Sometimes, on my stronger days, I would sit on the balcony and breathe in the scent of fresh cut grass, or the petrol fumes from the house that backed onto the gardens. The occupant of one of the houses ran an illegal car repair garage, but the roar of engines, the acrid exhaust and the tortured oil that drifted on the prevailing wind were oddly comforting.
Less so, the stench of weed that came from the flat below.
One of the other residents in the block told me that he had complained about the smell of “Marry Hwaana” to the management company. The management gave the residents twenty four hours notice of an inspection. We were then treated to the chemical miasma of a flat that had been beaten into submission by bleach during a cleaning frenzy. Our eyes ran for days and it made every room unbearable. I spent a few days in a state of permanent panic.
My flat had become a character in a hallucinogenic psychodrama. I lived in a place that hated me and that I hated with equal vehemence. There was nothing I wanted to do more than break through these boundaries, but like the dinner guests in Luis Bunuel’s “The Exterminating Angel” – I watched a lot of movies when the PS3 stopped being threatening – I couldn’t leave the building.
For a long time, maybe three or four years, the closest I got to ‘going outside’, was to sit close to the TV and play “Skyrim” on the PS3. If I squinted at the screen, I could make myself believe that the mountains and plains and skies were mine. I could run or climb or glide through the digital open world; I could swim in lakes and rivers and, for a while, feel something akin to freedom.
But Skyrim smelled only of warm plastic.
It wasn’t enough.
And then there were the dragons.
And the signs at the edge of the playable map that said “You cannot go this way”.
Even in freedom, I was trapped.
Life began to be a series of impossible tasks. Everything from using the phone, the vacuum cleaner, the CD player became impossible to navigate. They had taken on a frightening, unfathomable aspect. For six months of hell, the PS3 became the impossible task and I was unable to access my ‘freedom’. I had even lost my artificial ‘outside’.
It took almost three years to the day from referral to get help from the NHS. The waiting lists for counselling were – and remain – enormous and completely oversubscribed. When I finally got the phone call to say there was a place for me, I was elated, but it didn’t last. On my first session I was told that because of cutbacks in NHS spending, I was allowed a maximum of twelve sessions. In the next breath, I was told we were looking at a good twelve months of weekly sessions to get to the root of my problem and although I would be given weekly tasks to try and get me back out in the world, everything I achieved lay in ruins when the sessions ended prematurely. I felt abandoned and worthless and lost myself in Skyrim again.