which determine our physiology.
“Our time is up,” the doctor with the white Mercedes informs me. How close to the truth she is. I chose not to share any of these thoughts with her, of course. She’s the psychiatrist after all and would only deem me suitable for incarceration or stronger medication. Or charge me more.
“So what do you think, doc? Any hope for me?”
“I’m advising your doctor to increase your Efelaxine to 225mg/day and you could look at a course of therapy with a psychologist.”
“Do psychologists charge as much as you?”
There is no reaction.
“Did you consider the alternate option of having me incarcerated?”
Still no reaction.
“Is there anything you can tell me I don’t know already?”
There’s that sound again. She’s looking for a way of getting me back so she can have her way with me.
“At the moment, I’m inclined to conclude you have Bipolar tendencies that might get worse unless treated.
“Is that like a magnet or a water molecule?”
She looks at me with a puzzled grin.
“I know what it is. I’m the one with the weird brain, remember”.
Since I wasn’t getting a laugh from this audience I decided to take my leave after emptying my credit overdraft into her purse. My first thought on reaching sunlight was to enrol in a post-grad degree in psychiatry and psychology. This is not a good sign. One of the characteristics of those suffering from bipolar disorder is to believe they can do everything themselves and to become obsessed with knowing all things.
Here we go again.
I am somewhat relieved from my experience with the psychiatrist who drives a white Mercedes. Firstly, I have less money in the bank. What a relief, I think to myself. No extravagance for me this week. In addition, I’m convinced that normality is a figment of the imagination of many. Like bad behaviour, I just need a slap on the ear and get over it. This seems reasonable and conclusive but I find that genes, chemicals and a sagging posture fight against every move I make; or don’t make. Knowing what is good for me isn’t a solution. It’s like having a bus ticket to Geelong and not wanting to go there. Who would?
I’m not sure I want to be cured. Or normal. Or sane. Or human. Or that which others want or expect of me.