Tuesday, 27 March 2012


I have finally got back to writing my book on recovery over the last few days.  I was itching to get on with it - I had been so busy with other projects that the recovery book had been on the back burner, and I started to resent the fact.  I printed up all that I have written so far, which made the task easier and clearer, and I intend to keep printing and reviewing every few weeks now. 

I just posted a comment on Rossa Forbes' Holistic Recovery from Schizophrenia blog - she had asked for opinions on something she wrote on a Mad In America Op-Ed piece.  I found myself not just answering her question, but then rattling on at length about myself and my experience of mental illness.  I suppose that right now I am in the mindset of writing about my experience because I have been engrossed in my recovery book today, but eventually I deleted the part of my answer that was not relevant to Rossa's question, and decided that I might as well expand on it here because I have not blogged for a few days.

Rossa had made the point (in response to the Op-Ed article) that it is not helpful for mental health professionals to blame family members, although she said it is ok for sufferers to blame their own family for their problems, as they speak from personal experience.

I think she is right, and yet I would say that the ultimate aim should be to move on from blaming your family to understanding them.  I found writing my book a very therapeutic experience - I could understand the series of events which led me to break down much more clearly when I had put them down in an orderly fashion.

I can honestly say though, that I do not regret or resent anything from my childhood or early adult life now - I see it all as a learning experience which led me to the point where I am today, which is a very happy place.   I might never have been as content as I am now if I had not experienced difficulties along the way - I have learned to appreciate the good things in my life all the more, because I was once mired so deeply in unhappiness.

However, in recent months, as I have completed the process of healing (which is not to say that I will never become ill again, just that at this moment in time I am better than I have ever been) I have distanced myself, emotionally, from my birth family.  They have probably not noticed the difference in my attitude (although they will know now if they read this blog!).  The reason they have probably not noticed the difference in my attitude is because none of them are remotely emotionally dependent on me (except perhaps my mother, poor old dear thing) - but I have been emotionally dependent on them for far too long. 

Even since I have had Paul and the children for security I still harked back to my birth family, perhaps feeling on some level that if I could find security there I could fix myself.  That was never going to happen - I became broken in that environment, and it was not going to be a place where I could heal.  In fact the perceptions of my family members - that I was vulnerable and weak, held me in that position, without them intending to do so. 

At a family wedding a couple of years ago, for example, I had a glass of wine.  A single glass of wine.  Now, I tend not to drink, but I have never taken a vow of abstinence.  I don't take any medication, as readers of this blog know - there is no reason why I shouldn't have a drink if I choose.  And yet I overheard some of my family members talking as if I was on a rocky road, 'Louise has got a glass of wine.  Is she OK?'  I felt humiliated, as though I was a forty year old child. 

It was nine years since my last breakdown at that point.  Why did my family persist in thinking that I was not normal?  How could they not see that having one alcoholic drink on a social occasion was no more a sign that I was becoming mentally ill than it would be for anyone else?  (And by the way I have never had a drink problem.  The reason that I tend not to drink is partly because of the spectre of having had an alcoholic mother, and partly because I am quite happy not drinking - I don't need it).   And why, in any case, were they talking about me, and not to me?

You could see that as concern on the part of my family, of course, and that is the construction that I always put on that sort of event over the years.  It is the only construction I could cope with.  For the same reason I have always been the member of the family that tries to keep the other members close.  I phoned one sister every evening for literally years even when she made it quite plain that she had better things to do with her time than talk to me about nothing in particular.  I couldn't bear to let go.  I felt that without the love of my birth family I would crumble.

Now that my self-esteem is restored, I have stopped trying to establish the regard of others for me.  Quite simply, I don't care what anybody else thinks - well, I do obviously, I have not become a psychopath - but I don't judge myself by the opinions of others, especially not family members.  I still love them, but without the need that they should love me back.

It is a very liberating feeling, this, which is why I have tried so hard to explain it clearly.  It is not very complicated, and yet it has taken me a long time to work it all out.  Love is the key, love holds the answer (as I wrote on my recent Amazon review of Jeanette Winterson's book, 'Why be Happy when you could be Normal?').  But to love is one thing, to feel oneself to be deserving of love is quite another.  And I wonder sometimes how many of us in the human race have the same problem. 

I have finished my course of cognitive behavioural therapy now, and found it invaluable - no matter how many books I have read about anxiety and self-esteem and how well I understood the principles (like the importance of positive core beliefs) nothing has been as beneficial as ten short sessions talking to somebody who is knowledgable about these issues and how to manage them.  So, let's hope I can keep applying those lessons I have learned.  I have a good feeling about it all.


  1. Hi, Louise,
    You have written about many issues that resonate with my husband's and my relationship with our son. When I first started learning about a holistic way of looking at my son's difficulties, I read that children choose their parents in the same way that parents choose their child. This is an interesting way of looking at why things happen to us.

    Until my son had his psychotic breakdown, my husband and I never realized how dependent he was on us. He seemed quite independent, in fact. But his breakdown exposed many complex issues. We began to see that he thought he was put on earth to protect us. We don't consider we need that protection, and we do get irritated when he seems to always put us before him. He also thinks of his brothers first. They don't put him first, and it's not because they don't appreciate him. But it order to survive, one has to be a bit selfish. Is dependency what poor self-esteem does? Or is it the mark of a completely self-less personality. Whatever it is, it has caused a lot of stress, because, frankly, we wanted my to leave the nest and not be dependent on us. That's what being an adult is about, or so we thought. We are hoping that the years spent with his psychiatrist will toughen him up, or else he will find a way that allows him to be independent and while retaining the special qualities of thinking of others first. As for the part about the drinking, I hear you loud and clear, based on a similar incident that happened a few days ago involving Chris having a small amount of wine. It shows that others haven't gotten over your diagnosis.
    I look forward to your book on recovery.

  2. Hi Rossa

    I think the diagnosis will probably always colour my family's perception of me - which is why I need to distance myself nowadays. It is mostly my own fault - I have always been frightened to assert myself, for fear or rejection. And of course I accepted the label in the first place. I think the problem in my case is/was definitely low self-esteem, rather than my saintly disposition!

    And of course other members of my family are no more perfect than I am - I see that now. We are all products of a toxic childhood (I am not saying that there is anything wrong with my family members, just that I see I don't need to put them on a pedestal any more).

    In Chris' case, I just don't know - I am not sure how people from a 'normal' - ie not dysfunctional - family end up suffering emotional distress - unless he smoked dope? I think about these things a lot in relation to my own children - I want them to be strong, but I also want them to be caring. I would hate to think that they might not stand by each other as adults, so I insist that they are good to each other now - but I hope I am not teaching them wrongly! I also encourage them to be thoughtful and kind to others outside the family - I want them to be decent members of the human race.

    I do tell them all constantly how wonderful they are, because they are, and I hope that this will stay with them in later life. I go by my instincts - the current 'expert' opinion, for example, is not to tell your children how clever they are - you are supposed to praise them for trying their best instead. I tell mine how clever they are constantly - and how beautiful, sweet, funny, etc etc. I also talk to them about other things that occur to me about the world and their place in it - for example how they should never feel that they need to drink, smoke etc, when they are older, just because their peers do.

    I talk to them about a lot of stuff that is maybe too advanced for where they are now, and just hope that some of it goes in over time (my girls are reaching the age where they don't always want to listen to my lectures, but my boys are still quite impressionable). All of them are very well-behaved at school and play school and excellent listeners - at home of course they have their moments and I try to be tolerant of their moods. I don't want them ever to feel that they need to be perfect.

    I do like the idea that we choose our families for the lessons they can teach us - because as I wrote on your blog recently, I think every parent does their best for their child, within the limitations of who they are and what they know. I feel that I am immensely lucky to have been entrusted with these four little lives (and to have the aid of Paul who is always a calm, rational and reassuring presence). I am looking forward to seeing them all grow up - even the girls not always listening is a good thing, it shows they are becoming independent already.

    I do realise that however hard I try, I cann't guarantee that they will always be happy and healthy. I will just continue to do all that I can for them, hope for the best, and accept that the rest is in the hands of God (or Fate, or a Higher Power if you prefer).

    I am sure Chris will be ok in time - it does take a long time, unfortunately, to build up confidence after this sort of a shock to the system. The turning point for him may be in finding a partner. I have a friend who was once very ill, who I was convinced would never be 'normal'. He is now a husband and father and no-one (including his wife) would ever guess at his background. And as you know, having a family of my own was the start of my recovery too.

    None of us knows what the future will bring - all we can do is try to enjoy the present moment, and attempt not to worry about anything else.

    All the best, Louise

  3. I think you needed your family and that is not wrong when you are ill. To distance them now would be a mistake- has anyone helped them to come to terms with tthe distress your mental health has caused them? as a carer we have to cope with ill family membvers and bnoone looks afetr us. To declare yourself better and disloyally distance yourself indicates that you remain scared of what they see in you. Sklightly all about you?? Thoughts?

  4. Hi Anon

    I have not physically distanced myself - only emotionally - and there is no indication that anybody in my family has noticed any difference in my attitude. They all have busy lives, and are not especially sensitive to what is going on in mine. It is hard to expand on this without sounding as though I am 'dissing' my family, which I don't intend to do, so I am afraid you will have to take my word for it (or we can agree to differ!) I am not being disloyal at all, I can assure you of that.

    You assume that my family looked after me, and that they suffered distress as a result. I would dispute both of those notions strongly. Suffice it to say that for many years I have been the only doormat in my family. The reaction of my siblings to what they went through as children was not to crumble as I did, but to become assertive in their relations with others, perhaps overly so. I didn't go into details about my siblings in my memoir, because their lives are their own business, and I won't now, although it is tempting to try to explain to you a bit further. But one facet of my newly found self-esteem (which I intend to hold onto at all costs!) is that I no longer feel that I have to justify myself.

    I am certainly not scared of what my family or anybody else may see in me. There is nothing to fear! The diagnosis was the thing that held the fear, and now it is gone, as far as I am concerned. I am not a 'schizophrenic' (whatever one of those is). Anyone who truly knows me, knows that. If anybody in my family does notice any difference in me over time, I would hope that they would be pleased that I am now thinking more independently and from a more secure place. If they ever need me for anything, I am still here, I still love them and I am better equipped to help them than I have ever been. That is about all I can do!

    All the best, Louise

    PS I am sorry that you find your task as a carer difficult. There is help available - Rethink do great work on behalf of carers in the UK and I am sure there are similar organisations in the USA (I am not sure where you are based).