I have so much to tell you about the by road I ended up down. I have no idea why it is in some way illegal for a person to have a mental illness and a physical illness or disability at the same time, but I can assure you that it is not only me who experiences this. The medical profession is still prone to only treat one thing at a time, so that, for instance, currently, a friend’s parent with Alzheimer’s was given sandwiches to eat while in intensive care for a physical event despite his care home’s policy of only giving him liquids because he could literally choke to death on a crumb. It really is not just me.
Anyway, not only are these things dealt with separately but also if you have physical symptoms and you don’t get better you are sent down the psych route. Or you end up there.
After my initial six weeks in bed, during which my back did improve and I eventually went days without headaches, I did attempt to go back to work. I didn’t feel as though I could work, but it was the end of my sick leave and I had nothing specific to point to except a general feeling of not really understanding the out of doors and how to navigate space, people, and, probably more worryingly, my own body and mind. However, I was game. This was, after all, my profession and I’d been at it twelve years, so there was no reason to suppose I wouldn’t be up to the job. So on the first day of the spring term I put my clothes on in a timely manner and appeared at work and went into the classroom. I don’t really remember much of what happened next, except that somewhere very far inside of me wasn’t engaging with the willing looking faces outside of me, and I realised that even the most basic thing, being responsible for the health and safety of this room full of people was way beyond me, let alone teaching them anything. I don’t think I actually had tunnel vision but imagine that more as a metaphor, because I could see very little outside of myself and the boundaries of my own body were not clear and the other people were incomprehensible to me. I may have said something like “Oh dear, I don’t think I can do this.” I know I laughed, and then the next thing I remember in a snap shot kind of a way was being in the office and saying I couldn’t work, and then I must have left the building and somehow got home.
I will have then gone to the GP at some point and after that I was on a rolling sick leave that lasted until it ran out. At Easter I went to a Staff Development (self important capitals) outing at the ICA, which my line manager referred to as a ‘jolly’ and which was anything but. I survived it, though, and after that attempted to come back to work. They have a scheme which is probably great for a lot of people which called something like ‘graded re-entry’ as if you were a sort of slow plane landing, and I started going in for what was supposed to be an hour or two a week but which often turned into longer and I found it hard, even co-teaching and not having my own class.
I did, however, have a cunning plan. My cunning plan was to do a job that had very little responsibility over the summer so that I might be ready for work come the autumn term. In another strand of my life I have worked back stage in various roles, so with an introduction from a friend working elsewhere in the West End I got a gig doing follow spot for a musical at the Shaftesbury Theatre. This was, in fact, very manageable. I was never late, managed my cues mostly pretty well, and I am not sure I phoned in sick either. This was going well. My GP had given me some diazepam to manage the back pain, and I’d split a pill before going to work so that I could wriggle in to the box where my light was situated. It was literally NO BIG DEAL and the only major mistake I made was one time I knew my spot was going to be on an actor for a long time so I turned round to pick up my book, and nudged the light and it’s beam escaped, spilling out of the proscenium arch, and up the stucco, landing near a box. This was not good, but I did not get fired.
In September two things happened. My doctor was on holiday so I saw a locum. I had no experience of being treated as a drug seeker, and when I told her I was just there to re-fill my diazepam prescription she responded in a high handed manner which has happened often enough to me now and to other people with complex ailments of my acquaintance that I don’t expect it as such but when it happens I am no longer surprised. Reader, I was surprised.
Anyway she told me I was an addict (I think I was on something like eight 2mg tablets at a time, they weren’t on repeat, but I’d go back every couple of weeks for more, so draw your own conclusions) and she gave me a prescription for Prozac and told me she wanted me to be on it for ‘a good long time’. I cried because I could see the small control I’d gained over my life slipping away. I am guessing she saw it as proof positive that she was right.
As it happens, the Prozac produced a kind of mania in me. I started to trip out. I felt kind of drunk all of the time, even though I’d actually stopped drinking around two years previously and stopped smoking weed a year after that, so I was clean apart from dispensed pharmaceuticals for approximately a year and a half by this time. I arrived at the start of term in a state so bad that even the ‘skiver catcher’ or whatever the official term for the nurse who keeps tabs on everyone in an organization who is off sick is called, when she saw me, said I was unfit for work. I was told to leave the building. I left. What else was there to do? This, then, was the true finish of my career. I lasted a few more weeks at the Shaftesbury, but I became really easily overwhelmed, particularly by the drunks on the bus home from work. I was entitled to a show a week off, and I was considering taking the Friday or Saturday to avoid at least one of the worst of the drunks’ rush hours, and I took a week off, and discussed this plan with my boss, who was amenable. That night when I went home I had to pass someone to get off the bus who was drunk and angry. I said ‘excuse me’ to him and he turned round with his face covered in blood and started shouting at me, which I really couldn’t handle. When I told my boss that I couldn’t actually come back to work he said he wasn’t surprised.
I went back to my doctor and told him what had happened. I also said I wouldn’t be taking any more psychopharmaecuticals unless they were prescribed by a psychiatrist and asked for a referral. Little did I know, at this point, what jerks psychiatrists could be.