Schrodinger smiled — fragmented memories for World Mental Health Day

Scott Wortley
29 min readOct 10, 2021

i

She leans across, touches your arm, inclined head, and with lowered voice, asks, Are you okay? You want the hand off your arm, but that won’t happen until you answer, might not happen even then. So you rush through the possibilities of how bad you must look for someone to take the time to ask. Pale skin? Slightly fevered? Disengaged? Red-eyed? How did she know? What did she see? Did you flinch during the news? You reach up to your eyes. They’re not wet. Not that. Not this time. None of these things. None. At least, no more than usual. Is this just making conversation? Genuine concern?

Fine. I’m fine.

The easy answer. Easier than saying nothing. Her hand is withdrawn, but therhe touch lingers on your arm and you reach to brush that phantom weight away but — aware of the eyes that follow your movement — you stop, reach down, grasp. Breathe. Your interlocutor’s curiosity is temporarily sated; retreats.

Not talking is not a passive act. Not picking up the phone. Not dialing the number that’s on scraps of paper around the house is a choice. Not emailing the bookmarked website is a choice.

And in your seat, and on the rush hour train, you have unwanted replays of moments, your — his — spots of time. No boat stealing, or lake hopping, though. Nothing so benign.

Later you watch the cursor flash on the screen, type.

But it is not right. It is never right.

CTRL+A.

Delete.

ii

It’s an old house, big, looming behind a large hedge, at the end of a gravel drive. Each footstep crunches.

The waiting room has no natural light, the moments after arrival occupied by filling in forms — noting the rules on personal data, completing a checklist. As I read each word there is a shadow behind it. And when I fill in the form my hand shakes, my writing — generally illegible — looking like the scrawl of an old man.

The receptionist takes back the clipboard and the forms, invites me to sit.

I’d been early. Fifteen minutes early. On the drive for a couple of minutes when I’d caught sight of another person with an appointment. She seemed startled, eyes darted left, right, avoiding any acknowledgement — rushing through when the man in the rumpled suit appeared at the door, nodding hello. I guess the appointments were scheduled to avoid those awkward interactions. But I’m sitting here for fifteen minutes and my breathing is speeding up, and I feel the tightness in my stomach, and grasp my right wrist with my left hand, and I count.

In. Two. Three. Four.

And out. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight.

In. And concentrating on my wrist in my hand.

And out. And on my breathing and counting to ensure I am breathing out for twice as long as I breathe

In.

And out.

She had left a phone message two days ago suggesting there might be available appointments, a call yesterday arranging one for tonight. Tonight. Too much of a rush. I’m not ready.

There is a large plastic box containing toys on the ground. Dolls.

I’m not ready. I’m not

And she appears, grey haired, glasses. She is short, slight. She quietly says my name, and I stand, and I’m much taller than her and feel a little uncomfortable and stoop to say,

Yes. That’s me. Yes.

And she takes me to a door at the end of a corridor, and she opens it indicating I should enter and a door with “Staff. Private” closes behind her.

The room is light. Light walls. A desk made from light wood to my left. Large windows, with pale blinds, to my right, an empty coat-stand in front of them.

It is light. So light.

At the desk are four chairs.

Where would you like me to?

You choose.

Is it a test? One chair has its back to the door. I’m not sitting there. I want to see the door. I need to see the door.

I sit.

She sits opposite me, takes out forms briefly explains that she will outline the terms of the confidentiality of the meetings, and the limits of that confidentiality.

It’s familiar. And reasonable. And I look around the room.

I’m not ready. I’m not

I can feel her looking at me

and just some preliminary questions so we can ensure you have the appropriate support. And of course we have to do a risk assessment so I apologise if some of the questions are intrusive.

I’m not

I can ask you them, they’re quite tick box. They won’t take long. Or you could just tell me why you’re here, what you’re hoping for from this.

Well, I want to be

Breathe.

Ready?

So, would you prefer me to ask the questions or just to talk?

I nod.

Talk?

I nod.

She lifts her pen.

I look to the door, reach down and grasp my calf.

She is staring at me. I can feel her staring at me.

I. Well, I want to be well.

Okay. So, let’s begin.

Questionnaire

Male

35–44

Yes

Yes

3

No

No

No

Yes, in January

No

Although recommended by the GP no

No

No

No

10

No

No-one

Yes, 20

Yes

No

No

Yes

The aftermath of the disaster

Sometimes

Sometimes

Once, 20 years ago.

Not since

No No No No Yes No

Flashbacks

No

Yes, not eating

Control

No

No

Yes

No

No

I am not sure

Phone or email

She does

They don’t

iii

She sits in front of the window.

She always sits in front of the large window.

The curtains are open, and while the entrance to the gravel driveway leading to the building sits on a main road the view from the window is of the large hedge which shields the garden and the grounds.

She sits in front of the window, her back to it, a small table with files and papers to her right.

You had a choice of two chairs. One is in the corner of the room, diagonally across from her chair. You do not sit there. Instead you sit by the wall, between you and her a small coffee table, leaflets on it, black leaflets with bold white type. You use the top one as a coaster, so the cup of tea, strong and made in the cup, does not mark the tablet. There is a box of tissues. There is always a box of tissues.

You talk.

Between the silences you talk.

Between the silences, those moments where you are present but no longer in the room, smelling the kerosene, the stench, the sweat stained stench, of alcohol, hearing the whispered voices, seeing the windows, the orange sheets on the hill, the mirror, you talk. You sit there and talk. She can tell when you’re not there, sometimes lets it go. Sometimes she asks. But you don’t have to answer. Most of the time, just now, it is easier not to answer.

You don’t always mean to end up where you end up. After a couple of weeks you realised that preparing and thinking about what you are going to talk about did not necessarily help. You’d guessed you would be in the kitchen — looking out of the back window at the tree, at the house, that window, but you couldn’t tell that you’d be in a garden, grass taller than you, the hand opening to reveal a frog, a vibrant green frog. And you worry that that matters, that these routes, these detours to avoid, that she can tell, that she knows, that she is working out what it means, that she is doing this with every word, with every gesture. And so every time you become conscious that you slip from “I” to “you” you note it. You tell her.

She makes a note.

We’ll come back to that.

You nod. You will.

You will come back to it.

I will come back to it.

I will come back.

iv

You ramble.

You know what you want to say but you ramble, avoid it.

Talking is difficult. Talking about talking is difficult. It is hard work. And so you distract.

A bit about work, about now, about the past. And your eyes flick left and right. And you ridicule the stages of familiarity, those desperate days, student days, where conversations moved from where you went to school, to what subjects you studied, to favourite books, and favourite films. You sneer. The innocence of freshers week: the notion that a friendship can be built on happening to like the same book, happening to like the same film.

No one liked your favourite film. Pretentious? Moi? You know. You know the scene. Humiliated he left for home, ran the sink, and

And she questions. Gently. Sometimes repeating you. Sometimes not. And you stop looking at her. And our eyes flick left, flick right. And still. And you look at the corner of the room. Unoccupied. No seat. No table. A bare wall.

And you are elsewhere.

You recognised her, eventually. Brown coat. She was wearing a light brown coat — nearly knee length. And you bumped into each other crossing the road. And you stammered that you were hating it, that you couldn’t stay, that you would give up. And she?

You start to stammer. Odd. Now infected by then. Time bleeds. You stammer. You have started to stammer.

Slow down.

I knew her, a little. We’d talked. A little. Sports day. We’d both avoided it. And we’d talked.

Yes, two years before you’d told her about him dying, and about the plane, and about the hills, and the windows, and the trees. And you’d talked. And so when you bumped into her, literally bumped into her, hand waving apologies gave way to the awkward exclamations of not quite familiarity, names asked as questions. And then affirmation, recognition, and soon, so soon, picking up a conversation from two years before.

And she?

She saved me.

You don’t look. You don’t want to see the reaction.

But one night a week became something to look forward to. A meal. Something when you weren’t eating. She knew. Eventually you tell her but she knew you were not eating. Had you lost that much weight? Or was it the demeanour, your mournful demeanour?

That’s a strong statement.

She did.

She did. In retrospect you know she did. She persuaded you to stay. And you’d talk. And you’d share stories of lives and loves, or the lack of loves. And talking became important. Some nights you’d stay late, catch the late bus — trapped in a crowd of blue haired women clutching handbags exiting the bingo hall. Some nights later still, needing a taxi. But you didn’t mind the expense because talking mattered.

And you start to talk about talking, and your eyes prickle, the sharp heat of tears, and the words stop, and you’re truly, madly, deeply in full Juliet Stevenson mode — reach for the handkerchief and

in her kitchen you are ready to trust someone more than you have trusted anyone when she tells you there is something she needs to tell you and you listen and you know she trusted you and you want to hug her and tell her that everything will be okay and that it changes nothing but you don’t move and you don’t speak and you sit not knowing what to do with your hands and

Through tears you stumble out, She told me.

And you didn’t move. You sat there. You sat there, silent. Not knowing what to do with your hands. She trusted you and you sat there. You didn’t move.

And you sit silent. You look at the wall. You don’t move.

v

and so twenty minutes or so into our sixth meeting I said to her,

- I realise what I’ve been doing. I’ve been talking about not talking. When I’ve talked about her, and our weekly chats, and that night when I left after she… Well, after she trusted me so much

She nods.

- and about that year in that house, all of it. It’s been about not talking. About building up to talking and not being able to, because something happens, because someone says something, or it feels wrong, or because I can’t. Because I just can’t. … And it hit me. I was talking to my wife about this at the weekend and telling her that everything was about not talking, about not being able to talk. Everything. All of it. It’s all been about that. That I’ve spent weeks with you talking about not talking. About distraction. Circling it. I realised. And I’m good at it. It’s well practised. I’ve spent years not talking, about learning how not to talk. About avoiding conversations. I mean people know. You know. But it’s just enough, just enough when people need to know, when it’s unavoidable. And I don’t talk, and I can digress and divert and not talk for ages. It’s a skill. An art. I do it exceptionally well. I’ve had to. I’ve had to. To not talk.

I turn away from the corner of the room I had been focusing on and face her and she nods again, and she tells me she had wondered how long it would take me to realise that.

And I know then that this is the Dr Spielvogel moment. That from now we may perhaps to begin.

vi

She gives you a pad of paper.

- There’s a pen if you

You have your own. The ink flows easier from it than a rollerball.

- We’ve discussed writing.

You know. You’d tried. Sat down and tried. Have spent years sitting down trying to write. On trains. In cafes. In libraries. Last time you sat was at the weekend, the cursor flashing on a white screen. Single sentences. Sometimes just individual words. That’s all you’ve managed.

You take the pen. You begin writing. Sentences are short, clipped. It reads like a police report. All in the past tense. Distancing yourself. Until halfway down the page it becomes present tense, and you smell the smells, that sharp stench, and the hairs on your arm prickle as your breathing speeds and you slowly try to take control of it. Counting. Breathing out for twice as long as you breathe in. You fidget, you feel the prickle in your eyes tears on your cheeks.

Present tense.

The sentences break down. There is no grammatical structure. Eventually your writing spiders across the page. Individual words.

I hate

Three, four times.

I hate

New lines.

I hate I hate I hate

You look at the shape of the words on the page, don’t reread. Two long paragraphs. Now, single sentences occupying only a third of a line and you see the structure of each. Questions.

“Why” this?

“Why” that?

“Why?”

“Why?”

You stop writing.

You start to cry.

I start to cry.

For you then.

For you.

For me.

I cry.

vii

- It started last year. I was on a train. The GP described it as a

-

- well, it seemed too dramatic. I thought it was too dramatic, too strong. But as it’s gone on, I think he was maybe right. Maybe it was. But the word suggested something explosive, a bang. And it wasn’t like that at the time, but during the year the effect has been

-

- He said it was. Anyway, maybe he’s right. Maybe he’s right.

-

-

-

- I was on a train. Delayed, the last one cancelled. November night. Moved from platform to platform. It was packed, two trains worth of people. I’d got on, sat next to window and then it got busier. And the person next to be got closer. Just in my space. Getting closer, nudged over. And there was no need for it. The train was busy but they didn’t need to touch me. They didn’t need to. And I flinched. Tensed. And I was

-

- There’s someone I know. He has depression too. We’d been for a chat, had lunch. And he told me how it oppressed him, how he felt swamped by the darkness, how he’d feel overwhelmed. And I explained that I’d be moved, transported’s the best word. Transported. In two places at once. Sometimes three. When I told him he moved away, looked at me as if I was mad.

-

- And I was in the train, and the person next to me came into my space. They didn’t need to be there. They didn’t need to. They weren’t being pushed from the aisle. They just moved close. They touched me. I felt them touch me. And I was in the train, and I was there. I was there. In the train. I was there. I could feel them next to me. I could hear them. But I closed my eyes. And it was dark, you know? It was November. I could see reflections in the window from inside the train. And it was dark and I leaned my head against the window and I was in the bus. And I was there too. I was there. And I started to cry. I cried. Nose running Juliet Stevenson crying. And the train was so busy that nobody moved. And I closed my eyes and I could feel them staring. And I. I was stuck. I wanted out. I couldn’t get out. And I was crying and I was stuck there, next to the window. And I leaned my head against it and felt the vibrations through my body like on the bus when we used to go to my granny’s. And I was there. And in the train. You understand? Transported.

-

-

-

-

-

- The following weeks were difficult. I stayed in. I worked at home. I got phone numbers. Had them on sheets of paper. Searched for help. Visited sites. But I didn’t phone. Didn’t email. And then I got a message thanking me for help. I’d put someone in touch with a counsellor, with some support, after a bereavement, and she sent me an email thanking me and it was so touching. I knew. I knew that if I was someone I knew I’d tell them to contact. So, I phoned a counselling service at work, got an appointment. A cancellation. I don’t know if I’d have gone if there’d not been a cancellation. I was rushed into it. And I went. And

-

- I told her. About the plane, about the bodies. About

-

-

-

- Too complicated. She said it was too complicated. They only had six sessions. She said I’d need more. A lot more. She gave me numbers — charities mainly — said I had to see the doctor. I didn’t make an appointment right away. The doctor said I’d had a breakdown, had depression. That’s when he’d contacted you.

- and you turned down medication?

- at that point, yes. I worried. Dependence. The impact on creativity, on finding those connections — those joins. The leaps. The inspiration. You understand?

- [nods]

- But I am now. A few weeks. After I’d started the counselling. I was struggling.

- And the counselling has been for?

- Nearly four months. It’s been hard. It’s with

- [She notes the name, nods] and?

- It took a while to talk. Weeks. It was in the sixth week. Seventh maybe? I realised I was distracting, avoiding. Talking about talking.

-

- And I’m stuck. It’s in my head. Opening this up. It’s in my head. And there are reminders, flash points. Triggers. Yes, triggers. Things that send you there. And you’re transported. Again. And again. And you’re there. You’re

-

- The second person. I slip. I discussed that in counselling. It’s a defence. A distancing. You know? I do it a lot. In talking. In writing. You understand?

-

- I don’t want you to think I’m like that all of the time. But it became a distraction. My work. I couldn’t. I felt overwhelmed. It was in my head. What happened. It was there. It was

-

- In my head.

-

-

-

- Things I’d been doing on automatic pilot, the routine, the easy stuff. I stopped. It was in my head. And I couldn’t even

-

- And the GP signed me off. I’m off. Processing. Trying to process. Trying to cope. And it’s not there all the time. I have good days. Good periods. It’s not there all the time. It’s not.

-

- It’s not.

-

-

-

- And what do you want?

- Before I started, before the counselling, if you’d given me a magic wand, if you could just take that and. You know Total Recall? The story? I just wanted it wiped. If I could get it wiped I thought everything would be better. I’d be better. I’d be. Well. I’d be well. But not now. I want to ac. I don’t want to accept. Acceptance is the wrong word. It’s too positive. Too satisfied. You’re happy with it. And I’m not. I can’t accept it. Why should I accept it? But it’s who I am. It’s why I am. It’s part of. I want to. I want to park it. To acknowledge. To cope. To not have it in the front of my head. I don’t want that there, but it’s part of me. So through this I want to acknowledge it, and not to function. I’ve spent decades functioning. Avoiding. But I don’t want that. I can’t go back.

-

- I can’t.

-

- I can’t.

viii

The light bar is on the floor when you enter the room. The length of a fluorescent office light it sits on a tripod. And although you both move to our usual place you remain aware of it.

Today it begins.

Last week she explained how it worked. Inside your brain something is stuck. Overwhelmed by the enormity of the experience the brain refused to process it. And it’s there. Stuck. And you cope. For years you cope. You have strategies, ways in which it does not dominate day to day life. Avoiding. Ways to push it out of the way. But the effort of doing that wears you down. Until

Until

The barriers were breached and the raw emotion, the distress, the fear, that raw emotion flowed, flooded. And it was there. It is there. Every day.

And to progress from functioning to living the brain needs to move this, to process the overwhelming visceral experience into memory — upsetting memory, but a memory you can reflect on rather than relive. And the light bar is intended to help nudge it along.

You talk. How has the week been? Any stresses, upsets? You talk, pause, stumble over words as you recall the conversation on new year’s morning where you were back in the kitchen, opened the curtains, saw the

- I was trying to avoid. You’d said to try to stay calm, relaxed, but

- This process only works with exposure. You might not have planned it, but you’re in the place. Ready. And this exposure will help.

-

- Is there anything?

- It’s the anxiety of anticipation, not knowing what I’ll feel, what will happen.

- We don’t have to start today. Any questions, any worries, just ask and I’ll

- I want to. The longer I wait the worse I’ll feel. So I want, no, need to.

- Shall we begin?

You nod, change seat. The room lights are switched off, the window closed. The light bar is raised, and a buzzer placed in each hand. As the light moves left then right then left then right you feel it vibrate in each hand in turn.

She opens the file, checks the notes and takes out a pen.

She asks you to think about the incident, to focus on an image.

It is in your head.

Your breathing shallows.

It’s there.

Stuck.

In your head.

You feel a tightness in your shoulders, in your chest.

- What do you feel?

- Fear.

-

-

-

- Guilt.

-

-

-

- Worthless

-

-

-

-

- Any other emotions?

-

-

You whisper, inaudible. Your eyes prickle. The heat of tears.

Her voice is quiet:

- can you formulate this as an “I am” statement?

You feel the tears.

- If you can.

-

-

- I am nothing.

-

- I deserved it.

-

-

-

-

-

- I am worthless.

-

-

You become aware of tears on your nose.

- And what do you want?

- I want

-

- I want to matter.

You are aware of her writing a note.

- I’m going to put on the lights. You follow them and concentrate on the image. Focus on that. And on the emotion. “I am worthless”. Focus on that.

And she switches on the lights.

And you watch them

Right

And left

And right

And left

And you feel the buzzer

Right

And left

And right

And left

And the light stops in the middle

- And what do you notice?

- My shoulders are tight.

- Take a moment to notice that.

And she switches on the lights

And you watch them

And you feel the buzzer

Right

And left

And right

And left

And right

And left

And you can barely see the light move right as you cry.

“I am worthless”

You have started.

This will take some time.

viii

It does not end when the lights stop. It does not end when the rhythm of inhaling and exhaling has calmed. It does not end when you open your eyes.

You’d been told, of course. Warned. But it is still unsettling when it happens. When in full widescreen glorious technicolor and surround sound that trailer (carefully selected by the projectionist as age appropriate for the intended audience) during the session becomes something more substantial.

A relived experience from the session can haunt you through the week. You are not aware of it all the time — but it is a glass prism in your consciousness refracting certain day to day actions. So you glimpse a memory from decades before the reflection on the freezer cabinet, recollect the tone of voice and what was said when the checkout assistant asks if you’ve a loyalty card. But there is more than simple momentary flashbacks. Some of it is sustained. That half remembered event becoming something more vivid. And as it does the weight increases on your chest and your shoulders tense and you are — physically, emotionally, mentally — simultaneously absent and present watching you watching you.

It’s unnerving.

And it’s unpredictable.

A day can pass with nothing.

The next can begin to relive the session, roll the film past the reel you saw while the lights flashed. Begin to explain.

But while the time before the lights nudges these memories from experiencing to experienced there is collateral damage, some related, much unrelated. Some makes no sense. Why remember the accountant with the curled fair hair sitting crying in the office where you had the summer job? Why is she there? Why remember the next door neighbour from four decades ago — brown haired, moustache, checked shirt?

Your therapist tells you that too long thinking about rationales is unproductive, anxiety inducing. You know this. You know that it is best not to scrabble around in the memory dump between sessions. What matters will be there next time, or the time after, or the time after that, when the lights start. It does not end.

ix

You are present. Wholly present. Here. You know that. Aware that only minutes ago you were conscious of sitting on the hard backed chair, your feet grounded, the draught at the window, the tripod supporting the light bar.

But you are absent now too. Wholly absent. Elsewhere.

And you don’t notice the lights.

You’ve talked about it with her. She’s explained that you need to be in both places at once. You need to connect with both. Then. You need to relive it. You need to be there. More than a slow motion replay — catching glimpses in your peripheral vision, suddenly noticing furniture, curtains; hearing the sounds outside, the whispers, the breathing; and the smells — the short sharp stench. It’s time travel. And you cannot alter it. Not one line. You know what will happen. You know how it ends. And that hits you now. Feeling. The catch in your throat. The tension in your body — shoulders, thighs, calves, gut. Breathing speeding. The tightness in your chest. The rhythms erratic. You feel.

You felt. You feel.

Then and now merge.

And when they do you don’t notice the lights.

Trapped in your head, knowing how it ends, you cry. For you now. For you then. And you can’t see the lights.

Or you try to escape. Closing your eyes against your past. Clenching them tight.

Or the memory. No, not memory, memory is wrong. It is time travel. But with no sound of thunder. You are reliving. Re-seeing. Re-feeling. Re-experiencing. You are experiencing. Sometimes the experience is foregrounded, so dominant, you don’t notice the lights.

You are there. You are. Then.

The pads continue to buzz in each hand though. Sometimes sensing their vibrations against your thighs as you grip tighter, nails in palms.

You are here. You are. Now.

Schrodinger smiles.

x

I’d told her that I couldn’t sleep. Every night I was fighting to sleep. My head was preoccupied. It would get to two in the morning. I’d put music on, radio shows. And I’d hear them through. I’d lie there, my wife asleep. I’d lie, eyes closed, reliving. I’d open my eyes, and I was reliving. On a loop. Over and over. Stuck. It was stuck in my head.

I didn’t tell her that. Not then. I didn’t need to tell her that it was replaying on a loop and I could hear and I could see and I could feel and I could taste and I could smell and hear and see and feel and taste and smell and hear and see and feel and taste and smell and hear and hear and hear and hear. On a loop. Again. And again.

- Is there anything else?

- I exchanged some messages with a couple of friends. I was thinking about the people I’d been in touch with, the people I’m really friendly with now or was then, that I’m trying to. Well, not the ones I view as people I’ve met, the friends. It’s about vulnerability. They’re people I’m comfortable being vulnerable with. Being open. Admitting frailty and fragility. That’s important to me. To feel I can be myself, no secrets.

I looked towards the door.

- It’s tiring you know? It’s so tiring. Just keeping doors shut.

- Is it that bad?

- I wonder if. Should I be more open about what happened? More frank?

- There’s no need. But it’s your choice. And

- It’s not necessarily the best time to decide. I know. Not the best time.

I felt her look at me.

I folded my arms.

- Being open. It’s. You see, it’s what I’m finding with the people I’ve contacted. It’s either been a case of me having been open before or being comfortable with being open now. I think that even after a time, sometimes years, decades, we resume a role — that level of trust, that level of comfort with being vulnerable. It’s odd. That resumption. I see it sometimes. People that were at school, meeting again. Resuming the roles from then irrespective of what they do now. Power is inverted. Bullies become bullies again. The bullied become prey. It’s odd. I. I’ve avoided that. The people I’ve. They’re all people I liked, liked a lot. People I felt.

I closed my eyes.

- They’re all people I felt safe with. That matters. That really matters. But I. I needed a nudge.

I opened my eyes again, looked to her

- I had one conversation. You remember I’d told you that I’d had a message, not long after I went off? It was from someone I worked with nearly twenty years ago. She got my out of office. It was stark. No detail. Just saying I was off through ill health. No date for return mentioned. Just. Anyway, she contacted me. I. I was really touched. I didn’t expect. And. And she’d guessed what was up, asked if I’d like to meet. And we did. We did.

I scratched my neck.

- We met a couple of times. Lunches. It was really nice. We chatted. And it wasn’t quite like. I mean, we’re older. Married, kids. Life’s moved on. But. It’s that shared history. Picking up. Being able to feel vulnerable, frank. To talk about it. And to listen.

She nodded.

- I wrote to her this week. To thank her. Just to say that she contacted me when I was at my worst. And. Seeing her was so nice. Reconnecting. It’s. It was lovely. That circle, that circle that had contracted for so long. It was nice to reconnect. And if she’d not been in touch I wouldn’t have contacted others, wouldn’t have dreamed of contacting. Well, you know. I’m just really grateful to her. She took the time and I. I got a lovely reply. Where she said that. She said that contacting me had been a bit selfish. She’d liked when we chatted back in the day. About work stuff, life stuff. And knowing who we were. Then. That matters. That acknowledgement that who you were shaped you, even if people you know now are unaware of it. She made me cry. Because I got it. I completely got it. And. And.

I sucked in my lower lip.

- It was nice to feel wanted, but it was nice to feel. It was nice to feel that that thing in my head — that need to reconnect, to find. It’s not just. You know?

I reached down by my chair and lifted a bottle of water, sipped.

- It’s lives unlived, you see. Lives unlived. That reaching out, that need — and it is a need — to meet people I liked and loved. It’s grounding me with who I was. Reconnecting with my past. I need it. That link. That.

I sighed.

- It’s the positive cognition you see. I. You told me not to fixate on it, not to let it get to me.

- But it is.

I smiled.

- It is.

She explained where we’d moved from, that notion of worth, through a notion of having the potential for worth to last week’s acceptance, acknowledgement, that the trauma had happened, that I could move on.

- It’s the potential that matters. Not that you have moved on, but that you can, that you have the ability to move on. And that makes a difference. It might take a long time. You might not realise you’ve moved on until long after you have. But you have the potential. And I’m seeing it every week. The difference from when you first came. You’re much further on. Contacting people. Meeting them. Sending that message. Having that lunch. They’re big steps. They’re all part of the process of moving on. But I worry you think in absolutes. Black or white. You have moved on or you haven’t. It’s a process. You need to concentrate on the potential.

I nodded.

- You’re right.

She tilted her head.

- Again.

She laughed.

- I found the first part easy last week. “it happened”. I know that. It’s factual. I know it happened. But it was the bit about moving on I struggled with. I feel I should be further on. I should be. I feel I’ve failed, that I’ve failed by not being further on.

- But it’s a process. It takes as long as it needs. Think how long you’ve lived with this.

- I know.

I looked down.

- I know. And what you say makes sense. I feel I’m not ready for it. I’m. You know the other week you talked about grieving. I’m grieving. It’s. I’m lost. I’m still lost. I need to say goodbye.

- The installation of the positive cognition won’t work if you don’t believe it. And you mustn’t get hung up on. It’s only part of this. You’ve come so far. And it’s about the potential. The potential to move on. That you can move on.

- Yes. Yes. But it’s the first bit. It felt fine. But it’s.

I closed my eyes.

- I know it happened. It did happen. I know it. But. It shaped me. And.

I opened my eyes and looked at her.

- I was talking to my wife this week and she. It wasn’t the right word, but I got it. I completely got it. And I understand what she meant.

I scratched my neck.

- Comfort. She said there’s a comfort in it. And it’s not the right word but it’s true. There’s. There’s a. A security. Yes. There’s a security in it. In knowing it happened. That who I am has been shaped by it. That how I am, that who I am, that why I am, that what I am, they’re all shaped by it. Defined even. It made me. It made everything about me. I told you last week. About what my mum said. I changed. Even times where I’m not aware necessarily that I changed.

-

- I changed. After it happened. And it’s a much bigger deal, it’s a much bigger thing than I imagined, than I realised. All life choices. Everything. It changed me. And so. Well, it happened is more uncomfortable, more upsetting than I’d realised. Would I have chosen different things to do? Acted differently? Would I be me?

-

- Everything. Everything is up for question. Who I am. How I am. I look at things I’ve done. And I can tie them back. The way I act. I tie it back. Avoiding situations. Avoiding people. Being passive, letting things happen. Feeling I can’t act, can’t do anything. I.

- it’s integrating. It’s moved from that place where it sat and you relived the distress and recalled the distress. And it’s gone. It’s tying in with your memories and you are trying to make things make sense.

- But there are so many unlived lives, paths not taken. Decisions I’ve not taken. Actions I’ve not taken. Choices I made. Did I do them because I hate me, because I did not feel worth anything? Or should I have done things before? I.

- This shows the process is working. You are trying to move on. You are trying to deal with it. And of course there are questions. You’re trying to make sense.

- There is a revolution in my head. Everything is falling apart. I. I’m lost. What could I have been? Who could I have been? Am I what I should be?

-

- That it happened is true. I know it. It did. It happened. But it’s hard to accept. It’s hard to acknowledge that it closed off all those lives, all those possibilities. It hurts. It hurts knowing that. I can’t. You understand? It’s a revolution. My head is caught in a revolution. Everything is unsettled. Everything about me.

- But if this didn’t unsettle you, if it didn’t upset you I’d be worried. You have lived with this for decades. But it’s not been integrated. You’re integrating it now. That’s good. But it’s unsettling. But you’re still you. You’re more than what happened. Aren’t you?

I thought about it. I thought about it again. Back in my head. Again. Back in my head. What I saw, and what I felt, and what I smelled, and what I tasted, and what I heard. What I heard. Again. Back in my head. What I heard. And I nodded, and started to cry.

I closed my eyes.

Tight.

I closed them.

- I can’t sleep. It’s in my head.

When I opened my eyes I saw she’d moved the box of tissues nearer to me.

- I can’t get to sleep. I hear it. You know? What I talked about in the light bar. I.

My eyes were wet, my cheeks were wet. I breathed and breathed. Slower and slower.

- I’m thinking about it a lot. I’m scared to go to sleep. It’s in my head. As I’m going to sleep it’s there. I hear it. I hear it over and over. In the middle of what happened.

She flicked through the file.

- If we were to do the work now, going back to the worst, you’d not be.

- When we started. When we did the light bar stuff at the start I was there anticipating it. I was waiting for it to happen. Trapped. Stuck. I was time travelling. Every week I was time travelling, unable to change a line, not a line. I knew what was coming, knew was going to happen. And it did. And that fear. That fear of what was to come. That was the worst.

-

-

- But?

- It changed. You know? Over time I moved. I moved forward in time. It was later on. It was later, but still beforehand. Still in advance. That anticipation. That fear. The anxiety. Knowing what was to come. Knowing it.

-

-

-

- I’m scared.

- we

- I’m scared. I’m scared to sleep. I’m stuck. It’s there. I’m right in the middle of it. I feel it. And I smell it. And I see it. And I taste it. And I. I hear it. I hear it again and again. I hear it.

-

-

-

- I hear it.

-

-

- And this is getting worse?

- Yes. It’s my new normal. It’s. It doesn’t feel like flashbacks. I’m not transported. I don’t get swept away. But. It’s in my head. It’s there. It’s there in my head. On a loop. And it’s getting worse. The more agitated I get about the positive cognition the worse it gets.

-

- I hear it.

-

-

-

- I.

And I heard it again. Again. And again. Quiet. Invasive.

A violation.

I closed my eyes, and I saw. I heard and I saw.

I opened them and I heard.

She checked something in the file.

- I think we need to go back. It’s your choice, but I think we need to look at moving this. We need to focus on this with the light bar. Are you happy with that?

I nodded.

I closed my eyes and I nodded.

Xi

- I’m scared.

- why?

- of what comes after. When this is done. When it’s finished. When I’m better.

-

- I don’t know who I am.

-

- I don’t know who I am. Or why I am. Or what I am.

-

- I don’t know.

-

- It all happened before I knew who I was, before I had a shape, before I was. You know?

-

- What would I have been? Who would I have been? Who could I have been?

-

- Understand?

-

- This. This passivity has been there throughout. All the time. Choices. Individual choices. Did I make any of them?

-

- Who am I?

-

- Can you tell me who I am?

-

- I’m scared. I don’t know what I decided, what I actively decided. I’ve told you about the degree, the job, after. Life. I. I feel like I was a recipient. They happened to me. I didn’t. I didn’t choose, you know. I didn’t. Not actively. They happened.

-

- Would I have done any of them? Would I have done anything? Would I be where I am? Would I be who I am? Would I be doing what I do? I.

-

- I fell into things. I fell into everything.

-

-

-

- I don’t know who I am.

-

- Can you tell me? Can you help?

-

- I don’t know who I am.

-

-

-

-

-

- Please. Please help.

-

-

-

- Who am I?

-

-

-

- Who?

-

-

-

- What if throw everything up in the air? What if I want to throw everything up in the air? What if that’s who I am? What if none of this is me? What if this passivity has disguised that I’m in the wrong place at the wrong time? That I’m not the person people think I am. What if it’s wrong? What if I’m wrong?

-

-

-

-

-

- I’m scared. I can’t hide forever, can’t hide behind that passivity, can’t let every decision be one where I react to what happens, where I do what others want, what others expect. I can’t.

-

- But the responsibility. The responsibility is scary. It’s terrifying. What if people don’t like me as I should be? What if I’m not who I think I am? Not who they think I am? What do I do?

-

-

-

- Taking decisions is scary.

- But it can be empowering.

-

- you can decide what you should do, where you should be. That’s empowering.

-

- You can shape your future. Your future is yours. You can choose it.

- I know.

-

-

-

- That’s what scares me.

- Why?

- What if I know who I am, right? What if I know? What if I know already?

-

-

-

- I’m scared.

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Scott Wortley

Law lecturer. Interest in Scots property law, conveyancing, debt and insolvency, statutory interpretation and legislation.