No More of That
by Martin Westlake
Part 1 appears
in this issue.
I waited for her outside.
‘Well?’ I asked, once I had got her back into the car.
‘We had a good chat,’ she said. ‘She told me that people who suffer from paranoid delusions clearly believe that they’re true and therefore cannot see that they are untrue.’
‘Exactly,’ I said.
‘Don’t look at me like that! I am not suffering from any delusions.’
‘Is that what she said?’
‘Well, no. But she did say I have been suffering from anxiety and depression. She’s prescribed some pills, and we’ll have to see how I get on.’
* * *
I called the psychologist’s practice and booked a consultation.
‘It could be a case of paranoid personality disorder,’ she said. ‘We don’t know exactly how it occurs but, frequently, those who develop the condition seem to enter into a spiral that starts from some innocuous event. In your wife’s case, a pair of socks on the floor might seem mysterious. An apparent repetition of the event is confirmation of the mystery.
‘The mystery confirmed, the mind seeks other examples. We all do it to some extent. Sometimes the mind goes too far. But the affected person becomes increasingly suspicious and sensitive. Each time that you question someone’s belief, you simultaneously hurt that person and convince them still further that you are blind to the conspiracy that they can see.’
‘Assuming it is something like that,’ I said, ‘what might be done?’
‘Quite a bit,’ she said. ‘The anxiety your wife is undergoing is genuine. I can treat her for that. Indeed, I have prescribed some medication, as you must know. And there are some forms of drugs that might help her to escape the vicious spiral, assuming that she is in one.
‘But I can help her only if she accepts that she needs help. And you should be aware that some patients present important side-effects. Unfortunately, though, the problem with this sort of condition is that the person concerned cannot accept treatment. Indeed, their refusal to recognise that they might need help is symptomatic.’
‘It doesn’t sound very encouraging.’
‘Well,’ said the psychologist, ‘let’s take things one step at a time. At first I will treat her only for her anxiety and her depression. If I can get those under control, then I think she’ll be more receptive on the other issue.’
In the meantime, Anna had started taking her medication. Back home, I watched closely. There were a few incidents in the days immediately after her visit to the psychologist, but thereafter Anna became calmer and seemed less worried. I noted that she managed to stay away from the living room window and rarely looked out of it or, at least, if she did, it was not with the same hawkish intensity.
Two weeks later she went back to see the psychologist. This time, I was invited to be present, and Anna agreed.
‘You look much better’ the psychologist told Anna. She took her blood pressure and pulse and asked her a series of questions from a checklist. Then she raised the ‘other’ issue.
‘Anna,’ she began, ‘you have been complaining about certain phenomena which, you think, prove that you are being harassed by a stalker of some sort, right?’
‘That’s a good summary, yes.’
‘As you know, your husband thinks these could also be a set of random and unrelated phenomena for which there might be an innocent explanation, right?’
‘Well, yes, I suppose so.’
The psychologist looked at me and I nodded my agreement. Here came the key moment.
‘What if I told you that there is a sort of medication that will have no effect on you whatsoever except that if you have been experiencing delusions of some sort these will stop? Could you not agree to take it for a while? It would be an important gesture to your husband.’
‘I don’t like the idea of taking medicine for nothing.’
‘It would just be for a short period. Let’s say just for one fortnight.’ The psychologist shifted forward on her chair.
‘Okay,’ said Anna, ‘but I am only doing it for you’ — she looked at me accusingly — ‘and I don’t believe it will have any effect whatsoever.’
* * *
Sure enough, the incidents stopped, and the combination of the other medication against anxiety and depression seemed to have turned Anna into a more serene and relaxed individual. But the psychologist had perhaps underestimated the deviousness of Anna’s intelligence.
One evening towards the end of the experimental fortnight, I managed to get home in time for dinner. I called Anna and brought in a takeaway Indian meal. Anna had laid the table and even put out a table cloth. It was quite like old times. Towards the end of the meal, I remarked on how well she was.
‘Don’t for one moment think that the medication is having an effect,’ she told me.
‘But you’d surely agree that things have been calmer over the past two weeks.’
‘They have. But that just means that things have been calmer, that’s all.’
‘But don’t you see that—’
Her sullen features told me there was no use in arguing any further: to her mind the stalker had just taken a holiday, that was all.
* * *
The psychologist was similarly disappointed at this setback. At our next meeting, Anna refused to take any more medication, insisting that she was fine. What could we do? Mental illness, especially borderline illness, is a delicate matter, it seemed. Within days we were back to the old situation of ‘incidents’ and anxiety. Most evenings when I got home, I would find her staring out through the living room window at ‘the man in the car’.
Then matters took a more serious turn. Anna became convinced that the man was prowling around the house at night. It was true that there were noises at night but, as I pointed out to her, urban foxes were on the rise and there had anyway always been many cats in our neighbourhood.
‘I am not talking about the pitter-patter of cuddly creatures’ feet,’ Anna told me sourly. ‘I can hear a man walking around. I know a man’s footsteps when I hear them.’
She started to wake me up in the middle of the night. On several occasions I got up and went outside to convince her that there was nobody there, but this only ‘proved’ to her that the man had run away in the meantime. On top of that, she started calling me with increasing frequency at work; the man was somehow getting into the house, she insisted. Each time she pleaded with me to go home to reassure her. Each time I found nothing. It was getting completely out of hand.
What could be done? I went back to our family doctor several times in that period and the last time I went he coughed nervously and asked me whether I had thought about the possibility of having Anna sectioned temporarily. I asked him what he meant.
‘Under the Mental Health Act, a person can be admitted to hospital, in some cases with, and in some cases without, their consent.’
‘Hospital? You mean a clinic of some sort?’
‘Yes, that’s right. Patients benefit from around-the-clock care and attention, and their families benefit from no longer having to bear the full burden of care. Anna isn’t violent and she poses no physical risk to herself nor to anybody else. But she does seem to have entered a potentially dangerous spiral, and she is exhausting you. Once she is in a clinical environment, it should prove easier to treat her, if only because it will take her away from the apparent triggers for her condition. Anyway, think about it, and maybe you can discuss it with the psychologist the next time you see her.’
* * *
I arranged an appointment with the psychologist for later that week and asked her what she thought.
‘It’s an option of last resort,’ she said, ‘but it is becoming a possibility in your wife’s case. It needn’t be as dramatic as it sounds. She might agree to go voluntarily, and she could go in on a temporary basis — for a few days or a week, and then we could take stock.’
‘How would it work?’
‘You, as her nearest relative, could make an application, and then you would need two medical recommendations. I assume your family doctor would be prepared to consider giving one and I would certainly, if it were appropriate, be ready to give the other.’
* * *
I gave it one more week. Could we really have reached such a stage so fast? That evening, before I went to bed, I took a long hard look at myself in the bathroom mirror. The next day I asked our doctor to help me make a formal application. It all went very smoothly. Everybody involved was assiduous and understanding. The psychologist, who was happy to give the necessary second recommendation, asked to see me.
‘How are we going to break it to her?’ she asked.
‘What would you advise?’
‘We should see if she’d be prepared to go on a voluntary basis first. That’s always better. I could speak to her if you’d like, but maybe you’d prefer to talk with her...’
‘You’re right, of course,’ I replied. ‘I’ll do it.’
I wondered how Anna would take it. She was so fiercely independent and at the same time absolutely convinced that her delusions were reality. I needn’t have worried. Her delusions were so advanced that they actually worked in our favour.
‘Do you mean a secure place?’ she asked.
‘I think so.’
‘To stop the loonies getting out?’
She smiled grimly. ‘Don’t worry,’ she said. ‘You don’t have to be diplomatic. I am perfectly happy to go, at least for a while. I will be glad to go somewhere where that man cannot get near me.’
It was as simple as that. I drove her to the clinic as if we were going to the theatre. On the way there we spoke about the most banal things: the weather, the need to mow the lawn, shopping.
The clinic was a drab grey building with conspicuously barred windows. I was afraid Anna would have second thoughts when she saw it. But the reception hall was bright and cheerful, and she was received as an in-patient would be received in any ordinary hospital.
A very kindly male nurse took her suitcase from me. She didn’t want me to come in. She preferred to settle in alone. I promised to come by the next day. I gave her a peck on the cheek and that was that; my wife of twenty-six years locked into a secure clinic. I could hardly believe how simple it had been.
* * *
The painful business wasn’t quite over. Anna had been taken in for only two weeks, during which time various tests would be carried out. The psychologist told me that the team at the clinic did not like keeping people in if they could possibly avoid it. They would do their best to convince Anna to take medication for her condition.
But Anna refused to take any medication — not even the sedatives and anti-depressants — and, as the end of the fortnight approached, she even resisted the idea of leaving the clinic. I saw her every evening during that second week. She seemed perfectly normal and lucid.
Finally, the medical team decided that they would need to keep her in for longer. This meant going back to the judge and applying for leave to retain her for an indefinite period. Permission was granted. It all seemed surprisingly straightforward.
* * *
Once the decision about indefinite detention had been taken, I rang the detective agency and went to settle up. I doubted I’d be needing them for the foreseeable future. The man who had been working for me suspected that I had been up to something, but he knew on which side his bread was buttered.
‘Thank you,’ I told him. ‘You did a very good job.’
‘Truth be told, sir, I didn’t do very much.’
‘But you did, you know. If my wife was tempted to have a boyfriend, she has certainly given up on the idea.’
‘Sir, it’s as I told you; during all the months I worked for you, I never saw anybody near the house or coming to the house or anything.’
‘That was precisely because you were there, don’t you see? You did make yourself visible, didn’t you?’
‘And walk around the house occasionally?’
He nodded again.
‘There you are: it was an excellent deterrent.’
I could see he didn’t believe me, but what did he care? How could he know that Anna had been sectioned for something she had truly seen and heard?
* * *
In the beginning, I visited Anna every evening. After a decent period, I started to miss occasional evenings, and then the occasions became more frequent until I was seeing her only at weekends. The last time I saw Anna, I asked her about the stalker again, and she told me exactly what she had seen.
‘You never did believe me, did you?’ she asked me.
‘But of course I did, Anna!’ I said. ‘I always knew you were telling the truth.’
She looked at me, puzzled, for a moment. ‘You’re not just saying that to humour me, are you?’
‘No, Anna, I’m not.’
I watched her eyes narrow.
‘In that case,’ she said, ‘let me just tell you that I am much happier here than I ever was with you at home. It cuts both ways, do you see? I wanted no more of that.’
It was my turn to narrow my eyes. ‘Yes, I do see. How very intriguing.’
We smiled at one another in final understanding and complicity.
Madness, I reflected as I left, is such a relative concept, but surely what mattered was that now both Anna and I were happy. In any case, why turn to such fraught and ugly techniques as murder when the state is perfectly willing to help, as it had done? I nodded to the guard as he released the door. Outside, I turned up my coat collar against a faint autumn chill and walked with a firm step towards a new future.
Copyright © 2019 by Martin Westlake