One Hundred Days War
for Ali, Bob, and absent friends
‘We should regard the perturbations of the mind,’ says Spinoza, ‘not in the light of vices of human nature, but as properties just as pertinent to it as are heat, storms, thunder, and the like, to the nature of the atmosphere; which phenomena, though inconvenient, are yet necessary, and have fixed causes by means of which we endeavour to understand their nature, and the mind has just as much pleasure in seeing them aright as in knowing such things as flatter the senses’.
Taken from 'The Purple Land’, W. H. Hudson, 1885
‘The last, the very last thing you allow ever: to be caught out both different and helpless.
Humans kill you for less.
But what you can’t tell, to anyone, you can howl.’
Les Murray ‘Fredy Neptune’ Bk 1 The Middle Sea
South Wales 1987 in living memory.
Time sleeps, to think new games for morning. You can stare as if to lend your soul to uninviting windows, through which you sense that nothing is portrayed in paint. If you can still walk, there is no freedom of movement, there are tricks and sleights of hand as Thatcherism is superimposed. I find too much time to think, although the thoughts won’t form, or travel. Time sleeps, drugged, as I am - a year’s fitful rest. Now, action. I didn’t want to lose another hour, but that was all I had each week to talk and receive sense, yet electroconvulsive therapy is pushed by clinicians as the only second opinion for progress. I remain on the page, caught in the brief minutes of liberation before stupor.
THURS. 9th JULY.
This might be the last night for a while I can be totally, well, near my realities - the constructs I’d consciously built on the shifting but undemanding foundations before my breakdown, for lack of a different word.
The last light in the dormitory has been turned off, an almost symbolic gesture - light is not my own, the basic requirements for life are tainted. I become irrationally scrupulous and still there are tiny catastrophes echoing around the beds.
I reach for a cigarette so as not to break the sacred, almost ritualised nonconformity of reminiscence. Whatever influences I try to maintain in these impersonal, almost practical versions of my dreams in hospital remain permeated by the dredgings of bureaucracy. From being supposedly stable and allowed on extended leave, now in the new institution I’m judged incapable to be let out with Alison for a weekend. I feel justified and therefore, I resent. I’m fighting - I don’t know what, except for the first time in an age it’s not always myself. Reactive versus endogenous, this must be a tricky area for the philosopher. But I’m beginning to love the evenings again, to feel and absorb the earth, and drone of a gentler city.
A man is back from extended leave. He brings pneumonia, a third relapse in eight weeks. We have no response. In the half-light I wake, no, write from instinct. Uncomfortable bodies crumple, soft-soothing lullaby of oxygen from down the corridor blending with the more raucous outbursts of the auxiliaries. Tonight, a double dose of Temazepam - generosity, or aimed to tranquilise my unforced anger and lucid anxiety.
I felt genuinely good on a single day in a run of ten weeks - at Kenfig Burrows, a place of spirituality in all its divers forms. A garnering from the desecration. This memory becomes and dies standing, informing the present as it opens and expands, until shame is dispersed from nostalgia and immaturity. Couch-grass and other hardy grasses, like the souls around me tonight, almost eradicated in storms but gradually edging back into position with wind, sea, and dunes. I want many things; recently, only the sleep that washes.
TUES. 14th JULY.
And I resent the manipulation I’m volunteering to continue - these motions of time in view of towering bright individual lights over Cardiff, and what will no doubt be the eternal traffic jam. All in sound of the lonely traveller driving too quickly away from the darkness.
The dormitory is reassuring; several curtained-off snores, the louder scraping of linen on plastic - useful when I spilt my tea - one dissenting voice, followed by a fart.
The youth admitted to the opposite bed has gone, leaving his few belongings on the tousled sheets. He must have known ‘just a couple of days’ meant a six week stay; left five jumpers - smart kid, friendly, too lively for this ward and so – has disappeared. I thought it was his mother being taken in, not him, from that afternoon’s snippets in the visiting lounge.
The night staff are some thirty yards up the corridor, setting us a poor example. The smoke drifts, the sprinklers don’t work.
I’ve realised for about the first time that life can continue without post-graduate study. That helps, and close friends advise a change of expectations. Giving a well-chosen explanation of events I can’t explain could ease my conscience when placating piss-takes.
WEDS. 15th JULY.
I’m glad the medication seems stable, but it’s looking once again to be a situation where I’m manipulated towards electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) by the advancement then removal of a treatment the consultants say might significantly help. They’re wavering over the use of an old, possibly banned, blood pressure drug called Reserpine that may have an equivalent action. They hope I’ll find it acceptable.
This fills me with the fear of the unknown. I’ve experienced personal ‘madness’ - loss of trust, belief in opposition to my actions and principles, but I’ve not seen the ‘madness’ of the press and theatre. It would be likely that King Lear contracted a urinary tract infection. I wonder how I’ve managed to keep clear of infection here, especially with the abuse that goes on in the showers.
The nightmares continue. I wake crying I’ll kill him over and over. I don’t know if other illusions will appear - if I tell, those occasional dreams of fresh rain on my skin, reminders of coastlines, will be kept back and classified.
Here, we’re travellers with our lives’ papers in carrier bags; like the girl with spina bifida - all wired - more commission.
Feelings of depression recede. I find more opportunities to be neutrally observant; thumbing a book slipped onto the locker shelf, recalling Hardy’s poetry, then Tess... ‘a prize pig, awake
pokes its snout
into my boozy blotched face and says,
and says nothing’
I don’t want the present to die; the future clings on, the words play on ‘...as
I choke under the
I had promised
to be good’
I’d seen what life could be; Louis Buñuel’s Crusoe saw a similar conclusion, his fevers flooding from the screen. I pass, unexpectedly, to the nihilistic.
THURS. 16th JULY.
Apparently, in the early morning, my mother was told by Dr. B. in an abrupt call that the decision had been made to use Reserpine in one form or another that day, or the next. I hope to the outsider I’m being poorly managed - no consultation for a week, no Reserpine, just half-truths and occasional lies.
The end of another constipated day. The dormitory’s sounds have settled to scarcely subdued snores and the stroking of sheets, with the ever-present plastic pillows expelling air.
Alison is devoted, but increasingly, I fear, feeling the strain and the long wait for my return. I must get out for the weekend.
I’ve discovered without doubt who pisses, and more, in the shower. I think it releases some morbid sexual satisfaction, and although there’s little to excuse such behaviour, I can almost share hints of abnormal depths of gratification, and I suppose, revolt on the ward. I simply feel like hitting out; to continue to feel, turn the inhibitions. The anger in eating and sleeping, eating and sleeping; the effort to write is incredible, it brings sadness and a sense of waste. Week twelve is ending, the dreaded three months - nearer.
I want to write, but not in bed, in the dark. I’ve no choice, as I’m over-sedated all day. From nightmares, I wake thrashing like a fish in an emptying rock-pool, suffering the words spoken inside my head.
I’m not ill, I’m sure, in the way they think. I know it’s going to be hard to move on to a new and purposeful world.
Who is going to define this?
FRI. 17th JULY.
I asked this morning to see a doctor about weekend leave. One doctor refuses to see me, but shortly afterwards the senior registrar arrives.
Dr. C. gave no apology for the non-appearance of Reserpine, or time lost. He said its injectable form was unavailable in this country and wasn’t sure if a solvent of tablets could be used. Anyway, he’d never used it, and would have to consult other colleagues about dosages. Compared to ECT, he concluded Reserpine was really not very good.
I refuse both treatments, asking if there were other options. His considerable range of other drugs once boasted of is surprisingly limited. Dr. C., with the backing of the full clinical team, thought ECT would clear everything - or mostly - in a week or two, claiming other drug prescriptions were more damaging than my irrational fears. A classical depressive illness like mine should respond well, he said, and I could have a couple of shocks, then stop if I wanted.
Even after one shock he thought my mood should lift for an hour; I replied that I’d get the same effect, and with more pleasure, from two pints of lager. Dr. C. didn’t laugh.
FRI. 17th JULY.
…several hours passed. Dr. C. came to my bed where I lay drifting unhappily, to ask directly what exactly my fears of ECT were.
I found it difficult to collect my thoughts, admitting the process itself was possibly straightforward but I didn’t believe it worked on its own as a therapy, and didn’t want to run risks of relapse, memory loss, not being able to study, or having to ride uncontrollable emotional changes as I’d witnessed with people on the previous ward. Dr. C. said this was illogical; I knew I’d not put my argument coherently. His view was I’d been ‘susceptible to MIND and media scare stories’, noting that Alison and my tutor were having extensive contact with ‘fringe’ support agencies. The only possible damage he would admit was loss of memory for events of the fortnight prior to the first session of shocks – nothing when compared to many more months of illness.
It was now a question of trust. The team had decided all the possible tests were completed, the consultation with a neurologist was felt to have been unnecessary – while crisis psychotherapy must have stirred my ill feeling. I suggested a trial of a drug used for post-depressive anxiety, mentioned in an outpatient’s appointment with a junior doctor six months beforehand, a low dosage of Stelazine. No, I was still turning down the ‘one cure’. I lost track during another long sermon on the glories of ECT, and when asked a question, answered yes instead of no. I realised I’d accepted the first round of electricity. Dr. C. was saying he hoped we wouldn’t go through all this argument again on Tuesday. I then accepted Reserpine. He left, commenting that my irrational stubbornness was causing him and other staff members, frustration and upset.
I was to be let off the ward for the weekend, Alison resisting a male nurse’s insistence for her to persuade me to accept the electroshock.
MON. 20th JULY.
It’s Monday night. No action today. It’s been nice in another way. I’ve felt - though I should say sensed - the static rain on my hands, an alluringly unpleasant phenomenon, though it fooled me - rain in a lift.
The welcome flow of conversation, my voice dictating this, overlooking my immediate experiences. Yet I’m vulnerable, the enemy is temporarily detached, put down, words echo in a vast, empty metallic box - cavernous, not square, a great oval. It approves, and the mask distracts into a nearby smile, a weary recognition.
Imagination, abstracts, and a return of long-term memories, cherished and quickly arrested. I’ll have to sleep feeling scared of more experimentation, false hope and unformed trust. I need to be well. There’s no advantage not to be. Those moments rely on chance, drugs, Will. Many things.
I’m learning to cope, I think, with others’ distress more than I could have expected to, but my own state repulses, bores and enlightens. There is ringing in my ears only slightly louder than the traffic on the A45.
TUES. 21st JULY.
After all, the storm rises and struggles to the ceiling of my head, leaving a clear cutting shade, a differing mood, pain full. Emotion is wrung, twisted, wound to the eaves and beyond. A new tower, diligently staffed. I lend disturbance without exhortation, and we collapse
it is to link yet sever
to trust and give back derision
over a week of stalling and today
I faced fear, but only gently
and scarcely present. Fear, like love,
can be altered
by my own perception,
but it is shallow,
shallow as after my respect
when pain, a troubling
ever watchful despoiler, wakes,
…the solvent of Reserpine has been administered, a dosage of 0.5mg – I’m unclear exactly. It has a startling effect on my blood pressure, changed reactions by borrowing the blindness of searing daylight, and brought out an amusingly over-done spirit of eager watchfulness in the staff. Alison visits. I try to rise - try to walk - everything gives way - we collapse.
I feel sex and need; sedentary now, but with the violence of the dawn I want an always. Like a thirst becoming the absence of post day after day, life becomes reduced to the skimming of the circular. I mustn’t remain cold or arrogant. No, I’m not cold, but listless enough to be suicidal. It’s difficult to see. For others, their own space is barred. The tabloids in shrill self-satisfaction continue to find characters to hate.
Turgenev and Sartre on a cv
pair of dark glasses no knives
or spitting on the concourse
WEDS. 22nd JULY.
Today, twice the quantity of yesterday’s Reserpine was given by tablet. Everything’s exaggerated, I shake as I write, approaching the night with loathing and, unusually, less interest in tomorrow. There’s to be turmoil and I want no part of it, though I’m instigator and victim.
Overseas, the remains of a doubtful childhood lie gorged on the delights of Hellenic aromas and Easter sheep’s offal. I learn in my terror and doubt again, attempting not to incorporate these masques/dumb shows into my newly reconstructed character.
SAT. 25th JULY.
Life seems one long deadline; I could produce affidavits. Little has changed. Arrangements for the autumn have come about totally unexpectedly. The letter - I still have the postgraduate place, and, in the dusk days of social provision, an offer of a full British Academy studentship.
I experienced reactive depression yesterday evening, a simple side effect of Reserpine, crippling but comforting in its lack of convulsions. Approachable and unimaginative.
Always yet always malingerer or tragically unsighted, I refuse to worsen and demand a degree of compliance. I can provide my own sarcasm; it’s taken a while for me to get used to being happily dirty again, a shared grubbiness that’s the basis for our continuing patient relationships.
WEDS. 29th JULY.
Outside the window, Cardiff’s familiar globes lie by the segments of quietening roadway where buildings house office intriguers. The recent incumbent on the hilltop pulses three blue-white beams - calm warnings strung high on its exterior - a cross between carnival and carnage, as the wires it carries.
By night, the city looks clinical, merry, disorderly arranged. With meaning, a dazzling blanket. It’s not difficult to believe this landscape won’t change; the beacons dim away from the patrolled and polar routes. The blanket is growing deeper and coarser, to frighten, and then contain.
There’s a lot to do. I feel physically un-able. Nausea grows. I speedily scrawl - it’s a luxury to pause and pick a metaphor. The occupant becomes impatient. Pen and pencil can be the psychiatrist’s truncheon as arbitrarily the dry sheet is swamped with countless hued requests for relief. The list will add and only threat can be understood - that veiled art denied to those displaced and angry and ‘mad’. Dosages drop by their or our command, with resentment or grudging comprehension the reward.
Medieval deference in the dark enclave of a once hoped open future. Dirty, tired, misunderstood, misplaced and farcical, like the diagnosis of the day. The flag never flies over this house.
THURS. 30th JULY.
Today, increasingly nauseated, I eventually throw up. No great feat, though one I feel shouldn’t have happened, like many of the last three months’ sensations. That I’m aware time’s passing, and the casualness of staff toward their patients, might be heralded as a marked improvement in my presumed depression. As an opening batsman draws near to the end of the final session after almost all have succumbed, I feel the mix of a sullied achievement. Nearly a century of innings on the wards, few carried with me.
MON. 3rd AUGUST.
I don’t seek to spend the rest of my life finding sanctuary to reflect, rail, hate, and rhyme in peace. Some do, and I can only pray that they’re not wholly aware of their predicament, and if they are, that they’re close to the tranquillity or anger of their God.
I spoke to the new junior doctor about the next stage of my treatment, as the Reserpine has definitely brought on recognisable depressive symptoms. I shall have to ask those closest to me to confirm if I seem antagonistic. Short of swearing for attention, prejudices concerning deference are proved. Revolution becomes a meek tool.
As if the punishment of inaction and non-thought were not enough of an imposition, God it seems has conspired to give my inadequacies a grand view of the strata of heaven to below earth, where I only indirectly participate. Even this I find is achieved as a substitute for gregarious, high-spirited assaults on indifference. Few give a wry grin any more; anxiety attacks become mistaken for practical jokes, especially when the accused are the prisoners.
More than dirt, I hate the futility. Few faces change; one or two corpses after ECT, people who’ll no longer draw the eighty-plus pension. There’s not much conversation to note. The doctors out-do my logic as I’m struggling and slowed. What I do hear is pitiful, necessary, and not mine.
TUES. 4th AUGUST.
One hundred days’ war, of underplayed statement and denial, of attrition. A war fought on two fronts - medical, philosophical, both supporting paradoxes. I’m no further, yet I’ve progressed, as now my view of life is tainted. I find amusement where furies dwell and this feels reassuring.
It seems unfair to charge my comrades for their efforts at occupational therapy, as I wouldn’t be able to afford to buy back the wicker basket I might hope to patch and strain together. I worked with my brain, perhaps instinct will out and my hands may become the instruments to force my fate.
Decisions are lacking, with no leads to the reflection of helplessness. This has surfaced: the hands are dealt, but I’ve not constructed the rules for this game to disintegrate. Is this the biggest lesson to learn?
WEDS. 5th AUGUST.
A visit home. The ideal day with Alison and my tutors, chatting about wine over wine, law, literature, crap hospitals. Now back on the ward I want to yell, throw desks through windows - I’m forced to laugh at how we annoy each other and the staff.
I wait for the gleanings of the most honest and open student nurse to appear in my notes; defence always, constipation endemic and I rely on sugared drinks to ease me through the night, whilst cigarettes and chocolate see me through the daytime, alongside the toxic medication.
Why would anyone laugh at a corpse being fed by a tube and tender care? I’m proud that the old man in the far bed, rambling, telling us his life, ignores our catcalls to shut up.
THURS. 13th AUGUST.
Another date scrawled scruffily lovingly at the top of the page, on a scruffier notebook. I’ve lost track of the days although I maintain the weeks.
Turned out again with my support, a long weekend at home. Wish fulfilment, though only a surface change has occurred, that jumble of blankness still descends with monotonous unpredictability. The ward’s regularity is wiping clean the present, so I live for the next post and not today’s correspondence.
MON. 17th AUGUST.
Confidence disintegrates. The speech inside my head is persistent, not deep throated, but reasonable, pleading, almost pleasing, warm and rich, disturbing, a return from some weeks’ absence, and the pressure of my own voice is gone. With eyes closed, concentration is not my own either. Thoughts and heat seem to come from some part of me, a part I can’t identify.
The room becomes vague, strange. I have to stall before recognition; I’m also aware that nothing is different. I sink back in my chair and try to settle. Immediately I’m arguing. Now what have I done this time? Even the TV is shut out, more background this evening than background. I’ve been staring past it, idly playing with my hair. I don’t notice for several minutes; red and orange predominate, shapes that remain outside the frustration evident in what I do or see.
Rehabilitation is patchy, often I forget to ask what the catch is, and stumble. I’m caught in impulsiveness that breeds further thoughts of illness or dis-ability, or just naivety.
And so I try to work things through, but as I close my eyes again I have these flights - if not stolen, then mislaid a while on the wrong side of the bars - the metaphor won't unfold.
How can I defend myself against parts of me I don’t know, and why after all this time does this trap continue? The aid and keys are given to the perpetrators of this crime, for it is a crime.
TUES. 1st SEPTEMBER.
Solidity feels like continuing to build on unexcavated foundations, ones containing a fault below the surface that can set off a quake when shaken by change.
It’s been two weeks since I’d anything to record.
After refusing further anti-depressant treatment, a low dose of Stelazine was recently administered, along with 5mg of Valium, both taking effect. Gone are the headaches, my thoughts are clear - this is still an unpredictable state.
I denied trust, now I must give it, carefully and at the right time, a reversal. I must be ‘normal’ or ‘mad’ - in their terms. It’s harder to accept the middle ground. I’ve not the energy to construct such a balanced edifice
maybe I’ve already
been laid off,
when you want to crash
through the lattice
fly into the road noise
to start other tasks
the risk is the same
as are the products,
you can’t return.
In the collage
or is it pastiche
the big frieze - my insurance.
FRI. 4th SEPTEMBER.
I’m not strong enough to carry you all the way. I’m worn down, feet dragging in the dust, and un-interested in relations.
To consider the future, I’m to be let out on extended leave. Now the triviality of release, in weakened form, to sit and listen in step to the tutorials. It will be a joy.
I cross the River Severn looking into and through the rear window, where sometimes I circumvented a heaven and hell before they existed, and where words began with an awkward birth, and a locked room. Now, a label may prove an end of a line, if I let it.
Notes on the text:
One Hundred Days War © Philip Ruthen 1987, 2007. Revised May/June 2007.
This text derives from the original texts written at the times, and place, of the events depicted, South Wales 1987. Those original handwritten pages and consequent manuscript versions of One Hundred Days (War) have received only light editing by the author to retain their integrity. I send thanks and respect to Alison and Bob; also to the people who’ve read the developing texts, shared lifetimes, suggested changes and offered support and editorial comment - particularly Maggie Sullivan.
The poem ‘A Prize Pig’, from which extracts are borrowed, previously appeared in ‘Psychopoetica 45’. Grateful acknowledgement of this is made to the editors/publisher of that journal.
One Hundred Days War was first published by chipmunkapublishing
Copyright ©Philip Ruthen 2007.2009
‘Nothing really quite prepares you for One hundred Days War because Philip Ruthen wants us to see things as they really are.
I would not be at all surprised if this turns out to be one of the classics in writing about Mental Health. One Hundred Days War has
been written by someone who has experienced the dark side.
His collection of short stories will let us see the other side of Philip Ruthen."
‘A paperback short story collection that includes new writing from Philip Ruthen would be welcomed. I have spent some time reading 100 Days War and found it deeply moving and beautifully written.
It is a wonderful piece of prose tackling a difficult and personal subject with great sensitivity… Philip’s work deserves to be read.’
(Winner of Radio 5 Live Playwriting competition 2006, and Sound Crew poet)