Eileen shuffled uncomfortably in her chair. Time was passing. She had to speak or miss the moment.
“There’s no use waiting any longer. Marie’s not coming here again. Ever. She told me when we bumped into each other just before the holiday.”
“She was really upset when I saw her,” continued Eileen. “She looked most frail and told me an odd story.
“She said that during her most recent psychiatric consultation, Dr Lawson had told her that she didn’t consider her clinically depressed; that she was being dishonest with herself and simply seeking attention.”
“How horrible! You don’t expect your psychiatrist to turn on you when you’ve gone to her for help,” said Charlie. He was the group’s veteran member - and a good source of gossip.
“So, what happened?”
“Things got worse. She had seen Dr Lawson late afternoon and when she arrived at work the next day she discovered two people from the personnel department had been to see the doctor about her. They had affected to ‘express concern’ about what they described as her ‘hostile’ behaviour in the office. But Marie said they were just interfering bullies who wanted to get her dismissed. One of them boasted about what they’d done. ‘Rita laughed when she told me’, is what Marie said.”
“Eileen, I don’t believe that! Everyone knows about patient confidentiality,” said Paula.
“Anyway, I don’t understand how personnel could know of Marie’s activities away from work.
“I’m terrified of anyone – anywhere - finding out that I come here. Most people can’t see the difference between ‘emotional’ and ‘mental’ illnesses. If, for instance, my boyfriend knew I’m anorexic, he’d mock me like hell and run a thousand miles.”
“But I’m afraid the situation with Marie did occur,” interjected Joan, one of the group leaders.
“Generally, we frown on chitchat about members in their absence. We’ve made an exception today because we feel partly responsible as a team that Dr Lawson was deceived into seeing the people from KleenCo Industries without Marie’s knowledge - let alone her consent. As you say, most people who have contact with the mental health services do not divulge any information to their workmates.”
“’But ‘hostile’? If anything, Marie’s too – er well – open, even affectionate with people she barely knows,” said Eileen. She’ll tell her tale to anyone who’ll listen. I think that’s partly because she’s lonely but mainly because she’s been in the same job for far too long. She needs a new life where she can make some genuine friends. Maybe Dr Lawson was trying to tell her that, but was being ‘cruel to be kind.’”
“I wonder why she has stayed at KleenCo when she hates it there so much?”, mused Paula.
“I think I can answer that,” said Eileen. “It’s the same reason why I stayed with Roy for fifteen years despite the shouting matches and the fisticuffs. It’s what you get used to. The routine – the sameness – are strangely soothing. We didn’t have children or money woes to trouble us. It was simply easier to stay than to pack up and go; to find another bloke; to have to start over …”
“So Eileen, what about you and Roy? You never have told us,” said Charles.
“We had one row too loud, too long, too many. We were in the kitchen. I grabbed the carving knife, more to emphasise a point than to do any damage. But Roy tried to yank it from me by the blade. Ha! Talk of ‘waiting’: our accident-in-waiting lingered no longer and Roy died of an unintentional stab wound to his stomach on the way to hospital.
“Luckily the judge was more sympathetic than Roy’s mother and I got off with a two year suspended sentence for involuntary manslaughter.”
There was a brief, shocked silence before Paula asked if anyone knew where Marie was.
“She’s quite safe but I’m sorry to say she’s now in hospital.”
All eyes were back on Joan.
“It’s quite simple. She’d fallen out with her daughter and felt abandoned. So on Christmas Eve she swallowed enough anti-depressants to make herself sick, but did not endanger her life. Then she took a taxi to Fernlee Hospital and got herself admitted to the psychiatric unit. She’s still there, now.
“’Just for some companionship,’” is how she sees it. ‘The company of friends’”.
(Copyright, Natalie Irene Wood – 04 January 2013)