My spellchecker doesn’t even recognise this word and yet I see it written in so many patient histories. Acopia: the inability to cope. The shameful state of affairs where someone does not possess the correct physical or emotional armoury to deal with the world. God has short-changed them, life has trampled over them in its rush to get on with all the important things it has to do and society has left them to drift alone in an ocean of self-contempt.
I read acopia and I see an alcoholic.
I see him lectured to and tutted at. I hear him find the courage to admit to how much he drinks and then I listen to the silence around his bed as people evaluate a life they know nothing about. I watch as chlordiazepoxide is poured into his system and addiction is evicted from his body and I witness the struggle as he allows it to leave. When he is finished, I watch him walk from the ward in borrowed clothes, with a carrier bag filled with nothing, to be catapulted back into a society which neither cares nor even cares to understand.
I read acopia and I see a suicide attempt.
I see other patients listen through paper-thin curtains and hide their judgement behind Sunday morning newspapers. I watch someone whose mind is wrapped in so many layers of self-loathing, no one can hear its screams. I see someone who tries to walk through their day with the weighted pull of misery around their ankles and I watch as they try and fail to keep up with everyone else. I listen as they search for the words which will lead those with tranquil minds along a path of understanding and then I feel them admit defeat. I hear them recite from a script. An easy, deceitful script of regretful words and denial of recurrence and I watch as they put on a mask of untruth which is so tight, it won’t even allow a bead of misery to leak on to their face. Yet, as they walk away, I can smell the trapdoor. I feel its pull and I hear its comforting words and I know it lies waiting with patient self-assurance.
I read acopia and I see an old man.
I hear how he uses the edge of furniture to get from the kitchen to the sitting room. I look into his eyes and wonder who he used to be and I listen as he struggles to remember the answer for himself. I hear him tell people that he lost his wife and I watch as people regard this with such little significance, no one even bothers to write it in his notes. I sit in meetings where strangers calculate the worth of his life on sheets of A4 paper and I watch them sweep eighty years of existence into a neat manila folder. I see him stapled and paper-clipped and led away from one small life into another small life. And I see a new life which is so small, it doesn’t even allow room for the thin slice of himself he had managed to hold on to.
I read acopia and I see a cancer patient.
I see someone the same age as me. I see someone who knows the lyrics to the same songs, who marked their life with the same tape measure as I did, who assumed the same guarantee as I assumed. As I assume even now. I see failed chemotherapy. I read on, as the entries in their notes become shorter and shorter and I try to catch the hope which slips through their fingers, because somehow, I feel I have an obligation. As I stand by their bed, I think about the birthdays and the Christmases and the lyrics to the songs, and I see a mirror. The reflection in the mirror is almost unbearable, and yet I stare and stare because I must find the difference or I will never be able to look away.
I read acopia and I feel the shifting sands beneath my feet.