I have entered a new terrifying realm this year, a kingdom of jargon and coded language in which I, who love words so much, am powerless. I am in the lap of the gods, and they are not benign. They remind me of Dad’s bedtime stories from his beloved Greek myths, and have never before felt so relevant. It feels as though I am groping my way through a dark labyrinth, weaponless and frightened, in a foreign land. And at every turn there is an insurmountable challenge.
I am told Mother cannot be assessed because she has ‘sufficient capacity’ to decide whether or not she wishes to see a doctor. I say Mother does not know her own mind and is incapable of deciding what to eat or wear or when to wash. I am told this is ‘her wish’ and she is ‘harming no one’ and is safe, so there is nothing anyone can do. I say Mother tried to kill herself with an overdose last May. I am told that following an assessment at the time she was ‘not deemed to be a risk to herself or others’. I say Mother cannot look after Dad once he comes out of hospital with only one leg and terminal cancer. I am told Dad ‘can be discharged home because he has a carer at home’ in the form of his wife. I grope forward in the dark, shouting, ‘YOU ARE NOT LISTENING TO ME.’ They swiftly build another wall in front of me and surround me, whispering, ‘Jargon, jargon, jargon, jargon.’
One day I am given a precious gift which changes everything. I am put in touch with a friend of a friend who works for Age UK and was once a social worker. He is my guardian at the threshold. He is Ariadne to my Theseus. He is, without hyperbole, literally my saviour.
He tells me the way through the tangle of departments and paperwork and gives me the language to find my way out:
Armed to the teeth with this new knowledge I write letter after letter, make phone call after phone call. This battle is not merely mental, it is physical as well. My shoulders and back ache all the time. At night I close my eyes and have the sensation of pushing a boulder up a steep hill. My heart beats fast. My breathing comes in short, sharp gasps. I don’t think I will ever reach the summit. I can feel the boulder pushing back against me, threatening to flatten me. Those Greek gods knew a thing or two about life on this earth, it turns out. And death.
On the day Mother is sectioned under the Mental Health Act – sorry, ‘detained’ – the social worker, Martin, says, ‘I can see from your letters that you are well informed. You write a good letter.’
Yes, I can write. I can express myself on the page. But no amount of writing is any good if you are trying to communicate in the wrong language. I needed the right words. The correct phraseology. I could not have done it without the help of Age UK. Thank you, Richard. Thank you for your golden thread.