Call it what you will – Fate, luck, happenstance, stupidity. It doesn’t matter. I had been feeling a bit edgy for quite a while. So, when someone assaulting me on a bus suggested, between landing a series of painful blows to my head, that I should get some therapy, I decided that perhaps, after all and in fact, it was time to give it a go and try to get myself cured. Not really being sure what was wrong with me, I didn’t know where to start. Further bedevilled and bewildered by all the choices available, I felt obliged to try as many therapies as I could fit into a two-week period in the hope that I might hit on the right one for me. And I’ve got car problems, so it had to be places I could get to by bus.
What was I looking for? Perhaps the what is a who. Perhaps I was looking for some sort of me. Perhaps my actual me is out of sync with my actualised me. Perhaps I was looking for personal realisation and empowerment. I had no idea what, who or when I was looking for. But I was curious to know what it felt like to be better.
At first I wasn’t sure that I really did this one. I remember going to the place, although not the address (which annoyed the police). And I remember that the woman therapist was called Raul (which, and here I agree with the police, did strike me as moderately unusual). But then I don’t remember anything until I woke up on the Panamanian freighter. And I didn’t find out, until I got back six weeks later, that my identity had been not only stolen, but cloned, modified and, according to the police, ‘profile-improved’ too. No, hypnotherapy is not for me. I do feel that I learnt something, but I can’t remember what it is.
I was there for at least twenty minutes and I had to listen to a bunch of crazies telling me that I needed to treat my whole self. I don’t even know what my self is, let alone how to access it to find out whether it’s whole or not. And they wouldn’t tell me. They looked at me like I was some sort of wing nut. As for the complimentary bit, not a single person complimented me the whole time I was there. Even after I told the bloke that he had a nice tie and the woman that her brooch made her look younger. What did I learn? How easily twenty minutes is wasted.
The man kept asking me about now. What was I thinking and feeling now? What was happening now? I showed him my diary (mostly empty apart from a couple of celebrity birthdays) but he didn’t seem interested. I’d ask him stuff like what he thought was wrong with me and he’d say, Now? It was very weird and I didn’t feel it was really getting anywhere. In the end I said, Now, I want to go home and he seemed satisfied with that. He asked me if I had learnt anything, but, oddly, I didn’t want to talk about the past.
Have you heard of this? I had never heard of it. This is a therapy where they actually stick pins in you and set them on fire! I swear! It’s like voodoo or something. I just grabbed my clothes and ran. I thought someone was going to come at me with a knife or a disembowelling tool or whatever. I don’t think people realise what it is. They do actually puncture you – like ‘acu’ for ‘actually’ and ‘puncture’ for ‘puncture you’. I’m amazed it’s legal. That’s what I learnt – that sticking pins in people and setting them on fire is legal.
This was a big disappointment. In my chequered and dog-toothed past I have tried a number of drugs and found that they usually did distract or engage me to some extent. Perhaps psychedelia might work for my problem. So, what was I going to get for my money? And I’m talking seventy-five quid here. I had to describe my symptoms – I said, a deep disheartenment – and the pharmacologist bloke set to with his laptop and its spreadsheet of extreme Skittles. He proscribed 28mg of metapentamythile disolomide nitrite, 100mg of scropamazene and a couple of blackcurrant flavour dextrose lozenges for being such a good boy. The result of this daily regimen was that, apart from brief intervals for re-dosing, the next three weeks were spent sleeping. Twenty-three hours and forty-five minutes a day. In a way it worked, because I didn’t really get time to feel disheartened. What did I learn? When it comes to prescription drugs, they need easier-to-remember names.
Not nearly as bad as I expected. I don’t know why, but I confused it with aversion therapy and thought they were going to make me smell jarringly evocative stuff from my childhood – the wet, corrugated metal fencing of the alley where we learnt to smoke at school and where Fat Sonia slapped my face, or the hot stink of the fox that bit me when I pulled it away from the neighbour’s cat that August night. But no. They made me smell essential oils. They didn’t say why the smells of sassafras, y-lang y-lang and bergamot are essential, but they seemed nice enough. Sassafras made me feel like I was an American airline pilot, all glamorous and in control; y-lang y-lang made me feel like I’d just had sex; bergamot made me feel as though I’d quit a good job in advertising over a trivial personal argument. When I came out of the session I had to smell the real world again, and all its cheap perfumes. Surprisingly, I liked it. The learning bit? I learnt that you need a bath after being asleep for three weeks, and that y-lang y-lang could save me money in the long run.
It’s a long story, but owing to the most ridiculous set of co-incidences, including CCTV pictures from a Bracknell nightclub of someone who they said looked like me but totally didn’t, I did actually get committed for a month or so. It wasn’t pleasant, but it did allow me to try my hand with an easel and palette. This therapy was probably the most fun. We could create whatever we wanted, and we could still take metapentamythile disolomide and the creativity co-ordinator woman didn’t mind. She told us that we could only hope to understand ourselves by expressing those selves. She told us to paint or sculpt or montage or video installation or saw in two and dunk in formaldehyde whatever we were feeling. I opted for oils and canvas, because they were nearest my chair, and crafted a pointillist version of the cover of Michael Jackson’s 1987 album BAD, because I was feeling bad. The woman seemed disappointed and told me to have another go. So I tried again and produced a cubist rendition of a tourist leaflet promoting the German spa town of Bad Godenburg, with the Godenburg bit crossed out. I thought it was good – a nice reproduction of the castle tower built by Archbishop Dietrich I in 1210, and it was expressing how I felt. The creative co-ordinator told me she couldn’t co-ordinate me creatively any more and I should try another type of expression. What did I learn? The Art World isn’t ready for me.
The therapy guy got me talking about my job and what he called my ‘social life’ and stuff. And then he started saying things like, Why is that? or And why do you think that was? It made me feel sort of trapped. Like I was in a mental maze. Then he’d follow up with, Is that a positive or a negative way of thinking? It was like he had a technique or something. I had no idea what he was talking about and before long I was a bundle of confusions, punch-drunk, gibbering and jabbering, telling him all about the booze and the women and the gambling and the debts and the divorce. I finished by vomiting into the office waste bin. He seemed positive that the session had been successful and should end at this point. What did I learn? I sort of learnt something about the relationship between me and my life, how everything is all linked up. I briefly located my self, if you like. But primarily I learnt not to mix scropamazene with lager and brandy.