Trying to figure out how long it’s been since I last took a Valium. I think it’s been 6 weeks or so. Don’t get me wrong, if my colleague (who is sitting opposite my desk right now) said, “I’ve got a blister pack of 14 Valium in my pocket,” I would rugby tackle him to the ground and, at risk of a sexual harassment claim, would grope my way round his person to get my hands on those little pieces of gold dust. Then I’d run to the bathroom, lock myself in, pop them all out with shaking hands and choke them back, perhaps slurping water from the tap if I still had the slightest bit of rationality left in me.
But when I first realised my situation (that is, after hallucinating the image of a man loitering between the cars as I sat in a car park on a council estate in East Finchley, necking a warm can of Kronenbourg and snorting suspicious powder off a discarded brick, I stupidly, stupidly must have taken my last precious Valium tablet. The one I’d been saving for absolute emergencies. The one I carried everywhere with me at all times, lest someone confiscate it. The one that I needed the following morning, but that wasn’t there, in the mangled packet where it once lived, because I had stupidly taken it in my frenzied state the previous night) I behaved like an addict. Because that what I am. That’s what I was. An addict.
You don’t realise what you’ve got until it’s gone. I used to reprimand my psychiatric team for the way that they liberally handed me scripts for a fucking irresponsible amount of diazepam, whenever I wanted, whenever I needed. They handed them out like there was no tomorrow, because for me, there is never a tomorrow until it arrives. I would laugh about it with my fellow bipolar/borderline/anxiety-ridden chums. “You will not fucking believe it, but Dr T has only gone and given me a script for 32 Valium!” “No way. 2mg?” “Nope. 5mg!” “WHAAAT, oh my god, so jealous.” “I know right. How fucking stupid though… Giving a suicidal patient the means to commit suicide. Giving a patient with a track record of addiction copious amounts of an addictive drug.” But those days are over.
Since leaving university, I have returned to my family GP. Doc has known me since I was a baby. She was the one who has tracked my mental illness from day one. She’s the one who started me on Prozac when I was 13. She’s the one who checked up on me after suicide attempts, who gave me her personal mobile number for emergencies, who gives me a right talking-to when I turn up for an appointment stinking of booze and cigarettes. And so of course, she’s the one who refuses to prescribe me any more Valium. Upon news of this, I had a fucking breakdown. Crying, punching the wall, screaming, bitch, bitch, bitch. But wait. Composure. Clarity. I’m a clever girl, I can get around this.
Doc went on her annual holiday to Israel two days later. I turned up at the surgery at 7am, demanding to see the locum. I turned on the charm, all innocent, “Ooooh lovely to meet you, hi, so basically, nothing serious, I won’t take up much of your time, but I appear to have misplaced my packet of diazepam. Honestly no idea where it’s gone, I need a new script please.” He smiled, reached for the green prescription paper, grabbed a pen, and for a second I relaxed my shoulders. I must have looked a little too pleased. He scrolled through my notes on the screen. And there in red writing, underneath the notes from A&E about the previous week’s suicide attempt by diazepam overdose, it said “RE DIAZEPAM: DO NOT PRESCRIBE TO ABOVE PATIENT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES.” He smiled at me, “No chance.” Panic ensued. “But, but, but I just quit alcohol and I need it, I need it, you don’t understand.” “Have you been attending groups at the local drug and alcohol addiction services?” “What, no, I don’t need that, I just need some Valium doc, come on, look at my shakes. Look how much my hands are shaking. It’s because of the Lithium. My shakes are so bad, and nobody will give me procyclidine because they think they’re just anxiety shakes but they’re not, they’re Lithium shakes, and diazepam is the only thing that stops it, please. Please.” “I can’t. I’m sorry.” I left the surgery in tears.
I turned my mother’s home upside-down. Close to pulling my hair out I went through every single pocket on every single item of clothing that I own. Jackets, jeans, shirts, I checked in pairs of shoes, in my make-up bag, in every single handbag. There’s got to be some somewhere, come on. I checked on bookshelves. I checked inside books. It got a bit ridiculous. Nothing. Nothing nowhere. Because I had done the frenzied search before: when I wanted to take every single pill I possessed to kill all the hurt I was feeling, to kill all the pain, to kill myself.
I immediately called every single dodgy drug-dealer in my phonebook. Not even drug-dealers, just guys I knew who could “get things.” But someone had tipped me off. Told them all, Don’t give her anything, even if she calls you and she’s crying, don’t give her anything. They all said, “Nah, I’m not really knocking about with prescription stuff anymore” or “Sorry babe, I promised my missus I wouldn’t get involved with that” or “Ah I would, but all the local surgeries have got me and associates on their blacklist, there’s no way I could get it.” Fuck fuck fuck, fucking excuses. So they can get me a live hand grenade for a £5 note but can’t get me one little pill that can be found in the handbag, on the bedside table, in the bathroom cabinet of practically every man and his dog? Fuck it.
I had no choice but to cold-turkey it. But I’ll save reliving that nightmare for another day.