LISTENING TO THE SILENCES

 

CHAPTER 12 PAGE 1

Still as they run
They look behind,
And hear a voice
In every wind.

Thomas Gray

 


Rocks, rivers and lakes as smooth as glass...

So wrote William Wordsworth, a man completely familiar with Lakeland, this my chosen home for more than fifty years. Travelling south from this house, I come, in turn, to two stretches of water. First, I arrive at the estuary of the Duddon, a river that the poet fished and wrote about. Then, after a short journey, the upper reaches of Morecambe Bay come into view. Both are inlets of the sea and respond to the surges of the tides. At full tide, the expanses of water are extensive, and, if I travel on a sunny day, the sight is spectacular as the sun on the water gleams and sparkles at me when I look down from high points of my route. Low water creates equally stunning views as the sands and mud are exposed, and the water diverts into a multitude of channels, creeks and runnels.

Upon the walls of this room hang two paintings of the Duddon estuary, created by local artists now dead. The smaller is a keepsake given in memory of a friend on her death - a gentle view, done in Jane's unique style. The larger painting, by a man who was 'unique' in a variety of different ways, captures the scene with a wildfowler's eye and brush - a wild waterscape with scudding clouds, and the mud banks and saltings favoured by the wild geese and widgeon in the winter. Both estuaries have been a source of bounty for the hardy gatherers of food in times past. Even today, the sands of Morecambe Bay yield food for sale, and an income for the 'harvesters' of cockles and fluke - the local name for a variety of flatfish.

The saltings and sand look benign and approachable, especially in summer sun, and the maps show the red broken lines of the routes that would lead one from shore to opposite shore. Foolhardy would be the one who ventured out to gather a few cockles or tread for fluke. Reckless would be those who set out to cross the sands guided solely by the red lines on the map. The history of the area lists many who have perished in both types of venture. The summer just ending adds a father and son who were isolated by the sudden descent of a mist and drowned - just a short distance from, and in earshot of the shore, on what had been a bright sunny day.

The greatest source of danger is quicksand. Ever changing, apparent only to the trained eye, the sand first holds and then overwhelms. The cockle gatherers and fluke fishers are experienced and know the signs, although there are numerous records of horses, carts and tractors having been trapped and abandoned. As the numbers of experienced people diminish, their lore will be lost irretrievably. The guide who even yet escorts parties across the Bay sands is old and has no trainee to follow him - his experience of the daily changing conditions is irreplaceable.

At the outset, I linked the quicksand of the shore and the 'quicksand' of the mind, with the dire, lonely peril of the one who is lost in the latter. I offered myself as a guide on the merit of my experience of becoming trapped and nearly overwhelmed, but I am not immortal, and I am training no one. Sometimes I think that I am continuing to write in a vain hope - a hope that my experiences will truly influence the way in which individuals classed as 'schizophrenic' are treated and actually helped to regain control of their minds and lives, and not just to be subdued by mind-altering drugs. In the medicine of the body, many practitioners have encountered personally some of the conditions that they set out to treat. Lucky is the one who, arriving at early adulthood, has not had a variety of infectious illnesses, fractures or sprains. Such is not the case in psychiatry or psychology - essentially the practioners are theorists, never, except in a small minority of instances, having experienced the mental conditions that they yet feel competent to diagnose and treat.

As you read my accounts of the various ploys, I would ask you to recollect that I am, or have been, aware of them because I was aware and observant from the very beginning. Not having been made ill by the 'invasion', but, nevertheless, having experienced times of disturbance, I have been sensitive to all that has been worked within me, and have recorded much. As you read, then, I would ask you, further, to try to put yourself in the place of someone visiting his G.P. for the first time. Aware that all is not in control within mind and, or body, and yet not sufficiently articulate to be specific - does he end up with an anti-depressant or tranquilliser just to give the impression that something is being done? Should he return for a second consultation, he might not even see the same G.P. - but, by now, he has some sort of label.

In my own case, a non-nervous illness (Cryptosporidia infection) was misdiagnosed as an anxiety ailment, and I began taking Librium. After two years continuous use, an involuntary addict, and exhibiting many of the acknowledged side effects of the drug, I was referred to a Consultant Psychiatrist - who saw me as a 'garrulous hypochondriac' (albeit of above average intelligence!). Changing the Librium to Tryptizol overnight, and giving me 'cold turkey' in the process, my bizarre reactions were put down to an 'idiosyncratic reaction' to the replacement drug, not to the sudden withdrawal of Librium. In his next communication to my G.P., and discussing the hitherto unrecorded reactions, the Consultant writes - "The same quality of description is, alas, also seen in schizophrenic psychoses in this sort of person. I am beginning to lean towards the latter diagnosis although I have nothing definite to confirm it. Meanwhile, hedging my bets, I have put this man on Melleril 25 mgms. T.d.s…" Melleril is an 'anti-psychotic' drug, and has a large and frightening list of side effects, including 'drowsiness, apathy, pallor, nightmares, insomnia, depression, agitation…blurred vision, cardiovascular symptoms (assorted)…' - need I go on?

In the short space of time between 22nd November and the 7th December, I had progressed from having a mis-diagnosed 'anxiety state', to being a suspected 'schizophrenic psychotic'. In spite of that, and with no credible reason given, the Consultant (who admitted in correspondence to "…lacunae in my training…") yet prescribed Nardil - a potent anti-depressant, having the usual range of most undesirable side effects, among which are '…psychotic episodes with hypo-manic behaviour, confusion and hallucinations…'! I will not continue; all of the heart-breaking details are covered in full at the beginning of my opus. I am reprising them here simply to make the point that a person can be made very ill as the result of wild and unstructured interventions. I would make the further point that no intervention other than understanding and support may be the best course of action for many who are experiencing non-specific mind disturbance.

 

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