Sunday, 6 December 2009

Family Life and Schizophrenia

I had a thought earlier today - maybe one day my kids can read this blog, and save me long, meandering and probably confusing explanations about my mental health history. Although I doubt if they will ever have the time to read it all, if I carry on at the pace I have been writing. It would make sense in a lot of ways though - I write much more clearly than I speak, which is a shame because I would love to be able to communicate more effectively in person.

I think 'Less is more' is a definite necessity in conversation, but unfortunately I have veered a long way away from that in recent years. I have gone from being a person who was so shy that I was permanently tongue tied, to someone who uses speech to ward off shyness. In other words, I talk more than I listen, and in a strange way it helps to calm my nerves. Although I know this is wrong, inadvertently I keep doing it. Anyway, on the page, it doesn't matter so much - nobody is forced to read this stuff.

As far as the children go, I have been working on them for years. They know my views on binge drinking (an alcoholic mother has made me quite staid and I rarely drink at all, but I really do hate the way that teenagers, and even some Mums I know, see having a hangover as a badge of honour. No, it means that you poisoned your body and it is struggling to right itself).

They know my views on smoking (I just loved the quote from Lorraine Kelly in the Sunday Times today about how she doesn't smoke because it gives you a mouth like a bum, yellow skin and hair like a brillo pad. That should prompt a few ladies to stop.)

Ditto tattoos. They may look pretty to begin with, but they all turn green in the end. I prefer the ones that you stick on and peel off. I have some really nice sparkly ones, and although to me they are very obviously not real tattoos, a surprising number of people don't seem to realise this.

The subject of mental health has not yet come up, but when it does I will endeavour to foster in my kids a good level of understanding and fairness on the subject, illustrated eventually by my own experience (when I feel they can cope). So hopefully this blog will prove useful.

We haven't done much today - the boys are still quite coldy. I did take the girls out for an hour; we had afternoon tea at a posh hotel. It is a treat I have been promising them since the summer holidays, and since my other half is still nursing a cold, it suited him fine to stay home with the boys. I was a good wifey, and prepared their dinner before we left.

I am so glad to be half of a couple, speaking as a mother. I honestly don't know how people manage to go it alone. Often by the time the weekend is over I feel like I've lost touch with one or more of the kids, because their Dad looks after one or more of them while I spend more time with the one or more of the others.

Sometimes I feel this is necessary so I can rest a bit, or sometimes we see that one of the kids needs some one-to-one, or somebody has some place they need to be, so we have to do things separately. I realise that we have more children than the average family, but it still must be so hard for single mothers to be everything to everybody all the time.

I am really lucky - I know I say that I am lucky a lot, I can still hardly believe my good fortune - that my husband is so good. As a father, and as a man. Sometimes I am moody to the extreme - maybe it is my illness, maybe it is just the pressures of life, but he puts up with extremely bad behavior from me sometimes. And he still loves me! It is amazing.

A psychologist might day that I am testing him because I had so little security as a child i.e. I behave badly to try to force him away, so that I can be sure he really loves me when he stays, but if this is true it is not conscious. I am making a definite effort to be better. Writing helps, and writing daily helps a lot - I think it channels my nervous energy.

I have been clicking on the 'next blog' button, and then spending far too long reading reams of stuff. Apparently it is tailored to what you write about, so the subject of my blog must be quite unclear - I started off getting a lot of stuff on spirituality, some Portugese blogs (I suppose schizophrenia might be picked up as a Spanish sort of word by a computer), then I got some mental health stuff, and now when I hit 'next blog' it takes me to some lovely family blogs.

However, I don't want to veer to far from my mission to inform the world of how I think 'schizophrenics' might be helped to function normally, and to be seen to do so.

So, my insight today is for those lucky people amoung you who have never seen the inside of a mental hospital. I hope you never do - they are deeply horrid, inhumane places, certainly from a patient's perspective.

I have met some lovely nurses, I have some very good friends who are nurses, and my mother was one. She may be an alcoholic but she is one of the loveliest people I have ever met in many ways. That is another story.

But a lot of the nurses who work in mental hospitals are hopelessly jaded (I do realise that it must be a very difficult job). And some of them, I fear, have little understanding of the actualities of mental illness - I don't mean from a treatment perspective, but from a much more personal one.

For example, although when I was hospitalised I was extremely ill (I was in for three months on three separate occasions) I still had moments of lucididy. In fact I had long periods of lucidity, as time went on. I can still remember things that were said to me, who was kind or unkind, who talked about me as though I was simply not there. Some of the nurses seemed to work from the assumption someone in the initial throes of psychosis must be so crazy that there was not an ounce of understanding present. But is not the case - or rather, was not true in my case.

Also, the fact that I was mentally ill did not make me a liar. I don't want to go on about this too much at the moment, but I was sexually assualted by a male nurse in hospital - this was when I had just given birth to my first child, and suffered post-pueral psychosis. This man, up to that point, had seemed to be kind and understanding. One day, for no apparent reason, he did something really strange. I was in the dining room. I had queued up to put my lunch on my tray, and was reaching for the salt - this nurse was standing by the condiments and cutlery, at the end of the counter. He took my hand and put in on his trousers, over his penis, which was hard.

How weird is that? I still have no idea why he did it - maybe he was proud of his erection and wanted me to know about it. (If he should ever read this, I would like to note for the record, just so he knows, that it was neither long nor wide, and so he has nothing to be so pleased with himself about. I am joking, but the horror in all this is that he may have done the same to other women, in fact may still be doing it, or worse.)

Anyway, I was totally freaked out. I burst into tears. I think that must have been the shock, and because of a sense of betrayal of trust. I sat down heavily at a nearby table and sobbed for some time. He came over, asking what was wrong. Then (I know this is crazy, but I was a patient for good reason, and also I was angry but I am not violent so I suppose I felt that this was the only form of retaliation at my disposal) I threw the snotty napkin that I had violently blown my nose into, in the nurse's face.

At this point, I had to return to my room. Another nurse, a female one, came to talk to me about what had happened. I told her exactly what he had done. And she said 'But he is one of our best nurses'. She was totally in denial, totally disregarded what I told her. I don't know if she spoke to him or not. I do know that at my next meeting with the psychiatrist, the male nurse who had sexually assualted me was assigned to be my key worker. It felt as though a point was being made - we don't believe this man hurt you in any way, so he is now going to be put really close to you.

I was terrifed every time that man was on night duty. I had not felt particularly traumatised by the assault itself - I felt like he was a silly little man trying to show off - but I felt very threatened by the fact that it had happened in a punlic environment, and I had been disbelieved. What would he now be able to do to me in private? There were only two nurses on the ward at night time, and I was heavily sedated - I took the little white pill that knocked me out at night in the most extreme state of fear. I find it hard to describe how I felt.

But I never lost sight of the fact that there was much more at stake. From the minute I gave birth I adored my baby beyond belief. I think my devotion to her was one of the factors in my breakdown.

I had a very quick labour, and was given pethidine within an hour of the birth - it affected me adversely. Then I quickly became stressed and tired. My daughter had been born a month early and was taken into the neo-natal intensive care unit. I was trying to breastfeed but couldn't get to grips with it. I started to lose the plot. When I was told that the consultants thought she might have Down's Syndrome, and that they were sending off for chromosome tests the results of which would be available in three days' time, I completely lost it. None of this is an excuse, just my attempt at an explanation for the breakdown.

Anyway, when I was in hospital, even when I was really ill, I was always aware that I needed to get a grip on reality, to become sane and capable as soon as possible, in order to get my baby back. I knew that there was a very real risk that I would not be deemed capable of looking after her. So I really tried my hardest to become as well as I could, despite everything.

I was devastated when my own sister refused to discuss the fact that I had been assualted. She took the same tack as the female nurse who I had first spoken to - straight denial. I couldn't understand it. My husband - not yet my husband, said that he believed me but that he couldn't so anything about it. Yet he still looked the guy in the eye and nodded civilly when they crossed paths.

I can only suppose now that those concerned assumed that because I was deranged I had imagined the assault, or lied about it. But I have never been a liar. Although there was another incident at the same hospital when I was only nineteen, on the occasion of my first breakdown - well, I will write more about that tomorrow.

As for the nurse himself - I hope to God that he actually was, or is, a good nurse, and that what he did was an aberration. I still don't understand it. But I do realise that far worse things than that have happened to far better people than me. It is just the fear I felt, the fear of him and the fear that I would lose any chance to prove my right to my daughter if I insisted on pursuing my accusations. I find that hard to forgive. And although I don't intend to stick my neck out after all these years by going to the police with a statement, if I ever heard that this nurse had been accused of sexual assault by another patient I would be the first on the witness stand to back them up, no matter at what personal cost.

Gosh - I really didn't know that I was going to blurt all that out. Now my kids won't be able to read this blog until they are at least sixteen! I actually meant to write a bit about the state of mental health hospitals, and the sort of people who generally find themselves incarcerated in them.

That will have to wait until tomorrow now.

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