“So my wife smashed a bottle of wine over my head and told me she hated me and that she’d been having an affair with the milkman for two years,” said the man in the pub I’d only just met. “Since then I lost my job and my flat and my car. I really don’t know which way to turn. But luckily I have these voices in my head, and I’m hoping they’ll give me some ideas of what to do…”
Clarence Milport had been talking to me for an hour, and I looked at my watch surreptitiously, wondering when I could tactfully get away.
I think I must have ‘mug’ tattooed on my forehead or something, because no matter where I go, whether it’s work, the shops or to have a quiet drink, individuals with mental problems seem to be drawn to me, and insist on telling me all about their troubled lives.
It wouldn’t matter so much if everything in my own life was rosy, but it’s not. Just a week ago my wife left me, telling me I was hopeless in bed, I had a face like a lugubrious bloodhound and I had bored her stiff for all our ten years of married life. In one way it was a relief, because believe me, living with a woman who’s a vegan and an avowed pacifist who likes to talk for hours about her confused sexuality and thinks that she’s allergic to plaster and bricks is not easy. But as far as I know she’s very happy in the commune for vegan lesbians she’s joined in Sussex.
I have an office job I like, but the managing director often inveigles me into having late night drinking sessions with him where he tells me of his attempts at suicide and how I was ‘the only person he felt he could talk to’. The accountant often chats to me in the afternoons too, telling me that he had never wanted to be an accountant, he’d always had the desire to be a ballet dancer and his mother wouldn’t let him, and his humdrum life was driving him mad, especially as he’s convinced that everyone thinks he’s boring because he’s an accountant.
A while ago I was minding my own business, relaxing at a local beauty spot that’s on top of a cliff, and a man nearby was about to jump to his death. But before doing so, he came across to chat to me and talked for three hours. Like a fool I gave him my phone number and he calls me regularly when he’s upset. He calls me his ‘lifeline’.
I pondered on my lunch today. I had popped into Pret a Manger for a sandwich and soon a woman had joined me at the table, telling me that she had been abducted by aliens, who had made her pregnant, and her husband wouldn’t believe her story. Luckily a nervous looking man with a twitchy left eye soon appeared and led her away.
In the end I went to see my GP, whose a friendly soul whom I’ve always liked.
“Your trouble is, people can sense you’re sympathetic and kind. You’re just too nice,” he told me. “I know because I’m a bit like you, but I’ve had to learn to toughen up – if I spent hours talking to my patients I’d never get any work done. But at university I was plagued by all kinds of waifs and strays who no one else liked, coming and telling me their tales of misery and trouble. A mate of mine helped me a lot. In fact he set himself up as a life coach, and I think he’ll be able to help you. He’s a really nice guy. He’ll give you lots of tips and techniques for tactfully getting away from mad people.”
So I went to see ‘life coach’ Peter, who had a pleasant friendly face and a welcoming smile. He was indeed, as my doctor had told me, a really nice bloke, and I liked him. He listened to my problems and nodded seriously.
“I understand completely,” he said. “Our mutual friend Derek (my GP) was just like you at university. In one way you and Derek are very lucky people, because people instinctively like you, they feel you’re approachable and mentally ill people tend to be drawn to folk like that. I suggest that to stop this happening, it’s all a question of deflecting the unwanted attention you’re getting. You don’t have to stop being a nice sympathetic person, you just have to learn to reject people in a tactful way.”
He went on talking like that and I felt quite encouraged.
He looked at his watch after half an hour. “Do you know what, John?” he said. “You are very easy to talk to, I have so enjoyed meeting you. Matter of fact, my next patient hasn’t turned up, so unless you’re in a rush, there’s no need to end our session. Are you okay to stay for another hour?” He stretched out, frowning to himself, as he passed a hand across his forehead. “I hope you don’t mind, but I’d like to explain a bit about myself. You see, I never really wanted to get into this line of work. I think when I was younger I should have gone to Canada and been a lumberjack. That’s what I really wanted to do – to assert my masculinity. My mother never actually understood me, I think she’d rather I’d have been a girl, and I do have these feminine qualities that I worry about, but maybe everyone does? My father never understood me either, he was an authoritarian figure who believed in ghosts and used to thrash me…”