Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Still Suffering.

Well, readers (readers? READERS? READERS??!!!) I am back for another go. The title of this entry is rather misleading - I am not actually suffering. Well, not any more than usual. I have had trouble sleeping, on and off, which worries me even though it always resolves itself. It is supposed to be one of the 'Early warning signs' which I should watch out for as a possible manifestation of the reappearance of my illness (which paradoxically I am told has not, nor will ever, disappear). Reappearance of the symptoms of my illness then. But how can I be ill without any symptoms? I have not taken any medication for almost nine years now, except for a few weeks after the birth of my second daughter when I accepted doctors' advice to take some as a precautionary measure. I have not had a breakdown for ten years. What I do know is that worrying about the possibility of the illness reappearing is enough to send me round the twist. But anyway.

It is true that I do tend to feel that I am travelling up the wall at a rate of knots if I have had two or three nights of disturbed sleep. This usually happens because either one or more of the children has been poorly, or because I have been worrying about some other aspect of life (usually unnecessarily; I am a pathological worrier, with a marked tendency towards catastrophisation).

However, luckily for me I have a card that not many other mothers of young children can play - I tell my loving husband that I will go mad if I don't get enough sleep, then he deals with the night disturbances for a while, or he makes sure that I regain my peace of mind, if that is what has been missing. I do worry about his role in all of this.

Luckily again though, my behaviour is not that erratic. A lot of people I know have more trouble with their lives than I do - in fact, my insomnia only manifests very occasionally, and my mood swings are no different than those of many other women at various times of the month (oh, the ugliness of coy euphemisms, yet I fear that I more often express myself too freely).

I have just finished reading a book by Sathnam Sanghera, called The Boy with the Topknot. I intend to make the rest of my bookgroup read it, as I feel it would really benefit from an airing. He has an excellent understanding of himself and his situation, and the book reads beautifully. He also expresses a degree of tolerance and understanding of sufferers of mental illness that I think must be quite rare, even in relatives of those with schizophrenia, as he is. There were so many parts of the book that struck a chord with me, and I particularly appreciated the bit where he wonders why his sister isn't more bothered about the possibilty that she has a brain tumour, then realises that the reality is that she has lived with schizophrenia, and therefore she has already faced the worst that can ever happen to her. Personally, there were times when I would have been relieved if I was discovered to have had a brain tumour - there is no stigma attached to such a condition.

But the book still did my head in, as reading about schizophrenia always does. I am constantly trying to see myself in descriptions and conclusions that other peeople draw about the subject, and I find that this confuses me. I have written a memoir myself about my experience of the condition - or maybe I should say about mental illness, as I am really not sure anymore that I have a particular condition. I have certainly suffered the extremes of mental illness and there are still large parts of my thoughts and behaviour that I wish operated differently, but I really feel that to move on from this illness I have to stop living my life under a catch-all umbrella term.

Sanghera says, rightly, that this is the most severe mental illness out there, but he also says things like there is no such thing as a happy schizophrenic (or very few of them. I am wary of misquoting him because his book seems to be so immaculately researched. This is a problem with my own writing - it is interspersed with lots of chunks written in capitals along with a note LOOK UP LATER. Then I don't). I am happy. Does this mean, then, that I am not a schizophrenic?

Anyway, his book is excellent, managing to both move me to tears at times and also to be laugh-out-loud funny in places (not least in his matter-of-fact reporting of the many and various mis-spellings of his and his family's names over the years). I do wonder if he has bitten off a little more than he can chew - he states clearly in the book that he has no intention of being a campaigner for schizophrenia, but in the afternotes it is mentioned that he is a Patron of Rethink. I suppose patronage may not mean as much as, say, that he is a Trustee but I suspect that he will find himself involved more than he intended, as the mentally ill do so badly need high profile people to represent them (us!), in fact, to come alongside us and make the point that we are not that different. If only Stephen Fry had been diagnosed with schizophrenia instead of bipolar disorder. But if he had, would even he have the courage to tell the world?

Raymond Briggs' wife, who died long ago, was schizophrenic. He mentions this quite openly in his amazing story 'Ethel and Ernest', but it does not seem to have been reported widely. Maybe because out of respect for him nobody wants to bring up such an awful subject. I spoke to him once, at a book signing in Brighton, and he was lovely. I told him about my schizophrenia and he seemed quite surprised - I guess like all of us he has a stereotypical sort of image of the mentally ill, which I didn't fit into.

He seemed quite concerned too. I have occasionally thought of writing to him, telling him that I am happy now, and about my wonderful husband and children ( I remember saying at the time that what I wanted out of life, apart from a writing career, was to get married and have kids). But of course if I wrote to him he would just think I am crazy. There was an article in the Times yesterday by Caitlin Moran about all the crazy people that have written to her over the years that made me roar with laughter. I gave it to my other half to read and even he was giggling.

She did acknowledge that she has had some lovely letters too, and she can usually tell the difference between her two types of fan mail by the handwriting and stationery used. But by and large, if you can even be bothered to log on and comment on something you have read online you are probably a bit too overcome with emotion on the subject to be thinking quite straight. If you get a pen and paper out, and still send off your missive having had a chance to wonder whether it will have enough of the desired effect on your reader to be worthy of the price of a stamp, you are likley to be slightly wonklier.

I like that word, if it is one. Should it have been more wonkly? Actually, I have just realised it should have been wonkier, but I like my way better. Which is, yikes, a sign of schizophrenia - making up words! I feel like I have fallen into a trap of my own devising. Anyway, the wonky wonkly word reminds me of what I am supposed to be doing now. I have an hour to write because my husband has a day off work and is minding the boys for a bit before we take them to music group. The older one should be at school but he has a chest infection. He is not terribly ill, and we have decided that rather than let the little one miss the group, we will take the bigger one along. I find all these decisions stressful - should they stay off school? If so, should they stay home all day? I used to think it was just me who got hopelesly embedded in unimportant domestic detail, but a friend confided in me yesterday that she didn't sleep for months before her eldest took the eleven plus exam. It is good to have friends. I often wonder how anybody copes in life without a few decent friendships. People do though. My mother does. But I wonder how.

ANYWAY. So I had resolved to use my hour to have a bash at some children's poetry or a short story, but got sidetracked by this.

I logged on to this blog for the first time in months today (which is not to say I haven't looked at it without logging on, just to see if anyone else has read it and commented since I stopped writing regularly. They haven't). I only logged on to edit it, because all those times (yes, I know, drat, let it slip) I have looked I have noticed increasing numbers of inconsistencies, grammatical errors and even spelling mistakes, and this irks me. Part of the beauty of writing a blog is in the immediacy of publication, yet even the best writers (and I don't think I am one of those) must make mistakes when writing at speed or under pressure.

But I couldn't see how to edit, so I started a new entry instead. And then as usual the writing took over and began tipping rapidly out of me, creating, I am sure, more inconsistencies, grammatical errors and so on. I wil find out soon how to edit though, whether or not I continue with this blog. I hate the thought that my writing may read wrong - because usually when writing I can express myself with articualacy, something that all too often evades me in real life. If only I could erase all those times that people stare at me with total incomprehension after I have said something, as if I had spoken in a different language.

So here we are. Another entry done, for whatever reason. The main reason probably being that during and since reading The Boy with the Topknot I have started to wonder again about what to do with my book, which won't go away because its subject matter still preoccupies me. The answer is I suppose that I will attempt to revise it again. These attempts don't usually get me far, because it is already complete, just not in a form that I am ready to publish or even to let the kids read in the future. But I do want to let them read it in the future, so I need to change its form. I have tried to turn it into a novel, I have tried to change names and settings but none of this has worked so far. But I must try again, tie it up in some way so that I can move on.

Not today though. I need to have something concrete to show for my hour of freedom to write (though it has been punctuated with lots of noise from the little one, 'Dooce! Dooce! No water! Dada! Dinner!') I do wonder at times whether I have bred Hitler - apparently doting on and indulging boys is quite likely to produce a dictator. But the baby is so adorable - so sweet despite his constant demands - that I will wait until he is older before teaching him how to behave more properly.

Whoops. I have gone over this, revised some parts and inserted some others, and now my time is up. Now I am in writing mood though, and will attempt more later. I have promised daughter number two that I will write a book in the style of her favourite author. She has read all three of a particular series and there doesn't seem to be another forthcoming, so Mummy promised to plug the gap. After about six months of waiting, she said quite crossly one day, 'You haven't written even one single sentence - not even one single word - of my book'. The next day I wrote several pages and read them out to her, her sister, and a young friend who happened to be over, and all three were very flatteringly in stitches. She came up to me that evening with real awe in her face and told me, 'You are going to have to write autographs for people'.

I felt so proud that I had made her proud, and so touched that she believed in me. With very little effort on my part too - I find it easy to copy the style of another writer. I thought I could probably finish the book in a week - children's novels are not long and I write fast. But then it started niggling at me - if I could do this well, I thought, maybe I should try to make it a commercial enterprise. So I decided to change the book from an obvious copy to a less obvious derivative. In doing so I completely lost the tone, ending up with a mish-mash of styles and a book that started off being aimed for one age group then suddenly switched to a readership that was at least a couple of years older. After a few chapters I gave up, then conveniently forgot about the project.

Now I am thinking I should just get on and do what I promised her, before she is too much older. I would hate her to have grown out of that sort of book before I get around to writing it. So that will be my project for this evening - another unpublishable exercise. But then I have just begun to realise how lucky I am not to be under any pressure to publish - to be able to write for no other reason than that I enjoy it.


  1. Dearest Schoolgate writer,
    You are an inspiration to any who suffer with schizophrenia and their loved ones who stick by their side. You are right about Steven Fry. Did you know that Trisha's sister had Schizophrenia. Wouldn't it be great if they made a heartwarming positive documenty about this genetic puzzle. If it were half scientific research and biology; and half charming sufferers like yourself, with a few famous people, it could be a positive force for good in our lives. People may begin to understand that love, support and belief are what individuals deserve and need. I wonder when you first knew of this illness in your life. My loved one does not know she is affected and although having spent 6 months hospitalized was never given a definitive diagnosis. It has been my own research that has helped me to understand her.How can I tell her with out making her hate me which would mean she would be cutting herself off from her support and understanding-me. Keep writing, why not your own book?
    Yours Sincerely,
    A fan

  2. Hi 'Peggy'
    Thanks for your interest. I have written a book, I am just not sure yet whether I want to publish it, for various reasons. And yes, it would be great if there was a documentary, but I don't think I would want to be universally known as a schizophrenic. Even for the greater public good.
    As for your loved one, I think the best you can do for her is to continue to love and understand and support her as a person. She does not need a diagnosis to help her deal with her problems. I would suggest instead that you use the fruits of your research to help her in a more general way. For example, how to use yoga, meditation and tai-chi to stay calm, how eating healthily can benefit both mind and body, and so on.
    Above all, just be a friend to her. Even when I was very ill, a long time ago now, I can clearly remember how much people's attitudes affected me - those who behaved towards me as if I was a normal person (even though I knew there was much evidence to the contrary) gave me hope that one day I would be normal again. 'Whatever normal is', to paraphrase Prince Charles.