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Syndrome

by Nicky Jones

“I don’t like clocks”, he said. My daughter looked at me, we were having a pizza in Weymouth. He didn’t say anything else but looked perturbed. My daughter and I chatted gaily about nothing very much. “Time’s speeding up then slowing down” he said. Derealisation. A typical symptom. The world looks as if it’s on a screen.

“My leg’s numb”, he said when we were back at his flat. He thumped it with his fist. “I can’t feel it”, he said. Depersonalisation. Another symptom. Feeling detached from yourself or entire being, eg your thoughts are not your own. Later he said someone was hurting his brain, it was burning up, it was damaged. Am I broadcasting my thoughts?” he asked me. “No one can do that, Matthew”, I said.

His football was in the living room. I rolled it back and forth under my foot. We both looked at it. He seemed entranced. After a while I stopped. He burst into tears. “Oh don’t stop!” he cried, sounding heartbroken. Depression. A very common symptom.

He said he had stomach ache. I made an appointment with his GP. He didn’t think he could manage leaving the flat, getting into the car, the journey. I had to encourage him all the way. Everything was frightening to him, like a bad LSD trip. Full blown psychosis. It’s sometimes called frank or florid psychosis. Once in the GP’s consulting room he said “Do you mind if I go like his?” and held up his hands as if someone had said “stick ‘em up”. Even our GP who had known us for over 20 years looked as if this was a bit beyond him. The GP decided Matthew should get his ‘head’ better first before investigating any physical symptoms. When we came out of the surgery Matthew was walking very stiffly and then came to a halt in the waiting room. Everyone looked up. “Come on, Matt”, I said and we left.

The experience had been too much for him and when we were back in the living room of his flat he stopped and stood as still as a statue. He didn’t answer when I spoke to him, I felt frightened. I rang the emergency number for the community health team. “Does he know who you are?” asked the woman. (Blimey, I thought, how bad does this get?). “Yes”, I said. “He’s thought-blocked”, she said. “He should come round from that in a minute. Ring us again if there’s a problem.” Catatonia. Getting stuck in strange positions or being unable to move, several examples of which I saw later. It’s what he had been doing in the surgery.

We went out the next day to Tesco’s. Half way there Matthew turned round and started walking backwards – rather expertly I thought. “You’re walking backwards”, I said. “Am I?” he said, “I can’t tell.” “Life’s difficult enough without you trying to walk backwards”, I said. In Tesco’s we split up. I told him to get some bananas, I was about fifteen feet away watching him out of the corner of my eye. It was like having a toddler. He gazed at the bananas as if he didn’t know what they were, then he gingerly picked up a bunch. I smiled encouragingly and we put in in my basket. I picked up a few more things and we left.

We went back the flat and I ran him a bath, except there didn’t seem to be enough hot water so I went back and forth with kettles of boiling water. He hadn’t had a wash in a long time. Lack of personal care – another symptom. I decided to leave the teeth brushing the next day. Just getting through space was a problem for him without making him do other bizarre things.

During the first ten days of this psychotic episode Community Psychiatric Nurses called at his flat every day. It was like waiting for the cavalry to arrive. I was often waiting for them, sitting on the steps that led up to the block of flats smoking a fag. Yes, I went back to smoking, it was something to do. The days seemed endless, he would get upset if we went out, everything was threatening, we couldn’t watch telly, it set off the paranoia and he saw doubles of everyone. He hardly spoke, he wasn’t hungry. He was often crying, or staring at me. Apparently I looked as if I was on a screen. My daughter was very freaked out by the staring. She came round and did some washing up, a lot of washing up, in fact. It looked as though he hadn’t done any for a month. There was mould growing on plates, on cutlery, in glasses. There were great mounds of dirty washing. The sheets were so filthy I threw them away, and the pillow cases and then on further investigation the pillows.

He refused the antipsychotics that the psychiatrist prescribed, he thought they were poisoned; he thought the psychiatrist and the nurses were part of a plot. He kept seeing doubles in newspapers and on the telly, of people he knew, of himself. He was at the centre of a global political conspiracy. “I’ve just seen myself on a film made in the 1950s”, he said horrified, “they knew what I’d look like even then!”

Eventually he took some of the tablets for a few days and got a bit better but his paranoia was always there under the surface and after a few days he’d stop taking them believing they were poisoned. After months of being on and off the tablets he realised he was ill, a breakthrough at last after a year. He started taking the tablets regularly and the symptoms subsided. Four years later he is stable, on antipsychotic medicine and slowly putting his life back together.

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