Ann Lawson, Norwich 2006
My first article was very well received about the need for the individual to grasp their psychiatric illness by the horns and shake it till the truth came out. I was still ill when I wrote that but taking my own advice, shortly afterwards I was able to tease out, although with immense effort and embarrassing humility, the key to my own illness. I had looked everywhere for the cause of my illness. Therapy makes you do that. You put your life under a microscope. You tear your life and otherís apart trying to find out why you became ill. Your confidence hits rock bottom and you despair of ever getting out of the mire.
I had some time to my self and access to a telephone and also a guide; my daughter had been in therapy and identified the main problem as my not getting on with my parents. So I really worked on this and gave it all my effort. It was a short trip to madness and back. I was only trying to help my daughter and would, as all parents, do anything for her. So I put my reputation on the line and bombarded my parents with questions. Before that I had always been running away from them and my problems and the mental health services. It required about three weeks of concerted effort, fumbling in the dark, with no one to guide me but the dark mess of my mind. The pay off has been beyond my wildest dreams. I learnt that I had made a major mistake in 1969 and I learnt that my parents loved me more dearly than I had ever imagined.
My first piece of creative writing was saying mental illness is like travelling through East Anglia during the war when all the road signs were taken down to prevent a German invasion. I didnít know where I was going, except as far from my parents as possible to start a new life without mental health services and the reputation my parents had given me by repeated hospitalisations. It was a constant cat and mouse game, which I always seemed to lose. I begged to be left alone and be respected for the person I was however flawed. But the net just got tighter and tighter. Life also became more and more dangerous and unhappy. But, unlike some people, I did have a bench mark from a time when things were good and also the fortune that both my parents were still alive.
I had left home at 19 after a difficult time and made my own life, even gone to university. But that life unravelled without my parents support and I nearly had a full blown breakdown at university. I soldiered on and after getting a mediocre degree moved to the north of England to live and work. I then came home, as I thought temporarily, found my self pregnant and had an abortion. Then I got a job as a social worker in Norwich and a flat in the city.
It was then the powers of Ďnormalityí stepped in and had me admitted to mental hospital. I soon realised the hospital was just a holding centre for miscreants with no progress possible and nothing to do but take drugs. I discharged myself after a week. Then the horror struck because my brother who had been studying at Oxford was found by his housemates one midday when he didnít turn up for lectures dead in bed with a knife in his heart.
Life stopped. Empty out the oceans and sweep up the woods. Pack up the stars, put away the sun and the moon they are not needed anymore. Nothing shall come to any good now. To my parents Roger was their east their west their north their south their Sunday best. The first born boy.
If I hadnít been ill I donít think Roger would have killed himself. We are a family of high achievers. Perhaps Roger couldnít bear the thought that his elder sister had been put in mental hospital. Perhaps my illness had affected him more deeply than I had known. Perhaps without the aggressive intervention of the local country doctor who had me first admitted (out of the blue so it seemed to me) Rogerís death would not have been precipitated. I might have been able to work out my problems peacefully and much earlier. Who can tell? Certainly I have always found medical intervention terribly disruptive of thought and life.
After that for the next thirty years I suffered admission after admission. I hated it so much I even committed arson hoping to go to prison rather than mental hospital. I nearly ended up in Broadmoor on that occasion. I was desperately unhappy and often in grave danger. I have no idea how many times I tried to kill myself or even how many times I was admitted to hospital. Life in hospital was like watching paint dry on most occasions but I was conscious there was a bit missing in my psychological make up. Euthanasia would have been a blessing.
Then I became pregnant again. The abortion clinic had advised me this might happen and I decided to keep the child and vowed to stand by her forever. She was such a tiny bundle of life and happiness I was ecstatic for a while. But the social services and mental health authorities and my parents spend little time in claiming her for their own and I soon learnt I was a mother in name alone and she wasnít mine to love, hold and adore. But I continued to do so against all odds even when they finally succeeded in putting her in care when she was about 12. When she went to university the social services went to court to prevent me having her address and I reached such a point of anxiety I thought she was dead in all honesty.
Now I know I donít have to battle so hard unless provoked and that god whatever you conceive him to be looks after his own. I know now that in 1969 my parents were opening out a new vista for me not consigning me to a humdrum job. It was a rite of passage which I failed to understand. I too would have gone to Oxford if I had had the information I have now. They sent me to France to stay with a family called the de Broglies who I knew from when their sons had stayed on our farm as students when we were young. But in 1969 my family failed to tell me the name of the family I was staying with so I never put 2 and 2 together. I thought I was a humble au pair for some snotty french family dad had sold some pigs to when in fact I was a family friend to a family with an aristocratic pedigree, one of whom was a nobel prize winner. To find out the truth was like coming home. It was at my daughterís suggestion I badgered and badgered Mum and Dad to find the truth, but the pay off is worth all the tea in china. It was a niggling confusion, but enough to trouble me and my brother to death.
I canít change the past. But I can live in the present knowing just how much my parents loved me and that it is a good world, not one of endless graft as I thought before. One where love and liaisons matter. One where families as proud as the de Broglies are able to do favours for our family. One where I have a guardian angel. I thought it was only me enabling myself to survive. I had been battling against the world for so long the relief that what the world had wanted for me was even greater than I had ever hoped was to find joy.
The mental health authorities and the police have not accepted my change of heart and mind and still persecute me with sectioning at regular intervals. Nor am I off medication but like the snail climbing out of the well I may fall down 3 inches every night but I climb up four inches every day. I am sad I have wasted so much of my life in deep unhappiness and the unhappiness I have caused others and sad I didnít achieve more. However the joy of not being at odds with your family and working towards a seamless whole is without peer.
Mental illness is the devil in disguise. I canít put it any stronger than that. Life is hard enough without having such a flaw in your character you come to the attention of the authorities. For all the numerous interventions I received it was only having the space and time and hard application to sort the problem out myself that enabled me to come through. See! Iím still alive and contributing now whereas before I would hide my light under a bushel because I knew I was wrong. I just didnít know where I had gone wrong. I have complete confidence in my own sanity now and hopefully other people will slowly come to realise that the pattern of the last thirty years has been broken. Life is no easier. In fact it is harder. But it is much more rewarding. And now I have that knowledge of what might have been I can only try and achieve a little of my parentsí vision in those years I have left. You can only cure yourself. But itís worth it. I now live in the real world and itís really not such a bad one.