It dawned on me over the weekend that I was turning into some kind of proper, point-and-stare loony. The ‘incident’ (I probably shouldn’t use that word – it makes it sound like the police were involved) occurred when I was in my local supermarket. Like all shops seem to these days, they pipe in god-awful music, interspersed with adverts for various things. One of the adverts they trail fairly regularly is for the prescription collection service offered by their pharmacy. To be honest, I’m not sure why they make such a big thing of it, as every pharmacy I’ve ever come across has done the same thing.
Anyway, on Sunday evening I was trailing round the aisles trying to work out which variety of highly processed flour, sugar and fat I should buy, when the prescription collection advert came on. I was already in a fairly anxious state, and frustrated with myself because I was utterly failing to come to a decision, and annoyed with the shop because they’d run out of Country Slices, which is why I was having to make a decision in the first place. When I heard the advert, I said, without particularly thinking about it, ‘I’m not going to take the damn pills, alright?’
I wasn’t really at the stage where I thought the supermarket adverts actually were connected with General Psychiatrist’s attempts to persuade me to take antipsychotics – if I’d been that paranoid, it’s highly unlikely I’d have been outside my flat, let alone wandering around a supermarket. At the moment, though, these kinds of pre-paranoid feelings are a semi-constant backdrop, and in my relatively anxious and frustrated state they’d risen to the surface. None of this would have especially mattered – in fact, I very possibly wouldn’t even have realised I’d spoken out loud – if it hadn’t been for the fact that a mother and her young daughter were in the aisle fairly nearby.
The mother looked up pretty sharply, which caught my attention, and flashed me a look of real fear. Then she told her daughter (who wasn’t really anywhere near me) to ‘come away from the man,’ and when the kid asked why said ‘because…you’re bothering him.’ It was fairly mortifying to realise that she actually was scared of me, on behalf of her daughter, if not for herself. I tried to do my best to put her at ease – I smiled at her, and said sorry, and wandered off to another bit of the shop. I also don’t know how much of what I said the mother heard. She might have heard the whole thing, and assumed the worst about someone out in public talking about not taking his pills, or she might have just been aware of some foul-mouthed muttering.
Either way, when I got home, I had a look at myself in the mirror, and realised that I did look a bit of a state. My hair was long, and it had tangles in it (I threw away my comb a while ago because I was worried it had in some way become poisonous), and it was probably untidy enough that you’d call it unkempt. I was wearing a jacket that was really too small for me – I bought it before I had the Amazing Expanding Waistline Experience on Mirtazapine – and although I wasn’t actually bursting out of it, it did look kind of weird. I also hadn’t shaved for a while, and although I didn’t have a big, bushy beard (I’m not enough of a man for that…) I had a scraggy, stubbly mess of hair that also qualified as unkempt. I realised I could understand why the little girl’s mother had been scared of me, especially if she had heard me muttering about not taking medication.
This wasn’t exactly a happy realisation. I guess no one likes to know they’ve got to the stage where their appearance and behaviour are frightening to small children (although to be fair, it was the mother who was scared of me, not the little girl). I spent the rest of Sunday evening feeling sorry for myself, but when I woke up on Monday morning I found that I actually had the energy to do something about it.
First of all I dug out an old set of hair clippers I have, and cropped my hair right back (a No. 3, if you’re interested). I used to wear my hair like this about ten years or so ago, but in those days there was someone else around who could do the back of my head for me. It’s kind of tricky to do it for yourself, but I managed ok with using a mirror set in front of me to look at the reflection of the back of my head in another. I even managed to use an ordinary razor to clear up the neck-fuzz that you always get left with, and although the result’s a bit uneven, it’s not too bad – certainly within a week or so it’ll have grown out enough that you won’t be able to tell, and until then I’m keeping the collar of my jacket up when I go outside. I also had a shave, and I even trimmed some of the longer and more eccentric-looking hairs in my eyebrows.
So anyway, I now look a lot less hairy, and I feel a great deal better for having spruced up my personal appearance. It’s been a strange experience, though, looking at myself with the haircut I had 10-ish years ago, but with my present-day face. I have a photo that was taken of me when I last had my hair like this, and I dug it out to compare the way things look. By and large I reckon I’m holding up pretty well. My hairline doesn’t seem to have receded any further (it receded a fair bit when I was in my late teens, then stopped), and it still looks the same colour – no traces of grey so far. Obviously I’ve got some lines on my forehead and around my eyes that I didn’t have back when I was in my mid-twenties, but I’m not sure they’d show up all that much in a photo taken from the same distance today. The part of my face that’s changed the most is the part from my nose downwards. There are fairly noticeable lines sloping downwards from the corners of my mouth, and there’s a definite hint of double-chin, which wasn’t true before.
I compared all the details and there didn’t seem to be too much that had changed drastically, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something significant that was different in the photograph. And then it dawned on me – I look happy. I’m not smiling – I’ve never been one for a big toothy grin in a picture – but there’s an air of contentment about me. I look relaxed, and confident. It occurred to me that the date of the photo is pretty significant. It was taken just before I began my long slide down into my current mentalism (although it was always around in the background, I just didn’t realise it). Within a little while, I would be seeing my GP for help with panic attacks, and that would lead to me being referred to a psychologist, and that would mark the start of my engagement with adult MH services. It’s been more-or-less constant since then, or at least it feels as if it has.
Looking at old photos of yourself is a weird thing to do. I think it will always seem to conjure up ghosts, even in the best of circumstances. Of course, these aren’t the best of circumstances for me, and I found it difficult not to feel sad about everything I’ve lost since the photo was taken. But as I was staring down at my younger self, and his happy-go-lucky air, I found myself feeling sorry for him, and everything he’s going to have to go through over the next decade. There’s nothing special about him, but, still, he’s a nice enough lad, all told, and he doesn’t deserve it. He really doesn’t.