It will become obvious to anyone who reads a few of my posts that the subject of mental illness crops up rather often. I am not ashamed of my family’s problems, and if I don’t spell them out in detail in my posts this is only because they have become so routine that I don’t analyse them too often these days. Mental illness doesn’t define my family, though it provides a distinctive flavour to our lives. I also happen to think that the family deserve a little bit of privacy: I feel I can comment on how people behave but I draw the line at sharing some of what I know about their internal life. This means that sometimes I would rather share a recipe for baking bread, leaving a gap in my record.
What does it feel like to have to support a child with a serious mental illness, such as my daughter? Well, it’s certainly no rose garden. The worst aspect when she was younger was having her locked up in hospital for long periods of time, and knowing that she was alone, frightened and traumatised. Now that she is a young adult, based at home, the threat of sectioning is without doubt the worst aspect. There have been many occasions when I have been forced to do things against my better judgement because of the implicit threat of sectioning. I have a pretty low opinion of the mental illness system in our country as a result.
But on the positive side, being at such close quarters with some seriously ill people has brought me a huge amount of benefit. Facing up to nightmares is always good for you, and let’s face it, serious mental illness is a nightmare that haunts many of us who live tightly ordered, secure lives. Facing the fear, and discovering that behind the madmen with knives of our imagination there were real people, locked out of our society, has been cathartic. It has been hard to see the suffering and despair of some people, but listening to their stories, through books and blogs, has removed much of the barrier that I used to have been “them and us”, “the mad and the sane”. As a result, I have been priviledged to see the world afresh, with a more complete sense of what it is to be human, and what it is to “succeed” at being human.
If you are affected by mental illness and looking for help or information, I would suggest the best place to begin (in the UK at least) is at the website of Mind. If you are familiar with mental illness, but looking for fellow sufferers, The World Of Mentalists is a great jumping off point.
A more detailed account of life with my daughter Julie can be found in my earlier blog JuliesMum.