Tag Archives: mental health


In which The Author makes a new friend

The publication of yesterday’s entry was followed in short order by a message telling me that it that was my five hundredth post in this blog. (If you look at the Contents Page, we’re actually a few short of that milestone. That’s because my Manchester trip was split into eight separate posts, but subsumed under a single heading afterwards.)
As I told Denise P., when I started blogging on MySpace, back in 2007, I thought I’d get bored within a couple of weeks, and/or run out of steam before I made it to twenty posts. I wouldn’t have believed that I’d still be at it in the summer of 2015. I’d never have imagined reaching a figure like that.
I thought the occasion called for a small celebration, so I walked over to the Lighthouse when I left the Library. It was only a small celebration, so I bought a can of Coke and sat at one of the low tables. I hadn’t been there more than a couple of minutes when a young(ish) woman came over and asked if she could join me.
There were other tables she could have sat at, had the mood taken her. I thought it was a bit odd. This is Aberdare, a run-down ex-industrial town in the South Wales Valleys. It’s not a city, where one might expect to be approached by ‘ladies of easy virtue’ while minding one’s own business. As I’ve noted previously, however, it’s an excellent place to meet random piss-artists. There’s no guarantee that I’ll recognise all of them afterwards, of course. However, after thirty years of frequenting various boozers (and meeting any number of boozers), I have to concede that I didn’t know her face.
I said, ‘Yeah, crack on!’ and she sat opposite me, nursing half a lager.
She asked me the time (this was just before three o’clock), and when I told her, she said she’d be able to catch the chemist before they closed. By my reckoning, she had at least two and a half hours’ leeway.
But Aberdare’s a medium-sized town. There are all sorts of distractions which can come between the piss-artist and the pharmacist. For one thing, Boots is right opposite the newly-renamed Bush Inn. For another, Sheppards is just along the street from the Glosters. Even better, there’s another branch of Sheppards virtually next door to the Con Club.
She told me she was going to buy oil of cloves for a toothache which had been plaguing her for days. I checked my pockets to see if I’d stashed any Co-codamol which she could take as a stop-gap. No luck. Then she told me it had been so bad a few days ago that she’d drunk a whole bottle of whisky to numb the pain.
I don’t think I’ve ever drunk a whole bottle of anything in my life, apart from soft drinks, an occasional lager, and that old anarcho-punk standby Newcastle Brown, back in the day. Certainly not spirits, which have never done it for me. In fact, I’d be hard pressed to finish a bottle of spirits in a fortnight, never mind a single evening.
I’d already realised that I’d been captured by a fairly loopy specimen before she told me she was embarking on her final weekend session ‘before I go to Whitchurch on Monday’.
Whitchurch. That probably won’t mean anything to people outside South Wales.
Even to people who do know the area, it conjures up a wealthy suburb on the northern edge of Cardiff, sandwiched between the A470 and the river Taff. It’s where entrepreneurs, professional couples and media types live. It’s the sort of place that has a Neighbourhood Watch, coffee mornings, bring-and-buy sales, and Conservative MPs. It’s even got a golf club and a rowing club, for Goddess’ sake! A piss-artist from Aberdare would stand out like a kosher deli in Kandahar.
But Whitchurch also has a hospital. It’s known throughout South Wales as a regional centre for psychiatric treatment. (In fact, ‘Whitchurch’ is a Valleys byword for the funny farm.)
I knew immediately that my drinking companion had the hospital in mind. It’s where people go to dry out. Or, as we call it these days, Rehab.
I’ve known a few people who’ve been to Whitchurch (and similar facilities) over the years. I’ve no idea what the treatment involves. I do know that (in Whitchurch, at least) you’re supposed to stay in hospital for four weeks and then emerge, clean and sober, back into the Real World.
One of my mates did the full month, caught the train home, got off in Aberdare, walked from the station to the Cambrian, and ordered a pint as soon as he was through the door. I thought, ‘Wow, that really worked!’
(He was the guy whose body was found in the Boot Hotel a few years ago. Go figure!)
One girl I know was ‘asked to leave’ Whitchurch halfway through the month as she was so fucking annoying. When she told me that, you could have knocked me down with a feather.
Another mate of mine has had a problem with alcohol for a few years. Like many people I know, it crept up on him gradually, until the day came when he went straight to the pub instead of going to work. The doctors have written him off at least twice; he’s dried out at least twice. He’s (theoretically) in the Last Chance Saloon. Somehow he’s managed to defy the doctors’ predictions. If I call into the Lighthouse in the afternoon, he’s usually propping up the bar. Another success story for the NHS, then.
It’s not all negative, though. Yet another mate of mine was rushed into hospital in June 2001, after years of heavy drinking, suffering from almost total system failure. He knows now that he’s only a session away from an early grave, and hasn’t touched a drop since.
I know a few people who’ve done drugs rehab as well. Some of them are still clean. Others just fall back into their old ways within a short time of hitting the streets again.
Because just going to rehab is all very well, but it’s emphatically not like the Real World. It’s a controlled environment, with a routine, and regular meals, and medical supervision, and therapy, and restricted access to the outside world. You can’t succumb to temptation, because there’s no way you can get your hands on whatever it is you’re addicted to.
Then, all of a sudden, you’re back in the Real World, knocking about with the same friends and going to the same places. The urge to slide back into your old behaviour pattern must be incredibly difficult to resist, especially if you’ve suddenly become the only straight-edger in the village.
When my friend L— was on a psychiatric ward in Merthyr, I went to visit him one day. It wasn’t as terrifying an experience as I’d expected, and after a few visits I got to know some of the nurses. One sunny afternoon I asked if we could go into town (only a couple of minutes’ walk away). The nurse asked one of the doctors if it would be okay, and after a little while we were given the thumbs-up.
We called into the Vulcan, where we drank a couple of cans of Coke, did the crossword together, and played the quiz machine for a while. L— resisted any temptation to have a pint (or slip something into his Coke) because he knew that I was responsible for his well-being while he was off the ward.
That became our regular routine for my visits after that – we’d go to the pub for an hour or so, drink soft drinks, and have a chat in a different environment from the one he was in the rest of the time. One day, L—’s doctor told me that I was doing a good thing, by getting him back into the Real World and supporting him to do everyday things.
One of the nurses actually asked me if I’d thought about going into that line of work. She was impressed by how positively L— had responded following my visits. I told her that we’d been friends for a long time before he was admitted, so I knew his likes and dislikes. (I remember taking a CD of Bix Beiderbecke’s music to him one day, because we’d chatted about our tastes in jazz ages before. He listened to it endlessly, and told me it reminded him of our sessions together, putting the world to rights.)
But it’s one thing to support a mate through the bad times. It’s quite another to try to help a complete stranger, who might not even realise he needs your help in the first place. In Inhibitions and Exhibitions, one of the earlier entries in this blog, I told you about what happened when our friend S— had a nervous breakdown. It was the most frightening and challenging couple of days we’d ever lived through. We all knew him and we were all worried about him. If he was scared of what we, his friends and family, would do, imagine how much more frightening it must be when a bunch of strangers rock up to take you to hospital.
I know I couldn’t do that sort of work. I have the utmost respect for people who do have that vocation, and I’m a great admirer of the mental health care system we have locally. I know the NHS isn’t perfect, but all the doctors and nurses I’ve met are committed and caring individuals.
I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve been interested in these matters for many years. I’ve done a fair bit of reading about psychology and mental health, and my friends know that I’m usually a good listener. I can talk to health professionals from the standpoint of a (reasonably) informed layperson. My friends often come to me to share a problem, because they know I’ve got a decent perspective about things like this. That’s probably why I was able to wangle a hall pass for L— when he was in St Tydfil’s. I wasn’t going to take him out and pour several pints of Guinness down his neck; I was in a position of trust, and I respected him too much to betray that trust and get us both into trouble.
I’ve spent time on the receiving end, too. Unlike some patients who come into the mental health system, I’ve always been fairly lucid. The care team and I have been able to have some interesting conversations about all manner of things. When I was talking to two of them at Prince Charles Hospital last year, one mentioned a ‘drop-in’ centre in Aberdare for people with mental health problems. His colleague just laughed and said something like, ‘I think you’re probably a bit too high functioning for that place. I can imagine you leading a discussion, but not just sitting back and listening while someone else drones on.’
I’ll take that as a backhanded compliment, I think.
I imagine that people like me are in the minority when it comes to their caseload, though. I can’t imagine what they must have to go through when they’re dealing with someone who’s confused, paranoid, delusional, aggressive, or under the influence of one or more mind-altering substances. I’ve seen some of my friends go down that road, and I don’t know how I’d cope if I was expected to negotiate with someone in that state of mind. I don’t know how I’d cope if I was in that state of mind myself, come to that. Maybe that’s why I’ve always kept well away from the drugs scene, and have never given in to the temptation to have ‘just the one’ from the top shelf along with a pint.
I hope I never get to the stage that my new female friend has reached, where it’s a stark choice between drinking and oblivion. I hope she manages to stay the course and make a full recovery.
The bitter irony is, of course, that all over the suburb of Whitchurch, there are well-heeled people who’ll think nothing of drinking a bottle of wine every night, rolling a joint after a stressful day in the office, or having a cheeky snort of charlie when they’re out unwinding in town.
Sometimes it seems that only the poor and the underprivileged develop addictions, and all the mental health problems that accompany them. Everyone else just makes ‘a lifestyle choice’.

Wednesday is the New Thursday

In which The Author should have stayed at home

This morning, under the influence of Mirtazapine and codeine, I woke up about 6 a.m. I had a piss and – for a brief moment – wondered what to do with the rest of the morning.
I could have listened to Today on Radio 4, with its predictable three-hour ‘agenda setting’ discussion of the previous day’s events, rudely interrupted by John Humphrys every so often.
I could have set off for a nice long walk, like I did last Thursday.
Alternatively, I could default to Emergency Program One, and go back to bed.
Guess what I did!
[A digression: When I was working in the book trade, every so often I’d have to phone Marston Book Services at Abingdon in Oxfordshire. Nine times out of ten I’d be placing an order; the rest of the time I’d be chasing an overdue book. I don’t know whether MBS had a dedicated phone line for their key accounts, or whether I just ended speaking to the same chap every time I called up. After a while we got to know each other’s voices, and we had a bit of a chat while our computers were chugging away in the background.
One day while I was talking to him, he said, ‘I recognised your voice this time. Every time you ring, I keep reminding myself I’m not actually talking to John Humphrys.’
I know I’ve got a decent Welsh accent, but it’s nowhere near as pronounced as that of the BBC’s morning anchorman.
I slipped straight into Dead Ringers mode, and replied, ‘No, if you were speaking to John Humphrys, I’d say something like, “It’s just coming up to nine minutes past eight, and we’ve got the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the radio car.“‘
He burst out laughing and said, ‘Oh my God, that was exactly like him!’
If all else fails, I could always get a gig as a Radio 4 morning show stand-in, I suppose.]
Anyway, I had a couple of hours of codeine-fuelled book-related dreams, and finally made it downstairs in time for Ken Bruce’s ‘Popmaster’ quiz on Radio 2. Having failed to catch most of it, and failing to name three hits by The Searchers, I ran a bath and got ready to head into town.
That was my first mistake.
I made my way to the Library, where I singularly failed to log into the wifi. (‘So, what’s new?’ I hear you cry.) This particular technical issue was a new one on me, though. I got past the usual authentication screen okay, and then a dialog box popped up asking me for my admin sign-on details. That happened three times before I decided that all was not well.
I asked Paula whether anyone else had had problems during the morning. Needless to say, nobody else had tried to log on. (The only other punters were a handful of Loteks reading the papers, and the Creative Writing group, most of whom have only just come to terms with the electric typewriter.) Daz tried accessing the network on his phone, and failed. Paula phoned the No Help Desk, and they couldn’t see a problem. I made my excuses and left.
I got as far as Thereisnospoon, where Geoff and Haydn were chatting next to my usual table. I joined them for a while, and once they’d gone I tried connecting to The Cloud. Twenty minutes or so later I was finally checking my emails, going through Facebook, and wondering whether it was worth buying another glass of Pepsi. Fortunately, the decision was taken out of my hands by a new part-time bint, who took my almost-empty glass from me without even asking. I made my excuses and left.
I walked over to The Lighthouse. I didn’t particularly feel like a pint, but I needed to see Tony A. He’d mentioned over the weekend that he didn’t have a wall calendar at home. I happened to have one lying around that I’ve never used. Denise in the Library gave it to me, ages ago, and it’s been in a drawer ever since. Like most 21st Century Boys and Girls, I keep my appointments on my phone. Tony’s a Twentieth Century Boy, and happy to stay there.
I had a can of Coke and waited for him to come in. We’d only been chatting for about twenty minutes before he hit the Time Loop (see Time Crash). Now, I love Tony to bits, and he’s no harm to anyone, but there are only so many times you can listen to the Saga Of The New Front Door before the fun wears off.
Rhian came in and rescued me for a little while. It didn’t last. I dived outside at 1655 to take a photo of St Elvan’s Church. Radio 4’s PM programme has invited people to send in photos of clocks at exactly 1700, and submit them via Twitter. I thought a decent pic of our town’s major landmark would fit the bill nicely. (As things turned out, I got to my vantage point in the nick of time. I was shocked to learn that the clock’s about three minutes fast. I must mention it to Fr Robert when I see him next.)


Rhian left soon afterwards, and I was stuck in the Time Loop again.
After about ten minutes I told Tony not to take offence, but made it absolutely clear that he was doing my fucking head in, and I’d have to go and sit somewhere else. Mark, the guv’nor, overheard what was going on, and called over to Tony, loud enough for me to hear.
‘Look what you’ve done now! Steve’s the nicest guy in Aberdare, and even he’s had to get away from you because you’re frying his brain!’
I was halfway through my second pint when Moira came in. I haven’t seen her for ages, and I could tell from the get-go that she was in a state. She’s been living in the Rhondda with a guy I’ve seen once or twice, but they’d split up acrimoniously earlier this week. She’s back in Aberdare, temporarily homeless, and pissing it up for Wales.
She put me on the defensive immediately, by asking me how the Piss-Artist Formerly Known As My Brother is. I told her (as I tell everyone who asks) that I didn’t know and I don’t care. I was hoping she’d take the hint and sit somewhere else, but that was a non-starter. She asked me what I do online, and I mentioned ‘blogging’. In return, she told me that she doesn’t ‘believe in’ the Internet. (I’ve been down that road several times, as I told you in I Want to Believe.) She told me she doesn’t know anything about blogging, and therefore she wouldn’t be able to read anything that I’ve written herein.
This, to me at least, seems like one of the most risible arguments you’ll hear in the year 2015. After all, you don’t need to know anything about the publishing industry to read a book. You don’t need to know anything film-making to go to the pictures, or know anything about TV production to watch TV. You don’t need to play an instrument to listen to music. You don’t need to know anything about cartography to use a map. You certainly don’t need to know anything about blogging to be able to access this site – or any other blog, for that matter. I don’t know whether there’s a category error between ‘user’ and ‘generator’ in the minds of most people, or whether the mere fact that something appears online is enough to frighten the paranoid away. Maybe you can tell me.
Anyway, after the best part of an hour, during which Moira expounded a number of conspiracy theories (Ebola and other ‘man-made’ viruses; green energy; politics in general) at least twice each, I made my excuses and left.
I only came back to Thereisnospoon because I wanted to send my photo to PM. I didn’t have any intention of staying out. Instead, I got captured by Sarah E. and her boyfriend, and had to spend a long time discussing my mental health and my long-term prospects.
Geoff’s back here now, with some of his friends from Aberdare Rotary Club. I really don’t think I’ve got the head for them tonight. I might have to make my excuses and leave.
The good thing is that neither Tony nor Moira have the first idea about 21st Century tech. Tony’s happy with a pen and a printed calendar. Even a Nokia thickphone stretches him to the limits. Moira won’t get involved with anything that might be controlled (however remotely) by the Illuminati and the Military-Industrial Complex. That means that neither of them will ever read what I’ve written here tonight.
The rest of you, read it and weep. This is what happens when you step outside your door on a sunny Wednesday morning in Aberdare. My best advice to you is: stay indoors, take some sleeping pills, and try and wake up on Friday, when it’ll all be over.