“You are well enough to safely go home now”, said the panel.
“But I can’t! I need one more day to complete my church!”, said Di, who was being treated at Bexley hospital for Postnatal Depression in 1966. She had a brilliant occupational therapist who took them to the swimming pool, organised hair-dressing days and helped patients to make things. Di made a church with bits of shattered wind-screen glass, put together with resin but the spire wasn’t on yet. This beautifully tactile piece of art was named ‘Faith’ by Ruth, her daughter.
Ruth was a talented young lawyer. She was an actor and singer. She was kind, generous and gorgeous! She travelled extensively. She was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder in her late 20s. She coped well with the help of health services, her friends and family but tragically lost her battle at the age of 47.
Di is in her second year of missing Ruth terribly. She has created the most beautiful garden in her memory. Some of the plants there are from Ruth’s house. Her mediterranean wall is stunning.
Being bereaved by suicide is a huge risk factor for suicide. Around 125 youth suicides a year occur soon after the person involved has experienced a bereavement. One in four (25%) of under-20s and 28% of 20 to 24-year-olds had lost a relative, partner, friend or acquaintance around a year or more beforehand. In 11% of suicides among under-20s, the person who those involved had lost had also taken their own life.
People who have been bereaved need greater support to reduce the risk of them killing themselves. Agencies who are meant to help are not good at recognising this risk and need to improve.
This morning I caught up with Di over a cup of tea. We both believe that if Saagar and Ruth have met each other wherever they are, they must get on famously. The link below is a conversation with Di. She talks about her insights on mental health services over 5 decades. Thanks a lot Di!
He’s her son. His mother, Em, lives with Bipolar Disorder.
Here he describes how he feels about the depressive phase of her illness.
I know that feeling.
“As if it were a wild animal with flecks of foam at its mouth, I feared her depression.
Imagine you were walking in a pleasant meadow with someone you love, your mother. It’s warm and there’s just enough of a breeze to cool you. You can smell earth and cut grass and something of a herb garden. Lunch is a happy memory in your stomach and dinner awaits you – a three course meal you have devised – all your comfort foods. The light is golden with a touch of blue, as if the sky were leaking.
Suddenly, your mother steps into a patch of quicksand. The world continues to be idyllic and inviting for you but your mother is being sucked into the centre of the earth. She makes it worse by smiling bravely, by telling you to go on, to leave her there, the man with the broken leg on the Arctic expedition who says ‘Come back for me, it’s my best chance, ’because the lie allows everyone to believe that they are not abandoning him to die.
Some part of you walks on and some part of you is frozen there, watching the spectacle. You want to stay but you must go. The imperium of the world’s timetable will allow you to break step and fall out for a while, but it will abandon you too if you linger too long by your mother, now a curled up foetal ball, moaning in pain, breathing only because her body forces her to.
Granny loved Em and she thought that should be enough. It wasn’t. Love is never enough. Madness is enough. It is complete, sufficient unto itself. You can only stand outside it, as a woman might stand outside a prison in which her lover is locked up. From time to time a well-loved face will peer out and love floods back. A scrap of cloth flutters and it becomes a sign and a code and a message and all that you want it to be. Then it vanishes and you are outside the dark tower again. At times, when I was young, I wanted to be inside the tower so I could understand what it was like. But I knew even then that I did not want to be a permanent resident of the tower. I wanted to visit but visiting meant nothing because you could always leave. You’re a tourist. She’s a resident.”
Source: ‘Em and the Big Hoom’ a profoundly moving book by Jerry Pinto, winner of the Crossword Book Award 2013.
Till date I wonder what it must have been like for Saagar, to be diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and to be on Psychiatric medications. I have read books, watched documentaries and films to gain an understanding of it and I think I have an idea but maybe I have absolutely no clue.
Watching a clip of Paul Dalio, a young man living with Bipolar disorder and a film director brought clarity in 2 and a half minutes.
“When you get diagnosed, you go from experiencing what you’re certain is divine illumination. After sometime in it, you’re thrown into a hospital, you’re pumped full of drugs, you come down 60 pounds overweight, completely disoriented and they tell you, ”No, there was nothing divine. Nothing illuminating. You have just triggered a lifelong genetic illness which will swing you from psychotic highs to suicidal lows and you’ll probably fall into the 1 in 4 statistic unless you take the medication which makes you feel no emotion. If you imagine missing feeling sad, it’s the only thing worse than pain.”
So, it’s very hard for people to comprehend.
After a lifetime of building your identity, your place within humanity, you’re suddenly told that you are a defect of humanity. And to know that you’re not going to be the person you used to be and that you’ll at best be able to get by is … is life shattering. And the only labels you have to choose from are some kind of a disorder, Manic-depressive or Bipolar. So you scrape through every clinical book trying to look for answers. That’s exactly what I did. Peeling through these books which were these diagnostic, medical texts where I felt like I was under a microscope and someone in a lab coat was judging me.”
Paul Dalio came across a book by Kay Redfield Jamison who is a world authority on Bipolar Disorder by way of having the illness and being a Professor in Psychiatry. The book is called “Touched with Fire”. He went on to write and direct a film by the same name.
She is a Professor of Psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University. She is an international authority on Manic-depressive illness. She writes about her own struggles with the illness since her adolescence. She recounts the slow and painful mastering of her illness through knowledge, courage, medication, self-discipline and the power of love. Her work has helped save countless lives. An excerpt:
“At this point in my existence, I cannot imagine leading a normal life without both taking lithium and having had benefit of psychotherapy. Lithium prevents my seductive but disastrous highs, diminishes my depressions, clears out the wool and webbing from my disordered thinking, slows me down, gentles me out, keeps me from running my career and relationships, keeps me out of a hospital, alive, and makes psychotherapy possible.
But ineffably, psychotherapy heals. It makes some sense of the confusion, reigns in the terrifying thoughts and feelings, returns some control and hope and possibility of learning from it all. Pills cannot, do not, ease one back into reality; they only bring one back headlong, careening and faster than can be endured at times. Psychotherapy is a sanctuary; it is a battleground; it is a place I have been psychotic, neurotic, elated, confused and despairing beyond belief. But always, it is where I have believed-or have learned to believe-that I might someday be able to contend with all of this.
No pill can help me deal with the problem of not wanting to take pills; likewise, no amount of psychotherapy alone can prevent my manias and depressions. I need both. It is an odd thing, owing life to pills, one’s own quirks and tenacities, and this unique, strange and ultimately profound relationship called psychotherapy.”