Friday, June 24, 2016
Making of a Child Psychiatrist: (40) Settling Down Sort of… (3)
We moved into a flat at 190, Camberwell Grove, a gracious Edwardian three storey semi-detached with a basement. The house had a ground and first floor where the mid 40s owner/ landlady lived. The second floor, reached by a rather noisy staircase clad in brown linoleum, was all ours - a kitchen, a living area, quite a large bedroom with an en suite bathroom.
Basic furniture was supplied from various family sources, and carried up the stairs with family help. Of course we had the loot from our wedding, unpacked awaiting our return from honeymoon, and were bemused to find we had ended up with 13 casseroles, very welcome bed and table linen, and several decorative ashtrays. My parents had given us a rather posh tea trolley that we used on most days. It had an amusing but somewhat odd habit of rolling independently across the kitchen, given a slightly sloping floor. Like most events in our lives at that time we just thought it was funny. These days it would have been a serious reason to call in a builder.
We realised we had collected rather a lot of books between us, and had nowhere to store them. They were piled unceremoniously while we sorted the rest of our meagre belongings. But one Saturday I went to a builder’s yard, and organised a couple of 10 foot long pieces of pine planking, and a number of bricks. When they arrived home, with considerable pride we built a simple 60s bookshelf to take the lot, as well as a stack of records and my old player (good for 45s, 33s, and older 78s). Later we bought some garish winged bucket chairs. We were home.
In amongst the muddle, Jan studied for her finals in the coming June, and I tried to avoid too much study by beginning to work studiously on my stamp collection. As part of my life long self-analysis, I have realised I am a collector. I understand that at times of stress, or times when I want to avoid hard work, I bury myself in an activity. More simply, when Jan was revising three years of study, I could have been doing the same, preparing myself for my own finals just under two years hence. My first stamp album was bought by an aunt and uncle as a gift for a four year old being a frilled, velveted pageboy at their wedding. This thin red album had very few stamps, and had simply languished as part of my baggage for many years. Now, I developed a passion for British stamps, and spent hours organising several new albums around a miscellany of stamps purchased cheaply from local dealers and others. I became fascinated by variations, watermarks, franking, and first day covers. It kept me quiet.
There were times of relaxation and freedom. Above us was a tiny rooftop flat rented by a couple very much at our age and stage. Bob Stebbings was an architectural assistant, and his wife Chris a receptionist. They were young, also newly married, happy go lucky, interested in the world around them, and very funny. We became great friends. At some stage in my past I had been allowed to borrow an 8mm camera from Jan’s father, who taught me the skills of editing and splicing celluloid. I cannot remember how I acquired a camera, but the four of us began to create a film of us around London doing crazy things. The first attempt was a picnic in the local park one Saturday. We had no children, but between us we did have a collection of soft toys, and we filmed a teddy bears’ picnic with silly interactions. An example was a big blue blow-up ‘teddy’, filmed as the plug was pulled and it slowly deflated. We all fell about laughing. On a later occasion, we went into the city on the underground and visited The Tower of London, Horse Guards Parade, and The Embankment, with Bob parodying guardsmen, emulating silly walks, us sitting on bronze cannons, or using the glass of shopfronts as mirrors and lifting one leg as if we were puppets. Over time I edited the film down and came up with an appropriate title. The Stebbings, who were great smokers, became ‘Stubbings ‘66’. We still have the reel of silent film (amongst a now large collection of other films and videotapes of our family history); and every four or five years we replay it, just to enjoy the silliness, remind ourselves of simple times, and wonder how Chris and Bob’s lives evolved.
Jan’s exams came and went, and she relaxed in that tense kind of way we do when waiting for results. Of course she had passed, and gained her Bachelor of Science degree in Biochemistry. She glowed, but I suspect her parents Reg and Bobbie were even more proud; to have a daughter with a University degree exceeded their expectations given the post war uncertainties they had survived, and their own educations curtailed by necessity. Jan joined a kind of elite in their eyes, along with cousin Monica who became an academic in plant genetics, and her brother Michael who gained his degree and joined a software engineering firm in the early days of serious computing.
I am not sure how the connections were made, but Jan applied for a laboratory technician job at King’s and was successful. She began her own journey of professional work, and I could see her confidence in her own abilities expand as she gained a varied skill set, became a well liked member of a team and learned the ever emerging techniques of hospital biochemistry. The bonus was that Jan was earning a salary working in the hospital at which I was a medical student. So I became a kept man, supplementing my £96 a quarter county council grant with moral earnings from my woman. Seriously, it made an immense difference to our lives, and our sense of security for the future. In many ways we had come to believe the dire warnings that it was crazy to get married while we were still students; at time we had lived on next to nothing, even combining our grants. We breathed more freely.
It dawned on me that I now had to live up to my side of the bargain, and do sufficient work to complete my own degree. I had to set aside the stamp collecting me, given my fantasy of making a lot of money selling special stamps had not come to fruition. I had to begin to study in earnest. But I found myself frequently falling asleep over textbooks. Clearly it was not for a lack of interest in my chosen career. But I now know from my later neurolinguistic training that I am a visual and experiential learner. As I have noted earlier, I am not good at following a logical plan. Throughout my life I have continued to be a voracious reader. But textbooks are for dipping into, not learning verbatim. I had been under the misunderstanding that, to emulate so many of my close colleagues, I had to read every textbook from cover to cover. I just have never been able to do that. I learn, and always have learned from my patients, and the subsequent supervision sessions or post clinical discussions. And once learned visually and experientially, I rarely forget. In terms of medicine, I am a collector with a fascination for remembering the work and names of historical figures and their contributions, minutiae of various diseases, all along with a clear visual memory of patients and episodes going back 50 years (even if I struggle to remember their names).
I did not know this in 1965-6, and struggled. I felt dumb, and thought I was stupid. From time to time I believed I was not worthy to become a doctor. Looking back, I know I became depressed, and found myself seeking out odd activities to prove I was not dumb. Again, I cannot quite remember the detail, but I came across some information about intelligence and, perhaps during my earliest student time in psychiatry, I was introduced to the work of Hans Eysenck, some of whose work I devoured (Sense and Nonsense in Psychology, 1956); Fact and Fiction in Psychology, 1965), and who had written a book in 1962 called ‘Know Your Own IQ’. I found a second hand, but clean, copy in a bookshop and devoured that as well, and seemed to do OK. So I challenged myself to do the Mensa test. The results proved to me that I was not dumb; so that was not the problem.
I now know that I was in an episode of depression with loss of confidence, confusion, irritability and self-blame. How could that be, when I was newly married to the love of my love, we had a bit of an income, we had funny friends, and a place to call our own. I guess we could factor in an episode of glandular fever, from which Jan and I both suffered in recent months. It is said that can leave you with depressed feelings. Whatever, I did what I have always done, which is to bury myself in whatever I was doing at the time, and just get on with it.
And what rescued me on this occasion, probably was the possibility of doing the pantomime ‘The Tempest’ described in an earlier chapter. I became so engrossed in the whole process, I forgot about being depressed and my inner conflict over studying. Well, it was Christmas, and the holidays loomed.