My friend Pete has been sectioned. He’s in a secure mental health unit and he’s being drugged and systematically de-humanised and I can’t help him. I go to see him and we talk and he’s lucid and eloquent and talks rationally about his diagnosis and has incredible insight into his problems but the medication that he is now forced to take because it makes him quiet and compliant is killing that part of his brain and making him numb. He has delusions, but they are few and far between and to be honest they’re incredible. I listen to him talk and when he nibbles at the edges of his delusions I find it hard not to be moved by what he’s seeing and thinking and hearing. He’s gentle, creative and loving and not one thing that he ever says or does is without care for someone else; I really look forward to spending time with him. And it shatters my heart that he is trapped in a place where the staff speak to him like he’s nothing, where he has no agency, no dignity and no voice of his own.
The psychiatrist tells Pete’s friend Mark and me that we are wrong to want him off medication. He tells us that the talking therapies that we want for Pete are redundant because recovery is impossible without medication and we don’t understand acute care and we must see things from his perspective as a professional who has trained for many years in mental health. He knows best. But my God he oozes arrogance and superiority and almost all of his patients are on at least two of three or four anti-psychotics regardless of the complexity of their diagnosis or their individual needs so I find it very hard to respect him or believe him when he says he has Pete’s best interests in mind. When I complain that I have witnessed staff behaving in a questionable manner towards Pete and towards me, he first implies that I am a liar and then tells me that I have to understand what its like being on the wards with “these people”, as if they are less than human and somehow deserve abuse. Mark and I realise that we are getting nowhere talking to this man when he shrugs at us and tells us that unfortunately for us, no matter what our argument, he has the final say and that’s that. I could weep with frustration and rage.
Later on when I see Pete he is happy and this makes me happy. My friend is smiling because he has been given a crumb; he has been offered a small gift, he can have his escorted leave back. And to him in his now imprisoned, demolished state this is wondrous and he takes it as a victory and he asks me not to speak up for him and complain because he is worried that if I make waves he’ll lose what he now has. So I say nothing and I come home and I cry for a long time and I think about what his future might be and I hope he can have something, anything, better than this humiliating, demoralising, poisoned present. And then suddenly I know why Pete sometimes lives in his delusions. Because it’s kinder and so much more beautiful there.