The Other Me

The Other Me

‘Pharmaceutical Daze’

Once I took an Ativan, everything grew still. Peacefulness swept over me. There was no anxiety, no unease of any kind; there was only a relaxation that was euphoric.

The Rohypnol was different. When I took one at night, my whole body buzzed, like a bee was zipping around inside my head. Luckily, I was soon asleep, so I didn’t have to put up with the sensation for long.

As for the Sinequan, I started with two a night. A month later, that was increased to three. Another month later, it was one in the morning, and three at night. But if they were making me feel better I didn’t notice it, and if there were any side-effects, the Ativan and Rohypnol buried them until I got used to them.

Life got back to normal – well, as normal as it ever was. The Rohypnol had been prescribed for a week – to get me through that initial rough patch. I took the Ativan regularly for a couple of weeks, then as required. Ativan became my best friend.

One time, Stan’s older brother invited us to a beach party. I showered and got dressed. It was a warm afternoon, so I grew hot as I walked to Stan’s house, just as I’d done plenty of times in the past. Now, I struggled with my breath, which came in gasps. We walked to the station. My breathing worsened. I apologised to Stan and got off the train back at my stop and walked home. I hyperventilated the whole way, worried I’d pass out. My mum asked why I’d come back. I told her I didn’t feel well and she didn’t think too much of it. I sat down, popped an Ativan and then, shortly afterwards, there was only tranquillity. Ativan provided a number of similar escapes. Other times, it was a relief when my head began to get manic.

My biggest problem was that I wasn’t meant to be writing, or reading fiction, so I didn’t have a lot to do. I should’ve looked for a job, but I wanted to stay at home, where it was safe and I was in control. I was sure at some point I’d feel confident enough to reintegrate back into everyday life; it was just a matter of when.

Not long afterward, my cousin Ange told me that his friend had finally read my book, and said it was one of the best fantasy books he’d ever read. Ange said his friend would know, as he read lots of fantasy, but I doubted the praise. This guy might’ve been humouring Ange. What else could he say? Your cousin’s book sucks? But on the other hand, what if he was for real? Everybody couldn’t be humouring me, could they? Maybe my book could be the beginning of the NEXT GREAT FANTASY EPIC – or, at the very worst, it could be publishable.

My brother Nick bought a PC through his work – a PC that had a professional word processor. Up to now, I’d been using typewriters. Typing on a computer keyboard was easy. It made the sweetest clackety-clack as my fingertips sped across the keys. It also made me feel like somebody, even if I wasn’t.

The word processor itself gave you power, too. On a typewriter, if you need to make corrections or wanted to revise, you had to retype pages. On a computer, you could correct errors at the stroke of a key, and to move text around all you had to do was copy and paste. There was also a spellchecker and thesaurus, as well stuff like italics and bold and underline. Unfortunately, those things didn’t come out on the screen. You had to turn them on and off by typing in special characters, which changed their format for printing. Of course, sometimes you forgot to turn things off, and the first you learned of it was when you printed everything out and found pages and pages in italics. Still, the computer was an incredibly enticing piece of equipment for somebody who wanted to be a writer.

I thought about my fantasy epic, and as I thought about it I wasn’t thinking about Book Two but Book One. I’d originally handwritten it over two A5 exercise books between the ages of 16–17. Then I’d bought a second-hand typewriter and gotten about 150 pages in before the typewriter broke down. My new typewriter had a different typeface, so I had to start over – and got one hundred pages in on three occasions, but restarted each time, wanting to get things right. If the foundation wasn’t right, the rest of the story would be screwed.

Now, I had ideas to flesh the story out, to develop characters and subplots and set up the arcs that were meant to run throughout the entire series. I could do it better. Absurdly, I realised I wasn’t going to continue my story, but rewrite Book One – again.

When I next saw Dr Victor, I excitedly told him my news and justified it by explaining my cousin’s friend had read my book and loved it. I thought he’d tell me I was being silly, that I couldn’t write because I’d lose touch with reality and have a nervous breakdown, and that I should be checking the harbour for any fishing trawlers that needed deck-hands. Instead, he asked to see my book.

I brought it into my next appointment two weeks later. Dr Victor flicked through the pages. He didn’t read any of them. It seemed he was just checking to see that this book existed, that it had some cohesive structure, that I hadn’t been exaggerating – or even lying, or maybe even fantasising – all this time about it. Or perhaps he was checking to see that every page wasn’t simply repetitions of, All work and no play make Les a dull boy.

Once he was done, he said nothing more about it. Maybe he’d decided he couldn’t deny me something I loved doing. Or maybe he thought if I was idiot enough to go back to writing then I deserved whatever craziness hit me.

I was excited for the first time since I’d finished writing that book originally. Enthusiasm’s the greatest fuel in the world. Without it, there’s nothing, no reason to wake up in the morning. Now, finally, there was a bit of spark in the day.