Acting up

Mike Guilfoyle
Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Reading Julia Warrener's lively and accessible critique of Personality Disorder, I was put in mind of my work with Lindsay (not his real name) while I was a Probation Officer. Lindsay's flamboyant personality sat uneasily alongside some very challenging behavioural outbursts. Low-level antisocial episodes in public spaces whilst intoxicated resulted in a succession of court appearances, short term prison sentences and cumulative periods under probation supervision. By the time I assumed statutory responsibility for him his voluminous case files had grown intimidatingly large. 

Before we had the opportunity of a face-to-face encounter at the probation office, I was invited to attend a Case Conference convened by his catchment area Consultant Psychiatrist. On arrival I shuffled alongside numerous other mental health professionals in attendance. I was taken aback by what I perceived to be some disconcertingly unprofessional and homophobic attitudes of those present towards Lindsay, who later flounced into the conference room with theatrical aplomb. The shared professional view was that his troublesome narcissistic personality disorder was not receptive to conventional psychological interventions and his 'unconventional lifestyle' was tolerable (i.e. did not warrant medication) unless, of course, he harmed or distressed others.

I was introduced as his newly allocated Probation Officer and attempted to outline some realistic professional expectations centred on effective, empathetic and boundaried practice that would support a more pro-social outlook, but recognised that this would mean becoming better informed as to his 'diagnostic status'. Supervision might open up respectful dialogue and aim to mitigate some of the obstacles to collaborative working whilst holding him to the obligations inherent in compliance as well as the need to offer him a participatory voice in setting such goals. 

At our subsequent office meetings I became well attuned to the receptionist's call to remind me that 'Mr [Lindsay] was in reception and was here to see Mr Guilfoyle at this convenience!'. Before long I had established what I sensed was a purposeful and connected professional rapport with Lindsay whose bohemian appearance and frowning disapproval of anything that might interfere with his long stated ambition to return to the world of entertainment was clearly at odds with his annoyingly repetitive offending. 

I arranged a home visit during the course of supervision. His flat was bedecked with the rich trappings of a former theatrical life, and this evoked a piquant emotion, as it seemed these distant memories enlivened his conversation and served to reinforce his struggles to overcome his seemingly intractable present situation: his lack of insightful opportunities for change and reductions in his court appearances. 

Do you recognise anyone famous from the photographs, Mr Guilfoyle? He would ask, and of course familiar actors and directors offered a warm conversational afterglow. I broached more sensitive areas, which were necessary to explore to frame the next pre-sentence report after another behavioural outburst at his perceived wronged treatment when removed from a local restaurant over an unpaid bill. It seemed that there was limited recognition that others impacted by his behaviour had any moral claim or right to be offended and Lindsay would persist in his defiant attitude of 'They have no right to be complain about my behaviour!'.

It was unsurprising but disheartening when i was made aware that repossession proceedings had been initiated on his rented flat due to a breach of tenancy. Although he challenged the repossession and the case was heard before a housing judge in the civil court (I attended one of the sessions and offered to speak on his behalf), after a stay of proceedings he was evicted from his home. The fact that he had spent all his adult life as a single man in this accommodation represented a massive personal loss, although he was offered a local authority flat which he was advised to accept. 

When I arranged to visit him at the new address, the contrast was painfully apparent. The many accumulated personal possessions, some of considerable value, which enriched his former living space were now in storage or 'given away', and he was resigned to making the best of his new surroundings albeit without the faded reminders of his distant past. 

Just before I left the Probation Service, Lindsay called into the office unannounced (but conspicuously dressed as only a performer might do as he was want to say). Can you pass on this card to Mr Guilfoyle. Before I could break off from pressing case work demands he had left the office. I opened the card (which I still retain) and was moved by its sadly ironic contents, 'You have a friend for life Mr Guilfoyle. Do call when you need help'. The last time I looked again at the card was when I read that Lindsay had passed away. The article announcing his death noted that several projects he planned had failed to materialise. It went on to say that he lived his last years having problems of mental health and his sometimes conflicting public behaviour caused contentions with the police. I recall that one of the comments that he was fond of quoting when we met was 'Mr Guilfoyle, I am a performer and the stage awaits'.