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.

Thoughts on death

A dear friend of mine has very recently passed away at the age of 65 after a long battle with cancer. Today I heard that Rick Wright, the Pink Floyd keyboard player, has also just died of cancer. Both of these people made many positive contributions to the lives of others, one can’t help feeling they moved on a little prematurely.

Working in nursing and care work for over ten years, death and dying has never been far away and I’ve been the first person to find a recently deceased individual on several occasions. If they are lucky, they go peacefully in bed. On one occasion I found a man sat upright in a chair in a dignified fashion, having announced just a few hours earlier that he’d “had enough of this”. On another occasion I discovered one elderly lady in a not so dignified situation – on the toilet. Dealing with these situations is not always easy.

QuestionMarkA few months ago I helped a Filipino nurse wash and generally clear up the body of a lady who had just passed away on a general ward in a Sussex hospital. She died with her loving family (well they seemed to be, you never know, funny things families…) all around her, a pretty good way to go I think. I had never met the nurse before, and we found ourselves immediately discussing the most profound questions about life and what exactly makes us human. Although I have a long-standing passionate interest in all things “spiritual”, my experience of these situations has not made me any clearer as to whether I believe there is some form of life after death, or whether death is a full stop, so to speak. The person’s life energy has obviously gone somewhere in some form, but this energy might just dissipate back into the general energy of the universe? Or there might be a soul that travels on, as many accounts of near-death experiences suggest. I have no idea whatsoever!

What I do know is that we don’t seem to be very good at dealing with death and dying in our culture. Odd really, when it’s one of the few certainties of life, perhaps the only certainty of life. Many years ago, a chapter in an Aldous Huxley novel (I think it was called “Island”) made a big impression on me. In it, schoolchildren were taken to visit the dying, including members of their own family, as part of their general education. Death was completely accepted and embraced as part of the human experience. Love and peace to all who have passed away, especially my friend Jayne.

A night shift

As there have been a few problems with new staff getting me work at my nursing agency, I took a night shift at Southlands Hospital for the first time in ages on Tuesday night. As night shifts go, it was quite busy, but quite enjoyable. I was on an orthopaedic ward, the patients are only there for a few days while they have their hip/shoulder replacements (or whatever) and then they go home as soon as possible. Compared to some places I work they mostly need a lot of monitoring, particularly after their operations. This involves hourly taking of blood pressures and temperatures which can get a bit tedious after a while, although the patients don’t seem to complain.

NightShiftIt can be a slightly creepy experience wandering around a large hospital in the early hours of the morning. At least I remembered to bring some half-decent food with me this time, it keeps you feeling half-human when you haven’t had any sleep. A couple of new admissions knocked on the door at 7.00 a.m. which kept us busy at the end of the shift. But just as we thought everything was done and the two staff nurses had started to handover to the morning day staff, we discovered a woman sitting in a mixture of her own faeces and fluid leaking from a wound. Clearing that lot up woke me up!

The main problem for me with night shifts is how they muck up your sleep patterns, unless you are doing them regularly. Otherwise I would probably do more as they pay better and are usually quite relaxed compared to day shifts.

One or two album reviews have surfaced on the net this week, and there’s been some very nice feedback indeed from several people who’ve bought a copy. That really does make it all worthwhile.