My mother’s mental illness

schizophreniaJust recently I have been thinking more than usual about my mother, and the impact she has had on my life. Rumour has it she gave birth to me, that was quite a big impact for a start wasn’t it?! Her initial diagnosis of “paranoid schizophrenia” (there is plenty of debate as to how helpful or accurate these kind of labels actually are…) was in 1969 or so and although she has had quite long periods of mental stability since, she never really recovered.

Roughly ten years ago I made the decision to completely cut her out of my life. As an only child who had done my best, I had simply had enough – there were times when she was pulling me under too. As difficult as it might be for the majority of people to understand, it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. Those who have had to deal first-hand with the reality of extreme mental illness (e.g. attacking my Dad with a knife in front of me, wandering the streets half-naked in the middle of the night, religious fanaticism, stays in psychiatric hospitals etc.) will get where I’m coming from. She has been in a care home these last few years and I heard recently that she has now begun to develop dementia. I politely declined the request to take on the Power of Attorney, I have no interest in being sucked back into her bonkers world. God bless her, if that doesn’t sound too patronizing. I love her of course.

Kind of ironically, dealing with my Mum turned out to be ideal training for all the psychiatric support work I’ve done. Also, looking at her astrological birth chart for the first time (it explained so much) was the beginning of my serious interest in astrology. My mother was a successful classical violinist, so I guess I can thank her for some of my music too.

mental healthIn terms of compassion and support from society, mental health is not as sexy as cancer, famine relief, or the cat’s home. Many of the mentally ill are on benefits, it looks likely that many will be amongst the first to suffer as a result of the UK government cutbacks. There are organizations such as MIND and the under-funded NHS doing great work, but as a whole, I don’t think society cares much about people with mental health problems. This seems a bit odd as it indirectly or directly touches so many of us, even Stacey and her mother in Eastenders… ahem.

2 Responses to My mother’s mental illness

  1. Susan says:

    Thank you for this. I think people who work in mental health the world over are deeply empathic about your decision, or if they’re not they ought to be… I would never ask anyone to put up with the long-term stress of maintaining a mentally ill family member — some people do it, and they get a gold star, but something I always explain to family members (of my clients, who have illnesses similar to your mother’s)is that those of us who do this work love it, get paid for it, and are here to take the burden off of those weary families. I’m sure you find your patients easier to tolerate than your mother — it’s a funny thing, and the world is a better place because you’re in it.

  2. timburness says:

    Belated thanks for your kind comment Susan. Yes, at her worst I found my mother far more difficult to deal with than a majority of acute-ward psychiatric patients. But this was as much because she could be very extreme by any standards – not just because we were close as mother and son. Keep up the good work! Tim

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