Today, 9 June, marks seven months to the day since I left hospital for the third time last November.
It was also the day Donald Trump was elected President.
The time since has been almost as much of a struggle for me as the time before. There has been constant adjustment in my medications, especially the Nortriptyline: when I left hospital I was taking 75 mg; now I’m on 150 mg. And in that same time my weight has shot up at about the same rate. Only in the past fortnight have I managed to achieve some measure of control over the trajectory of my weight.
It’s also been a struggle in that here in the outside world it’s an uncontrolled environment. It’s very noisy. It’s crowded. There have been plenty of times when, finding myself floundering in response to noise and crowds, I’ve thought for sure I’d be going back to hospital.
I was hospitalised three times. I was only ever supposed to go in once. It was meant to be a quick, intense thing where I would come in, my meds would ne swapped out in favour of something better with a much improved side-effect profile, and they’d roll me out the door as soon as I looked stable. And this almost happened.
The first thing they put me on after taking me off the Clomipramine I’d been on for 30 years was called Zyban. It was meant to be this brilliant new high-tech modern drug with few side-effects, and was even meant to be weight-neutral, of all things! They put me on it, and there appeared, for a few hopeful days, to be a result. I seemed to feel a bit better (and I had been feeling very bad). But it turned out this was all placebo. There was no real clinical response. It was a dud, for me at least.
I wound up on a different new drug, Cymbalta, and that looked pretty good, and did seem to work. I was discharged, and went home, like Caesar returning to Rome from Germania, full of plunder. I was Victorious. Life was good. Or a close facsimile of good.
I was still brittle, and fragile. Sounds were a problem. Crowd situations were hard. People around me going out of their way to cater for my needs were upsetting me. I felt guilty. I still couldn’t write.
But I was home. I didn’t have to go back to my room at the hospital, my room that I took to calling the “Tupperware” because I often felt cold and like I was being stored in a box at the back of the fridge. Being home, I thought, made up for a lot of shortcomings and problems.
But the problems kept accumulating, especially the problems involving sound. I simply could not stand a whole range of perfectly innocuous, quiet sounds.
I lasted about ten days, and was back in the Tupperware.
The second time I was discharged, Great Caesar, this time back from Gaul, lasted three weeks, and was pleased to have lasted that long before winding up back in the Tupperware.
And now this third time seems to have stuck, at seven months and counting. The thing about post-discharge time is you are constantly looking back over your shoulder. The hospital looms behind you, dark and menacing, a huge and sinister presence, and no matter how you try, there seems no escape from it. I asked my doctor about this, that it seemed strange to fear a place that was actually so good and healing for me. He said it’s not the physical hospital but the emotional place you’re afraid of, that sense of profound brokenness, that you’ll never be “right” again. That’s the thing, and he’s right. It’s nearly impossible to know when you have attained this “rightness”, if you ever do. You might feel really good for a long time, but then something will happen, you’ll hear a triggering sound, or a stray fragment of dismaying news, and down you go into the pit again.
Because of this, you spend almost all your time monitoring yourself. Awake, asleep, in conversation with other people, even your beloved, even your dog, you’re wondering, in the back office of your mind, am I okay? Am I going all right? How am I? You’re taking note of everything around you, from what people are eating and drinking to the ticking of clocks and the hum of refrigerators.
(As I write this, I’m sitting by an open window looking out into our backyard. We have a gigantic eucalyptus tree, a beautiful shaggy monster of a thing, and local birds love it. I love it, too, the size and scale of it, and the sound of wind wishing through it. But most of all I love that bird sounds don’t bother me in the least. If you eat a TimTam next to me I might wish you harm, but honey-eaters chirping outside are welcome anytime.)
Even when nominally relaxed, I’m still just a bit vigilant, a little bit alert, watching my surroundings, keeping an eye on people who might be problems, which is to say, who might drag a chair, who might have a noisy child, who might stir a cup of coffee, who might not stop talking in a certain tone. It’s tiring. I want to not care. I want to not even notice. Sometimes, in recent months I have achieved this. I’ve been places, done what I came there to do, and only on leaving did I realise that the entire time I was there I didn’t once notice the noises around me.
It hasn’t just been external noises making my recovery difficult. It’s also been the news every day. I said that the day I was last discharged, Trump got elected. And every day since then, as I’ve attempted to put my life back together, the news is full of him and his people. And when I say the news is full, I mean full to overflowing. I have never seen anything like it before. It’s distressing. Every day is Trump Day. Every story is refracted through the lens of Trump. We are living in the Trumpocene Era.
It’s unbearable. I no longer watch regular TV. I limit my daily news consumption. It was harming my recovery. My psychologist, when I tell her about this, and how it makes me feel, tells me she has lots of other clients (and her professional colleagues have other clients) who are likewise in despair over what’s happening. And there’s so little we can do, here in Australia. Terrible things are loose in the world, vile forces and ideas, things once thought utterly defeated, but reborn and embraced by the worst people, and there’s nothing anyone can do.
I’ve been interested in US politics since I found out about Watergate, aged 11, in the 1970s. I watch US election campaigns, especially presidential campaigns. So when I saw Trump campaigning over the past two years, I could see how utterly unconventional he was, and how his candidacy should not have worked, but it did work. There were enough people in the US who bought what he was selling. And one of the most scary things about what Trump was selling in that campaign, is that politicians here are starting to sell that same thing, and it’s going over well.
It’s not politics-as-usual. It’s not the same cynical system politics we’re used to. It’s something raw and brutal. I don’t know what to make of it. All the maps I’ve always used to make sense of my place in the world in relation to the larger features and structures no longer make any sense. There is no longer a clear path from the past to somewhere that might be the future. Where there used to be the future is now just “later”. I’m more or less in my right mind, but I have rarely felt so vulnerable, so lost, so anxious. A new sort of anxiety, and a new sense of loss. I don’t know where I’m going.
I hope I don’t wind up back in hospital.