.I woke up with a start. I was shaking like a leaf and slowly my eyes adjusted to the light. I looked at the windows and they were tiny. Everything was tiny, from the bedside table to my wardrobe. Now, I was in full panic mode.
I was screaming, shouting. I had to get downstairs, although even the stairs seemed tiny, too. I rushed into the kitchen and struggled to open the back door. I had to open the back door. Why won’t it open?
My mother appeared in her dressing gown, asking if I was all right. I just told her to open the back door and quickly. I had to get outside. She got the keys, calmly unlocked the door and I took a step into the open air. Everything was its normal size again. My heart was still racing but the storm was longer raging. At least not for now.
Mum asked me what was wrong. I had no idea except that everything appeared small to me and I had to find the open air. I was pretty sure that everything hadn’t gone small and it was just me. How on earth does a 12 year old boy explain that?
This became a nightly experience. If I was watching television, the television became tiny, as did the coal fire, the table and chairs and everything else. Every time it happened the only thing that stopped it was getting into the open air. It happened at home, it happened on holiday, particularly in our caravan at West Bay in Dorset where I would wake up not just our family but the families in the caravans next door.
I am guessing it affected my school life because I could not understand any of the subjects. Maths, the sciences, geography, languages – I never excelled in any of them. Eventually, my mother took me to the doctor and every Tuesday we went to see someone in Brunswick Square. I was taken to a room downstairs where I would hit a punchball, drew pictures or kick a ball around whilst he talked to me. No one ever explained what I was doing there or who this man was, but within a couple of years, the panic attacks and night terrors began to ease. Not that I knew it, but my life was to change forever.
Years later, my mother told me, almost accidentally, I felt, that I had actually been seeing a psychiatrist. I think she said it was ‘play therapy’. I had been in a ‘very bad way’ and she didn’t know what to do with me. What I certainly didn’t know was that this was just the start of a lifetime of mental health problems, which continue through adolescence with regular visits to Off the Record and then fully blown therapy in a variety of hospitals and psychiatrist chairs. And drugs.
This was all before mental illness had been invented. No one had depression or anxiety and paranoia and schizophrenia were things people made jokes about. Those really were the days when you were literally told to ‘snap out of it’ and ‘stop feeling sorry for yourself’. If someone had told me I’d the stuck with this for the rest of my life, I am not sure I would have dealt with it well.
As it was, no one outside the family knew about my ‘issues’. My guess is because it was a taboo subject. Why couldn’t I be ‘normal’ like everyone else? But I did think I was normal like everyone else. I was. I was just differently normal.