The Witch

In the undergrowth by the tall fence, I sat in the sunlight at the end of an August evening. There was too much hurt in the house across the other side of the gravel drive. Something had gone wrong, and after the shouting and the rage the time for talking was over. I couldn’t work out what I’d done; if I’d played a part in fueling the rage I was sorry as hell about it, but sitting there in the dust I just couldn’t understand the cause. And I knew there was never a solution.

The light melted away as the orange sun mixed with the late summer leaves and into my tenth Secret Place of the past six weeks. It would be time to go inside soon. Time to face the atmosphere. Time to be scared until I heard them go to bed. There’d be the morning, too: breakfast table target practice, with me as bulls eye. If only he had a dog to kick, or anything else but me.

The Witch was pure imagination conjured up from a place a little boy had to go in his mind in tough times. I did a lot of hiding in there. Anyone would have. I never gave the Witch a name, just knew her as The Witch. She had green skin, a pointed nose, and she was thin even in the black witches robes and that hat. She always made herself available when I needed someone to talk to about it all. I imagined her riding down out of the sky on her broomstick and landing gently beside me, smiling, and asking if I was ok. At first I always tried to lie to her. I’d say I was fine even if the fear was stretched out across my face. She  knew the truth. She was the only one.

In the dark of my bedroom, when the shouting had stopped and my bedroom door didn’t crash open, The Witch would sit on my bed and make sure I was safe through the night. Whatever spell it took, however many times she helped me to wipe my eyes, whatever monsters came, she stayed through the small hours and held my hand. She was all I had.

Meds

There is a misconception that ‘drugs’ are a street thing; wares only worth taking if someone in a flat in Doncaster has managed to sell you them after a few nervous minutes at a door with beefed up locks and the growl of a bull terrier. This is not true.

But you knew that.

For the Psychiatric patient – those unlucky few with a DSM-5 approved diagnosis – street drugs can be a familiar part of symptomatic self-medication, but it is the word Medication [Meds] and their particular, legal, drug family which we’re more familiar with. Although the word is different and the purveyor is licensed, any Med user is simply trying to relieve something they can’t deal with: toothache; chest infection; cancer; opiate addiction; hallucinations; anxiety; a shitty life . There is a med for most things. And money to be made whatever side of the legal fence you are on. You say drug, I say med…let’s call the whole thing off. There’s a song in it somewhere for all of us.

I guess I’ve probably forgotten a few of the things I’ve been prescribed over the years to treat some of the symptoms of my Borderline Personality Disorder, but here’s my list anyhow:

Venlafaxine, Citalopram, Diazepam, Tamazepam, Zopiclone, Lamotrigine, Phenelzine, Tramadol, Amitriptyline, Carbamazepine, Propanolol, Pregabalin, Quetiapine, Resperidone, Olanzapine….

Jesus… Now I’m looking at that list… And I know it’s not complete… Many, many meds, all of them sucked down (can’t remember being hypo’d, but I could have been) and then washed into my blood and up towards my brain to do untold permanent damage. God….I don’t even want to begin thinking about that.

But before I start sounding ungrateful, I can tell you that from time to time meds have saved my life. Nothing tastes as retrospectively sweet as Crisis Team Diazepam, for example. Truly life saving. And now, after years of Lab Rat experience, I’m erring towards a sympathetic stance when meds are on the care plan agenda, instead of discounting their effectiveness and misusing them for a self-medicated leap into the unknown. OR to get high. Yeah, yeah, ‘getting high’..I know…it’s just another way to deal with symptoms, but here and now isn’t the time or place to open that pill packet, if you get the metaphor. We are talking about the right way to use meds: professional, controlled, symptomatic relief – ambitious, but the only way forward for me nowadays.

As you’ll probably have worked out by now, meds are powerful things. You may have recognised some of the ones in my list. You could even have taken some of them from time to time – prescribed or not. Who knows what wild world you’ve lived in? You are not alone. The meds are strong, yeah? We know that much at least. Most have side effects, and some have some really bizarre ones. While taking Phenelzine I couldn’t eat cheese, or drink red wine, or eat smoked meat (not a euphemism). Think that’s bullshit? Well, I did too at an all-you-can-eat buffet in Disneyland. The rest of the day I thought I was going to die, while my face and arse became nothing more than evacuation chutes for anything in my body that wasn’t strapped down by ligaments or internal organs.

Olanzapine saw me put on three stones in two months. Tramadol gave me Seratonin Syndrome – check out those pupils… no laughs…  Fun times..

And meds don’t cure-all. There is no magic tablet for BPD, just a series of ‘go to’ meds to tackle some of the symptoms in a tight spot. There is no med to stop you hating yourself, but there are some that can make some of the resulting actions less likely. Others can help you sleep, or face a trip to the shops, or lessen the chance of a fight. And, of course, not every med is effective for every BPD sufferer; what I’m prescribed right now might not touch the sides of someone else, or it may cause them to walk like a drunk, or see Bigfoot…again…

I’ve always found it a  little ironic that powerful CNS depressant meds can be prescribed to a group of people who – according to the stats – are one of the most highly self-destructive groups of psychiatric patients known to man or beast. Take a tip from me (though I’m usually loathed to give out tips to anyone – I mean….who the hell am I anyway): never have too many meds at home. Experience has taught me that walking to the chemists like a naughty schoolboy to collect your meds every day for six months is no fun. And the ‘other’ alternative doesn’t bear thinking about on this sunny afternoon in the Derbyshire Dales…

For me, meds mean help and, occasionally, drooling down my chest. But they also mean I can access treatment and put the BPD world slightly further away. Ultimately, they mean I can get well. And I don’t even have to go to Doncaster.

Bye Bye Howard. Thanks.

“Most people are driven by greed, fear, envy, and other emotions that render objectivity impossible and open the door for significant mistakes.” – Howard Marks

 

Slate. Moroccan. Gold Seal. Red Seal. Today, the most famous purveyor of Hashish is dead, and with him the faded old world of the moral smuggler, the deadpan police interview, gentlemanly handshakes, and the ancient and righteous belief in doing the right thing no matter what the cost.

He was a modern day prophet – without religion even getting a look in – and, in my opinion, he was one of the very few who transcended the drudgery of life. See, Howard believed 100% in the use of a substance to render a subtly different perspective on the user. And he believed in freedom. Think about that right now, wherever you are and whatever you are doing. Tempting ideas, eh?

Cannabis was never one of the target drugs for us at the NHS. Workers would laugh off a regular cannabis user; we had bigger and more poppy-flavoured fish to fry. That was until the hashish market fell apart in the 90s when people began to realise you can grow the stuff here and simply sell it as is, as opposed to having to go through the whole process of growing acres of the stuff to turn into hashish. First rule of business – create a product the market wants.

The growers began to nurture new stronger strains of cannabis plants in the attics of Toxteth/Balby/your street. Yeah, man. No more trips across the ferry for anyone. In a stroke it rendered HM Customs useless. But it created a monster even Howard never foresaw.

In place of the chilled out and peaceful vibe surrounding hash, the skunkworks of modern day cannabis farmers weren’t signed up to any moral or esoteric doctrine. Cannabis fell out of love with what was left of the Love Generation and into a brutal marriage with anyone who didn’t want to be perceived as ‘straight’ and boring. Love was lost; replaced with brutal gangs and lumped in with the harder side of the drug culture and its even harder products.

We argued a lot at work about the negative effects of cannabis – our records showed that, anecdotally, before the rise of skunk we hardly ever saw a ‘problem’ cannabis user – and came to the conclusion that skunk had changed everything a ‘safe’ drug used to be about. People were presenting at the service with pretty severe mental health problems since the rise of skunk, and links started being made. In the lab, the THC content of skunk was found to be four or five times stronger than hash. But worse, was that the Cannibidiol content of skunk was nil – Cannabidiol is a chemical naturally present in hash which suppresses the effects of the psychotic element in THC. Handy if you don’t want to start running after cars and barking at the wheels.

The modern day reefer burner is compromising their mental health where, in the past, they compromised nothing. How could such a decent substance have turned so shit?

And what can we do?

Well, Howard had the answer to that question: legalise cannabis. Let the producers produce. Regulate it. Tax it. Stock it in supermarkets. Skunk will almost disappear within weeks. Ye Gods… it really is that easy. Take it all back to the days of Gold seal and warm summers and good music and good friends.

Ah, the sweet vagaries of time and the wisdom of youth. No-one sane really believes in the current UK government taking that line. There is no corporate interest in cannabis. And a drug like cannabis doesn’t fit into an era of fear and greed and control. The government have objectives, but those objectives are not about the freedoms of you or I, they are about the accumulation of money for faceless multinational corporations. It’s about a gilded ladder that only the richest get to the top of, and only a tiny minority ever get to touch in the first place. This is all a huge mistake. Surely? You don’t need to be stoned to know what’s right and whats wrong, but who can blame anyone for wanting to detach themselves from the current bad vibes of living in the UK. Any port in a storm.

So to you, Howard Marks, I’ll raise a glass tonight. We talked about GO once. I’m sure you’d have beaten me no matter what you were smoking in recent times. Thanks for having morals, wit, and for a bit of my past.

 

Woof

It began simply enough – a barking dog. My neighbour breeds dogs. At the time he had about ten in a concrete kennel block out the back. It was early summer.

I left the back door open a lot – I like to sit at my desk downstairs and listen to the birds and smell the air while I work. The barking started out of no-where and it quickly ground me down. Two minutes at a time, ten minutes, half an hour. Bark Bark Bark Bark. Always just one dog.

I tried shouting at it. Then throwing stuff at the kennel block – shattering a plastic panel my neighbour had put up to keep the worst weather out. And I played music inside to drown out the noise.

Day after day, between the hours of nine til four, that lone dog shattered my peace every single week day. I never caught it in the act, it was too savvy. Days turned into weeks. I started to get weird. The dog was doing it on purpose and my neighbour knew all about it. In fact, he was allowing it to happen to get at me for something maybe I’d done in a past life, maybe something I was yet to do.

I started playing music LOUD in the early hours. I’d ratchet up the speaker to full and pump some Sonic Youth out hoping my neighbour would come outside and we could argue, shout, then fight. I’d wait til I saw him sometimes, then go out to my garden and scream “Those FUCKING DOGS!!!!” Then I’d punch stuff, or smash things to bits like a male Gorilla. But I couldn’t confront him directly, composed, about the dog. He’d be too clever and I’d end up saying something which could be used against me in a Psychiatrist’s office. This was no time to talk, it was a time for action.

knew there were others in on it. The whole thing was part of a bigger plot. The Police were probably behind it: they’d been after me since I got diagnosed, especially when I got weird. Funny that. The Postman…..Meter Man….all of them, they all knew. The dog was the tip of a nasty iceberg. But I was wise to them. I shut my curtains for months, didn’t answer the phone or the door either, and accumulated a three month pile of unopened mail. I stopped talking about things I thought were ‘important’ in my house, because it was bugged. My Neighbour was an agent and he had drilled into the wall, which only meant microphones. The final piece of the puzzle was when Bigfoot came back – leering at me from the cover of some trees on the hillside above my home. Perfect sense….all of it. I needed to protect myself. A Fiskar axe, some bolt cutters (for close in work), and a heavy stick, ended up near my desk.

I was drinking one Saturday afternoon. The barking from that one dog was full-on. I stood at the back door with the bottle, ready to go out and throw it at the kennel block, but something caught my eye further down the hill in a row of gardens stretching up towards a low cliff edge. It was a man and a dog at a house which had been sold six months previously; right about the same time as….

BARK. Unmistakable. I walked to my Neighbour’s kennel block. Every animal inside it was asleep. Carpe Diem, so they say. So I did. I went over to where I knew my voice would travel along the hillside to the guy down the road. “SHUT THAT FUCKING DOG UP YOU MOTHERFUCKER!”

He turned his head in my direction but I couldn’t see his face to guage a reaction. Then he led his dog inside.

I couldn’t bring myself to apologise to my Neighbour. I mean, how do you begin to tell someone that you suffer from Paranoid delusions from time to time? That kind of talk goes nowhere fast around here. Today’s Weirdo is tomorrow’s Witch.

But the coast today is clear. Tomorrow..?

 

 

Distance divided by Time

speed
noun
  1. 1.
    the rate at which someone or something moves or operates or is able to move or operate.

 

 

I’ve only flown eight times: Spain, Morocco, Madeira, St Lucia. I didn’t want to go to Spain or Madeira. And to be honest, Morocco would have been a better trip if I wasn’t with the company forced on me at the time.

I don’t like flying, just as I don’t like sharks, or heart attacks. Every flight has been a nightmare. There is almost never the right amount of diazepam on tap, or booze, to calm my nerves, so I end up in rigid fear every flight. My seat is always kicked by the person sitting behind, the seat in front is too close, there is too much screaming, and the ground is too far away.

People die in planes. There is nothing you can do about it.

But people die in cars too. And I have had many fast and dangerous cars, including a 175mph TVR. I never took many chances with that car until I was driving back from the last visit I’d ever have with my Grandmother – who was dying in hospital from brain cancer. She’d just laid there smiling as I kept trying to pick unnecessary fights with the nurses. I kissed her forehead one last time, held her hand tight, told her I loved her, and lied to her about seeing her soon. On the way home it was raining as I got out of Dorset and onto some windy motorway. I found myself gunning the car to a point where nothing seemed to happen fast at all. One hundred and fifty seven miles an hour. Lightening speed when you’re low to the ground in a car like that, but it felt like walking in treacle.

Not safe, and not a great idea to have someone with BPD in a heightened emotional state driving a car like that in the rain on a public road. Total disregard for life – my own, mainly. Speed like that ain’t for everyone.

In my life, the question of speed is always never far away. See, I disassociate: a period of time where the person experiences something other than the world in front of them; mostly a blankness. Time can speed up, slow down, or be forgotten entirely. It’s like an intense and prolonged daydream. All emotions are closed down to robotic necessity, organs functioning, only. Disassociation is something I’m told I learned a long time ago to cope with traumatic situations – a kind of ‘off button’ to shut away the things in front of me that were painful back when I was a kid. And this lingers and surfaces throughout my adult life when something stressful lurches into view. It’s uncontrollable, mainly.

Speed, in this case, doesn’t kill or send me into some fear-induced meltdown, it soothes and saves. Disassociation is a brief glimpse into a trauma-induced period of calm time travel; horrible beginnings, but short and sweet relief from just about most things.

I don’t own a car now, which is probably a good idea, but I am frequently on the inner highway to somewhere better than here. Isn’t that the best use of speed?