Friday, 3 February 2012

Schizophrenia and Children

I have just given in to pressure from my eldest daughter, and let her start reading my book. She is sitting next to me, reading from my Kindle, and in fifteen minutes or so I shall take it from her and let her continue tomorrow.  Alongside me again.  This way she is speaking to me about the book as she reads - asking questions about the meaning of words as well as about the content of the book.  I wish I had read all books alongside her in this way since she was young - we both would have benefitted - but of course there would never have been the time, even if I had not had three younger children.  She reads a book a day sometimes - full length novels, on days when she also goes to school and does extra-curricular activities.

Anyhow, children have to be allowed to grow and mature in their own space and time - my daughter may well have read some things at an earlier age than I would have wished her to if I had tried to keep tabs on such things, but then so did I when I was young.  Each person has to discover certain things for himself or herself. 

This book is different though - this is something we need to read through together, and discuss as we go.  My memoir is something that may change my daughter's perception of the world, as well as of her mother.  I don't think she is emotionally ready for it.  I would prefer her to read it when she is older - sixteen would be my preferred age.  But I have already decided to get her a Kindle for her approaching birthday.  I know that I will find it hard to monitor her reading matter on the Kindle - she has wanted to read this book so badly since I published it that I feared she was likely to find a way to do so without me knowing.

My daughter will soon be twelve.  But she is a mature girl for her age - incredibly so, in some ways.  I was terrified when I told both my daughters about my mental health diagnosis for the first time, perhaps nine months ago, shortly before the book came out.  Both were amazing - partly because the word 'schizophrenia', which held so much fear for me, meant nothing at all to them.  They had no preconceptions about mental illness, and therefore no prejudices regarding it.  They were surprised and baffled that the whole thing meant so much to me, that I had worried so much about divulging the fact that I had once been mentally ill and the name of my diagnosis.  'You were ill, Mummy,' both said.   'You are better now.  It has never affected us'. 

Reading the book will hopefully make things more clear for my daughter - about my experiences, about mental health in general.  And, of course, for her sister and brothers too, when the time is right.  I feel no shame about my past, and I hope that they never will.  That if anybody ever taunts them in the playground about what their mother is - 'A Schizo' - they will be able to reply, 'My Mum was ill, but she is not any more'.  And this will do them good, and their denigrators - there will be a little more understanding in the world, a little less stigma.

Maybe one day the word 'Schizophrenic' will be obsolete, as it deserves to be.  And perhaps my own children will be part of the generation that looks back and wonders how there was ever such misunderstanding and fear and ignorance in the world about such a  perfectly ordinary matter as a nervous debility.

I hope.

I never want to use my children as my flagbearers.  They are wonderful people.  I want their paths through life to be easy and pleasant.  I am sure they will cope with life better than I ever did - I am here to help them to do so, in any way that I can.  But I have thought all this through.  I am their mother, for better or worse - it would do them more harm to be ashamed of me than it ever will to understand me, and by extension to understand others who find themelves in a similar position.

So that's that.  Daughter has gone off to bed now, apparently happy and relaxed.  She says she doesn't want to read any more of the book for another week - 'Why?' I asked, 'Are you not interested?  Is it not well written?'  And we both laughed, because she understands me.  Right on my wavelength, that child.  A job well done.  Perfection in the pod. 


  1. I think it is wrong and damaging to call a break down due to stresses caused by adverse life circumstances "an illness". It is even worse to call it "schizophrenia". I would call it dispair and a desperate way of seeking help. At seventeen I experienced such a dispair because I wrongly thought that my parents had stopped loving me and caring for me. I started hearing two voices in my head arguing. Luckily my parents didn't seek medical help but they gave me the necessary space and love to recover. The voices stopped immediately but it took six months to recover my physical health because I had run myself into the ground. I shudder to think what would have happened if my parents had sought medical help. I would have been declared mentally ill, drugged and labeled and thus dammaged for life. Instead I think of that episode in my life as enriching. It certainly made me a better and more understanding person. I don't think, Louise, you ever were mentally ill, you just "lost it" for a little while, a normal human reaction in the circumstances you found yourself in.

  2. Hi there

    Your story is a really encouraging one to hear. It would be nice to know more about how your parents helped you - they reassured you of their love, which is wonderful. Did they also let you take time off school or college? Try to help you find new friends and activities? It is great that you felt able to tell them about the voices, and that they instinctively reacted in the right way. Others could learn a lot from your experience.

    You also make an important point about your physical health at the time when you heard the voices. The tendency of the medical profession to split mental and physical treatment is ridiculous - they are inextricably linked, and this knowledge should help people to guard both aspects of their health in tandem. Even now, day-to-day, if I don't take my dog for a walk or if I don't eat healthily, it adversely affects my mental wellbeing.

    I am writing a book about recovery and just this morning when I found the time to write for an hour I touched on the points you have made - I hope that one day there will be so much openess about mental health that everyone will feel able to confide any symptoms immediately, without fear, and receive the correct help as you did.

    In my own case, I wish I could dismiss the fact that I was ever mentally ill. Unfortunately, I had three breakdowns, and was sectioned each time - I was pretty bad. The main problem was that my intense anxiety - which precipitated each breakdown - was never dealt with, leaving me vulnerable to further episodes.

    The security I have found with my family has helped me to relax and to gain a sense of self-worth, and very recently I have finally learned to conquer the anxiety (I hope!).

    So although I do see what happened to me as a direct result of life events and my reactions to them, I don't try to deny that I was mentally ill. I am not ashamed of that fact any more though.

    I am not mentally ill now. And what is mental illness anyhow? Is it a display of bizarre behaviour, or a malfunction in the thought processes that no one else can see? In that case, what is a normal thought process? In my own case I was beset for many years by worry, anxiety, an overwhelming lack of confidence and an almost complete loss of self esteem. Those things sound almost normal, and certainly the sort of problems that can be worked on. 'Schizophrenia' does not, and so it is a really bad starting point from which to help anyone.

    I used to wish that I had a brain tumour instead of a diagnosis of schizophrenia. This was one of my favourite daydreams, actually. Now I see how wrong I was - how lucky I have been to have an illness that existed only in my mind, that I have been able to defeat and what is more, to learn from.

    I don't think I am schizophrenic, although during my breakdowns I did meet pretty much all of the diagnostic criteria for that diagnosis(except that I was so uncommunicative that some of it must have been guesswork on the part of the medics).

    Fortunately I have, also fairly recently, come to realise that schizophrenia is an abstract notion and a wicked one at that. It is a life sentence, a label that approximates to that of 'lunatic' and the only thing to do about it is to reject it.

    There is no test for schizophrenia, no proof of it's presence or absence. It is not brain disease, or a hereditory illness. It is a nothing, a nonsense, a spectre that is thrown up in front of people and which has the ability to ruin their lives should they allow it to do so.

    So, hasten the day when the mentally ill are no longer judged. Let them (us) instead be helped to tackle their problems with love and without shame, and become better and more understanding people as a result, as you have done.

    Louise x

    1. The thing is: Just hearing voices in your head would qualify you these days for the diagnosis of mental illness or even scizophrenia and you would automatically be forced to take drugs.As doctors see things, mental illness is a chemical imbalance you were born with.As I see things: there is a chemical imbalance in the brain during a break down but it is often not because you were born with it but you created this imbalance yourself by acting foolishly,by getting stressed about stupid things, by taking drugs, by not sleeping and not eating healthily.I came to understand that I engineered my own break down.At seventeen one isn't always very wise. Once I understood that, I decided not to make the same mistakes again. I took a year out instead of going straight to university. I stopped abusing caffeine, went for long walks in the countryside and taught myself relaxation and meditation. I played the piano a lot and did some painting and drawing which was therapeutic in my case. My parents were loving and good to talk to. I believe that talking things through with someone you can trust is absolutely necessary for complete recovery.I learned to cry when I felt like it and to say sorry when I was in the wrong. May be some people are born with a chemical imbalance in their brain, I don't know but then again just because a person has several breakdowns doesn't mean that this person is mentally ill:he or she might only be doing the same mistakes again and again or not have learned how to deal with life when it gets tough. I still watch myself all the time and I laugh at myself a lot

  3. Hi again, thanks for getting back to me.

    I think what you call a chemical imbalance equates to what I call mental illness - which is fine, your term sounds much more humane! I don't think people are born with it either, I think it is a reaction to life events. And of course, these things often happen young and are nobody's fault - the teenage brain is hard-wired for risk taking and experimentation. You didn't engineer your breakdown, in my opinion - it happened, and you worked your way through it. Well done!

    Don't forget, the chemicals in your brain change when you exercise, or when you hug someone or have an ordinary conversation. The chemical imbalance thing sounds very technical, but is not really rocket science -it is just a term for a normal biological reaction to stress.

    Which is why your treatment for yourself worked - you were kinder to yourself, carried out activities which calmed you, your parents helped to nurture you. We are all just human, and the postitive thing about mental health problems is that they can be fixed with ordinary human measures.

    I still watch my health too, and my kids laugh at me, which is great therapy!