Me, The Fly, and Psychobabble (Part One)
To say I was apprehensive would be minimising how I felt that night. Already a sense of terror had pervaded my thoughts. I now knew what the aristocrats in France must have experienced on their carts hauling them off to the guillotine. The following morning I was due to start at some new place, rather pretentiously labelled a psychotherapeutic community. My Doctor explained that it was all very innovative, and the success rate was high. I harboured doubts about whether it would make a difference, but my mental heath was so crap I would happily have devoured heaps of horse manure if someone had convinced me it would help.
Then it happened, completely eclipsing my previous fears. A tickling sensation arrived in my ear the same time as a buzzing noise. I closed my eyes and listened to what sounded like a dentist’s drill reverberating through my pillow, volume increasing ominously. Instinct told me a fly had sidled into me ear, but fear for my sanity soon replaced initial thoughts.
I tried to rationalise this unforeseen event. Could insects actually crawl into a person’s ear? Surely that was impossible. And yet, I began to actually think it had. I began to wonder if creepy-crawlies could possibly gnaw into a person’s brain. Not knowing what else to do, I got up and looked at my medical guide. The reassuring tome, written by one of those TV doctors, who generally have a shiny smile, neatly combed hair, and home knitted jumpers, in order to appeal to middle aged women, was getting rather tattered. It fell open at a particularly worrying section, the contents of which, created overwhelming panic every time I read it. Why read it then? Why do dogs sniff each other’s bottoms? They can’t desist, nor more could I. It was the chapter on bowel problems. Do you have alternating diarrhoea and constipation? I do. Have you been under any stress? Don’t ask stupid questions. Is there any blood? Actually yes. Is the blood in the stool itself? Well how do I know that. What colour was it? Even with the help of my torch that was a tricky one. Is the blood on the lavatory paper? It could well be.
The myriad permutations of symptoms went on for pages. I appeared to have them all. The summary of diagnoses included; irritable bowel syndrome, haemorrhoids, ulcerative colitis, and cancer of the colon. During my numerous visits to my GP, clutching the dratted book, I tried to convince him that there was something horribly wrong with my innards. His refusal to investigate further, telling me I was merely experiencing a health panic, had led me to dread my bodily functions. When I tried to explain this new development to him, it became clear he thought I was teetering on the brink of madness. Hence sending me to the psychotherapy centre. That night I started to see where he was coming from.
But at that moment in time even the pages on bowel difficulties left me disinterested.
I frantically flicked through the pages. Astonishingly, considering the vast range of complaints the cheery doctor described, there was nothing on insects secreting themselves in ears. Even under problems with ears, a sudden revving in ones ears was not covered. I threw the book across the room. I searched for my secret stash of valium, which I had hidden from myself in a vain attempt to stop myself taking any. They had been obtained from a very inebriated and unscrupulous pharmacist. I found them easily and took every pill, hoping I wouldn’t wake up. I had visions of a pathologist doing the autopsy and being astounded to find some very rare type of insect lodged in my grey matter. Cause of death: Unidentified animal in brain.
Naturally, I did wake up. And yes, the buzzing was still there. I checked the window, hoping that last night had been a terrible hallucination, to see whether a fly or wasp was loitering behind the curtains. But there was nothing. Just the insistent nightmarish zzzzzing of something in my right ear. I was stuck in an upside down, acid induced version of the horror film `The Fly‘
Somehow, whether, I was imagining it, or whether the fly was real, I knew I had to get myself to Camberwell. To therapy. I knew I was very, very ill. For some reason I put on a striped top that revealed a bit of my midriff, and a quite short, cream skirt. Then I put on tons of make-up. It didn’t occur to me that I looked like I was on the game. I had just felt, irrationally that if I was going to be dragged off to some locked ward, I didn’t want to look like a bag lady.
It was 10.00am on the dot. We all sat in a circle. There was about 12 of us. I was introduced to everyone, and I tried to smile without showing the gap in my teeth, and the terror in my kohl-circled eyes. Some people looked reasonably friendly. Some just ignored me. Then there was silence, punctuated by tobacco-induced catarrhal coughs and scrapings of shoes. The droning in my ear continued unabated. The invigilator Andrew asked how everyone was feeling. Silence. Except for the jumbo jet thing going on in my head. One woman was frenetically swinging one leg and yawning at very frequent intervals. She was about 50 or so and was also wearing a short skirt. Admittedly she had good legs, but her face was criss-crossed with lines and her skin drooped like a bloodhound. I was probably going to age as quickly as that if I continued to be tortured with the road drilling thing for the rest of my life. How long do insects live anyhow? Perhaps ad infinitum if it was a giant one.
The woman continued with her leg wiggling and the yawning for about 25 minutes, until Andrew asked her if she had something on her mind she would like to share. She got up, muttering that everyone always picked on her, and proceeded towards the exit. Andrew, rather half-heatedly, tried to stop her. I decided to take my mind off the lawn-mower roving around my head, and asked her why she felt she couldn’t stay, adding that it may help her. As though her salvation lay in this room, which, even at that early stage, I knew it didn’t. At this point everyone glared at me, except for one young man with startling aegean-azure-eyes, who winked at me. The woman replied that there was no point staying because everyone hated her. I wanted to avoid provoking more antipathy from everyone, so just shrugged. She slammed the door behind her. The silence continued until the end of my first session.
I already knew where the smoking room was, having availed myself of this facility during my assessment. I headed straight for it. It was no bigger than a cupboard but it was still a good retreat from everyone. That is until about 8 more people squeezed in. We simultaneously lit up, sucking in nicotine and the majority of the communal air. It was then that people started to articulate themselves. First on the agenda was Caroline, which was, I gathered, the name of the woman that abruptly left the room. Several people told me, not unkindly, that the best way to approach the problem that was Caroline, was to just leave her alone. Apparently she was an appalling attention seeker. It was pointless to reason with her. That’s the way she was, and she wasn’t going to change. I agreed to blank her from now on, not bothering to ask why Caroline was there if she couldn’t, wouldn’t question her behaviour.
The boy with the blue eyes told me his name was Peter, and asked me how I was feeling. I realised he was gay, which was rather a relief, because he was also very good looking ,and the last thing I needed was any extra complications. Whilst we were chatting, I experienced an illusion that the that fly was zig-zagging frantically in order to get out of the outer canal of my ear. I felt a surge of optimism. Surreptitiously I stretched my ear-hole as wide as possible, giving the thing an opportunity to free both of us. But to no avail. The zipping seemed to surge, as though the beast was frustrated. And I wasn‘t?
Involuntarily I looked up at the window. I still had the faint hope that this was actually an external situation., and I had just, overnight, developed extraordinary powers of hearing. I asked, in a quavery voice, whether anyone could see a fly, wasp or bee at the window. No-one said anything, just looked at me curiously. Peter told me not to worry, there was nothing there, and asked sympathetically if I had a fear of flying insects. This triggered a long conversation with everyone happily delving into their weird and wonderful phobias. The subject matter would normally have been just the thing to pique my interest. But, at that moment in time, I could only wonder yet again, whether I had finally lost my reason. I wanted to bang my head against the wall and either kill myself or the creature haunting my orifice.
But this was supposed to be the place where talking healed you, right? So I steadied my shredded nerves. I told everyone, too loudly and rapidly, exactly what I was pre-occupied with. You could have cut the silence with some fly spray. My confession had been a huge mistake. Then the whole room, ignoring my rather bizarre utterance, started again to vigorously discuss the objects or situations that triggered paralysing fear. Only Peter realised I really was suffering. He didn’t seem to give a shit whether he was conversing with a madwoman or not. He told me what I was experiencing was awful, and offered me some valium. They were blue ones, extra strong. We companionably munched a few. Then he suggested that I see the `on site’ shrink. This hadn’t occurred to me before. It was clearly the way forward. What a great place this was after all. I would soon be sorted. I thanked him profusely for the advice and valium and told him I’d see him later.
I knocked at the door. This was not the same psychiatrist that had assessed me. He told me, beaming, that his name was John. He asked who I was. When I told him my name the bright look on his face palpably faded. He enquired warily what I wanted. I explained my predicament. He laughed heartily and informed me I had been watching too many episodes of Casualty. I replied that I never watched the programme due to my psychological condition and asked him what he meant. He told me in great detail, still chortling merrily away, about a fascinating episode, only shown the previous Saturday. Apparently an elderly lady had arrived at casualty in a state of distress, complaining of a buzzing in her ear. She was promptly diagnosed as being psychotic, until some bright young spark thought to examine her ear and actually found a fly flapping about.
Heartened, I told him that’s exactly what was happening to me. He assured me that was not what was happening to me at all. In my specific case the noise was just a symptom of extreme anxiety. I asked him if a fly, or any type of insect can eat into your brain, and questioned him too, about the longevity of creepy, buzzy things. He refused to disclose any information, explaining, that if he did so, he would only temporarily reassure me. He would simply be feeding my health ruminations. He went as far as asking how I would cope should I in reality, have some insect the size of a brontosaurus in my ear. I declined to answer, and started to cry. I walked out, continuing to sob loudly. That sadistic sod had been my final hope.
I was unsure what step to take next. John had pushed me way too far. I knew, from reading about fear and obsessions, that he had tried the `flooding’ technique. I also knew that it was an intolerably harsh approach so early on in my so called treatment. I sat in the grounds on a bench, chain smoking. Then I had what was probably the most lucid thought all day. I walked out the gates, and went to the nearest shopping centre. It was completely inadequate but I spotted a bookshop. Thank God. I headed straight for the medical section. There were only three medical books. Shaking, I leafed through them. The last book was perfect for my specific requirements. Eureka.
Now I knew what approach was necessary I headed home. With the true hypochondriac’s desperate need for relief, or to know the worst, it had to be done. It was an essential step, regardless of the outcome. I avoided the centre. I didn’t really care if anyone stopped me. It was all crap anyhow. I hated everyone there except Peter. Psychobabble bullshit.
At home I got some olive oil, tried to pour it down my ear carefully, but some of it slopped out down my neck and dribbled down the inappropriate top. I ignored it. I was a woman with a mission. I blacked out images of the shrink shaking his head and reaching for the straightjacket. Satisfied that the affected ear was full of oil, I tipped my head towards the bowl I was holding under my ear. I looked into the bowl. Floating on top was a corpse. A fly. A really big bastard too. I was euphoric. The incessant noise stopped immediately. I was not psychotic. Neurotic, anxious, obsessive. Yes. Psychotic. No. Definitely not. At least I didn’t think so then…..