When things go wrong in life

Scenes from life

Geoff was at work as usual. He worked in an open-plan office with several others around, each with a desk and a computer. He was good at his job, although mildly stretched by it. His life outside work was not wonderful. He had recently experienced the break-up of a relationship and his flat was not all that he could wish. He was in his late twenties and vaguely wondered if life should actually be offering more than he seemed to be getting from it, but the thought did not stay with him all of the time.

During the day, he left his desk for a while and when he came back found a couple of handwritten notes attached to his computer screen. The messages were strangely cryptic and he did not recognise the handwriting. He puzzled over them for a few minutes and then put them to one side. After this, every few minutes he would return to the notes and gradually began to wonder if someone was getting at him in some way. The more he pondered on this, the more likely it became. He thought about his colleagues and how, in fact, he did not get on with them very well. He often felt excluded from general discussions and sometimes had the feeling that people had been talking about him as conversations faltered when he joined a group at coffee time.

These feelings built up during the day although he mentioned them to no one. His mood became blacker towards 5 o'clock and he packed up for the day feeling as though the weight of the world had settled on his shoulders. As he left the building, one of his work-mates, Andrew, fell into step with him, someone whom he usually liked rather more than the others. 'How's it going, Geoff? I thought that you looked a bit low today.'

Geoff immediately thought, 'I'll bet it was him who left those notes. What's he up to?' He could feel the anger bubbling in him.

'What d'you mean?' His voice came out loudly and aggressively. 'There's nothing wrong with me. What're you on about?'

Andrew felt rebuffed, but continued, 'Come on, Geoff, I can see something's up. D'you want to talk about it?'

'No, I bloody well do not. Mind your own business. Leave me alone. You're always getting at me.'

Geoff strode off abruptly in another direction and made his way home, feeling that everyone was looking at him. The world seemed to be pressing in on him, a dark force out there that he could not pin down, somehow trying to overtake him. Things were no better in his flat. The more he thought about things, the more certain he became that his work-mates were out to do him down in some way. His anger at this bubbled and smouldered throughout the evening and when he eventually went to bed, his sleep was broken and tortured.

The next day, his mood continued in this great blackness until about midday when he suddenly felt it lift. Within half an hour or so, he felt very different and was simply left with the feeling that he had recovered from a migraine. This had been an attack of paranoia.

Emily is in her forties and was being assessed at a hospital, under her own admission, for gut-wrenching pains in her stomach, as she described them. She had not been to the hospital previously, so they had no background medical records for her. When asked about previous conditions, she was very vague and unhelpful in her replies. She was a very unco-operative patient, nothing seeming to be to her liking until she met one particular doctor. She took to him and suddenly became co-operative as he examined her and tried to determine exactly what was wrong.

Eventually, though, after a series of questions about her diet and about whether she had had any history of stomach ulcers, she again became aggressive, even shouting at the doctor about there never having been anything like that in her family. And so it went on after they had admitted her. Each day, she would spend some time being almost obsequiously pleasant to some people, getting them clearly on her side, but then would round on them, throwing back any act of kindness shown to her in an almost vicious way.

Eventually, even though the nurses who had to deal with Emily became sick of her, they managed to track down some medical records for her. They found that she had had a long history of appearing at various hospitals, seeking admission and treatment for a very wide range of problems. Although all of the patient notes were written in a relatively guarded way, it was obvious that Emily always treated people in this unpredictable way. Her history also showed a similar pattern with her family members and friends. Emily was suffering with a borderline personality disorder and so leading all of those who tried to help her to despair. In the end, she was very difficult to help or even to feel any sympathy for.

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