Memoirs of a consultant psychologist part 3. As told to Gary Moore “Churchmouse”
Cases of individual delusion (ID) are very common in all societies. This is hardly surprising as everyone has an innate need to be seen as more important or revered or loved than they actually are, and the strength of the delusion can range from simple insecurity, such as claiming to have a better car, education, or status than one has, right up to extreme schizophrenia.
A commonly seen mild version of ID is the widespread belief that one has existed in a previous life. The subject will generally state that they believe that they were someone of high station, although crucially not someone who has been well documented, and very rarely someone of no consequence. This choice has been made subconsciously for good reason. For example the subject would possibly claim to have been a courtesan to a long forgotten Egyptian prince, or the follower of a religious prophet; this gives status without the fear of being proved wrong. For example, if the subject was to claim to be a re-incarnation of Joan of Arc then there would be the chance that someone who knew the history of Joan of Arc could prove that they were deluding themselves. Also very few people claim to have lived as someone of a lower order such as a 19th century sewage collector – there simply isn’t the social cache there.
One of the most interesting cases I encountered was that of Mrs Greyman, a West Indian living in Hackney. For many years she had claimed to be the rightful Queen Empress of North East London, and had occupied her time by waving at people and wearing large hats whilst out and about. Eventually she became so well known that she became something of a minor celebrity. She was referred to my practice during Queen Elizabeth’s golden jubilee; possibly to get her out of the way during the celebrations.
Mrs Greyman’s rationale for being a fully-fledged royal was that every single royal dynasty claims to have been either appointed by, or descended from, God, and as God had come to her one day whilst she was shopping in Asda, and told her that she was the Chosen One and the titular ruler of North-East London, she was not in a position to refuse the role imposed on her. As her argument was fundamentally correct it was very difficult to argue against it, particularly after she had awarded me an M.B.E. for services to psychiatry.
I decided that the best way to mentally detach Mrs Greyman from her delusion was to use negative reaction, by proving to her how onerous the duties of royalty actually are, thereby allowing her sub-conscious to reject the perceived glamour and status of her adopted persona.
As a result I requested that the hospital trust fund a state visit to the Caribbean, lasting for a month, for myself, Miss Bloomsbridge, my assistant, and the patient. Alas despite much cajoling on my part, the wretched bean-counters claimed that the expense couldn’t be justified. Oh how I wished that I could have got some of them on the couch. I would have happily had them certified and confined to the funny farm, the miserable, tight-fisted, bastards!
We therefore had to proceed with a different course of treatment. This consisted of Miss Bloomsbridge accompanying the patient each morning at some unspeakably early hour to ‘formally’ open the Brent Cross Shopping Centre when the cleaners arrived.
Despite this treatment, which lasted for nearly a month, Mrs Greyman, rather than becoming disillusioned with the life of a royal, positively lapped it up and would return to the hospital with stories of how many cleaners and security guards she had greeted, babies she had admired and wildlife she had attempted to kill. It became apparent that a different course of treatment was needed.
As the greatest single fear of all heads of state is their forced removal from office, I decided to use the services of another patient, Trevor Aixe, or Comrade Aixe as he preferred to be called. Mr Aixe had been a life-long communist revolutionary and had been suffering from acute depression since the fall of the Berlin Wall. I explained to him that here was a chance to overthrow the un-elected ruler of 5 million members of the working class by staging a coup-d’etat in the patient’s tea-room the following day. All he had to do was stride up to Mrs Greyman as she was selecting a cucumber sandwich and declare before her that he was creating a workers soviet and that as such she was now over-thrown and would have to flee into exile, preferably to somewhere outside of the hospital’s catchment area.
It all went remarkably well at first. Our tame freedom fighter delivered his speech very well and we all expected to see Mrs Greyman’s self-esteem collapse whereby, even if she didn’t flee the hospital, we could at least start a treatment of anti-depressants which would have been much more routine and less time-consuming. But we had overlooked her inflated pride and tenacity. A torrent of verbal abuse, followed by two hefty swipes of her handbag, reduced the ‘snivelling terrorist’ – as she put it, into a grovelling wreck. Her self-esteem rose to new heights and poor Mr Aixe fell into a deep bout of morbid depression, from which he is yet to emerge.
We had to kill both of them in the end of course.