I’ve said before that one of the hardest things about living with mental illness is not having any answers. Not knowing. How to help the person you love. Having no one to ask. Because (unlike with many physical illnesses) no one else knows either.
And sometimes, believing that the most loving behaviour could be what feels most horrible.
Bink cancelled her therapy session. (Her thoroughly suitable, tailor-made, appropriate to her condition, one-to-one, state of the art therapy at the Priory earlier this week. Not the NHS let's-lock-all-the-loonies-up-together-to-get-them-out-of-the-way so-called 'therapy' of seventeen years ago.)
I was sad but not surprised.
The night before, I’d unwittingly touched her bag and failed to reassure her that my hands had been soaped since I last went to the loo. And I hadn’t yet told her that Shaun had borrowed a cleaner car and would be able to take her himself.
Why hadn’t I? Didn’t I know this already? Was it really because – knowing how busy he was before his imminent trip abroad – I didn’t want to commit Shaun if Bink might allow me to take her in our tatty old car?
Or (being brutally honest) was I just pissed off? Yet again, all these ridiculous hoops we have to jump through for Bink’s destructive and loopy requirements.
I don’t honestly know. Probably a bit of both. Does it matter?
The next morning I told her – truthfully – that I’d observed myself in the bathroom and yes, I do soap my hands. I don’t know whether I usually do, I said; but I did this morning, which suggests so.
And I told her she could go in a clean car.
Too late, she said. It’s cancelled.
It’s not too late, I said. The therapist is keeping the slot for you.
I’m not well enough, she said.
What sort of not well enough?
I’m not well enough to say.
This argument continued, on and off, all day. Each feeling manipulated by the other.
I, because next time I’ll just bloody lie and tell you I’ve soaped my hands won’t I? She, because I told her I’m not turning down a lucrative house-letting, requiring your bedroom, now we have no other source of income, just because you haven’t gone into hospital when you could have done because you can’t be bothered to show up for your therapy.
Why don’t you even bother to understand what it feels like to be me?
Why don’t you even bother to explain what it feels like to be you?
(Did didn't did didn't.)
And maybe I do understand, Bink. Maybe the rest of us, who get off our backsides and go into work when we don’t feel well enough, understand only too well what it feels like not to feel well enough, and just ignore the feeling and get on with it until we do feel well enough. And maybe the fact that you don’t is a lot of the problem.
You have this ridiculous idea that one day I'll just miraculously be 'well'. And being 'well' means being perfect. And then I won't have any issues any more.
This is supposed to be about me.
Primarily about you, yes. But it's also about all the rest of us. Have you any idea the effect your illness has...
(On and on.)
A book group in Cambridge, I said, thought they had booked me to speak about my novel next week, when Shaun and I have accepted an invitation to the South of France, for which we've bought flights. And I was all set to cancel my trip... because just three readers turning out in the cold matter more than our first holiday abroad in more than ten years.
Is it really that important to you? she asked after an hour and a half of this. One therapy session?
Yes, I said. It really is. Because it’s a statement of priority.
All right. In that case. I’ll go.
And then she began to weep piteously, and tell me how desperate and helpless she is because she simply can’t wash, and how if she can’t fix that she’ll be a lot worse off than just not going to a therapy session, and how she won’t be able to wash for several more days if she puts her energy into going, and she will spiral completely out of control...
Bink, I said gently. Do you not think that’s what the therapist is for?
And then I felt overwhelmed with guilt.
What a horrible, bullying, cruel person I must be.
So she and Shaun set off, an hour and seventeen minutes later than originally planned, to reach the North London Priory in all the end-of-the-day traffic.
And the wonderful therapist said that was great and of course she’ll hang on for her last session of the day, and presumably in turn make herself horrendously late home.
Was it the right thing to do? To persuade her? To put pressure on her like that?
That’s the trouble, isn’t it?