As I said in Introducing Two Angels and a Black Dog, I am indebted to Mum for her constant love and support. Dad found it harder, for, during the time of revolving hospital doors, I went a long way from the values that my parents had taught me. Yet he never turned his back and by the time he died we had made our peace.
The following post is written by Mum, about how she understands my journey and also about her and Dad’s road toward accepting the outcomes of chronic mental illness.
Like most parents, Sarah’s father and I wanted our children to have more opportunities than we had had, to go to university and then follow a successful career.
As a little girl, Sarah was happy and imaginative but a sensitive soul. She would lose herself in the garden, enthralled in her play, conducting the orchestral wind, swaying branches and rustling leaves. Night dreams, though, too often brought dreaded dancing fingers, gliding effortlessly through large glass windows and advancing steadily along the hall to her room, to her bed, to her, waking her terrified.
During her formative years, Sarah lost a dearly loved relative and was bullied at school. Did these significant events lead to the dark shadows of depression that would stalk her life for years and cause me more heartache than I had dreamed possible? How much, I’ll never know.
Despite her dark emotions, Sarah continued to achieve academically. She was determined not to let her depression dictate her life. In spite of her suffering, we still expected this of her, no question, well, until there was no option. Her mental state was only temporary or could be overcome, I argued to myself and it would not destroy the hopes she and we had of her future.
Sarah’s first psychosis still did not dampen our belief in her planned future. It would be a one off. Everything would return to normal. And it did, for a while. Sarah gained professional employment but it proved to be extremely demanding and stressful, too demanding and stressful and she became psychotic and hospitalised once again. This was the beginning of a period of about two years of numerous hospital admissions and discharges.
Sarah viewed herself as a dismal failure, good for nothing, unworthy to even breathe. She considered herself a waste of space. She judged herself in the light of her shattered dreams, our expectations and the socially dominant view of success. I saw Sarah’s suffering and knew her life had a far deeper worthiness than that considered within a superficial meaning of what constitutes a successful life. I decided to adopt the perspective of life as a journey as others have. Everyone’s life has meaning and value from this viewpoint.
So I began to view Sarah’s life seriously as a journey. She didn’t decide the path to take. It was thrust upon her, as it is for many others. I have tried to accompany her as much as possible but even so, it has been, in many ways, a lonely journey with no one able to understand the private reality of her psychotic mind.
Fortunately, Sarah’s path has become much smoother. For approximately five years she has been all but free of psychosis and has not required hospitalisation. Even more wonderful, she is a loving and loved mother and takes great delight in her gorgeous little daughter, Gracie. Life has become much more hopeful for Sarah and I count my blessings.
My academic achievements had led my parents to believe I would have a particular future. Having instead, an adult daughter, in many ways dependent, especially when Dad was in deteriorating health, must have been challenging. Nevertheless, my parents modified their hopes for me and my future which has been a fundamental relief to me. Indeed it is I who still grapple with my lost life.
I’m very lucky that my mum speaks to my strengths and changed deeply held expectations, in order that she may help me feel worthwhile. And she had a lot of faith in me, although it was stretched a lot when I seemed to be lost. I think that kind of support is invaluable.
It’s been very tough for her, and for dad while he was alive, for while I’ve had all the attention, for reasons obvious enough, she has felt largely excluded from health care plans, and her needs and pain largely ignored in a system struggling for funds.
A post, called Carer’s: A Lonely Path, explains caring for someone with a mental health issue has particular difficulties for carers.
However, Mum rejects calling herself a carer. I also feel ambiguous about the term. I appreciate Mum does a lot as I am both a single mum and because I struggle with my mental health. But I don’t like to think of myself as just a burden. Mum herself is older and I’d like to think I help her in other ways.
This won’t be the last time Mum will speak of her perceptions and experiences.