Derren Brown vs the Coronavirus: my paranoid pandemic #2

This is the second in a series of diaries written at the beginning of the pandemic, by the inspiring and amazing @miserysquid. We’ll be releasing a new diary entry from @miserysquid, every morning this week.

You can find @miserysquid’s first diary entry here.

Trigger Warning: self-harm, suicidal ideation, hypomania, psychosis, paranoia.

Tuesday 24th March – 9:15AM

Slept better. Doubled quetiapine helped. Woke up, listened to an audio book, then fell into a texting black hole and lost track of time. Texted my friends to see how they are, texted support group Whatsapp chat to ask how everyone was managing symptoms, texted my family to tell them I got more sleep last night- became engrossed in texting, weighing meanings, semiotics, implications, trying to second guess– who will find this video funny? Who will be offended? Paste it in, press the arrow, check, check, oh god, wrong group, delete the message, paste it into a different Whatsapp group. My texts are too long, too intense – I’m worried people will suspect I’m unwell. I copy and paste text messages into the ‘notes’ app on my phone so I can edit them down and disguise the crazy, concentrating, brow furrowed, to try to imagine how it sounds to someone else. Rewrite it, switch words, phrases, add emojis to sound more casual. I read the words out loud slowly, concentrating on how it sounds – inappropriate, wave of shame, start again, delete, start again, texting, texting, ping ping ping. Until my phone becomes hot in my hand.

The flat intercom buzzes.  I sit up suddenly in bed, drop my phone on the thrown back quilt. Hot flush of panic, this my responsibility, my job, my house mates are working from home. I am useless and have no job, privileged and ungrateful. I want to show them I’m helping, that I care and I’m pulling my weight. All the other flats are busy and important and not to be disturbed. Must answer the door quickly, deliveries are essential, delivery drivers are frontline soldiers, got to get to the door quickly.

I pull on my dressing gown and run out into the hall, grab the plastic intercom phone off the wall and press it tight against my ear. A voice says, ‘It’s the post man, got quite a few parcels, shall I leave them on the doorstep?’ He sounds friendly and relaxed, not panicked. I admire his fortitude. He’s resilient, calm under pressure. I want to help him, eager to please ‘Thank you, yes, I’ll come down now, thank you’ hurried and garbled. I have to help him be quicker, he is a key, key, key worker, waiting for me to open the door so he can carry on delivering essential supplies to lonely, vulnerable people. The faster I get to the door, the quicker he can get round all the rest of his deliveries. Still holding the phone to my ear, I hear him say ‘I’ll just leave them on the doorstep then, if that’s alright?’ a pause ‘ Take care of yourself’ he says and as he walks away, his voice gets quieter and I shout loudly – ‘You take care too’ and he’s gone.

Out the flat, down the stairs, I don’t think and grab the door handle, dammit. I stop with my hand on the door, rigid. There’s a sharp flutter of fear in my stomach, – this hand may now be contaminated. Stop, slowly with my other hand, I push back my dressing gown sleeve carefully, open the door slowly, mindful of what I’m doing now. A big pale box sits on the top step, nestled against the door sill. It’s got my name on it, handwritten in big felt tip pen letters. There’s a picture of Taylor Swift cut out from a magazine stuck next to my address. Taylor Swift is my absolute favourite. I know this isn’t a gift from Derren Brown – it’s not his style. I carry it slowly up the stairs, try to be mindful of the texture of the carpet under my slippers and stop to ‘mindfully’ stare at the garden, making myself relax the frown across my forehead. Through the window, the sunlight casts thick yellow lines across the garden.

Someone on twitter recommended a trick to settle the bubbling energy inside – go slooooooowly and deliberately. I’m taking this advice literally. I close the heavy front door to our flat slowly, imagining I’m in slow motion. I notice where the door pulls against the old hall carpet that curls up slightly where it meets the door frame. Climbing up the stairs, I pretend I’m a deep-sea diver, a woman on the moon, one careful step in front of the other. Today I will be playing a lengthy game of ‘What’s the Time, Mr Wolf?’, but the wolf is Derren Brown and in his version of the game, he doesn’t ever turn to face the wall, he just stares right at me.

I balance on the edge of my bed with the heavy cardboard box on my lap and take a pair of scissors from the tin full of pencils on my desk. Scoring along the cardboard edges, I twist the waxy brown tape off. It’s from my friend, a care package full of presents, each one is individually wrapped with a hand-written message scrawled across the brown paper. One present hasn’t got any writing on, she’s just drawn big question marks all over it. This is a guessing game, a mystery – how wonderful. I feel a sudden, hot wave of shame up my neck. It’s not my birthday or about me, why is she sending me gifts? I’m selfish and manipulative, only thinking of myself. Wave of shame, twisting gut, flushed face, put down the scissors slowly, put the scissors deliberately away, take some quetiapine as PRN today. Have I taken PRN today? I can’t remember if that was this morning or last night? I check the pill cutter. There are dusty fragments of diazepam in the plastic tray where I’ve been chopping it into tiny pieces, terrified of running out. I haven’t been prescribed diazepam for years, it’s a hoarded out of date packet, a special treat for a rainy day, a safety measure, a small, round last resort. Slip the silver tray from the crumpled cardboard pack, I notice my old address has faded on the paper label. 8 left. I hope the Consultant says yes to Diazepam. I think I have some old Clonazepam somewhere if he says no.

I saw a thing online today, a young nurse with eyeliner flicks recorded a video message to encourage other NHS staff. Her eyes fill with tears, smiling as she shares a story about a 90-year old man who said how brave and amazing NHS frontline staff are. I weep hot, fat tears watching it and all I can do is press retweet, retweet, like, like, like and know I will STAYHOMESTAYSAFESTAYHOMESTAYSAFE. I’m a seasonally unravelling waste of space, episodically unwell, predictable in my incapacity to manage a crisis. People are dying and afraid, but instead of breaking down overwhelmed and terrified, staff share videos dancing in masks, clutching hand-made signs, saving lives while inspiring others. I’m selfish and useless. Internal shrieking, step away from the computer thinking about scissors, breathing exercises.

Overwhelmed, I call vividly into my mind, the imaginary castle I built in therapy, it is a wide circular stone turret full of cushions. I notice the grass, and the relaxation meadow full of wildflowers outside, and slowly I lower myself into the turret to find which version of me is distressed. It’s teenage Jen, disinhibited and unkempt. She looks very frightened. I talk to her kindly. I tell her in compassionate tones, it will be okay, I have this, we are okay, smooth her hair and mutter kind noises until she stops sobbing. In time, when she’s more settled, I reach up both my hands and smooth my own hair gently, stroking the top of my own head.  Slowly, I stand up and remind myself, the year is 2020, something strange is happening in the world outside, and I’m in my room, alone and safe. The next task for today is choosing what to wear. I go to have a look in my wardrobe.

The one constant thing in my life at the moment is the daily government briefing. Last week, they always seemed to appear in threes, three wise men, three kings delivering speeches, three prophets predicting the future; delivering gifts of tangible instructions and models of science, science, science. Boris and his officials or ministers or experts, sharing the limelight, flanking, strong. Last night’s briefing was intimate, intense. Boris sat at his war desk, the tone has changed since last week, the scene intimate and intensely serious. Stay at home. Stay in your homes. Police will disperse groups of more than 2 people, shops will be closed at midnight, stay at home. Six months ago, I sneered at him, deconstructed the choreographed hair and fraudulent promises, cried shocked sobs when he was elected. Since last October I avoid him, too angry and sad to accept the vote. Today, he’s the only thing I watch from the real world, no news, no numbers, no scenes of hospitals or terrifying ventilator tallies, no NHS staff with bruised faces from googles pressed across their eyes for hours and hours and hours. The news is agitating and overwhelming and makes me feel sick and paralysed. It requires a small and immediate round white pill to stay calm afterwards. I watch Boris Johnson, so I know what I’m allowed to do. Noticing the bags under his eyes and the heaviness of tone, I hang on his every word. I play the video again immediately to make sure I understand his instructions, so I can do exactly what I’m told. And afterwards I think, who am I? How crazy to be in this world, where Boris Johnson dictates my day and I’m eager to make sure I do EXACTLY what he tells me. I wish, more than ever, that Derren Brown was behind the camera instead.

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