In 1980, aged just 30-plus, I had a nervous breakdown. Or so the psychiatric pundits thus labelled me – psychotic, paranoid and persecuted! What I actually thought, let alone felt, was shelved into suspicious space; ignored, irrelevant, irrational and insane. There was no respect and no reality except how others (family and so-called friends!) regarded me. I was even denigrated as potentially dangerous, deluded and out of control, poised on the precipice of powerlessness. I was weak, weird and worthless! Fact passed for fiction, and with tragic irony, fiction passed for fact. Nobody cared or was even interested in my truth. Nobody still is. Let me explain!
After five years as a journalist in Melbourne (and very successful in that work), I travelled to the UK where I worked and lived for the next seven years, initially as a freelance newspaper journalist, and then as a researcher in British TV. I was quite a workaholic then and did very well in this employment, often working an 80-hour week for a pittance of a pay-packet, but I was learning heaps and thought (believed?) the real rewards would ensue when I garnered all the experience I needed. I was working in a London independent TV station on a local news/current affairs program and began to welcome some off-camera reporting as well as comments by my superiors about being a TV interviewer down the track. Indeed, I was even asked by a producer in the documentary department who I had never spoken to – he came to see me in the research office – (so how and why had he asked me? Who had told him about me, I pondered?) if I was interested in doing the interviews for a documentary on the residents of a high-rise council estate; albeit at night after my other daily routines. And don’t tell your fellow research colleagues, he even warned me! (Why? Would they be jealous?)
So I performed day and night with much acclaim and then I had a new 12-month contract to sign and opted to push my promise and punt on a pay rise with the personnel manager. To absolutely no avail! Indeed, he responded to my request by asking me where I thought men were more chauvinistic – here or in Australia? (I think too many men in this company, and some women as well, thought I was a man-hating dike because I espoused much feminist intelligence and stood up for myself and didn’t look like a walking sex-bomb!) The fact that I couldn’t afford the fashionable and trendy clothes I wanted didn’t seem to register! I was stunned by his question and simply replied “I don’t know” (I’d never even thought about it) maybe in America there’s more justice and equality I added or thereabouts. I did wonder, albeit somewhat curiously, if the powers of the company had bugged my phone and realised what a good interviewer I was (how else did they think that, I wondered at length) as in the arena of investigative journalism I knew reporters often secretly taped conversations and bugged phones. I approached one of my immediate producers about this and he just shrugged it aside – the truth was I welcomed it and couldn’t understand how they had surmised I could be a good interviewer as no one else was ever present at my research interviews out of the office.
I also knew the new program editor had seen my references from Australia (I’d sent them to the company when I applied for a job there) as in an interview he asked me how I spelled my name. I was known in this company as Pauline with an I, but in Australia I had changed my by-line to Paulyne with a Y – so this editor had no other way of knowing I spelled my name differently. I was also told by a man I had befriended outside the company that as a foreigner in Britain, people needed to find out about me, while just a few weeks later, he told me – “well, someone is interested in you – a Scorpio – interested in passionate people like you.” What and who are you talking about? I replied. “You know’ was all he told me. But I didn’t know and could only surmise it might have been the producer of the international current affairs show the company made as the new editor, I had already been told, was a Libran. What was really going on? Furthermore, I was walking down the corridor outside my office when I passed the floor manager of the “This Is Your Life’ program carrying the book for the show and he stopped in front of me and pointing to the book said “Your name will be in here one day!” Before I had a chance to say anything, he quickly strode away. I had also realised and worked out how intellectually humiliated I felt at being only a researcher; as a newspaper journalist I had done it all – research, report and write the story – but in TV, I did the research but then had to hand the story over to a reporter to do. I felt stripped of the responsibility and too often depressed at the botched reporting of all my hard work. There was also an apology albeit second-hand, from the producer of the international current affairs show (was he the supposed Scorpio?) for which I had applied for a researcher’s job several times over the past few years. I was told by my immediate producer that THAT producer had previously made a mistake about me. (I no longer wanted to work on that program as only a researcher despite hearing there was a job there as a researcher for me. It was all too late as I knew I had to a researcher/reporter as when I did it all myself, I did a damn good job.) But despite all the good comments albeit confusing, no more money was forthcoming and after much angst at home at night mulling over my immediate prospects, I decided to call it quits.
Mind you, there had also been lots of sexual harassment – I was somewhat overweight in my early weeks at the company and had quite big tits and one producer even asked me one night in the bar – “Are they real?” gaping at my cleavage at the same time (which I tried to hide). The new editor (my boss) when I lost much weight and was wearing only T-shirts and jeans because that’s all I could afford – said to me in the privacy of his office when no one else bore witness – “Don’t wear your clitoris on your sleeve!” (Another truth I had to face was as angered as I was by this comment, I also thought it was funny and quite clever and suffice to say, bastard that he was, I fancied him. And I thought he fancied me, as he would often come into my office and flirt with me and ask for a cigarette. I fell in love with him (lust I later realised – too late, alas!) but there was NO WAY I was going to have an affair with him. (Indeed, one lunch time when we were having lunch at the nearby pub with other staff I brushed past him as I was going to the cigarette machine and he said:” Do that again and I’ll have to marry you! Was he for real? I just couldn’t fathom it as we had never really had a decent conversation!) Moreover, a producer at the BBC who I had consulted over a story a few weeks earlier had told me – “if you want to make it in TV, you’ll need to have an affair with someone!” I was absolutely horrified at this comment and because I had also had an affair with a boss in Melbourne before ever coming to Britain (I was in love with him and he was the father figure and mentor I so desperately needed in my young years), I was absolutely resolute about never doing it again. So – disgusted as I was at my paltry, parsimonious pay packet, pretty confused and perplexed about all the strange and inexplicable comments and entertaining other more glorious plans about my destiny, I determined to earn what I felt I deserved. I worked very hard and was very good at my job and wasn’t going to be exploited, humiliated and demeaned even further and put up with the lack of financial respect they accorded me. Put your money where your mouth is, I ranted on my own, but no, for all their positive comments about being an interviewer and even doing it well when I had the opportunity, I was supposed to exist on $200 (AUD) a week – gross! I netted just $114 (AUD) And it was 1978! I was a trifle confused about the mixed messages I was receiving; on the one hand, some were predicting fame for my future (one girlfriend in the company actually said – “you’ll be famous and drip with diamonds soon”) while I received no decent pay for my efforts. I resigned and left for greener pastures. Or so I hoped and thought. With my departure, I started thinking about “being famous’ and on TV – was this what I wanted? There was much conflict rattling through my mind as I revelled in my privacy and enjoyed being anonymous in bars and clubs by myself where I could chat up men with no one ever knowing. Fame was not something I cared about and I knew only too well how the media could destroy lives by focusing on the private and personal antics of the famous. Taking these thoughts away with me and out into the streets of London, little did I realise it was the beginning of the end!
Leaving the company I also wanted to write. I had started writing a non-fiction book a couple of years previously about a woman who had psychosurgery (a hypothalamus burn-out in the bottom of the brain!) designed to supposedly eradicate her violence. She had a history of mental illness with accompanying aggression and outbursts of violence and I had researched a documentary about her and the operation for a provincial TV company where I had worked before joining London TV. I had been horrified at what both the psychiatrists and neurosurgeons had done to this woman and we had become very good friends. The documentary was also very inadequate – there was no real portrait of this woman who had been abused and violated since birth and I decided to use the information about her and some of my own experience, insights and understanding to complete the book. (As I wrote in an earlier blog, I had experienced violence with a boyfriend and this woman reminded me a lot of him! I had also researched a story about male violence for the news/current affairs show as well as another story about the increase in juvenile female violence.) But I also needed a job. I managed to get a job as a reporter on a marketing magazine in London where I received a telephone call from a female reporter from the TV company I left asking me if I was interested in doing some interviews for a book on childbirth. (Why had she rung me I also wondered, as we had never talked much and she hardly knew me!) But I said yes, then received a call from the publishing company and after three months at the magazine, I left to do the book. I also thought I would have time to write my book. (There was also a very strange experience while I was staying at a friend’s home in between looking for a new place to rent. The friend was away and I was lying in bed one night saying the name of the editor who had said he would marry me etc. It was the middle of the night and I was feeling randy and then – out of the blue, the phone rang. I went to answer it and when I picked it up and said hello- whoever it was just hung up on me. It perplexed me, too. The coincidences were just incredible. Was this flat bugged, too? I knew I had said the guy’s name quite loudly to myself but what with all the other inexplicable comments, this phone call started to play havoc with my common sense. How far, I kept wondering, had they taken finding out about me as the male friend had told me all those months ago when I was still working for London TV?) Moreover, I had recently befriended a guy who knew a couple of the producers at London TV and I told him that there was something going on there when I was still working there. Instead of asking me What are you talking about? He simply and quickly responded with:”Are you frightened?” What, I replied, stunned at his remark. It was just another inexplicable comment that seemed to have no sensible explanation. I was not in the least bit frightened (what on earth would I be frightened of? I thought later, ) but it also seemed to support my idea that indeed, there really WAS something going on. But whatever it was, it remained elusive and intangible. A game started but what were the moves? I just didn’t know. And what were the rules?
For a few months meanwhile, I interviewed women about their different experiences of childbirth and delivered it to the publisher and was paid quite well – enough to live on for a few months. So then I started writing my book, deciding to fictionalise all the myriad of facts and knowledge ( I’d read many books during my research) I’d learned about madness, violence and the media over the years. During those first few months, I also wrote a series of children’s books, a novelette about adolescence in Melbourne and was working my way through this other novel. But my money was depleting fast and I tried to get other jobs in TV, realising something was very amiss. Another company producer of an international current affairs program that I managed to see (this was after about six phone calls where he finally agreed, albeit reluctantly, to see me) asked me why I’d left the London company and had never worked for the producer of the international current affairs show at that company (are these guys mates?) adding: “ you’re a social butterfly. Come back in ten years and tell me I was wrong!” (I preferred to work for this company because its reporters were all off camera, unlike the London TV company where the reporters were stretched across the screen as celebrities! What’s more important, I pondered, the story or the grandiose fame of the reporter?) But there was no job. Things didn’t make sense! (I then rang the producer of the London TV company international current affairs show to ask what was going on and he replied “Haven’t you got the wrong number?” To which I responded by saying” Who should I be ringing – the documentary producer or the editor of my former program?” He didn’t reply and I hung up. Moreover, I had also started attending dance classes in London to try and get fitter and healthier and thought I glimpsed him in a taxi when I left the class. And just a few days later, I was on the underground and a West Indian man started talking to me and said he’d walk me home. He started saying things about me he had no way of knowing – such as – I don’t get up early in the morning. I started wondering if he was a “put up man” and were people from this company following me around? I couldn’t find reasons for this coincidence either.
To cut a long story short, my friends (those I thought were my friends) stopped ringing me or wanting to see me and I felt very lonely and isolated sitting at home writing. I worked in a wine bar for a few nights, felt humiliated in an altogether different way and after 18 months of struggling to live, my mother in Australia kept trying to force me to come back home. (As she called it!) Truth was, I had obtained my permanent residency in England and could have stayed for the rest of my life. I knew Australia was not the country I wanted to be in yet, I couldn’t stay unemployed in the UK either. I was feeling tired (mentally- writing IS hard work!) and so stressed and worried about money I began to face my reality that I had no choice. Confused and very mixed up about what so many people had said to me, my mother paid for my return airfare to Australia and then, this unemployed reality turned even crueller. I couldn’t get a decent job back here commensurate with all the experience I had gained in the UK. Indeed, one editor told me – you’re back here, you have to start again and just wiped my seven years of hard work and invaluable experience in the UK off my life. I walked out of his office with moist eyes, wondering what I’d do next.
After travelling to Sydney from Melbourne no decent job was forthcoming there either and in desperation, I rang an old boss from my earlier newspaper days who had always thought highly of me (or so I believed) to see if he would give me a job. It was in Adelaide and while the newspaper he now worked for I considered a rag, I didn’t know who else to contact. (I had exhausted all the people I knew who I hoped would help me but nothing!) I was penniless, with no home to call on and had to act. I felt like a refugee in my own country – I had no money, no job, no home and just a motley collection of jeans and T-shirts to wear.) But the rot set in even further. I got a job on the Adelaide newspaper but the chief of staff treated me as if I was a cadet (a beginner again!) and I was by then angry, surly and very frustrated. My family had also made all sorts of negative put downs to me when I came back from England to bemoan the reality that I couldn’t even get a decent job here. One sister responded to my tirade by saying “it’s about time you copped Mum and Dad” – my parents had a very unhappy marriage, dominated by years of emotional violence and abuse which I had had to suffer through as well as being a victim, too) while another sister – when I expressed my anger about not being able to get a job had retorted – “well, you’re not good enough!” To say I was stunned is an understatement; I just couldn’t believe they could be so sadistic and cruel; why? Was it on purpose to see how tough I was? How much could I put up with? Indeed, my mother had told me I couldn’t get a decent job because I was Jewish (who was paranoid?) and that I should be a waitress or a shop girl! I had started to think I couldn’t get a decent job because I was female – an attractive, confident, strong and experienced journalist who threatened too many people. Not that they would even admit it; something unconscious and irrational in their psyche which said women simply weren’t tough enough. (I had had that said to me when I was younger!) With all this family cruelty I knew I didn’t need them, let alone want to see them – I was trying to stay positive amidst the onslaught of rejection (I’d also sent my books to various publishers but only received thanks but no thanks letters) and when I didn’t want to speak to them when they rang me in Adelaide, I WAS sick! Abnormal. Insane! How can you turn your back on a Jewish family? Well, I thought it was all mad – why were they giving me such a hard time? What had I done? I had worked so hard and been so good at my job nothing made sense at all. I decided to call up the producer of the international current affairs show in the London TV company (the guy who had said he made a mistake about me) to see what was going on. But he just said – “What are you talking about?” and I got nowhere. But in an effort to try and understand their madness, their irrational comments, I started becoming irrational too – what was going on?
I also had no interest in my job and was further disgusted at how I was treated and the stories I was being given to do and I knew it was just a matter of time before I quit. I was getting angrier and angrier, banging filing cabinet drawers and not changing my typewriter ribbon. I simply didn’t care anymore. Moreover, I was becoming more and more preoccupied with all the comments I had heard in England and further upset by the reality that even my friends in Australia and my family weren’t at all interested in reading my books. My mother had read the one about adolescence and thought it was me (I garnered no credibility for creative imagination) while she didn’t want to read the book about madness and violence at all. A close girlfriend (or so I thought), also a journalist I had worked with in Melbourne, didn’t even ask me what they were about. I made the tragic, albeit foolish, mistake of projecting myself on to her – if the situation was reversed and she had written some books, I’d be so keen to ask what they were about and desperately interested in reading them. But I got nothing from her and later, her total disinterest in my work only fuelled my increasing irrationality. Projection, I later realised, can be very dangerous. Indeed, I had even told her about some of the comments made in London and by my family to see if she could offer some sanity, but she just told me I’ll have you committed. I started to think everyone was lying to me, having read my books behind my back and not wanting to tell me. (Indeed, the only person who evinced interest in reading this madness and violence book was a female cousin of mine who I had been friends with during my teenage years and who had had a breakdown and labelled a manic depressive. She read the book and said” Sit with the pain!” Clearly she thought it was me when it was in some ways, about her, too. She had some of the same issues as the woman in the documentary I had researched. And since her breakdown, I had always been fascinated and intrigued by what had really happened to her.).But neither of course were my sisters at all interested. So in my attempt to try and find a reason for my cruel hard time, I thought (that’s how my logic was by now!) they thought the books were all true and as I was writing about a disturbed relationship that had an attempted murder in it, I was the sick, disturbed female I had written about. That’s why I couldn’t get a decent job, that’s why no one wanted to read it- they had already read them and couldn’t face me with what they thought. So much for logic! (I did say earlier I had become irrational!) Then, my mother and one of my sisters arrived in Adelaide. I had finally quit the job after three months – I was feeling totally exhausted, angry, sad and confused and just didn’t want any more put down and humiliating jobs. I’d live on the dole for a while. But I had also started writing a sequel to the madness and violence book and would come home from an eight hour waste of time day and sit and write till the early hours of the morning only to grab a few hours sleep and then go back to work again. I stayed awake by drinking about 20 cups of strong coffee a day and night, but I was slowly working myself into collapse. Then, my mother told me I had to go and see a psychiatrist in Adelaide – they think I’m the mad, violent, murderous sick one – I had nothing to hide or fear I naively thought – so I went – I’d been over in my head so much about my violent, sick family – and I started telling him about how my mother nearly died when I was born and she needed an eight-pint blood transfusion – and that was about it – of course, my mother tried to get me to come back to Melbourne with her which I wouldn’t do. So they left.

Well, it all went really awry after that. I had found a flat share in Adelaide with a nurse’s aid and one afternoon she was in the bathroom and I heard her say – You dirty girl! I presumed she was talking about me, but couldn’t see a reason for it until I started to think she has read my books too and thinks it’s over sex and I feel dirty because that was something I had written about. Oh my God, I surmised; this is absurd, horrifying and only hastened my descent into helplessness. And as I fell into bed a few nights later, instead of just going over in my head what they had all said to me – the people in London, my family, my so-called friends and why no one was interested in my books or what work I had done in the UK, I started ‘hearing’ the comments in my head – except I thought they came from behind the walls of my bedroom and believed it was a psychiatrist trying to see how sane or insane I really was. The Voice started asking me questions – going over everything I had written, including my adolescent diaries which I had left in Melbourne at my mother’s house when I went to the UK – probing and questioning me about my life. And I talked back at it – answering as if I wanted someone to find out the truth. I started getting sadder and sadder – shedding tears sometimes as I reflected on my life and how it had all gone so wrong. How come this is my fate? None of it made sense. I would talk, eat Vita Wheat biscuits and vegemite and drink coffee as I sat for hours in my bed, then sheer exhaustion would overwhelm me, the Voice would stop and I’d sleep for a few hours only to get up the next day as if nothing was wrong. I’d have a shower, more coffee and of course copious cigarettes and then return to writing my sequel. But when I went to bed at night, the Voice would start again and there would be more questions. So it went on for a few weeks. And when I went for a walk to a nearby cafe, the odd comment would assault me in the street – seemingly coming from passers-by. Was I going mad? Yes, I did wonder about that – but by this time, I was obsessed with what everyone had said to me, I was obsessed with my books and I was clinging to the desperate hope that one day soon, someone would come and see me and say – you’ve survived. You’re a writer, now! Coping with all the rejection (and on my part too) was just too much pain to bear. I was hurting so badly by what I thought they all thought that nothing made any sense at all. I knew I was getting sick; physically too – I had lost a lot of weight as I couldn’t afford to eat that well on the dole ( a lot of my money went on cigarettes – my only remaining comfort) and I was feeling wheezy and unwell. I came back to Melbourne.

I didn’t want to go near my family (I did see my brother-in-law – married to the sister who’d said – you’re not good enough! – and at one stage asked him: Is there a camera in my flat? I just didn’t know how far they’d taken checking up on me!) and opted to stay with a cousin until she told me I had to leave and then I went to stay with her son for a couple of weeks until I found myself a room in Carlton with five men. It was grotty to say the least but it had a bed, was reasonably comfortable and I realised by this time it was women as well as men who were destroying me. I felt my life was at stake; my QUALITY of life, I couldn’t afford to do anything and I had applied for a few more jobs in Melbourne and didn’t even receive an interview. It was depressing and so sad. But I continued to try and write the sequel until my mother surprisingly turned up at my Carlton house. I was stunned; I hadn’t told anyone where I was living so how had she found me? Were they following me? Was my phone still bugged, I wondered? (I had also been wondering about that in Adelaide, too? I just couldn’t let go of what had happened in London!) So – my mother took me to lunch where I just didn’t have any appetite and couldn’t eat. She told me I was suffering from malnutrition and needed to see a physician and go to hospital. I knew I wasn’t well, I had asthma (I’ve had this all my life) bronchitis (it was winter and bloody freezing) and was feeling near collapse. The whole mental and physical body blow – I went to see the physician and he booked me into the Royal Melbourne Hospital. And that’s where it got really mad.
A couple of days after I was admitted, a doctor came and stood at the end of the bed and said: I’m a doctor specialising in stress. I knew he was a psychiatrist and didn’t really care anymore – I just had no energy left to fight and I felt physically wretched. I was struggling to breathe and they wouldn’t even give me any antibiotics. I eventually got Ventolin which helped and then the so-called specialist (he couldn’t even tell me was he was a shrink – was he frightened too?) said I need an injection. I was sleeping a bit and had realised I had been talking to myself in Adelaide and despite my few hours of sleep, the Voice with all the comments was still cascading across my mind. But I didn’t talk back to it- I just wanted to keep sleeping, rest and get out of there. I agreed to have the injection (I didn’t even know what it was) don’t ask me why but I just didn’t care any more. Do what you like with me! No one is interested in me or my truth and you all think the books are true. My sister – the one who made the comment about copping Mum and Dad – is a GP and didn’t even bother to come and see me. My other sister brought her two young kids and I was still angry with her for what she had said and I told her to leave and get out. But a few hours after I had the injection, my body twisted in all sorts of agony. I just couldn’t lie still. It was just tortuous; I was so physically agitated I just wanted to get out of there and after another couple of days, I got myself discharged and went back to stay at my parents place. There was just nowhere else to go.

Of course, my mind was still racing over everything and back at my parents place, I wrote a few letters to the people in the London company, to a few newspaper editors in Melbourne and even to the paper in Adelaide trying to find out the truth, adding I was going to sue them for perverting the course of justice. Discrimination would have been a much better option, but I couldn’t afford to do anything. I even went to see a lawyer who worked for Legal Aid but to no avail. I was just a poor psychotic girl! And I never got any replies to all my letters. I even went back to the RMH for another injection as an outpatient as my agitation was now much, much worse and I thought another injection might make me better. Suffice to say I only got worse again. No, I wasn’t coming back for another one. The psychiatrist I saw in Adelaide had mentioned a psychiatrist in Melbourne I should see so I looked his name up in the Yellow Pages and saw he was a psycho-sexual specialist. Well, that’s what they think is wrong – I’m sexually sick – also I believed from something I’d written in my book. But I wondered if he was the Voice behind the walls and wrote to him at his home address saying I’d sue him for malpractice. Then I went to see him. Let’s confront him and see what he says.
Well, it was revealing – I was still wearing clinging T-shirts and jeans (I’d put on half a stone in hospital where I could eat without spending money) and after the “sick” comment I’d heard about my clitoris on my sleeve I wanted to see what he’d say. So I said – do you think I’m sexy? Instead of replying something like: is that important – he turned his head away and said without looking at me – I think you’re shapely, proceeding to tell me I was a manic-depressive who needed lithium. I’m not a manic depressive I retorted. (I knew something about that from my cousin). Well, the other one (psychiatrist) says you’re a paranoid schizophrenic – so I walked out. Horrified. Shocked. Trembling. And still very agitated. I had found out the injection was Modecate – it was a tragedy beyond belief. I was devastated, shattered. I went back to my parents place a wreck of a human being. However crazy this was, I had no money and couldn’t afford to go anywhere else.

The next few weeks went by in a blur; I felt like a little girl again and needed to rest, regain some energy and physical well-being and get myself a job. I felt like a total failure, my whole sense of self had been carved right out of me and it seemed there was not much left of the me I always thought I was. I realised I’d been a fool; I’d made mistakes, I blamed myself for everything (everyone blamed me too) and I had to get out of my parents place and sort it all out. I knew I’d fallen for a heap of bullshit; I believed and had trusted all the wrong people (my bosses and so-called friends) and now, I had to really start again. But who was really mad? And what does that really mean? I’ll write another blog with the next instalment some time soon. My life gets even more horrifying in some ways!