Dave's Progress. Chapter 50: Domestic Disturbance.

The other day at the Media Action Group for Mental Health, we were discussing what the most harmful element of stigma was. Some felt this was in the area of employment. But, for me, if we are talking about "harm" in terms of how traumatic stigma can be, I think it is when it comes from friends and family, the people who are closest to you, who sometimes convey a complete inability to understand what the ill person is going through. Indeed, sometimes there is even very open hostility, and in my previous blog, I pointed out that, in one survey, over half (56%) of people who had experienced mental ill health had faced unfair treatment from their families, ranging from lack of understanding to outright hostility, name calling and enforced isolation.
In my own experience, I seemed to face most prejudice at the inception of my illness, what must now be nearly twenty years ago, and I feel it came in the form, mostly, of sheer misunderstanding. In terms of family, my brother and parents, I feel they just simply wondered what on earth was going on with me, and I'm pretty sure at some point there was speculation from my parents as to what, exactly, was going wrong. "Could it be hormones? A sort of delayed puberty?" my Mother thought. "Could it be drugs?" my Dad thought. As they later explained, they may have lived through poverty, war and difficult times, but the demon mental illness had never reared its head in either of their families. So, without a reason for my increasingly depressive and withdrawn self, they, perhaps, launched out into various areas of speculation which couldn't have been more wrong. And I, myself, through the prism of my illness, began to view myself as a somewhat unlovable and loveless person, incapable of giving or receiving love. So if there was a certain "shunning" going on, I now acknowledge that it was coming from both directions, from both my family and myself. Indeed, I can now see and acknowledge my own culpability in the situation which ensued.
For the famous psychiatrist R.D. Laing, an important member of the anti-psychiatry movement of the '60's and '70's (although he disagreed with that "label"), family life could be even more pernicious and hostile than the mere workings of stigma account for. For him, the experience of family was central to the development of mental illness in individuals. Through studying real families, he argued that lies were perpetuated in the interest of family politics, making it difficult for the vulnerable child to know what "truth" actually was, let alone the truth of their own situation. Furthermore, the family nexus (the consensus view within the family) often placed children in a "double bind", where they were unable to obey conflicting injunctions from family members. Importantly, Laing did not "blame" the family members for this behaviour. However, it did lead him to conclude, in his book "The Politics of Experience", that " we are effectively destroying ourselves with violence masquerading as love." Ultimately, then, such distress is eventually articulated by a descent into madness and psychosis, where there is "ontological uncertainty", i.e. one is unsure of the veracity of one's self and identity and one becomes, quite literally, "self" destructive. Importantly, though, Laing maintained that this descent into madness could be viewed as a sort of "shamanic" journey, where the person emerges at the end, having had certain insights, as a more grounded and wise individual. So, in an important departure from previous thinking, Laing maintained that the experiences of psychosis could be imbued with significance and intelligibility.
I must say that I can relate to a lot of what Laing says. Indeed, it is said that even those from so-called "normal" families can attest to his insights.
In my experience, I can remember being an intelligent and sensitive child who, while very close to my mother and brother, was somewhat alienated from my father, and throughout my illness I expressed a great deal of hostility towards him. Also, I can remember very clearly that the "truth", for me, came from art, from books and films and music, not from the wisdom of my family. I can also relate greatly to Laing's suggestion that madness or psychosis is a kind of journey, where one eventually returns to one's normal state. I certainly feel that I expressed all my anger, suffering, grief and loss at various traumas through my illness and I have now, indeed, emerged as a stronger, wiser, more stable person. At times, I even doubt my need for medication, as the experience, which I have undoubtedly learned from, seems now so far behind me. And, whatever resentment I may have had towards my family certainly now seems to have dissipated. I now understand and appreciate my father more than I ever did. And, yes, of course, I love the guy. I also realise that throughout my illness I asked a great deal of my family. It was perhaps a terrible thing to do, but through feeling unlovable, I was, in a way, asking my parents to "prove" that they loved me. And by standing by me, this they indeed did and have forever banished my feelings that I was or am "unlovable". Their support has been invaluable.
So, is it these peculiar familial experiences, these small but profound "domestic disturbances", that eventually lead us into madness or psychosis? I do know that "blaming" the family for mental ill health has become very unpopular in more recent times, but I still think that Laing has something to say, and I believe some, who espouse the view that psychosis is often a "post traumatic" experience, are perhaps returning to some of his ideas.
As for the stigma which I may have experienced from family, I feel that also is decidedly a thing of the past. Although the odd issue may raise its head, about my diagnosis, for example, or about my Mum's seeming "over protection" of me, I feel now I can handle these situations, without retreating into blind anger or just becoming totally withdrawn. Indeed, my family and I may have learnt, finally, how to communicate.
That's all for now from your normal, average delusional and paranoid man.


klahanie said…
Dear David,
This posting ends on a most positive note.
Through all your own personal trials and tribulations, you have displayed a determination to have a more positive life.
Luckily, from the outset of my mental illness, my family was supportive and tried to understand. In my case, it was more of the 'negative environment', (nurture), that overwhelmed me. Yet, they understood how such traumatic situations could have a severe impact on my mental health well being.
In the early days of my mental illness, I did encounter a lot of folks who ridiculed me for being ill. Thankfully, I have seen a trend that indicates more people are being understanding of those who have endured the plight of mental health concerns.
A most candid posting, David. It is encouraging to read that your family and yourself may have finally learnt to communicate. A vital element in all of this.
With very warm wishes, your friend, Gary.
David said…
Dear Gary,
Thanks for your comment and yes, this is indeed a candid post. I would not want you to think, though, that my family have not been supportive. It was only at the inception of my illness that I feel I was misunderstood and my family, particularly my parents, have shown their own determination and resilience in supporting me throughout my illness.
Even at the beginning of my illness, come to think of it, it was my own failure to communicate what was going on with me that perhaps led to these misunderstandings. As I say, I now acknowledge my own culpability in the situation.
Having said all this, there were no doubt, very real stresses, strains and resentments going on, which now, fortunately, have been, for the most part I think, resolved. And yes, now, we communicate much better.
Thanks again for your comment Gary. I truly appreciate your continued support.
With Very Best Wishes,
dcrelief said…
"...through the prism of my illness..."

Dear David,
That has got to be one of the most incredible, operative phrases to describe my own life. I immediately envisioned it.

I wish I could share that my family has accepted me as I am now. Most do not want to hear any explanation. Some who have, wish to have me 'committed' to an institution. It's difficult when they want the "old Dixie" back. The new Dixie is so much stronger, but they can't see.

David, be proud of this post. I know it took time to work through the issues. I realise you'll always be reaching to be more! I hope I'm around, because I like watching you grow. Thank you so very much for sharing yourself.

My gratitude,
David said…
Dear Dixie,
Thankyou for your kind remarks.
I suppose it must be difficult for family members when we begin to change for apparently no reason. It is obviously difficult to accept and causes friction.
However, through our trials and tribulations, it seems that we both believe we have emerged as stronger, wiser people, still with a lot to give.
Thankyou for your continued support, dc, and for "getting" where I'm coming from.
Yours with Very Best Wishes,
corfubob said…
Thanks again David for another illuminating post - and for the comments from the three of your friends above. You all radiate an aura of intelligence, humanity and honesty, and what better qualities to alienate you all from most people!

I promise to scroll back to the earlier posts of you all, and then try to contribute another perspective, but I need to learn how to draw readers to blogs with insights so worth sharing. Pictures will have to come into it, and the idea starting to form is to illustrate my own life with easy to look at images, while collecting images (and links)from friends for 'digital treatment' to post alongside my own.

I also sincerely hope everyone finds as much understanding as you seem well able to give.

and then

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