The Doctor waited patiently for the sheet of paper to fully emerge from her printer and handed it to me. It was shortly after 10 am, and my brain hadn’t fully come to terms with being awake, so my vision blurred as I tried to focus on the image of my brain on the print out.
“You see here and here?” she said, motioning with a pencil. “The sort of brain activity we’re seeing here is typical of what I suspected…though it could be something else.”
I nodded, rather dully.
“Now, it could simply be that this is a part of your bipolar disorder….” my GP began to say.
“Or it could be that I have schizophrenia.” I finished for her.
She paused, and then nodded. “That is a risk, given your family history.”
“Family history” was a polite way of referring to several years of watching my mother degenerate into increasing madness from a toxic blend of religious extremism (brought on by years of dancing on the edge of Opus Dei) and paranoid schizophrenia. “Family history” was the euphemism for travelling back to Manchester on night buses on weekends throughout my final year, trying to revise methods of practical criticism while aware that the person I was travelling all that way to help was convinced that the voice she heard were those of Angels. “Family history” was the delicate way of referring to the perpetual brown stain on the wall of my parent’s bedroom at home, around the height my head would be if I were to be sitting on the edge of the bed. The stain was coffee. My mother only seemed to make coffee in order to use it as a projectile. Waste of perfectly good mugs. To this day I avoided instant coffee because I associated it with suddenly flying towards my face, accompanied by curses.
I sat back in the uncomfortable plastic chair. The print out rested on my lap, as if anticipating its next entrance in the conversation, and rehearsing its upcoming significance. My GP was saying something about the need for further scans and for not jumping to conclusions too hastily. She stopped after she realised that I had become fixated on my ring, a nervous tick I’d developed since I’d bought the thing a few months before.
“Are you alright?” she asked.
“I wish I could smoke in here,” I said.
And to her credit, the GP who had spent the last year or so sternly advising me to remove all traces of nicotine from my life, smiled sympathetically.
I left the GPs office when my allocated 20 minutes were up, and wandered aimlessly to King’s Parade. I didn’t feel like going back to work yet, so I perched myself in my usual haunt, near the mouth of King’s Lane, and smoked reflectively. How was I meant to respond to this latest mental development? Was I to now live in fear of a ticking time bomb in my head that would explode and propel me away from myself to a future of scrawled writing on the walls and the fear that the voices I heard were being heard by only me? The logical part of my head, the part that tended to thrive in times of crisis, sighed wearily and, in sober tones, pointed out that there was no diagnosis, only the potential for one. Schizophrenia, despite what Hollywood might maintain, was a perfectly manageable condition. Antipsychotic medication could be effective, and for all I knew, many of my closest friends and colleagues lived with some form of schizophrenic condition. My fear was simply getting ahead of itself, and I needed to take a deep breath and deal with whatever happened.
Fear – it wasn’t a term I applied to myself lightly. We all, on some primal level, fear illness. We fear cancer, we fear brain tumours, we fear leukemia. I suppose I too feared these things, but here fear was simply another way of saying “was aware of, and wished to avoid.” The fear I feel towards schizophrenia is something else entirely. That fear was rooted not so much in the anticipation of voices whispering to an audience of one, or auditory hallucinations that tempted me into a mental wilderness, but of the fear that one day I might be the person who caused someone else to sleep on night buses weaving towards unwanted destination, that my ability to think rationally would be impeded by my own paranoia as if I had been involved with some cult, and that one day that brown stain would be a permanent feature of my bedroom wall.
“They fuck you up, your mum and dad,” I found myself muttering to no one in particular, “they do not mean to but they do. They fill you with all the faults they had and add some extra just for you.”
In this case, those “faults” were hardwired into my genes. I had inherited the fury that had made my mother a monster when I had inherited her deepset eyes, and her naturally straight hair. It had always been a part of me, and had lain curled at the back of my mind like a cat as I’d stumbled from home school to high school to sixth form to University to this precise moment, this sunny day in late May, two hundred miles south of where it had all begun, twenty four years ago. Now, perhaps, it was stirring. And I feared that stirring.
Well, what did it matter. I was still alive, for the most part. I had endured worse than “a significant risk” in my time. It sort of went part and parcel with every day. When you’ve been through rape, abuse, attempted murder, depression, online harassment and much more besides before you turn 25, you tend to find your sense of panic wavers after a bit, before settling down into an obscure corner of yourself. What happens happens. I deal with it.
I finished my cigarette, and went back to work.