Castle Pillock: Eminently Sensible Conversations
Posted by airyfairy on Tue, 27 Feb 2018
According to that report last week, anti-depressants do what they say on the packet.
I’m not going to dispute that. I’m happy with that. They’re bloody powerful things so I would expect them to work. One way or another. They can be a bit hit and miss, and one size definitely doesn’t fit all. They can also mask other things. But if you ask me, do I think they’re generally beneficial, I’d say yes, on the whole, by and large, all things considered.
Like a large chunk of the population, and like almost every writer I know, I get periodic bouts of depression. I’m lucky that my GP is lovely, so I toddle along to report that things have gone a bit tits up, we have a nice chat, she goes through the suicide and self-harm checklist, gives me a form for a blood test in case something else is fomenting, and prints me out a prescription. Fluoxetine has always been my tipple, but this time she suggested Sertraline. I wasn’t fussed.
I know the drill. Sometimes you feel worse before you feel better. Sometimes you get a bit weepy and a bit tired. Gradually the fug starts to clear and about half way through the second packet you start feeling better.
I wasn’t, therefore, particularly bothered about feeling more tired than usual. There had been quite a lot happening and a few decent nights’ sleep would sort it. I was quite surprised that I needed about two days in bed after a trip to London, but a flu jab doesn’t protect against everything, and there was a lot going round.
I wasn’t particularly surprised, either, that I was feeling a bit gloomy about February. It would be a year since my Mum died, and also my late Dad’s birthday, so it was bound to feel a bit shit. I’ve been through enough shit to know I generally dig my way out after a couple of weeks’ wallowing. So yes, I was going to feel like going to ground. Hiding away. After all, no-one wants to know. It’s your own stupid fault. People think you’re an idiot. You are an idiot. You’re worse than an idiot. You’re horrible. Why would anyone like you? No-one does like you. Everyone thinks you’re useless. You are useless. Hunker down behind the battlements and overdose on self-pity. It’ll pass. It always does.
I’m not used to having panic attacks with my breakfast, so at first I thought I was having a heart attack. I wasn’t particularly bothered. No-one else would care if I had a heart attack, so why should I? After about ten minutes I made a cup of tea, went back to bed and stayed there. Me, I’m going to die in comfort.
After a few days of that I decided it was probably better to skip breakfast. I wasn’t getting panic attacks in bed, so the logical thing was to stay in bed. Three things forced me to get up from time to time. One was my sixty-three-year-old bladder (when I was a student I could manage twenty-four hours in bed with no problem) and the other two were my cats. It was pretty much you take the arms, I’ll take the legs, just get the silly cow as far as the food cupboard and then she can do what she likes. Oi, human, don’t forget the litter tray on your way past.
After a few days I ran out of milk so, logically, the only option was black tea. I wasn’t going out so, logically, there was no need to get washed. I couldn’t go out, because If I did get up I felt as though I’d been run over with a steamroller and I barely had the energy for another sodding panic attack. I didn’t want any visitors so, with supreme logic, I disconnected the doorbell. As I couldn’t see anyone, logically there was no point replying to phone calls or direct messages or emails. I wasn’t using any of the energy I didn’t have so, logically, there was no point in eating. I did accept that I still had a responsibility towards my fellow residents, so when we ran out of cat food I waited till it got dark, shoved some clothes and a coat on and slid round to our local convenience store. I waited for fifteen minutes in the rain before going in, until the lady I knew on the checkout went for her break and was replaced by the dozy lad with the headphones in who wouldn’t notice if I had leprosy and a parrot on my shoulder.
Now and again I looked at the pretty pictures on my phone, and occasionally jabbed ‘like’ if I thought they were prettier than normal. I was annoyed by the texts and messages piling up from all those horrid people who didn’t care if I was alive or dead: ‘Hey, haven’t heard from you in a bit. All OK?’ To which my response (thankfully only expressed to the cats) was ‘Fuck off, I know you don’t really care, just leave me alone.’
In the middle of this my son and my daughter both rang, at different times. Fortunately it wasn’t Skype. I sat under the table in my nightie and nodded and made the right noises and said ‘Yes, I’m fine, nothing much happening here,’ at appropriate intervals.
In rare moments of clarity I thought, just keep taking the pills. It’ll pass.
One morning I came down and found the oven on, although I hadn’t cooked anything for at least a fortnight, the radio on, although I couldn’t recall the last time I listened to it, and my reading glasses in the fridge. I told those cats they really ought to be more careful, wasting all that electricity.
I heard the radio say something about anti-depressants working and thought, they ought to say sometimes it doesn’t work straight away and there can be side effects. I mean, mine are taking a while to kick in.
A light flickered in my frontal lobes. It went out. It came on again.
I rang the surgery. No appointments for three weeks.
But I don’t think you’re supposed to just stop taking antidepressants. You can get weird side effects. I’ll keep taking them till the appointment, and then she can change my prescription, I told the cats.
Well I don’t know, Jane, said one cat. I think maybe you ought to just stop them. Indeed, said the other. We’ve been talking back to you, in English, for a few days now, and you’ve not been bothered. Remember that discussion we had about the films of Guillermo del Toro? And you are sitting under the table in your nightie again.
Also, chimed in first cat, the last thing you ate was dry muesli. We’re just a bit worried that you’ll start on the Go Cat next, and who the bloody hell’s going to replace that when you can’t find your way to the front door?
On the day I stopped taking the pills, I got three texts in the space of five minutes. I knew the scenario, because I’ve been there with other people.
The conversation would have taken place over a glass of wine or a cup of coffee.
‘Have you heard from her?’
‘No. Have you?’
‘Not like her. I know she can be a miserable cow but she usually replies to an invite to the pub.’
‘Shit. Do you think she’s lying in a heap at the bottom of the stairs?’
The first text set the pattern. ‘Hey. Are you alive? We’re really worried. If no reply, we’re coming round to bang on your door and cause a scene.’
I’m not ashamed to say it made me cry. I sent the same text back to all three: ‘Alive. Sorry. Best wait till I’ve had a bath before breaking door down.’
It’s taken me less than a week to reach a reasonable level of normality. The panic attacks have pretty much ceased. I have reacquainted myself with soap and water and arranged to meet my lovely, wonderful friends next week. I stay up for the whole day. I went to Sainsbury’s and bought food. I also bought the cats a squeaky mouse each as a peace offering. I cooked a proper meal last night. My son, who is currently touring with a theatre production, had a few days break in between venues and fetched up on the doorstep today. ‘I just had a feeling,’ he said. ‘You look shit, by the way.’
All of my symptoms – the paranoia, the sensory disturbances, physical symptoms I had like diarrhoea (when I was eating) and lack of appetite - are detailed in the leaflet giving side effects, and I had read them. The problem is, when they kick in, you forget about the leaflet. I feel I’ve had a lucky escape. If I’d carried on taking the pills for another three weeks, I’m not sure what might have happened. I live on my own, apart from the cats, so there’s no-one to notice, or raise any alarms.
Peace has now returned to Castle Pillock. The cats have resumed speaking miaow, I don’t smell, and I have no inclination to sit under the table. Although after I heard Boris Johnson on the radio this morning, I did find myself mildly yearning for a bout of comforting delusion, and the eminently sensible conversation of cats.