Hello, my name’s Mark and I’m an Apopheniac. Well, I must be because every day I see ‘patterns or connections in random or meaningless data’. Or to put it another way, I see faces and stuff in things, which is, according to Wikipedia, called Apophenia. I wonder if there’s an Apopheniacs Anonymous where people sit around saying, It has been three days since my last face. (polite applause). I myself am a Happy Apo’. I go looking for the stuff. Hey, maybe I’ll mention it to the Psychiatrist later. Oh didn’t you know? I’ve been referred to a shrink. A few weeks back my Chronic Fatigue Syndrome consultant offered me an appointment with a Psychiatrist. I naturally asked why I would want to see a psychiatrist when I’m physically, not mentally ill? Because, the Consultant said, this Dr has a special interest in people with CFS/ME. They have a lot of experience in this field. Oh what the hay, I said, bring it on. Now I’m thinking, Mmm, what exactly is this ‘special interest’? Sounds a bit dodgy. Am I to be molested whilst too exhausted to protest? Could there be such a thing as a ’Tired’ fetishist? I know I feel totally shagged all the time but that would be ridiculous…
I have a little while until my appointment at the hospital which is around the corner from Paddington Station so I’m in the station itself looking at the stone flooring and challenging myself not to find faces in the squares. But no, there they are – An old lady here, a Revolutionary in shades with a ginger beard there..You may see others. Or none. (1-3)
St Mary’s Hospital was opened in 1845. It’s a jumble of old and new bits. Ancient And Modern. Fading mouldy brick, rust and moss share space with polished, shiny new painted panels. (4-8) I used to come here a few years ago with an inner ear/balance problem. I had an appointment here one morning in the July of 2007. Had that appointment been 24 hours later I may well have witnessed some of the emergency and panic as they brought in the casualties from the bombed tube stations nearby…There’s a statue outside the main entrance, a guy,a postman I think, trying to get something out of his shoe. It’s here that folk come and sit, visitors and patients, to chat, smoke their fags. I take some pictures. (9-13). A nurse approaches me. I think, she’s going to tell me to stop, but no. Do I have a lighter, she asks, for the old lady’s cigarette. The old lady in her wheelchair looks expectantly. Sorry, no. There are maps and signs everywhere because with so many wings and annexes, it’s easy to get lost. (14) And such names they have. There’s a Mint Wing. Not just green, but Mint. -Excuse me, I’m looking for the Mint Wing. Oh you’re in the wrong place, this is the Pistachio Ward. Go through the double doors, and you’ll see the Keith Richards Annexe on your left, Florence and the Dialysis Machine on the right and the Mint Wing is straight in front of you.1845. Wonder what it was like back then? People arriving in casualty complaining of ‘the scabby arse’?. Was there a ward for ‘Female Sickness’? Maybe a wing dedicated to ‘The Lame’ and an annexe for the ‘Weak of Nerves’. Right, it’s nearly time for my appointment. I‘m not nervous. I’m cynical and ever so slightly intrigued. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest is my favourite film of all time, after all. But I’ll resist the temptation of sitting through the consultation in silence, chewing gum, and at the end saying..Mmm, Juicy Fruit. The area I want is easy to find. No Arkham Asylum this, just a small unprepossessing looking cabin tacked onto the side of the main building. I’m buzzed into a small empty waiting area. There are Rothkos on the walls, not blood and shit. Which is a good start. The Psychiatrist, a young female, invites me to sit and says she’ll be with me in a while. I help myself to a paper cup of water from the cooler and wait.
And something comes back to me. This is actually the second time I’ve been to a shrink. Yes, about 13 years ago when my CFS/M.E journey began, I was sent to see someone at Charing Cross Hospital. That time I distinctly remember sitting in the waiting area with three other people who all appeared to be post-op, male to female Transsexuals (is that’s the correct terminology, not sure). All there, I imagine, to discuss the psychological side of Gender Realignment. Yes, it’s all coming back. There were a couple who, I have to say, looked very ‘Little Britain, I’m a Lady’, and another who, was, as Keith Lemon would say, ‘Bang Tidy’. We all sat there looking into space, avoiding eye contact. Well, okay, I looked over at ‘Bang Tidy’ a couple of times. Well, whaddaya gonna do? That time the Psychiatrist was not overly impressed with my Dr for referring me and discharged me after the briefest of chats. He looked overworked and busy with his own ‘special interest’… So 13 years on and my second Psychiatrist reappears and invites me into to a little room. They don’t have couches like you always see in cartoons and it’s not like The Sopranos either. That’s Psycho-analysis, which costs big bucks. This is N.H.S. Psychiatry. Plastic chair. She smiles. Can I tell her about my illness and symptoms? You bet. It takes a long time, I don’t want to overlook anything. The first thing she observes is that I seem to use a lot of medical terminology. I must read and think about it alot she says, pointedly. Uh..? If she’d asked, she would have discovered that here’s a bloke who left school at 16, worked in a factory for 5 years then on stage as a comic for 25 years, has a keen interest in all things and, having had no secondary education has relied his whole life on finding things out for himself. And faced with a life fucking-up illness with no cure and that you’re left to get on with alone, has read up quite a bit on the subject. But she doesn’t ask. She’s just thinking – Hypochondriac. Thanks. She then starts on about, what many other folk with CFS/M.E will have been told, that maybe some of it is caused by Depression. There’s a crossover, she says with CFS and Depression. I protest, I’m not depressed. Well, she says, a lot of the symptoms you’ve mentioned are also found in Depression. Like blah and blah and poor appetite. Sorry? I say, I never mentioned poor appetite. I have a good appetite. Her smile begins to look a little strained and this does nothing to quell my growing concern that I’m not really being treated that individually. I’ve heard the Depression/ CFS crossover mantra a million times, I say. I think it’s a cop out. I really don’t think i’m majorly depressed. Of course, I’m not jumping for joy but that’s to be expected and anyway it’s not a crossover is it? It’s just one way traffic. I mean, how many patients complaining of Depression have EVER had it suggested to them that they may be suffering from M.E/ CFS? None, I would wager, cos it’s constantly being swept under the carpet. So I’m not interested in being treated for something I don’t have,thank you very much. And before you say, isn’t it worth a try? I have tried anti-depressants in the past and I can’t tolerate the side effects. They make me feel worse, which is extremely common in CFS. She perseveres, tells me that she has a patient who vomits after every meal but with anti-depressants and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, she is getting better. And she’s telling me this, why? Involuntary Vomiting Syndrome or whatever that’s called has one symptom in one situation. It’s got nothing to do with CFS! We carry on talking for a bit. She respects my views but, special interest or no, she has nothing else to suggest. It’s over. I leave. I walk around the hospital grounds a while, take more snaps. (15,16). I look at the sick. What’s that saying? When life gives you lemons, go make lemonade. Well today, we’re all making shit pie. Again. Then I remember, Dang! I forgot to mention the Apophenia. Which is a pity, cos I was going to say -Your water cooler’s got a right face on this morning…(17). Now, back at home, lying in my bed next to my little window (18) where I often feel angry, isolated and misunderstood. But then the light comes in and I’m calm and resilient, at ease. Being ill sucks. So to all you getting on with the business of being ill, I salute you.For dealing with whatever it is you’re dealing with, be it M.E. or M.S, Crohns or Cancer. Be you Depressed or Diabetic, Tracheostomized or Post Operative Transgendered. I salute you all and am proud to be one of your number; of The Afflicted, The Scabby-arsed, and The Lame….
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