'Volunteering' (from 'Poker Face')
I think I am lucky to be volunteering at the day unit. It is not something any seventeen-year-old boy can do. I have never met another seventeen-year-old boy who is interested in this sort of work. There may be others. They would not find it easy.
Because of Ms. Regan, I am able to work here. She is an important psychoanalyst. She refers to my ‘responsibilities’; my ‘role’ in the unit’s functions. She says, ‘of all the teenage volunteers I've known, you're the brightest!’
There may be others.
She has called me ‘Brighton’. This is a nickname. It combines ‘Bright’ and ‘Bryan’. I have tried to invent a nickname for her. It would be easier if I could use her first name, Andrea. I could say ‘Ample Andrea’, ‘Acute Andrea’, or ‘Arduous Andrea’; these are a few of the names I have looked up. My vocabulary is not so good with Rs. I must only call her Ms. Regan. This is a formality. Perhaps she is preventing me from inventing a clever nickname, which I could do more easily with ‘Andrea’.
It is correct that Ms. Regan is fat. In her office she sits back in her leather chair, writing reports. It seems fitting that she has a large presence. Ample Andrea. She always wears a silk cravat. She may be hiding warts on her neck. I must not think of this. I must show respect.
There are three groups which I help to coordinate along with two full-time care coordinators. One of these, Jan, is responsible for overseeing my work here. The three groups are:
1) Assertiveness Therapy
2) Anxiety Management Therapy
3) General Group Therapy
When I meet with Ms. Regan, I offer my thoughts on the recent group sessions. I explain how I am getting on; how the patients are getting on; which patients are in need of extra attention. While I report this, she looks at me and says nothing. She considers each word I say. When I speak to her about other things, she does not look at me. If I tell her about my weekend, she laughs mildly. She asks one or two questions. If I ask her what she did on her weekend, she says things about friends, family and tea. Often I am unsure of the exact circumstances. On weekends she may read books that are too big for her office. She may spend her time applying cream to the warts on her neck.
No, not that.
My work at the day unit is scheduled around my school timetable. I am studying for my A levels. Pupils are expected to take three A levels. I am taking four. These are Physics, Chemistry, Maths and History.
I have received an offer to study Physics at Oxford University, providing I meet the grades AAB.
On three days of the week I walk from school to the unit. When possible, my father drives me there. In these cases, he has a short conversation with Ms. Regan - about friends, family, and tea. Then he leaves. Except once, when Paul Williams stole my pencils in class and I had to take them back. Then my father, Ms. Regan and I sat in her office and talked about that.
On Monday is Assertiveness Therapy. In this we ask patients to discuss situations where they have been unable to assert themselves. We go round the group and suggest how they might overcome this.
On Thursday is Anxiety Management Therapy. In this group we ask patients to assess how their self-image has shaped the experiences they have. Patients in this group are more likely to talk loudly or shed tears than in other groups. Jan sits in on these meetings.
On Friday is General Group Therapy. These sessions are flexible. Stuart, the group therapist, follows no official structure. He allows patients the freedom to disclose information as they wish. The subject may change from one moment to another. This is a flawed approach. It prevents consistency. I have suggested to Jan that these sessions should be more structured. Jan says I should suggest this to Stuart if I feel strongly about it. Stuart says I should bring this up with Ms. Regan if I feel strongly about it. Ms. Regan says she will discuss the matter with her colleagues.
She has not mentioned it since.
I am beginning to doubt the methods of Ms. Regan. I am familiar with the hospital's procedures, yet she does not endorse my proposals. Sometimes I ask her a question, and she answers as if I have asked a different question.
Three days ago an incident occurred after general group therapy. Derek Watts is a volunteer patient who has attended sessions for fourteen months. During this session I observed that he was showing signs of hyper-anxiety. Whenever Stuart asked him a question he would look at the floor and shake his face. He kept his hand gripped around the leg of his chair. Often he shut his eyes, breathing through his nose. I have learned to recognize this as initial signs of a panic attack.
When the session finished the group filed out. After three minutes, I noticed I had left my pen behind. When I re-entered the room I found a chair lying on the floor. There was broken glass surrounding it, and a shattered window pane.
I tried to bring this up with Ms Regan in her office. We had not scheduled a meeting. She was searching for something in her desk drawers. I gave her a step by step report of the events. I suggested she talk to Derek Watts. I explained she should change his status to a full-time patient at the hospital. I said it would be unsafe to let him continue as a day unit volunteer.
Ms. Regan pushed shut her drawers one by one, saying ‘I think that would be a bit rash. Derek has nearly completed his treatment here.’
I reminded her of his actions.
‘Bryan, I’m afraid I have something important to do. Can we talk about this during our next meeting?’
I consented, on this condition. However, Ms Regan did not introduce the subject again.
If I were promoted to a higher position, I would do things differently. Procedures would be followed. Promises would be stuck to.
It is Friday. My school has just broken up for the Easter holiday. My father dropped me off after school at ten past four. It is now four thirty-six and I am in Ms. Regan's office. Regan has been trying to elicit answers from me. She has not yet addressed the Derek Watts incident. I am waiting here patiently until she mentions it.
‘Bryan,’ she is saying, ‘would you like to explain what happened earlier? I appreciate you not wanting to straight away, but I think I deserve to hear something now. Could you do that for me?’
‘The situation at school has been settled. You have not mentioned Derek—’
‘It hasn't been settled, Bryan. Your father was very upset, you saw him. Do you know what the consequences are? Because it’s you it affects, do you realise that?’
‘I could be expelled, yes. But that would be wrong. I had no part in it.’
Regan leans back in her leather chair and brings the backs of two fingers to her mouth. A new chin sticks out beneath the original one. She wears reading glasses. She is prompting me to say more about the ‘incident’.
‘Look,’ she says, ‘I'm asking you to say things as they are. I can’t ask you more plainly than that.’
‘Mr. Seivewright already spoke to me for an hour about this. The matter was resolved.’
‘But you admit you might be expelled?’
I object to this. She is being unprofessional. I say nothing.
‘Well I can tell you what I've heard, and you can correct me if you want. Will you listen?'
I fold my arms.
'You were in your Physics class from two thirty,’ she says. ‘Just after the bell went your teacher dismissed you, then two boys from the row in front turned around and . . . said some things?’
‘They displayed similar behaviour during the class, too.’
‘So, they did something . . . which made you push them both away and hit Tony in the face?’
‘It was one action. Hitting Tony was incidental.'
‘Well, now Tony has a scratched cornea. You could have blinded him in that eye. Do you know that?’
There is a shift in her voice.
‘I did not blind him.' I say. 'I did not aim to hit his face.’
‘It was quite a specific part of his face for an accident.’
I have been reasonable. I have appeased her. I hoped she would try to understand. Explaining things now would only reaffirm the assumptions she has already made.
Ms. Regan has removed her glasses, like she does when she is tired at the end of a busy day.
‘It's OK, I'm not judging you.’
I rest my chin in my hands securely, looking down at the floor.
‘Perhaps the boys said . . . something you didn't agree with?’
I am happy to sit here silently.
‘I don't need to know everything, Bryan, but can you give me a hint?’
For twenty seconds no words are spoken.
‘This is to help you.’
I shake my head.
‘Listen,’ she says after a pause. Her voice has become quiet, as if she is talking to a young person. ‘I’ve been talking to Jan, and we both think that this Care Plan Approach is working really well for you. We think you’re making excellent progress, but . . . and I really wouldn’t want you to think it would be a step backwards . . . to consider coming here more often.’
‘My schoolwork must take priority over coordinating group sessions.’
‘Jan is a care coordinator, isn’t she?’
‘Jan and myself.’
‘Hmm. There’s only one coordinator per group though, isn’t there?’
I say nothing.
‘Now, Bryan, I really wouldn’t want you to think there was anything bad about staying for a couple of weeks here in the hospital. How might that sound?’
‘Volunteer workers from the unit have no need to stay at the adjoining hospital.’
‘Well, maybe we need to reconsider your status. Your status as a volunteer patient.’
The floor appears to be tipping. A dizzying sensation grips my head.
‘Oxford,’ I say. ‘I am going to study physics in Oxford.’
‘Listen, you’ve just begun your Easter holidays, so the timing is good, no?’
‘Derek Watts, he broke the window in—’
‘That wasn’t him Bryan. I was with Derek straight after that session.’
Quickly, I stand up and walk across the office. At the door I say, ‘Andrea, I have been professional. You have not. I would expect otherwise from someone in your position.’
I swing open the door to see Jan facing me in the corridor along with two security officers. Behind them is my father. His eyes are wet, and he looks down when I see them.
‘OK Bryan,’ says Ms. Regan behind me. ‘Let’s make this nice and easy for everyone.’