PART 111 – STAYING ALIVE
More than 30 years ago when I was unemployed for nearly 18 months in London with very little money that just met the expenses of basic necessities such as food and toiletries (my kind flatmate allowed me to stay rent free for three months), I used to play the famous song from Saturday Night Fever – Staying Alive – over and over again, relating to its theme of ‘going nowhere’ but somehow living, albeit surviving, for another day. At that time, survival didn’t seem to be enough; I had no enjoyable quality of life and no friends as they’d all abandoned me. On the surface, life was pretty grim, but I kept going by maintaining a positive perspective that eventually my life would turn around with a job and money once more. But I couldn’t wait for this to happen any longer as the demands and pressure to return to Australia by my mother, who reiterated in letter after letter that life would resume as normal back home, finally convinced me I simply had no other choice. Reluctantly, I boarded a jet for Australia, my ticket paid for by my mother. Certainly, I expected to gain decent employment on my return, but when this was not forthcoming either, anger, dismay and incomprehension as to why I couldn’t get a good job here soon established themselves as uneasy and unsettling in my mind. I tried unsuccessfully for a good job in Sydney, even though I didn’t want to go there to work. My frustration only increased, forced to find work in Adelaide after ringing an old boss from 1968-69 newspaper days in Melbourne. I had exhausted all other mates and contacts who I had hoped could help me. It was December 1979, and I was completely perplexed, nigh, totally puzzled and confused at my continuing inability to secure good employment. The why and how of ending up working in a city I found so slow and so quiet with no money or friends when I’d slogged my guts out in London earning a reputation as a very good researcher in TV; even reporting before I quit over my pittance of a pay packet (see earlier blog) just made no rational sense to me. I hadn’t taken the Bee Gees vinyl record with me when I left London, but the words of ‘going nowhere’ continued echoing in my mind; even back in my own country, despite me not even feeling as if it was home after seven years away. I felt like a foreigner, a stranger, a refugee with nothing who was being treated as nothing; a nobody in my profession after 13 years of hard and very good work. I considered the newspaper I had gained a job on as a rag; sensational and right wing, evincing no real interest in my work and after completing my three-month probation period, I quit (I was unsurprisingly about to be sacked anyway) as I penned earlier. I was unwell. I won’t revisit that scenario as it’s all explained in previous blogs; suffice to say despite my deep despair over my poverty and unemployment once more, I stayed alive, though with exhaustion, anger and sadness close to my heart, and mind. Survival was paramount, and even when I ended up in the Royal Melbourne Hospital in June 1980, at no time before, or then, did I even think about killing myself. I had certainly experienced much suffering in my emotionally abusive and dysfunctional family, depressed too about my looks and shapeless, skinny body and of not having a boyfriend and spending too many Saturday nights at home alone as I wrote about in my teenage diary. Despite this reality, I had never thought about ending it all. Indeed, one of my sister’s best friends tragically committed suicide at about 20 or thereabouts, and as a 15/16 year old, I felt devastated by her decision, even though I have no recall about discussing it with my sister or mother. It was always just something I remembered with sadness. Indeed, when my life felt threatened on two previous occasions, when I was 20 and nearly died with asthma according to the doctor, and later, at 23, with my ex-boyfriend who I thought was going to kill me, I had always fought strongly and resolutely, for my life. Suicide always seemed a simple surrender to life’s difficult, even problematic challenges, an easy escape that I could never really understand. There was clearly something precious about life, however obscure and covert that precocity was, as millions of people toughed it out despite being enveloped by much pain and poverty. Why, I reflected more than once, did they not commit suicide more often. In 1980, I was experiencing so much pain, so much confusion with so much about my life I just couldn’t understand that my focus was on finding some clarity and comprehension about how my life had turned out this way not at all about killing myself to blot it all out.
Fast forward to 1984, when I found myself as an in-patient at a private psychiatric hospital in Melbourne. After two weeks of heavy anti-psychotic medication that had reduced me to a zombie, completely destroying what remained of my once strong sense of self, I once more returned to my apartment to face a reality I could hardly withstand. The next eight months were, as I mentioned at the end of a previous blog on Production Line Psychiatry, the most painful I had ever endured. For the first time in my life, I seriously contemplated suicide. I felt like ‘a poor thing’, a bereft shadow of a human being; a person I no longer knew or cared about; someone else I just didn’t have any feeling for. Yes, I was alive, I was breathing, but felt completely dead inside; physically and far worse, psychologically. What on earth did I have to look forward to, when I had no paid employment and probably little chance of ever again securing a good job. That’s how it seemed, a bleak, black future with no money at all but the dole which offered no enjoyable quality of life. Why stay alive? Mere survival was just not enough for me; what did that mean when you couldn’t afford to go out and even buy a cup of coffee? As far as I believed, that sort of life wasn’t worth living! I had also realised only too clearly what many people, including my family, shrinks at the hospital, people I thought were friends, and work colleagues at TV Week (on my return to work after my hospital fortnight away- one secretary greeted me by remarking – ‘You’ve been bashed up like that before!’) really thought of me. Moreover, I had never spoken to this woman except to say good morning occasionally as she was secretary to the deputy editor of TV Week’s sister publication, New Idea. Both mags shared the same floor in the building, so you didn’t have to be Einstein to work out why she’d made that remark. I didn’t even respond; just walked away with my head down feeling even sadder than I already was. I’d returned to work for three months to sit out the terms of my resignation; but instead of occupying my usual desk, I was told to sit with the sub-editors even though I would supposedly continue to work as a reporter. Bizarre? Weird? What could I do, especially when the chief sub and I had already exchanged a few hostile words about his penchant for boxing, mistakenly called a sport as far as I was concerned, thinking this man, and others who enjoyed it, were sick as I had previously told him. I had also found out he had a history of physical violence against his ex-wife, so having to sit next to him was just excruciatingly painful. Furthermore, not one sub was ever allowed to talk except to clarify a pertinent subbing matter. It felt like I was in solitary confinement, not permitted to talk either except on the phone as part of my job. It was hellish for three months; but there was nothing to be done but count the weeks and days till my final exit. The features editor who’d always been a good mate, tried his best to keep me busy; giving me stories I knew would never see the light of day. But I kept my head down and did them; and of course, very few of them were ever published.
At home at night, questions flew about in my head -was I really a paranoid schizophrenic, as had been circulating around my brain before going to hospital? Was that how the shrinks had treated me, indeed, diagnosed me? And had I been violent and psychotic when I picked up a knife to supposedly kill my male partner as detailed in my novel, The Circle War, as the shrink had said when I told him of that, even though he never asked why or what had happened? Where had he got it from when he supposedly hadn’t read the book? I certainly hadn’t given it to him! But was I in denial about the truth of the novel, too? Was it really about me and did I have to face a part of me I just couldn’t believe? Was I simply denying a truth about myself because I didn’t have the strength to face it? Had I really been psychotic when I went to this hospital, when I clearly knew who I was, where I was, who I was with and how I was feeling? Moreover, it was a totally different scenario than what I experienced in Adelaide; yes, I was hallucinating but all this amounted to was ’hearing’ loudly what I’d been thinking about for the past four years. Yes, I told the shrink I’d picked up on something said on the TV my sister had on at the time before she went to bed, but I was very aware the guy who had said it, was NOT talking to me; I didn’t think anything like that just that those two words ’You have’ resonated with me. I felt I had changed; I told the shrink when he asked what sense I made those words, but he didn’t bother to follow this up and ask: how changed? In what way? I knew exactly what I thought; changed for the worse, too damn sad all the time having lost all my joy for life and people, but I just didn’t impart this thought as I had already realised he wasn’t at all interested in my truth. And surprise, surprise, he didn’t believe me about how I perceived the TV either, I surmised.
As the questions raced furiously across my mind; there were no clear answers and the sense of sadness and depression felt overwhelming. Before my final exit at TV Week (I had even asked to revoke my resignation but was not at all surprised when it was denied), I had rung up the editor of the old newspaper where I had worked 16 years previously, saw him for a good talk and told him I wanted a job back there again. I heard nothing for a few weeks and left TV Week (I couldn’t believe they took me out for a farewell lunch which was the last thing I wanted and despite much protestation from me, I had to attend. To say it was a farce is another understatement). I didn’t really want to return to that old newspaper either, but didn’t know where else to turn and when the editor rang a few days later to offer me a job, I felt partly relieved, certainly grateful, desperate as I was for any kind of paid work. I even went out for dinner with my family to celebrate, though quietly and secretly realising the dinner was yet another farce, too. How much longer would I go on pretending life was so-called normal again, once more playing happy families when I knew only too well the real truth was nothing like it. My family was a hollow, empty sham; a giant lie devoid of love between any of us as I understood the word to mean and I just didn’t want to be part of this pretence any longer, though just how I could disentangle myself was unclear. At home alone after the dinner, I knew I’d be bored and frustrated yet again in that job, trying to convince myself as well as others that I recognised the newspaper’s limitations and had learned to accept them. My self-deception didn’t last long; I still managed to write a few ‘bright’ stories as the editor who hired me told me, but I felt so put down and humiliated by the stories I was given that I wondered what I was really doing there. I felt they certainly didn’t trust me to do anything very important and too often was handed stories I believed more appropriate for a cadet. To find myself back where I started at 18, with no respect or regard for my years of good, hard work and intelligence, was so professionally depressing part of me just couldn’t believe it was for real. Moreover, when a filler of just five or six sentences was published in the paper with my by line above it in big, bold capitals, my name actually occupying more space than the story itself, I just felt amusingly sickened by how low this paper had sunk. At the same time, I struggled anxiously with writing on a computer for the first time in my career (what was left of it) and felt increasingly anxious as no one taught me the basic skills I needed. I chose instead to write my stories in longhand before committing them to the screen, but every time I had to write anything at all; even just a few sentences for a filler the same terrible anxiety gripped me and the keys jammed at my touch. I was terrified of hitting the wrong button and losing all my story as the anxiety was crippling even my typing. All I could think about was going home and getting out of the place. The other reporters were also unfriendly; one even yelling at me very angrily when I asked him to help me retrieve a story I’d written from the subs as I couldn’t recall the catchline of what I’d called the story. Without it, he couldn’t retrieve it, and as he tried different versions of the catchline as I remembered it, his frustration with me exploded. Finally, I did get it right, but was so upset at his tirade I felt like crying. I had already steeled myself against more tears in the workplace as I’d cried at TV Week, and as he returned to his desk, I couldn’t really blame him for yelling at me. My temporary amnesia would have been dreadfully frustrating. My anxiety just befuddled my brain and memory; becoming worse and worse; until I walked out and went home with the excuse I was unwell. Indeed, I really was, but not how I told it. I stayed at home for a week; I’ve got bronchitis was my usual stand-by sickness. Returning to work, I only lasted a couple of hours before telling the chief of staff I was still unwell and going home once more. Back where I wanted to be, the six weeks I’d endured had revealed all too obviously exactly what some people there really thought of me. I’d proved to myself I could still write a so-called ‘bright’ story (what was inside me when I also felt so sad sometimes surprised even me) and that was enough for me. Let them think what they like, I decided, as I had far more significant issues to sort through. I typed out a resignation letter saying I was not coming back. That was the last time I worked full-time for a few agonising months.
The days passed slowly; I was anxious, nauseous but eating like a pig again and so very worried about what loomed before me as another jobless future. Nightfall and bedtime provided some welcome respite, counting the daylight hours until the sun sank into oblivion as I wanted to do, too. Why am I still alive, I pondered over and over again, when every day just seemed to get harder and harder, my body so slow and sluggish? I felt steeped in self-pity once more, agitated (though not quite as severely as at the RMH after the Modecate injection), and so very, very distraught about ever getting another job. My mother paid my bills, while the dole kept me in food and cigarettes with little left over for anything else. Not that I was really interested in doing anything much. I was obsessed with what had happened to me all over again; my mind going over it all ad nauseum. But however much I knew it was all so very different to four years earlier in Adelaide, I wrestled with the validity of my judgement. Was I just in denial again?
I had kept my appointments with the hospital shrink for another couple of months as an outpatient, despite increasing dissatisfaction with his lack of any interest in what had really happened to me and even less understanding about my reality. He prescribed more anti-depressants and when I only took them for a couple of days and stopped, knowing that wouldn’t solve anything, he was somewhat angry at me. I wanted to find the cause of my pain, not mask and conceal it with even more bloody drugs. Thoughts of suicide were never far away, and I did tell him that, but he remained apparently, unmoved. I added that those who talked about suicide, never did kill themselves, to which he replied: that’s not always the case, or words to that effect. There was no discussion as to why I was thinking about killing myself; no effort on his part at all to find out not only why I was thinking what I was thinking, but what I thought about at all. He did ask me if I thought I was hearing the voice of God and to say I was absolutely shocked at this question is an understatement. I bowed my head in total disbelief and said what I was hearing was ‘poor thing’ and ‘you’re alone’. He didn’t seem to believe me. I later rang to cancel my next appointment, adding I’m not coming back as I’m not satisfied. There was still much confusion, but I knew with absolute certainty that although I’d been hallucinating before going to hospital, I was hearing my own inner voice, once more going over and over everything people had said to me; the past year at the TV company in London in 1977-78 and what my family and friends had said to me on my return to Melbourne. I had managed to clarify one thing about my continuing unemployment in London when I received a reference from the producer of the international current affairs show. He had scrawled in a short letter that accompanied the typed reference in 1981 that he was glad my paranoia was behind me. Indeed, obviously if anyone working in other TV companies in London had checked up about me and my work, they more than likely would have been told I was paranoid. Moreover, I had also found out he had thought I wasn’t aggressive enough; so a few aspects of what had happened in London started to add up and make sense to me; however wrong the beliefs of these people were. They had never spoken to me about why I had really left; just assumed about me as I was realising more and more people did, too. As journalists told to never assume anything, I was not just horrified by their beliefs, but disgusted as well. But much more still remained cloaked in confusion as I still tried to make sense of it all, especially why I had also been unable to secure decent employment back in Australia. Had some newspaper, even TV execs here called the TV company in London as a reference for me? It was a possibility I entertained, further extrapolating that perhaps, these Aussie execs were told I was paranoid and not aggressive enough, too.
In another part of my mind, I was remembering how I knew exactly what I was telling my sister the night I kept talking to her, although she never listened to a single word I said. All she wanted was to go to sleep and for me to stop smoking her menthol cigarettes because I’d run out of my non-menthol brand. She kept telling me to go to bed, too. Despite it being Good Friday the next day and she wouldn’t have to go to work, listening to me wasn’t on her agenda. I never made the mistake I’d made in Adelaide of thinking it was a psychiatrist as I wasn’t in anywhere close to that frame of mind. I knew who I was talking to and what I was telling her. But for the shrink, it was another ‘psychotic’ episode, without asking what had occurred, what I was thinking and what had precipitated it all. It started to become clearer exactly what others had thought of me at the time I went to hospital, and no doubt, still did. I was quietly horrified once more.
Over the next few months, I did some freelance magazine and newspaper work to supplement the dole and make myself feel somewhat productive at least; consulting yet another psychiatrist recommended by my cousin who was the manic-depressive. However, when I told him I had once thought about being a psychiatrist in my teens, he replied: You took the easy way out! Leaving that consultation, I was absolutely disgusted; he had no idea whatsoever what I had had to contend with in the media, both here, and in the UK, and while I accepted full responsibility for choosing that profession (the particular jobs within it were another issue altogether), he had no interest at all at finding out what reality in the media was like for a female in the late 60s, 70s and 80s. Being a shrink was of course, such hard work; being a journalist, no less a female one at that in the male dominated media of that time, was just easy by comparison; a viewpoint based on nothing but ignorance and presumption, regarded as fact! A couple of days later, I rang up and blasted angry words down the receiver to his secretary; telling her to tell him what I said and that I wasn’t coming back to see him. What now? How could I best kill myself without suffering and pain? I had no sleeping pills and wondered if the anti-psychotic drugs I was taking (I didn’t know what else to take) would kill me if I took enough? I thought a lot about getting a gun and shooting myself; though I had no idea where I’d buy one, but that at least would be fast and final, no doubt of living through that. While I kept feeling nauseous too often, I just kept eating more and more, feeling exasperatingly anxious and increasingly at a loss to know how I could have any kind of quality of life with only the dole to live on. I was preoccupied with money and my abysmal lack of it; and about getting a job where I wouldn’t have to write. My confidence about my writing skill had hit rock bottom; and when I mentioned to my teacher sister that I was thinking about killing myself (the only other person I told apart from the shrink), her response was as cruel as ever – you can’t. It will kill Mum, kill us all. No mention about me, however, no discussion about why I wanted to end it all, no trying to buoy me with the hope of finding a job and having some money, nothing but how it would impact on my family. I was the least of her concern. I never mentioned it again. At home later, I realised that I was really on my own, without emotional support, positive reassurance or any semblance of encouragement about my future. Alarming yes; but no surprise, as I’d started to realise over the preceding years that my family hadn’t cared about the real me or my truth, that my few friends had their own problems which mostly preoccupied them and if I was going to make it out of this confusion and pain, it was going to have to come from me and me alone. Somehow, I had to find the inner resolve, determination and strength to work it all out yet again; despite thinking I had worked out so much before going once more to hospital. I still believed I cared about my mother; she too, had experienced too much pain in her life, but I believed too, that I had to save my own life by leaving her to live her own. I could no longer be the emotional support she had once relied on; I also thought she had hated me albeit unconsciously, for doing and living the life she had once espoused she wanted, but never had the guts to pursue. Or so I had understood it years ago in London as I was reflecting on her lack of support for me, my lifestyle and career. Moreover, she had told another cousin who was then also living in London that everything was ‘easy’ for me. Back in Melbourne, my manic-depressive cousin told me just a few months before my time in the private hospital that my mother had been ‘insanely jealous’ of me. But was that true and was she the only one in the family to feel like that? Of course, even if they all felt similarly, it was completely unconscious, manifested by comments they uttered to me on my return from London but which later, they could not recall having said at all. My mother had said so many times she understood me, knew me, but over the past three years, I had sadly realised she didn’t have a clue about the real me, either. Much of the understanding I had acquired in London was returning to my psyche, only making me realise how much the shrinks and my family had destroyed my life, well, almost. I was still alive and that had to mean something, though it was a cruel and painful truth that would take another few years to fully accept. Ultimately though, I had to accept full responsibility for my own demise, acknowledging how naive, trusting and foolish I’d been in thinking people in the workplace cared, and also my family, berating myself over and over again for being such a fool. Learning to forgive myself for that took a very long time. Meanwhile, I had to stop depending on my mother for what I believed was emotional comfort and reassurance when in reality, there was really no comfort at all, just a very negative and destructive emotional self-indulgence. I had to stop it if I was ever going to get my own life back again. I had to find the strength to really be on my own, at least on the inside. While I’d stopped wanting to know my family in Adelaide believing at that time, they were all sick for what they said to me, recognising I certainly didn’t need any more of these sort of people in my life propounding their professional put-downs and psychological abuse (I’d had quite enough emotional bullying in the workplace in the UK). But walking out on the Jewish family only made me ‘abnormal’ as it was really ME who was the ‘sick’ one. Since then, I had realised they were actually far sicker (as I defined that word), than I had initially recognised, far more pernicious to my mental and physical well-being than I previously contemplated. I had to chart a different path; walk out on them all on the inside, continuing to see them without letting them hurt me anymore. Why did I need to keep seeing them at all? I needed their money and financial help if I was going to survive at all, my mother had agreed to pay my bills while I was unemployed, even paying off my $30,000 mortgage for the apartment we had purchased together two years previously. I believed she really thought I might be incapable of ever working properly again as she told me that I had a tendency to schizophrenia. Obviously, she had spoken to the shrink at the private hospital, but I no longer cared too much about what anyone else thought; I was forced to be cold, practical, even ruthless about my survival and pretending I cared, even liked my family, was a deceit I had no other choice in perpetrating. I’d found out the hard way, the painful way, that neither of my sisters cared about me at all; the love they professed was totally meaningless when they had no interest in my work in the UK, not what had happened there let alone back here, and cared even less about my mental well-being, only too content to accept the diagnosis of the shrinks without question or doubt. I stopped expecting anything else from either of them. But could I learn to really be on my own? I didn’t know; but deep down inside me there was some spark and some sense of self, however fragile. I hadn’t fallen at all close to the depth of despair I felt in 1980, I hadn’t, I believed, kidded myself about being on TV or even anything remotely like that and had become even more disenchanted with the media than I ever had been. I might have walked out of my profession, but this time, it had been my decision alone; realising I didn’t like most of the people in it and too often felt compromised by the nature of the job. There were other options out there and I was only 34, and while many people might have labelled me as mad, even unemployable, I didn’t feel like that. At the same time as entertaining these positive reflections, there was a big doubt over whether I’d ever really stop feeling so sad, tired and lazy; and I still wasn’t sure exactly what my mental health issue really was. One of the things I knew then, as I had known in 1980, I wasn’t paranoid, I wasn’t frightened, I wasn’t thinking that people were against me or anything like that. I never did and never have. What I did realise was that many people indeed, thought my books were true; that they knew I’d been involved in a violent relationship and blamed my illness, whatever it was, on that relationship, moreover, the man they assumed I’d written about was my ex-boyfriend who they condemned for it all, as well as me for going out with him. The fact that I ended the relationship more than seven years before becoming unwell, as well as all the things that had happened to me since then, were deemed irrelevant. He in reality, despite all the problems we had in the relationship, was one of the few people I never blamed. But not others who knew me or thought they did. No one ever asked me about the novel that focused on a violent relationship in the media, let alone my book on adolescence, more content with their own assumptions and perceptions that these books were both autobiographies. Not one of my family members would even discuss what they had said which in part, led to my rejection of them and becoming unwell, indeed, neither my mother or sisters seemed able to recall what they’d said despite me reminding them of exactly what they did say. How very convenient to have such selective memories? Unsurprisingly then, they were totally unable to accept any responsibility for what happened to me as much as I confronted them about what had been said, I was always the one who was sick. I gave up trying to push them to face some of their truths, quickly abandoning any hope of ever eliciting the truth from any of them about what they told the shrinks. Much was clarifying as I went over it again, recognising I had to go it alone and somehow get through it. I certainly wasn’t sure that I could. I didn’t know why I started hallucinating when I had no other symptoms of schizophrenia as I read about it; and if the anti-psychotic drug managed to still that, and I could work and enjoy myself, it might just be OK. I wasn’t too upset about not writing anymore journalistic articles ever again. As time went on, I hoped I would find some more answers to my questions. Buried somewhere deep inside me resided a strong fighting spirit that stopped me from falling into a dark abyss, though focusing on that at times was increasingly difficult.
I kept applying for jobs, maintaining some self belief, as shattered as it was again. There was another job at a supermarket magazine I managed to get as I was getting really good at bullshit and big lies in interviews, but I hated it more than some of the other jobs and just wanted the sack to appease Centrelink so I could once more, go smoothly back on the dole. After six weeks of virtually writing no more than just one terrible story, I got what I wanted, walking out with at least something to look forward to; being at home with just myself to please. What next?
As the weeks went on with my feelings of self-disgust, even self-loathing, unchanged; fat again, lazy again, too tired again and my mind reeling with too many unanswered questions, I rang the shrink, Dr C, who I’d stopped seeing shortly before I ended up in the private psychiatric hospital, wanting to return to see him to ask him far more rigorously, why he had told me the things he did. There was so much of what he’d said at the time that I left unchallenged; and with a mind far clearer now than it had been before, I was seeking clarification for some of his assumptions and perceptions. But his secretary came back to me to reply he would not see me again, explaining his patient numbers were full as reason for his refusal to see me. I didn’t believe it then and even less now; given our last confrontation when he couldn’t even face me or look me in the eye. I had no choice but to let it go. A short time later, I made another call, this time to The Age journalist I’d been seeing up until a few weeks before my time in the hospital, who had told me I wrote The Circle War from the inside etc among other things despite not even having read it other than a handful of pages I’d given him on one visit to my apartment. Despite that, he had seemed so sure that it was all about me, too and of course, my ex-boyfriend. (see Production Line Psychiatry Blog for this chapter of the story). For him, too, there were many questions I wanted, moreover needed to pose, but on asking him to take me out to lunch, his reply – “Do you fancy a fuck?” – to which I replied –“that’s the last thing on my mind” was enough for me to say goodbye and hang up. I was clearly being lied to again; were they scared of what I would confront them with? Or just plain scared of me and what I might do? Did they think I was indeed, violent? I couldn’t answer these questions and I still can’t, and at that time, I didn’t dwell on it any further. I had to get on with the issue of trying to live some sort of life.
I occasionally went out with a couple of friends as I called them then, to movies or for a coffee as I could afford it, attending the football too, which was about the only thing I could lose myself in and forget all my other problems. The rest of the time I was enacting a role; putting on a front that all was OK, where for me, my life seemed to be in total disarray. Thoughts about killing myself came and went with regular monotony. Much of the day, I considered what job I could do; asking myself what did I really enjoy doing? How did I really want to spend the hours between 9 and 5? What job would stimulate, challenge and enliven my brain cells and after rejecting some options, I came up with the idea of being a film publicist. In my position at TV Week, I had often dealt with some of these people when I was invited to film previews for interviews with its actors and actresses, and enjoying movies was still one of my favourite passions. My confidence about talking to people was one part of me that hadn’t been eroded; I knew I could still talk to anyone and pretty much everyone about anything and everything and I wouldn’t have to write much except perhaps the odd media release. It seemed ideal at that time in my life; working with movies, their actors, directors and producers, some of whom I’d interviewed in my career as a journalist and usually enjoyed talking to. Furthermore, I had always liked the publicists I met before. There was however another secret agenda in my plan; I still of course, cherished a private fantasy that my novels would one day become movies themselves, and as a publicist I would have the opportunity to meet some people who possibly could help turn that into reality. So I thought and hoped. Yes, I was still feeling pretty low, unenergetic, uninspired; and very, very tired, but I hadn’t even tried to kill myself and had almost stopped even thinking about it. Why? How? At the time, I didn’t know except there was some part of me that just kept going; as robotic as I sometimes felt, I was staying alive, whatever that counted for. I had retrieved my records from London and once more played the track over and over again. I might have gone nowhere professionally for years; but I could now see some glimmer of hope on the horizon. Personally, too, I felt back at square one; my belief that I’d changed myself and my life rendered totally erroneous. Nothing for me had changed at all. But the anxiety over the computer had long past, the feelings of nausea too, and I had kissed my journalistic career goodbye without regret. Now I wanted to do something I really enjoyed without any angst or heartache; without voyeurism and without doubt, feeling confident about doing a good job as a film publicist. How could I get into it? With renewed optimism about my future, I started losing weight and trying to regain some energy and zest for living; it didn’t happen overnight but as my enthusiasm for a job (I wasn’t chasing a career anymore as such) I could enjoy blossomed, so too, I lost some of my grim perspective and personal negativity. The weight that felt leaden on my shoulders for all the months before lightened more than just a little, and I started making phone calls to the publicists I met at TV Week. Changing my life and me was going to take years I realised, and this time it had to be for me and me alone; no career, no illusion or self-deception, no Prince Charming riding to rescue me; just raw, even brute honesty with myself. I didn’t feel miserable about the long time ahead, as I’d sorted out many issues, though many, many more still confronted me. But I felt positive about the road I had to travel as it stretched out before me.
Although I wasn’t sure how the publicists would greet me (media gossip is rife, even nastily malicious, and too many people knew I’d been in a mental hospital), I decided I had to grin and bear it if they were cold and unfriendly, presupposing they would speak to me at all. A couple didn’t even return my calls for whatever reason, but mostly the others were all terrific; helpful, warm and encouraging about my chances of getting a job somewhere. I wrote a few letters and after another couple of months and a couple of interviews, I was rewarded with the job I wanted, not that I was the first choice. Indeed, I was first called to be informed I’d missed out on the position because, yes, I wasn’t aggressive enough according to the male Managing-Director who joined the female manager for the second round of interviews. I was stunned; why on earth did a film publicist need to be aggressive and what on earth did this guy really mean? I was confident and enthusiastic in the interview, even very knowledgeable about movies screened over past decades. It seemed such a misuse of the word I didn’t even bother to ask what they meant. I hung up disappointed, only to feel fortunate a few hours later that if that’s what they considered important in being a good film publicist, I was lucky to be not given the job. Maybe I was just rationalising my rejection, but I just couldn’t comprehend why being aggressive, whatever that meant to them, was so important a trait for the position. But in another few days, after spending my time trying to stay positive about eventually getting a job, the manager called again to tell me the girl they had initially offered the job to had turned it down so it was mine if I wanted it. I didn’t hesitate to accept it. Whatever misgivings I might have considered before about their need for me to be aggressive was their problem I believed, as I felt, though somewhat tenuously, I could perform very well in the job. For the first time in years, I felt lucky again that the first girl (someone I actually knew who I never considered aggressive either) hadn’t wanted the job. Yes, I lied a little about it always being something I had wanted to do, but I didn’t lie about my passion for films, my more than adequate knowledge about them, and the challenge I looked forward to in putting bums on seats. I felt the best I’d felt for more than 12 months when I started work in my new role the following year in January, 1985. There was of course, still much to unravel and clarify, but I was finally working in an area I really did love; and while I still privately believed PR was about too much bullshit and jargon (the word spin hadn’t then spun into social consciousness), my way of dealing with that was to tell the film reviewers they would, and of course, could, make up their own minds. I wasn’t going to lie to them. Besides I reckoned, if I said a film was really good and it was a dud, they would know as soon as they’d viewed it. Put the onus on them to decide for themselves; what I said counted for nix. That was my approach as I started my first day and I was looking forward to it. I never thought about suicide again. Not then or since. I had stayed alive and going somewhere for me personally, rather than professionally, was now the most significant issue in my life. My work, which had always been my top priority, was now placed in another perspective; my personal happiness was paramount, no longer depending on career status, man, family or even friends. I was still on my own and would probably be so for the rest of my life. I knew only too well the huge social stigma associated with mental illness, realising there would be many people who would dismiss me as a loser and/or failure as my family and some so-called friends had already done, regarding me piteously as a poor, dumb, sick schizophrenic who didn’t want to know me at all. If they did, it was certainly at a safe distance, dispassionately and unemotionally. Certainly, my family never said as much about how they regarded me, and neither did anyone else, but it wasn’t at all difficult to read between the lines. Moreover, their complete absence of any positive feedback or reassurance about obtaining a good job or my abilities seemed apt testimony of their unspoken perception of me. People I thought friends of a kind were similarly silent; leaving me thinking that none of them believed in me and what I was capable of at all. Of course I was still vulnerable to being hurt and pained by realising some of this, but had developed a much thicker skin over the years than the one I thought I had many years before. How my future would pan out I had no idea, but I was determined to live more in the here and now rather than forever dreaming of a more glorious future. Enjoying each day and taking life a lot less seriously and more importantly, learning to laugh again started gaining more and more importance in my scheme of really living again. I also needed to stop worrying about what might happen in the long term and appreciating that life was indeed, precious. I just had to maintain a far more balanced perspective on both the sadness and joy in life. There was room for both. Why and how I was articulating these positive thoughts instead of focusing on all my negative pain and sadness I really can’t explain; just with a decision made about what I could as a job, instead of simply rambling on depressingly that I don’t know what to do seemed to put life in a new perspective with a flow on effect across my whole mind. While it seemed unbeknown to my consciousness, somewhere inside me remained a strong life force, a desire to live rather than take the easy way out by killing myself. I had chosen life over death; whatever that life tossed up at me, and that was too precious to ever contemplate throwing away ever again.