I knew the exact look I wanted: a pink frilly dress with lace trimmings and my hair tied up in bunches with my two favourite hair-bands holding them up high. But my efforts were always in vain. My favourite hair-bands, clowns with colourful disc-like beads for arms and legs, were always too heavy to keep my hair up. A couple of swift movements and they slid down the side of my head. My fine hair made them slide even further until I would lose one of them, and then the fantasy was over and I was back in reality.
I would spend a while looking at my efforts in the mirror, sometimes talking to myself. Always in private though, as it was common knowledge in Algeria that those who spoke to themselves were mad. Ever since this private practice I had with myself, I believed as a child that I maybe mad. This secret fear stayed with me for many years before I was corrected by my mother.
Fast-forward a few more years, and at the age of twelve my family and I hurriedly relocate to Britain, my mother’s country, due to escalating unrest in Algeria.
The people of Britain were wonderful and very instrumental in helping my family and I build a new home in England. But there were naturally low periods associated with the move. During these times, my thoughts kept turning to Algeria. I experienced many happy moments in England but found myself unable to enjoy them. I recall looking into a mirror one of my mother’ friends gave me as a gift when we first moved to England. When I looked into it I reflected almost instantly on my time in Algeria.
I noticed myself developing a type of sickness, nostalgia. I felt nostalgic for Algeria and all things Algerian. I had always felt anxious since leaving, but if I experienced something nice, like someone complimenting me, it felt like experiencing a dual happiness as my mind would quickly rewind back to a happy time in Algeria, and I would relive the happy experience again. But then my mind quickly fast-forwarded to the tragic turning point of when I left Algeria. All the negative emotions I associated with the hasty departure would always seem more real than the positive of the present experience.
In the early days, the closer I came to building a new home, the more tortuous the experience of nostalgia became. I seemed to suffer with every revisit to a happy experience. Over time, however, I remembered less. I also came to terms with my thought pattern and instead of seeing it as exceptional; I intentionally halted my natural instinct to reminisce. Things improved gradually and the notion of an actual new home appeared a more plausible reality. The boundaries between past and present became clearer and healthier.
Further unhappy periods were to ensue. My late teens and twenties were plagued by depression for which I did not seek professional help, but this was mild compared to what I was to suffer later on.
It was after university that I suffered a particularly low period during the economic recession. My job was stressful and thankless but it was a ten minute walk from my home and the only job going at the time. I had previous jobs since graduating where you could say I used my degree, but they were in the public sector and I was made redundant due to cuts. I was new and we are always the ones gotten rid of first. This job, however, was in a factory.
All members of staff had to constantly compete with machines in order to meet ever increasing targets. The atmosphere of the factory was comparable to that of a nightclub, with constant pumping loud music attempting to dampen the persistent sound of churning machinery.
I found the whole complex unnatural and highly unsettling. I needed a job and to earn money and it was my only option at the time. But it was to prove a heavy price to pay for my general health and wellbeing.
After six months, and with the persistent threat of redundancy, the job was becoming extremely stressful. Our targets were forever increasing and you had to compete with the machines in order to fulfil demand. I was increasingly ashamed of working somewhere with no prospects and that required no skills.
In one of my all time favourite books, Useful Work Versus Useless Toil, William Morris argues that there are two types of labour, one good and one bad. The bad is so far from being a blessing that it is a curse. To the extent that it would be better for the community and for the worker if the latter were to fold his hands and refuse to work, and either die or let us pack him off to prison. In today’s terms, according to Morris’ theory, it would be better to be on benefits than undertake certain jobs. I believe Morris would have categorised my job of making hangers as useless, demoralising and soul destroying toil.
I, on the other hand, always believed that any legal work undertaken to earn a livelihood is both positive and necessary. But all my idealist theories came to ahead though one day when I had had enough.
I began to be a bit paranoid. I started to feel a bit isolated at work and kept thinking that people were talking about me, particularly people I did not converse with. I also began to notice that I was unable to relax. Whenever I was beginning to relax, I would begin to hear communications. Either with birds, such as at night or I would overhear conversations about me. I also began to read newspapers religiously. There were a number of stories that caught my imagination. I believed that my experiences so far were known to certain newspapers and that the revelations of Snowden about surveillance coincided with my experiences.
There was one particular story in the newspapers at the time, however, that caught my eye. Keith Bennett. Not Ian Brady but his victim, whose burial place still remains unknown. Because of my feelings of unfounded guilt, crime was on my mind, and I started investigating the Keith Bennett case. I read every article written about him and noted to myself key factors that the police appeared to overlook. I also spoke to my mother about him incessantly and much to her horror. She felt very uncomfortable about it.
By this stage, following the advice of my mother, I saw my GP who then referred me for psychiatric help with a local psychologist. I still refused to believe there was anything wrong with me and would't take my medication. But I then heard Brady’s voice and at that moment I got up, run downstairs into the kitchen where my medication, Aripiprazole, was kept and swallowed a tablet.
I felt normal immediately after taking Aripiprazole, but the following morning I had many side effects. I felt like I had the flu, turning hot and cold in an instant. I also had a headache and was bed- bound due to a lack of energy. My delusions continued, however. After a few days my symptoms subsided and I could not believe that such advancements had been made in mental health as to alter such intrusive symptoms.
However, after taking the medication for about a month I noticed many side effects. One in particular was that my emotions became, essentially, very basic. I could use the analogy of comparing them to a pot of roast. The chicken and vegetables- the basic ingredients were there, but the seasoning and the flavours- my own personal accents and idiosyncrasies, were absent. Where this becomes particularly poignant is when I attempted to remember my past. Before the incident my memories were vivid and sensual. I could almost smell the atmosphere. But then, alas, they became very tepid and factual. They also rarely came to me in a daydream or when I felt inspired. My memories are most usually triggered now because I summon them up for one reason or other. They serve factual referencing and bring me little comfort or perspective. How I long for a dream.....
I had a lot of time on my hands after the medication started working, so I concentrated on producing artworks which I had little time and energy for when I was working. Three months after taking time off work, however, I was made redundant. My little cosy world fell apart. I knew I needed to find employment but did not feel ready. I no longer heard voices and believed I was being followed, but there were other problems that appeared. In the early days I felt that the medication had side effects, including drowsiness, slowness of speech and tiredness. I accepted these negatives because the medication stopped voices, hallucinations and general paranoia. But my concentration still suffered greatly and my confidence had taken a knock. I discussed this with the psychiatric nurse and she explained that memory and concentration are the last two faculties to return after an episode such as I suffered. She also explained that my need for sleep was natural because I had to make up for all the lost sleep.
Not working, I began to worry about money. My mother and sister suggested that I investigate what benefits I may be entitled to. I lived off savings when searching for a job. But my savings would run out, I feared, as I simply did not know how long I would be in this unemployable state. I eventually qualified for Employment and Support Allowance. I distinctly remember my meeting with an officer at the Jobcentre. I was so nervous. All I had to do was answer a few questions and make a phone call, but I kept forgetting the name of the benefit I was supposed to request. My short term memory was atrocious. After this mammoth task I felt exhausted.
But I persevered with challenging myself and tried to approach life as a child would learn to ride a bike. I was doggedly determined to succeed in my reinstatement of my old personality. My wit, intelligence, cognitive function and memory had all disintegrated. I needed to work hard at restoring them but you cannot achieve this without challenging and pushing yourself mentally and physically. When the mind suffers a glitch, however, information is lost and not everything can always be restored.
But with time all my faculties have returned at present, and my thoughts have turned to procreation. Many questions have to be answered: Do I take anti-psychotic medication while pregnant? While breastfeeding? Will my genes be passed onto my child and will they have to live with a life sentence I would not wish on a single soul?