Stranded in the cuckoos nest Print E-mail
Written by Anna   
With fragments of the past creating tiny fissures in my mask of cultivated calm, I struggle to retain my composure as I listen to other people deconstruct the concept of mental illness. One by one the idiotic intellectual abstractions ricochet across the tutorial room, each one penetrating my skin more deeply than the last:
Foucault has theorised that institutionalization of the insane came about as a means to remove unreason.

Only in the mid seventeenth century did madness come to be degraded as an existential condition.

Previously the mad could enjoy the special status of the wise fool, or that of a court jester mumbling riddles.

As the bombardment of words continues unabated I am afraid that any moment my insides will come spilling out all over the place. Yet somehow I manage to keep my mouth shut. Really, I have nothing to contribute to this topic. I am too immersed in the practicalities to make any sense of the theory.

My mum wasn't always as crazy as she is now. My best friend Saffy and I used to say that all the mums are crazy; the dads make them that way over time by being so insensitive. When my dad was around my mum used to crack it whenever he left his tea bags on the sink or when she caught him perving at a naked woman on TV. But it wasn't until dad went away, coming full circle in his marathon fulfillment of the cliches of mid-life crisis, that mum officially left the building.

The announcement, when it came, knocked me off my feet completely. She'd been planning it for a while. She had props ready. Of course she didn't tell me outright that she'd developed schizophrenia, but proceeded to introduce me to her wild new interest in conspiracy theories. She said the best way for me to deal with it was to treat it as a game, that way I wouldn't get too upset. She said that a very powerful and mysterious group of people were watching her every move, were recording her conversations, were bugging the phone, had satellites pointed at the house, and were constantly staging scenarios around her in order to observe her response. She didn't know who was responsible or why they were doing it, but she had first become aware of it in La Porchetta when there had been an abnormal amount of red-headed people in the restaurant. She pulled out a wad of newspaper clippings of articles that she believed had been created in response to things she had said or done whilst she was being observed.

It felt like being in a movie, one of those scenes where the actor comes into extreme close-up and the background shifts out of focus. At first I tried to get her to stop kidding around, then tried to reason with her, then got angry and started shouting. Finally I fell back on my poor sense of comic timing:

That's it, no more Truman Show for you!!!

And with that I was out the door. I went over to Saffy's house and cried and cried. In retrospect I should've seen it coming. There were all kinda signs. The recently acquired habit of laughing randomly and at nothing, the hungry way she would relate coincidences that had occurred, such as too many white cars on the road or people she recognised from Centrelink turning up at Safeway. But she'd seemed less depressed than in previous months, more energised somehow, so that I had focused on the positive whilst ignoring the NQR.

I think I must have been the first, most trusted person that mum had confided in about her suspicions. She had come to me with her paranoia offering it like a gift, like a child's first tentative artistic endeavour, seeking validation, affirmation, someone with which to share her newly discovered world. My response of shock and disgust must have been devastating to her. From the moment of that first rejection mum's attitude towards me changed markedly. I was no longer on her side. My unwillingness to affirm led her to conclude that I myself must be on the payroll of them.

Over the following year mum's illness escalated dramatically, or maybe she was just more open about it. She stopped answering the phone for fear of bugs. She refused to speak to many of her friends, and she began to confide in those she trusted; either way the end result was isolation. She became more and more aggressive towards me, so that whenever something in the house wasn't put away properly, or was left on the floor, or in the wrong spot, she would accuse me of doing it on instructions. Whenever something in the house went missing I would have to drop everything and find it in order to prove that I had not hidden it in the first place.

I have never hurt so much, nor cried so hard as I did in the months before I left home. Living with a schizophrenic you feel as though you are never standing on solid ground. You think that if you remember to put everything back in its right spot, if you follow routine to the utmost extreme then somehow you can avoid suspicion and harassment. But no matter how hard you try, no matter how many things you remember to do right it is never enough. You will always be caught out in some way. And no matter how much you want to be understanding of the illness, sooner or later the barrage of accusations will make you lose your cool. And then the shouting starts, and the tears begin. And the mother who once helped you wipe them away and reassured you that everything would be alright has nothing but antagonism towards you, because she thinks that the tears and the pleas are fake, part of an elaborate script prepared beforehand by some Machiavellian plotter. She tells you coldly: only when you stop following orders will she be your mother again. And you remember how it was before she was ill and it kills you.

If ever you ever find yourself in a situation with a family member who is a paranoid schizophrenic, be aware that there is virtually no social support for someone in your position, no one to help you get your parent or brother or sister well again unless you have something interesting to barter with like bruises.

My first port of call in my quest for assistance was mum's GP. Although he had seen mum on a fairly regular basis over the past two years Dr. Wilson had had no idea what was going on inside her head, as he never thought to extend his consultation times beyond the financially optimal 9.2 minutes. Whilst never delving beneath the surface he had offered mum a smorgasbord of medication, from serapax, a mild anti-depressant, to arapax, which is stronger, to hormone replacement therapy just-in-case she was going through menopause early. He was reluctant to speak to me for long outside of billable hours, indicating that unless mum voluntarily came to see him for a referral, there was nothing he could do.

As the accusations became more and more scary and life became less and less tolerable I turned to the Crisis Assessment Team for help. Calling a team of mental health specialists to come into your house and assess your mum is not an easy thing to do on the sunniest of days. You wonder if your parent will turn on you, or if they will be carted away, leaving you to feel like the evil betrayer-child. As it turned out the mental health people were rather friendly. Mum admitted all her delusions to them without hesitation and they suggested a regime of anti-psychotics. The first time round they considered her a suicide risk, so a social worker came to visit twice a day for about a week to make sure she took her medication, and to suss her out a bit further. When it became clear that she was not suicidal, but merely schizophrenic and delusional, they stopped coming. And mum stopped taking her medication.

I called them a second time, when things got really bad. They came in for a squiz and told me that unless mum was physically a risk to herself or someone else there was no way to force treatment on her. They told me that many people live with delusions. I told them, I'm not coping, I don't know what to do. They said, We don't know what you should do, and left.

Apparently children of parents with mental illness are eight times more likely to commit suicide than other children. Little fucking wonder.

One day I woke up and I knew that I couldn't survive there anymore. Leaving wasn't a choice, it was more like a rubber band snapped inside my head and I just had to go. With a heap of support from my friends and the awesome people at Student Support Services I was able to get myself settled in a new place fairly quickly. What sucks is that I had to leave my two primary school aged brothers behind.

Because they are at an age where she can control them, mum hasn't factored my brothers into the conspiracy yet. And she lives for them, so their lives aren't too bad, or so I tell myself. Aged eight and nine, they don't seem to understand the implications of her raving at the walls. Although I wonder what its doing to them long term, living in a house where mummy spends the better part of each day locked in the spare bedroom talking to her imaginary friends. Wil says that he openly tells his friends that his mum is scrambled in the head. Jamie says it upsets him when mum talks to the walls in the kitchen, but he just pretends its something else.

I hate that there's nothing I can do to help mum get better; I don't think it makes for a great quality of life, being shut up in a dark room most of the day thinking everyone is out to get you not for her, not for my brothers and not for me. I should never have had to leave my family. What's worse is that I know that it is just a matter of time before my brothers' start claiming a measure of independence, at which point she is bound to turn on them too. I don't know what will happen then. From what I've read welfare services are a bit sketchy, the policy is to try to keep the child with the mentally ill parent for as long as possible, supplemented by short stints in foster care.

I read in the paper the other day about a little girl who was placed back with her schizophrenic mum under questionable circumstances, and who one day, without warning, was set on fire. In recovery she would speculate that it was because she wore her hair in a ponytail that day, something she did not usually do.

Up until the part about the being set aflame, the girl's story was all to familiar to me: the unpredictability, the anxious second guessing about what little thing will trigger another round of animosity. At the end of the day I don't care about creating more constructive community attitudes, about removing the stigma from mental illness so that the problem can be made even more invisible. I just want some kind of help with making life in that house livable, so that it's never my brothers recovering in the burns unit.

Jarvis Walker     Arlec

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Featured Articles

The 'Forgotten People'

by Anna Malbon from the Progress Press October 22, 1996

WHEN nine-year-old "Tom" was asked to draw a picture of himself with his mother be drew her trying to strangle him.

Tom entered the world of adults too early. If he was ever immune to the complications and pain of life that adults try to shelter from children, he says he can't remember.

Bulletin Board

I had to struggle extra hard

Her doctors did not bother to enquire about my father and I.

They only listened to her stories ”

“ I grew up thinking - Nobody wanted to help. Nobody wanted to know.”

Hi, I had a mentally ill mother. She passed away last year. I literally grew up hanging around mental hospitals because my Mom's condition was a cycle that always ends in a mental hospital. When I was younger, there was a long period when I cried my eyes out every time I was separated from my mentally ill mother because she had to stay in a mental hospital. After I grew older, my Mom's mental illness became impossible for me to bear.

Literally, my Mom's mental illness ruined my life. I think. I had to struggle extra hard for everything because of my big handicap at home. There was no support at all from anyone other than my father. Nobody else wanted to know about it. My mother's own cousin even said to my father not to bring my Mom to their place. I grew up thinking - Nobody wanted to help. Nobody wanted to know. My mother's own sister has been complaining since 2000 and her last complain was on 5 July 2014. This particular aunt keeps complaining about the same thing. That she had to take my Mom for her weekly injections and complained that my father and I was not around to do it. Then, she goes on to say that she saw my Mom beat me up with a cane. When she said that, I asked my Aunt, you saw my Mom beat me up with a cane? She said yes and than, she walked away.

I feel very sore with this aunt. Number one, the period she was complaining about was when I was still schooling and my father's and my mental health had deteriorated so badly that we had to leave the state for our own sanity. Before joining my father, I had to live alone with my Mom and my baby sister for almost a year. My aunt who lived a few minutes drive away did nothing when my Mom beat me up every day for months until my father managed to cut the red tape to remove me. My body was full of bruises and I was terrified to go home after school. Nobody helped. Not the neighbours who can hear all my mom's shouting at me, nor my aunt, nor my grandparents, nor my school's teachers. Someone should had intervened for a 12+ little girl. No adult helped. My father was trying his best to get me away to stay with him. Nobody helped him.

On XXXXXXXXXXXX, my Mom's sister let slip she saw my Mom beat me with a cane. And yet she did nothing! My aunt even had the cheek to say that my Mom beat me up because I said I wanted to go live with my father. The way my aunt said it was like the beatings were wholly my fault. What is wrong with the picture? You have a 12+ girl being beaten up daily, you are an aunt who knows something is going on and did nothing. Yet for years later you complain about having to take your own blood sister for her injections. And, I do not think she did it for longer than my own experiences. Probably only a few times because my father and I had to travel frequently to see to my mother. Due to the cyclic nature of her illness.

I have been going with my father when he took my mother for her weekly injections as a little girl, knee high, ever since I can remember. My own aunt is so calculative. There was a nurse that visits my Mom to give her her injections. But, the problem is my Mom will not let the nurse into her house that is why the intervention is needed. I have lost count on the number of times I had to go with my Mom for her injections as a little girl.

Her doctors did not bother to enquire about my father and I. They only listened to her stories and full stop. I think my Mom's doctors are the most heartless people I have ever met in my life. Until today, I do not like anyone who officially practices psychology because those doctors etc... contributed to my life being ruined. That is how I feel. I have been scolded by my Mom's medical team and they even dumped my Mom on me after I just turn 18 and there was no other adult around. And, they knew the situation. I was terrified because my Mom was a very violent. My Mom has pitched me, beaten me up, she has biten me with her teeth, she has smashed my head against the table and threatened to beat me with a piece of hard wood. I experienced all these as a little girl at the tender age of 12+ I had to learn karate to protect myself from her violent ways. And, when my Mom was home, I would lock my room's door and place a chair against it. I was that terrified of her.

All our belongings can go missing because my Mom is good at that sort of thing. You never know what is what with my Mom. It is like having a criminal live under the same roof as you.

My aunt kept repeating to me that on my mother's death anniversary I will have go visit her cemetery. I live in a different state from where my mother's cemetery is located. And, my aunt knows that very well. However she repeated her question to me until I said yes. I hate being forced to do something against my will because I have been forced to do things against my will my whole life.

My life is in ruins because of my mother's mental illness and people like my aunt is perpetuating the troubles for me after my mother's death. When I was 12+, my mother's mother said to me that it is my father's job to take care of my mother. In other words, my father's job and mine. And, they never lifted a finger to help. Just helping a little, my aunt has been complaining about the same thing for more than a decade. Unbelievable. Shameful.

Even though my father and I lived in a different state from my mother, we had to travel up and down every weekend because that is demanded of my mother. Sometimes, we had to travel after school and upon our arrival, she won't let us in and we had to travel all the way back. And, my father will not let me sleep at home as it is a school day, I had to go to school. My education was very important to my father. My mother could not be bothered if I succeeded or not.

I have seen more than any of my Mom's relatives have seen with regards her mental illness but people whom I just met behave like I have no idea about my Mom like they are the authority on her behaviour and her illness. Goodness gracious.

Despite this huge handicap in my life I persevered with my studies. My Mom did not give me any moral or emotional support at all. In fact her mental illness cycle will peak just or during my important exams. In other words, I had to deal with my exams and on top of them a mentally ill mother. By my final year in university, I could not take the pressure of exams and a mentally ill mother's break downs anymore.

When I was in my teenage years and early adult years, I was suicidal. I had to call Befrienders a lot. Thank God for Befrienders.

Before XXXXXXXXXXdate, I do not wish my experience to be experienced by anyone else because it is torture. However, after feeling how hard hearted my aunt is. A so called holy person, a church goer, rich person who has successful kids and grand kids. And, she can talk like it is my fault that my Mom beat me up and she (my aunt) had to take her (her own sister) for her injections when I was a kid. I really wish that my aunt must reincarnate as my father (a few lifes) so that she can eat her own words. If my aunt reincarnates and is put in my father's shoes, she would really deserve it. Hope she learns compassion through it all.

Why can't the world give children of the mentally ill a break? I am so fed up with all this troubles that stem from my mother's sister's attitude towards my father and I. After all shel lives a great lives. Rich live. What is wrong with these people? I really cannot stand them. This is my story.

After I wrote the above - I am more myself now, and I totally forgive my aunt and everybody who did nothing to help my father and I. And, everybody else who were heartless towards my father and I. However, I still think that by living a few life times as my father (my aunt) - would do her some good. But, knowing her character, she might become a psychopath and pose a threat to humanity. My father is a very, very kind soul. My aunt is a hard hearted, prejudiced, narrow minded, one tracked mind person.

How I cope? Trying my best to keep out of their way, and hang out with positive people. There are plenty of great people out there. Nnaami is included :)


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