I first became aware of the analytical or theoretical approach to coincidence through the work of Arthur Koestler. I was very pleased when Edinburgh University library accepted my book on paranoid coincidences, ‘The Durham Light and other stories’, as it is now known, as part of the Arthur Koestler Collection in their library. For, for me and for others, when a coincidence occurs and one is in an untreated psychotic state, coincidence is not merely a theoretical concept – it is a driver for the build up of delusions and, especially, paranoia. Coincidences take on a personal meaning. Coincidences are not merely ‘out there and happening’, they are happening to the paranoid individual as to him or her only, they are personally meaningful and make up a large part of that paranoid and psychotic time in the mentally ill person’s personal life. I detailed these happenings in ‘The Durham Light’, the title it was published under by Chipmunka. (The Edinburgh University version was entitled: ‘Schizophrenia, a personal history of homelessness.’) An example of the coincidence which took on a paranoid meaning was when I thought that Irish people on caravan sites in Kent and Sussex, who I had a deep suspicion of, were being protected by policemen from Newcastle who were working in Kent police and elsewhere in the South-East. On a fact-finding mission to Durham by coach, I spotted many caravans being towed southwards on the M1. When I got to the town of Darlington in County Durham, I also spotted a caravan depot. To me this was clear evidence that residential caravans were being towed from Durham to Kent and Sussex for Irish people to live in, and that when they were in Maidstone and other parts, they would be protected by Geordies in the police force. I photographed all of this from the coach including on the way back to London, as we overtook the lorries bringing the caravans southwards. To me this was clear evidence to prove my belief that this system was a reality. Coincidence had led to the reinforcement of a delusion and paranoia. I believed I was playing a part in this conspiracy, and had exposed it. My life was full of such paranoia and psychosis, this was just one example of how I lived out my life. By the way, at the time I was also severely neglecting myself. I did not wash, shave, or clean my teeth, or wash my clothes. Even though at the time I had the money to take a coach trip to Durham and to have my films developed by one-hour process, I continued to live rough in bus shelters and did not get in anywhere.
I also believed that Morse code was being signalled everywhere, and unconnected series of tappings or notes would lead me to interpret that a message was being signalled. Peter Chadwick details his experience of tappings that he responded to when he had his one psychotic occurrence that led him to jump under a bus and then to be hospitalised. In the hospital he heard tapping, and this his wife corroborates. Peter interpreted this as one tap for a yes, two taps for a no. So he would ask the tappings a question: Am I a good person? Answer two taps for no. Do I deserve to die? Answer one tap for yes. Should I commit suicide? Answer one tap for yes. The interesting question that Peter now poses is this: Was he asking questions that were answered by taps; or were the taps going to happen anyway and was Peter led to ask the questions he did by some force that then led him to interpret these coincidences as answered questions? Interesting.
Perhaps really as far as I have got is to establish that coincidences occur. Arthur Koestler’s work delved into the possible meaning of coincidence, a stage beyond establishing the existence of coincidence. I believe also that R D Laing, the Scottish psychiatrist and analyst, worked on coincidence, and that the early 20th century psychiatrist, Jung, kept a diary of coincidences. Arthur Koestler has some ideas around synchronicity and seriality that make sense and share a vocabulary with those affected by coincidence.
So my point with ‘The Durham Light’ is that coincidences fuel the psychotic mind. However, I now feel that I am no longer psychotic because I have effective atypical antipsychotic medication that prevents me from interpreting paranoid meaning in coincidences. Nevertheless I am aware of the regularity of coincidences. I have followed Jung’s practice by keeping a diary of coincidental events over a year or so from summer 2012. Perhaps the most spectacular coincidence concerns a chap I know who is quite psychotic and who lives a chaotic lifestyle similar to my homeless psychotic days. He is a local character. Late in summer 2012 I went into Bexhill from a holiday home where I was spending some days. I had with me a round box containing someone’s watch I was taking to have the battery replaced. I met the chap who is a local character. He, as usual, tried to sell me something. In his hand he had: a round box with a watch in it. Was this some kind of conjuring trick?
However there are more everyday coincidences in the several dozen I have noted in the 12 months since summer 2012. These would be the more usual coincidences that would occur during my psychotic times, and would be what I would act on, and what would drive me through each homeless day. An example is that I discussed Adam Ant’s visit to our local theatre one day, and on entering an acquaintance’s flat later on, an Adam Ant track was played on the radio. One day I edited the day centre’s camera card and cleared it, then went out with my own camera and took photos of BMX bikers, in fact later posting one as the screen saver on the day centre computer. Later I looked at the camera card again, and there had been more new pictures taken, including some of another BMX group. Also among the several dozen coincidences I have logged is this: One day I went to a local cafe and ordered cheese on toast, which is not a regular menu item, and this was the first time I had ordered that item at that cafe. As I was waiting, in walked the newsagent and he too ordered a non-menu item – cheese on toast.
So I am today quite happy to log coincidences, and as far as I know I am not motivated by these events. I can see their significance, but they do not give me paranoia as in the old days. I wonder if Arthur Koestler or Jung have the beginnings of an answer to why these events have meaning? What is the nature of their meaning? In fact sometimes I am reassured by helpful coincidences, such as when I start out at 12.34 pm or 1.11 pm, which seem to be auspicious times.