Over those few months between late summer and mid-autumn, Bink calculated that we had fifteen addresses in a hundred days.
Somewhere between around the dozenth and the last, and a couple of weeks before her Cambridge interviews, she lost her medication. Perhaps travelling salesmen and soldiers get the hang of this, but I certainly never did: packing up and moving on every few days meant I eventually lost almost everything I needed for day-to-day living.
So for several days she wasn’t able to take any pills: you also have to register with a GP every time you need a prescription, which is hard to do on the move too. After a week without, she asked my advice. Should she find a doctor and get more?
More than anything else – more even than the gene lottery which made her susceptible in the first place – it is prescription medication that has wrecked Bink’s life. I don’t say this out of knee-jerk Ludditery: Bink would have died as an infant (of infected adenoids) without modern medicine; my father is 101, and you don’t get there without some pretty skilful doctoring (and a family to care for you); and I have witnessed first-hand the benefit of mind-pills in at least containing, if not curing, mental ailments from depression to schizophrenia.
In Bink’s case, however, medication – mostly given in place of treatment – has proved utterly devastating. She was forced onto pills in the Florence Nightingale Unit, aged 16, and we had to witness the dreadful dulling and disturbing effect drugs had on her previously sharp and lucid mind. I weaned her off them as soon as she came home, though some of the confusion remained.
But with treatment still not forthcoming, after six months our GP persuaded her back onto them.
In the long term, quitting medication was more important even than her Cambridge interview. I had sometimes made the mistake, in the past, of putting my children’s immediate academic welfare above what would last them a lifetime. When Rosie was born, I didn’t recall Ben immediately from boarding school to welcome his new sister and celebrate with the rest of us, because he was about to sit Latin GSCE: an error of judgement I regret still. He won’t remember his Latin GCSE grade on his deathbed, will he?
I knew Bink would never be fully well while on medication. And no doctor we’d ever found – all so happy to get her addicted to the stuff – would help her come off it.
She had already gone a week without. If I went to a chemist and got another bottle just to get her through her interviews, it could be years, it could be half her life, before she tried to survive without again.
“No,” I advised. “Stay off them.”
I just wouldn’t have chosen the timing.
I knew nothing about the shelf-life, and how long it would be for withdrawal to take effect.
(As I was to discover next time she stopped, neither does anyone, really. A GP friend told me that what Bink experienced – unbearable symptoms of withdrawal months after she seemed to have got through – was impossible.)
The day before her interview she was shaking like a pneumatic drill. She was very obviously not well.
I rang the child psychologist she had seen as an outpatient at the Maudsley a few years earlier who, although firmly espoused to chemical cures, had seemed sympathetic.
Not any more.
“Well yes, the medication has a long half-life. There will have been traces in her system until now, so she’s only just feeling the effects of withdrawal.”
Should I get her an emergency supply?
“Bit late now,” she said sharply. There was no mistaking her annoyance. “I can’t help her, if she goes on and off medication without medical supervision.” And she hung up.
Thanks. You have no idea, have you?
She got through the morning interviews, despite being now very ill indeed, by spending fifteen minutes beforehand breathing deeply, and ruthlessly calming herself down.
I took her off for lunch, and got her back punctually for the afternoon interviews, but with no time to spare. She was called straight into the room with no opportunity of performing the same ritual.
“It was a disaster.” She was distraught. “I couldn’t even hear what they were saying.” The room was a fog of confusion. She had intelligent answers to all the questions, but couldn’t drag herself from her place of panic and jangling agitation, into the same space as her interviewers.
Everyone wants to make excuses after a bad interview. There was nothing worth saying to the college. How could they understand what even close friends couldn’t: that as well as her disability, Bink had nowhere to live?
Definitely the wrong time to come off the meds.