Pyjama Girl and the lost decade
22nd August 2007
I have something of a lost decade between my 30th and 40th birtthdays, half of which I spent in and out of psychiatric hospitals, when I became homeless, when I lost my career, when I parted company with friends. For a few months, I lost my freedom too, when I was sectioned under the Mental Health Act. I didn't count in the census because I was in hospital and I didn't vote at one election for the same reason.
I lost my mind, and then struggled to get it back. And without wishing to romanticise it, because it really wasn't fun, in getting back my mind, I think I have got back a part of myself that I'd lost somewhere between the ages of 10 and 30.
To put this in perspective, I'd better explain what happened. I'd struggled with depression of the clinical kind since I was a teenager. I'd been on and off antidepressants, had a spot of psychotherapy from which I fled 12,000 miles when it started getting tough, and had hypomanic episodes which were simply never diagnosed. I had a great job, and all the outward signs of a shiny, happy future waiting to unfold before me. And then I lost it. Big time. Sometime in the late 90s I decided to die, and started a new career as a psychiatric patient.
You can tell who left my party and when because of what they heard in the cab on the way home: some sort of crash, she wasn't hurt, she was hurt, she was seriously hurt, she was rumoured to be dead.
I learned of her death while I was cleaning up the next day. It was a rude awakening. I'd been riding a wave of hypomania for the month before my birthday and, like the rest of the nation, I was brought down with a jolt. An omen, perhaps, for the years to come. From that point on, my memories of world events seem inextricably linked to what was happening with my mental health or the consequences thereof.
3 August 2001: The Real IRA bombs Ealing - I was on the floor of my hospital room manically painting in the middle of a session of sleep deprivation therapy.
20 March 2003: The start of the Iraq war - Passenger jitters and cancellations about flying at this time got me an urgent seat on a plane out of Australia, where my family live, because I had to get back to London to claim the council flat that had finally been allocated to me.
21 July 2005: 21/7 attempted London bombings -- I was stuck in the Department of Health in a meeting about the Mental Health Bill when the next wave of bombs fizzled out. The Minister was handed one note, then another, as aides came in and out of the room, trying not to look stressed. Then as she finally revealed what was happening, an announcement came on the tannoy telling us we couldn't leave the building.
It has been quite a decade, really. When you put it in context, my madness seems to have been just a tiny part of a mad, mad world.
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