The Common Love
In early 1987 I was sectioned under the mental health act. I was admitted to hospital to be diagnosed. It was a terribly lonely time and when I was ‘released’ and medicated without any explanation I remember feeling somewhat strangely grateful.
In retrospect this was because of the medication. It had stopped my head from ‘spinning’ in a vortex of fear. My reality of delusions and paranoia was so intensely fixed and very unshakeably real to me that it had become ‘reality’. Yet when I was medicated this lie calmed: the fear began to subside a little.
We are all afraid of the people who shuffle along the road, twitching and shaking and mumbling expletives, shouting aimlessly or directly at us who are ‘normal ’and ‘civilised’. We fear those who are out of control. That fear which we have concerns unpredictability, but it is also deeply embedded into the human psyche: fear of losing one’s own mind.
It is this very same fear that is our commonality: our common ground. They – ‘the normal’, ‘the sane’ – tend to believe that all those who are mentally ill (‘the insane’) have either brought their illness upon themselves, are genetically inferior, or are wilfully unruly. This in part has been my experience. We tend not to focus on the young life that has been devastated with illness and loss: on the life where all aspirations having been thwarted.
We, as opposed to them, are somehow made to feel less than human, and we have to deal with being out of control: having no boundaries. We, in general, are feared and so others believe that they are justified to treat us as ‘less than human’.
The experience of this dehumanisation is one that the sufferer must constantly grapple with. It is not that the above statements are entirely untrue, but that they are actually, in some degree, true for all of us.
If we stop and think, we will realise that we have all – at some time – ‘lost our rag’: we have surprised ourselves by ‘losing it’ temporarily and, when push came to shove, we have shouted in inappropriate places or ways.
We may find that we are even unpredictable in our homes. Even if we have maintained absolute control and composure, it is often because we fear being out of control or slipping back into the recesses of illness.
It is an undeniable fact that when we are pushed to the limit, very few of us know exactly what we will do and how we will react in any given situation. We are unable to fully predict how we will behave if the truth were known.
We can hope and believe, and try to bring reason to our situation, but until we come face to face with the scenario that pushes us beyond our limits do we really honestly know how or what we will do? Do we believe we will be unafraid of the situation: unafraid of ourselves, and of our actions or lack thereof?
When I have been in a state of crisis, a full blown episode of a psychotic nature, it has been my experience that I have retained some level of insight, despite the fact that I cannot fully control my behaviour: I may be withdrawn, introspective and unresponsive or in a rage that is out of my control.
The insight gleaned from my illness is not just one of being disassociated from my own self, but an experience of the real terror within. This terror of being out of control and of not understanding (sometimes fearing) other people and their actions is frightening in itself: to intensely fear all motivations and see and hear things that are real to me but are not in others reality is a truly frightening experience. Can you imagine the torment of hearing voices?
I have been myself absolutely terrified of what others may do or say, not understanding that they too are affected; that they are scared of what I may say or do. This is the less discussed and ironically the more bitter irony: in as much as ‘the normal’ are scared of someone like me presenting in crisis, I am scared of ‘the normal’ reality, and of what ‘the normal’ are saying and doing because of my abnormal brain activity.
I am also scared because of a non-specific insight into what is happening to me on a chemical level that makes me feel out of control, even if it seems, at times, that I am willingly pushing the boundaries: for I am not.
The shame that is felt at some point, in families, is also felt by the person experiencing the crisis: this, at least, has been my experience. It may be felt after the episodes, and linger for many years as the world reflects back to me how ‘inferior’ I am as a human being.
Shame is perpetuated because we misunderstand the conditions and their varying symptoms. We fear finding out about mental illness. We fear that it will make us all human: without any degree of separation between ‘the sane’ and ‘the insane’.
I wonder how shamed Mary, the mother of Jesus, felt – being forced into the situation of having to give birth in a stable with animals, the dirt, squalor, and the cold. How did Joseph feel: unable to give her something better, unable to provide her with what she deserved? Carers must feel this way about their loved ones, who are lost and displaced through uninvited brain diseases.
Mary gave birth to perfect love. She gave birth to the love which casts out all fear, in the lowest of places, and in circumstances beyond any man’s control. Mary gave birth to a king, a prince of peace. Yet Jesus was judged by his own people: he was rejected and ridiculed by many. He was rejected even though he was perfect.
Having had episodes in my life of further recurring crisis, I would not wish some mental health hospitals upon anyone. However most are also places of refuge if one needs medication long term or temporarily, and if it is right for that person’s ailment.
From my personal experience of living with my form of schizophrenia – for which I have now taken medication to control biochemical symptoms that affect brain chemistry over a period of many years – I know that I am not ‘less than human’, but instead have been given a story to tell; one of humanity and its experiences.
It is the story of courage, and of fighting the good fight with a disease that can surprise people. Instead of occurring through accident or congenital birth defect it is caused by a mysterious chemical imbalance: neither my fault nor my shame. It has taken me over twenty years to realise this. It is the story of the courage possessed by those around me – who have dared to love me in and out of crisis.
I can say this, as I have been loved throughout the course of my illness. I have been loved by my parents, my husband, and my child: in spite of my illness I have been blessed. I have been shown how to love myself, and I am learning to love others despite their limitations as well as my own.
There is always some form of hope, even if your loved one seems to be so far removed. There is the hope of new discoveries and medicines, there is the hope of better care and understanding ridding us all of the shame and differences. There is the hope of recognising that we are all susceptible to disease because we are made of flesh and we are in this this world, even if not entirely of it. There is the hope of perfect love driving out all fear: the people in darkness have seen a great light.
There is also the hope of not so perfect love too, as we are all human, and susceptible to limitations but susceptible to being loved and loving beyond our capacities.