Sunday, July 7, 2019

Mental Illness in the family

I have just been reading Enumerations by Maire Fisher,  an excellent  book about a boy with OCD. It gives a clear and informative insight into how it must feel to be a sufferer of this condition. It also gives a graphic account of the devastating effect on the boy's family. 'Yes," I thought, "It must be so hard for parents to come to terms with a mental illness like that." Then I thought again. "But I  had to live for years with mental illness in my family. Not only Alcoholism, which was bad enough, but Schizophrenia as well. Those parents I was feeling so sorry for had it easy in comparison. They felt lonely in their affliction. The school wasn't much help to them and their friends were inclined to be judgmental and blame them for their son's condition.  I had experienced the same reactions, but the mother and father in the book had sympathetic psychiatrists and health-care workers to assist and encourage them. It was only after several years of coping on our own that we were able to get treatment for the mentally ill family member. Looking back and comparing myself to the mother in the book, who seemed to be falling apart under the strain, I am filled with admiration for the woman I was then. There I was, holding down a full- time job, running a household which included a preschooler grandson and three girls going though the  problems and traumas typical of teenage girls,  and at the same time coping with an alcoholic and a schizophrenic and getting no professional help from anyone  I was a bloody marvel! How on earth did I manage? 

My present GP asked me when I  first consulted him for my shortness of breath, whether I was not very sorry that I had smoked cigarettes. He was surprised when I said," No." 'I explained that  I am sure that at many occasions in my life I would have had a complete break-down of some kind or another if I hadn't had the calming effect of nicotine to help me. And then of course, there was my faith. It was the Lord's love and guidance  more than anything else that got me through the hard times.

[In later years, my daughter was correctly diagnosed and put on medication, the other girls became  more understanding and became a great support to me. Then my husband stopped drinking and life took a turn for the better.]

Wednesday, January 23, 2019


My friend June wanted me to go with her to go to an editing course. I thought my short story collection could do with editing and just might, if improved, become fit for publication, so I went along. Dawn Garish, who is a dear friend, is running the course.  Now, she is very much into using writing, especially, memoir writing, as therapy. This is not really what June and I are after. So far we have attended two sessions and I  think we both found them disappointing. However, I did take note of some comments made about my pieces and changed them, very possibly for the better. So it hasn't been a fruitless exercise by any means. At the second session, one of the participants read us the piece of writing that she had  revised as had been suggested and it was very much improved. So she certainly benefited. But I can't help contrasting this course with other courses I have attended. I think particularly of Sindiwe's writing courses and also of Finuala's workshops. I did find one of her comments on my poem about ICU useful, but really when it comes to poetry, Dawn just doesn't have it.

I was in two minds about continuing with the course. Thinking it over and  analysing my feelings, I have come to the conclusion that I am out of place in the group. My work may be light, even frivolous, but I am serious about writing. I love what I consider "good writing" and am very critical of anything else. In other words I am a literary snob. If I were to give my honest opinion of  most of what has been read at this group, it would would just be hurtful and offensive and not help at all. The style of writing most of the participants admire and probably aspire to is popular and may well turn out to be publishable. This goes for the subject matter too. A lot of it is about unhappy childhood, which so many writers seem to have experienced. I do not easily relate to this.(I also think it has been rather done to death, but maybe that is just me.)

After careful consideration, I realise that the main problem is that I am too old for this group. Two of the members are approaching my age and they write  stories that I can enjoy. I can't say the same for the other three. One piece, involving child abuse, that was read at the last session, I thought was quite revolting.  I found bile rising in my throat. It actually turned my stomach.The other members of the group obviously did not feel the same way. Dawn did say that there was perhaps too much graphic detail, but in general the writer was told she was honest and wrote well. I did not agree! If it had been a description of her own experience of abuse, it would have been bad enough but would have aroused sympathy. It wasn't! She admitted that it was entirely fictitious and in fact, listening to it, one of the things that struck me was that it did not ring true. The voice, supposedly that of a nine or ten year old, sounded much too adult. I am probably too squeamish, but the writer seemed to enjoy  wallowing in  disgusting detail. I could not keep quiet. I had to say that I found the piece too disturbing and did not want to listen to it.

I understand now that for this group I am on the wrong side of a generation gap. Perhaps, growing up in the puritanical fifties I am  too prudish. I do not share what seems to me to be an a strange fascination with guts, genitals and bodily fluids. I admire the clear, spare writing of the authors I grew up with and don't like the fluffy pretentious style of much of what is published today. I think I shall go to only one more session and before it, or after it, explain my problem to Dawn.