Tales of unravelling minds: a neuropsychologist’s darkest days


Meeting a author and neuropsychologist AK Benjamin is bit like an confront with a view or someone in declare protection. First of all, AK Benjamin is not his genuine name. He doesn’t wish to contend what that is. Or where he lives. “Asia” is as specific as he gets about his stream address. He won’t contend where in England he was creatively from – his accent suggests it wasn’t too distant from Manchester – or that university he went to, or where he has worked. But there are some sum he is prepared to divulge. There are hints during his age – mid-to-late 40s. Aside from being a lerned neuropsychologist – that is, a clergyman who works with people with neurological conditions or injuries – he has been a scriptwriter in a British film industry, he set adult a charity, was a priest in California, has worked with squad members in US prisons and South American sex workers, is a father of dual daughters, and for a decade was a self-destructive alcoholic and drug addict.

It sounds like 5 opposite lives crashed into one, that is, curiously, really many a clarity Benjamin gives in a flesh. Not by anything he says, though usually a approach he looks, with an aura of power that seems to float over him like an electrical storm.

Despite his close-cropped head, he doesn’t demeanour like a monk. And today he’s not, though he doesn’t demeanour like someone who was ever a priest or, come to that, a neuropsychologist. He bears a flitting similarity to Kiefer Sutherland in his Jack Bauer days – wiry though robust and firmly wound. He looks, as they say, as if he could demeanour after himself, nonetheless looking after himself has in many respects been a onslaught for Benjamin, even as he was looking after others. This onslaught and a predicament of those in his caring are a theme of his initial book, Let Me Not Be Mad.

It starts out as a array of box studies in that a neuropsychologist binds clinics with several patients. There is, for example, a woman, famous usually as “You”, who, slipping into beforehand dementia, pierces a professional’s heart. There’s “Michael”, an all-action businessman who suffers a mind damage while base-jumping that transforms his celebrity – or does it capacitate presentation of a one he’d been repressing? There are also other patients who competence or competence not be versions of a anecdotist – ie a neuropsychologist – undergoing psychological assessment.

On a aspect a stories are told with that accurate clinical unconcern – lingo and protocols explained – informed from many medical memoirs. But a character is roughly mocking given underneath it there is a good bloat of compassion, black comedy and shrewd personal regard constantly melancholy to mangle through. Slowly we start to see that a clinician is also suffering. As a encounters grow some-more capricious and even surreal, it becomes clear that during episodes of paranoia, insomnia, charge and delusion, a chairman many in risk of losing his mind is, in fact, a narrator. So given a pseudonym and surrounding mystery?

“Because we wish to strengthen people who know me, a people I’ve treated and who we will provide in a future,” he tells me in a café in King’s Cross. He’s uneasy patients competence plan things from a book on to themselves, or that some competence be disturbed, as he puts it, “to see an incarnation of me disheartening myself”.

Debasing? It’s positively a bizarre and absolute work of… well, what exactly? You can’t call it a discourse as nonetheless drawn from his life, it’s created by a fictionalised filter that, during times, is dim and distorting. But afterwards nor is it a novel. If anything, it occupies that increasingly doubtful borderland between novella and nonfiction, where many of today’s many intriguing writers gather. Benjamin mentions Ben Lerner and Emmanuel Carrère, both of whom are formidable to categorise, as writers he admires.

A white line sketch on a blue credentials of a face and a dwindling block for a conduct with a hang figure male descending right in a centre

‘I’ve always gifted a universe utterly greatly one approach or another.’ Illustration: The Project Twins/The Observer

The initial author that vigilant immature Benjamin was Fyodor Dostoevsky. He was a uneasy boy, he says, dissapoint by his parents’ divorce and unsettled by relocating from propagandize to school. From an early age, he felt he didn’t fit in and he knew life was going to be difficult. Then he review Crime and Punishment. “I hadn’t review a book before that,” he recalls. At a same time he detected ethanol and girls. The multiple of high literature, splash and intrigue valid painfully irresistible. What followed was drink, drugs, heartbreak – and books that done clarity of a chaos. He managed to make it to university, though was asked to take a year out given of his ethanol and drug abuse. Nevertheless he had skeleton to turn an academic. Then he fell in adore with a lady who was going into a film industry. So he motionless to follow her.

He describes it as a “catastrophic” time in his life. While everybody else seemed to realize that there was a critical indicate to what they were doing, he usually thought: “We’re in a playground, what’s a indicate of going home now when we can stay out?” Was he a binge drinker? “Yeah. But we binged each night.” What drugs was he using? “Mainly things that helped with a drinking. Coke and speed.”

Benjamin’s dreams of creation elaborate arthouse films went nowhere. At 28, carrying strike what he describes as “rock bottom”, he motionless to get sober. He assimilated AA and NA, though his approach of traffic with life though splash and drugs was to set adult a gift for homeless people with splash and drug problems. He still had a lot of restrained anger, that he attempted to channel into Thai boxing. “I got to semi-professional status,” he says, “but we was usually constantly operative out if we could take that man and that man during a same time. So that wasn’t useful.”

He started visiting retreats in a UK and afterwards assimilated a nunnery on a west seashore of America, vital as a monk. He sang psalms and review philosophy, in between assisting squad members and sex workers. He says he’s prolonged had an titillate to assistance people worse off than himself, partly as a coping mechanism. “I consider I’ve always gifted a universe utterly greatly one approach or another. we don’t wish to make myself exceptional, though during a same time there are aspects of being alive that I’ve found intensely difficult. Being around people who have got it many worse has been one useful way.”

While he was a priest – not an sourroundings eminent for procreative possibilities – he realised he wanted to have children. And it was afterwards he met a devout coach who told him he should work in neuroscience and psychology and spend his life essay about it. And that’s precisely what he did. He returned to a UK, went behind to university during 32, competent as a clinical clergyman and didn’t finish his studies wholly until he was 44, by that time he’d been saying patients for about 8 years.

He met a partner and they utterly fast had dual girls. Was fatherhood a knowledge that he’d hoped for? He thinks for a while. “There’s a account that goes, ‘Ever given we became a primogenitor I’ve been a second many critical chairman in my life and it’s such a relief.’ That’s not been my experience. It’s been another turn of guilt, another clarity of failure,” he says.

That sounds bleak, though Benjamin is one of those people for whom ungainly probity will always come before amicable niceties. However, he does mangle into a extended grin when articulate about a “pleasure and generous joy” he gains from being around his children.

He also subsequent a lot of compensation from his job. “Building adult relations with people who are possibly on a margin of some terrible neurological extinction or on a other side of it is tremendously meaningful,” he says. But he found NHS neurological departments too limiting and a medicalised sourroundings increasingly alienating. “When we do an talk for clinical training,” he says, “you’re told not to contend we were altered to do something like this given we caring for people, given that’s regarded as woolly, anti-scientific bullshit. But that was a reason we wanted to do it.”

He argues that studious sensitivities are ignored by health professionals. The approach initial consultations are conducted is, he says, “hugely critical in environment a tinge and lifting awareness”. In his opinion many doctors are terrible during it, given they’re too vigilant on substantiating their management rather than assessing a patient’s psychological or regretful needs.

While he didn’t bear a relapse he depicts in Let Me Not Be Mad, he did humour what he calls “burn-out”. The attribute with a mom of his children didn’t survive. He altered out, took a sabbatical, and headed off to Asia.

What impact has this time divided had on his children? “The attribute feels solid, though there’s an corner to them about it for sure,” he says and tells me about his pre-teen daughter who, when she detected he was essay a book and a title, suggested with a same poison tongue of her father that it should be called “Let Me Not Be Dad”. They have reached an agreement that he’s going to spend some-more time with them in a future.

All a same, we say, we can’t design him in a settled, required life. “Thanks,” he says, sanctimonious to take offence. “That’s all altered now. I’m in a stable…” He’s about to impact a new-found contentment, though stops, revelation he can’t say a fiction. He tells me he’s operative on a book now called The Case for Love, that will engage serve clinical vignettes.

“It tries to work out how we’re able of amatory certain people and not able of amatory others,” he explains. It is unlikely, we suspect, to be a romantic, feel-good kind of book, though if his initial richly considerable literary work is anything to go by, it will display those unsettling truths that distortion during that bottom of the psyches, where few us are dauntless adequate or insane adequate to venture.

Let Me Not Be Mad: a Story of Unravelling Minds by AK Benjamin, Vintage, £16.99, or £14.95 during guardianbookshop.com


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